Man Man’s plan: folk people up

Genre-defying Philadelphia act outlier at fest

You can’t be out of your element if you don’t have one to start with and Philadelphia’s Man Man has made a career of confounding expectations and defying classification. Its musical mélange has led confounded critics to offer reference posts such as Las Vegas mainstays The Blue Man Group or outré icons such as Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. Either that or they’ve invented borderline-nonsensical “genres” like Viking vaudeville all in a misguided attempt to pigeonhole the band.

Call it what you will Man Man’s rollicking multi-instrumental sound is a natural fit for events like Los Angeles’s Fuck Yeah Festival where it’ll play in September. The Calgary Folk Music Festival is a less likely fit to put it mildly. Is the band worried about being out of place?

“Not at all” says frontman Ryan Kattner otherwise known as Honus Honus. “We’re gonna folk people up.”

His confidence is more than just bluster. Odd as Man Man’s music can be it has an undeniable pop bent as Calgarians learned when the band opened for Modest Mouse three years ago. Others have noticed too and the band’s tunes have popped up in Nike ads and on the TV show Weeds . But as confident as he is Kattner is also aware that the majority of the folk fest crowd will have no idea who he is or what the band is about.

“I love it” he says. “It’s why I love playing festivals. You’re playing to people who’ve maybe heard of you or maybe they haven’t but they don’t have a preformed opinion. They haven’t read any bullshit reviews that don’t talk about the music — a lot of the time the reviews just talk about a vibe instead and they tend to be off anyway.”

Without any preconceptions all audiences have to rely upon is Man Man’s music and its live show which is a spectacle in itself. The band goes all out constantly switching instruments adding layers of percussion and putting sweat stains in its all-white stage uniforms. Despite some decidedly dark subject matter it’s a sound and a style that’s easy to appreciate.

“We’re not doing any GG Allin stuff” Kattner says. “That’s one of the cool things about what we do. There’s heavy topics going on but something that’s always been instilled in me and definitely in the people that play with me is that no matter what it has to be entertaining. We even get occasional emails from people saying things like ‘My two-year-old dances to your music.’”

New fans and small children aren’t the only ones Man Man aims to surprise at the fest though. Even longtime fans aren’t likely to recognize a sizable chunk of the band’s set. Kattner has been spending the last few weeks mixing the band’s latest album and with the new songs already growing on him “like a cyst” he’s eager to see if others will have the same reaction.

“We haven’t been touring that much this year and we won’t end up touring that much this year but when we have played it’s been primarily new material” he explains. “You spend all this time shaping tunes up making a Frankenstein monster and then you want to see if it gets along or if it terrorizes the village — and both of those are good.”

As fearless as he seems there is one aspect of the festival that has Kattner slightly on edge. The afternoon workshops (which pair up acts for impromptu jam sessions) are great for fans but they aren’t always easy for the bands. Despite Man Man’s loose sound Kattner says that improvisation isn’t one of his habits.

“The guys in the band they’re all extremely talented so they’re gonna excel” he says. “I’m not worried about them. The only thing I’m worried about is what I can contribute. I write songs the way I do because that’s the only way I know how to play so I’m not sure what I can add. Maybe I’ll contribute by having a few drinks backstage first.”