The repetition here is no typo. I recently had the chance to catch up with Honus Honus, the frontman for Man Man, and ask a few questions before the eclectic rock-meets-blues-meets-pop band from Philadelphia drove off in their tour van-not to be confused with a tour bus- toward Santa Barbara to play at SOhO next Thursday, April 24.
Alarmed at the impression that the group (composed of six famously mustached men, friends, managers, not to mention a bevy of strange instruments, including antique fire extinguishers, jars full of jelly beans, kazoos, and keys) might be traveling by bus, Honus Honus exclaimed, “It’s not a bus! It’s a van! It’s smelly, not glamorous.” “So it’s like a Man Man van?” I asked. “Yeah, a Man Man van.”
“Sometimes, when we’re loading up the van after a show, I wonder why I couldn’t have been in a regular rock band,” Honus added, after listing off the number of unusual instruments the band takes on tour. I chuckled. The mere notion that Man Man could ever be a simple, regular rock band would defeat the purpose of their groundbreaking contributions to the world of music, not to mention the daring footprint they leave in the wake of every new album they release.
Formed in 2001 by Honus, the band has hosted a total of “17 or 18 different members since then. This crew [of six] has been together about three years now, and is the core group,” the frontman explained. Trying to decide if the success of Man Man was always his primary goal, I asked Honus if taking the band into the studio to record the past three albums-and out on tour with famed indie sensations like Modest Mouse and Cat Power-was always the vision. “I didn’t think we’d get this far,” he admitted. “After the first record, I didn’t think there’d be a second, or a third.”
But a third there is. Rabbit Habits, released on Tuesday, April 8, in the U.S., marks the third full-length album for Man Man, and their debut with Anti-Records. “[Rabbit Habits] explores new ground, territory. You have to try new things. It builds character,” Honus explained. The end result highlights a mixture of the sincerity of doo-wop (in songs such as “Doo-Right”), heartbreakingly honest lyrics over saloon-style piano and banjo (“Whalebones”), and tracks like “Harpoon Fever” and “Hurly Burly,” which simply demand attention with their almost sloppy sonic calamity of chanting and eerie surf guitar that could easily score a Tim Burton film. On the bill for Coachella this year, the Men Men’s willingness to forge ahead musically has clearly been drawing in new fans, and attracting industry attention.
Crafting an entire genre that’s unique to what currently exists, I couldn’t help but wonder if the members of Man Man started playing music as kids. “Not me, but others, yeah,” Honus explained. “I always made a racket, a commotion. I was always banging on stuff. My parents said I should be a circus zoo singer.” I giggle, if only because, when describing Man Man in conversation, I often refer to the band as a “circus act.” (I find it’s the only way to accurately capture the raw, oooh-and-aaah nature that is a live Man Man performance.) I asked Honus when the last time he’d been to zoo was. “Philly. Every time I step outside,” he replied.
“Honus, if you could go back in time to live during any decade, which would you choose?” I asked. He thought, then answered: “I would go back to the ’90s, Back to the Future style, get an almanac and come back rich.” Not a bad idea. The men behind Man Man spend a great deal of time on the road, but have been spotted working more regular jobs between gigs, proud to admit that they’re no strangers to poverty. “Being broke is one of my biggest influences,” Honus deadpanned.
When Man Man hit the stage at SOhO-one of only two California tour stops, aside from Coachella-they can be expected to sport all-white ensembles, complete with matching cut-offs, beards, mustaches, and equally burly haircuts. And they’ll undoubtedly barrel through their set without much small talk, if any talk at all. But if we’re lucky, they just might grace us with their truly “out there” cover of Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
Club Mercy will bring Man Man and opening act Yeasayer to SOhO (1221 State St.) on Thursday, April 24. The show is for 21 and over, and tickets are $15. For details, visit wearemanman.com. And for tickets, call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.