Music Features

Man Man (Interview)

After a recent show at Berlin’s Astra Kulturhaus, Dominic James Stevenson caught up with Honus Honus of Man Man to talk about frustrations of life on the road and what makes it all worthwhile.

Dominic: Do you feel like you should be headlining such nights and playing to bigger audiences?

Honus: In Europe, no. If we didn’t get offered this tour we would never play Europe again. This is our fifth time, which is amazing that they asked us, because we can actually play to an audience. But the last time we were in Berlin we played to maybe forty people, and before that ten people. You know, we have five records, we’ve been around for ten years, and we just gave up. We can’t afford to keep going to Europe and losing money and playing in Hamburg to like fifteen people. It’s great for the fifteen people, we play a great show, but for us it’s career suicide. 

D: Why are they such small shows?

H: Hell if I know! I’d think they would make a connection. The strange thing is that the only country in which we seem to do well and connect with an audience is France, which is cool but it’s strange, out of all the countries in Europe, one country gets what we do. I’m glad it’s France, I mean I love France, but I’d always heard especially in Germany that they love American rock bands, but I guess we are too weird. I don’t know what it is.

D: You’re a bit weird, but not that strange. That’s what I think makes you so good. 

H: I do too. Thank you, I agree with you. It’s strange that not sounding like everyone else can work against you; you’d think it would work in your favour. It’s not gonna keep me from making music; it may keep me from touring Europe but not from making records. 

D: What inspires you?

H: I think just life, not so much music. It’s just everything that’s going on around. I pull from everything. I think at this point I’ve invested too much of myself into this, and fortunately I still feel like I’m riding on this music. When I reach a point where I’m not feeling it any more I’ll step away. I almost reached that point for Life Fantastic, our last record. I just wasn’t feeling playing music anymore. Then it was like muscling through, making that record and then the record came out and no-one gave a shit and then I think, the thing that propelled us, was between Life Fantastic and the new record everyone quit basically and no-one wanted to write songs except for Chris. It was like a nice reboot, where I thought, “Fuck you guys! We’re gonna make a great record!” It was that fire which got us to make another record. We’re psyched how that turned out and we’re looking forward to making... I think I have one more record in me, at least. We are going to start writing the new record in March. 

D: That was my next question, what is your next move career-wise?

H: Unfortunately, in the old days, and when I say the old days I mean like four years ago, you could put out a record and tour and support it for a couple of years. I feel like that’s the case if you put out an album that’s massively successful and people want it, but the divide is so much greater now, with the 1% of people who really are crushing it, then the total ghetto of all the other musicians who just have to hustle. We just don’t have the luxury of touring behind a record now for two years. We have to just make another record soon and so we are just gonna do that. In the spring we are gonna settle in and just try to write another record, and hopefully it’ll come together. 

D: What is the cycle like?

H: Now it’s even less. Before it was two years, now have maybe two tours and you’ve got to start writing again. It is for us.

D: But do you feel pressure to write when it comes to that point, or is it something that you really enjoy doing?

H: It’s gonna suck! Every minute of it is gonna be the worst. The thing is, when I write a record it hasn’t changed now and I don’t see it changing. I kind of forget how to write songs. So then I have to re-learn how to write songs. I fucking hate it, it’s the worst feeling. I don’t know what to write about or where to write from, or when I’m writing a song from what perspective. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury for me to sort it out; we just have to write another record, if we want to keep doing this. 

D: Who or what are your three greatest inspirations?

H: Definitely films are more inspiring to me than music. Actually, the single Head On that you like, I named that song after a German film with the same name. The translation is different but it’s a German/Turkish film. You should look it up; it’s brutal, it’s heart wrenching. I only know about the film because this girl that I loved, she told me years after it didn’t work out that she saw the film and I reminded her of the movie’s protagonist, and I was curious. I watched the movie and the whole time I was thinking “Oh my God, that sucks! I don’t want to remind you of this person.” If anything, the connection was maniacal fortitude which maybe was what the character reminded her of, someone who just loved something and sticks with it, even though there’s no hope. So, maybe that’s my connection to Man Man, there’s no hope but I’m connected to it, so I’ll stick with it until I don’t care, until I don’t feel like I can give it anything anymore. 

D: What’s your ultimate musical ambition?

H: I just hope if I stick at it, that maybe people will catch up. Music can be transformative, and I can write a song, like Head On. With that song, I was living in the woods and I was having all these problems with my band and I was thinking, “Really? It’s the fifth record and the same bullshit all over again? Why am I doing this?” So, I write a song like that, in which I am kind of singing to myself. Your body is bitter, you don’t want to do it, people are trying to ruin you and keep you down and you’ve got to just hold on to what’s true. So, I can write a song like that, but I try to do it in a way so that it can mean something different to someone else, and that’s what’s amazing about music. I couldn’t have written that song ten years ago. I feel like I had to go through this trip to write that pretty song. I wish I’d written that song ten years ago. 

D: I could see it becoming a classic pop song.

H: The only way it could be is if someone covers it. I don’t think it could be with my voice. It’s true though, like Tom Waits with Ol’ ’55, The Eagles had to cover it, or others too. Someone has to cover Head On. I want someone to. Like Norah Jones, if she covered it, her voice would be so amazing, or Adele, for that matter. I just think it’s a pretty song. I almost want someone to find it, to cover it, just so people can hear it. I’m really proud of this song, I think it’s a really good song. What’s the next single, do you think?

D: Loot My Body or Born Tight, the final track from the album. When you were singing Born Tight’s final line “girls just wanna have fun!” this evening you had a cheeky smile on your face.

H: Yeah, that’s true! I mean really, the root of all pop songs is girls, if you really want to distil it. That’s what it’s all about, that’s what makes the world go round – women.

D: What is peace?

H: When I am off this mortal coil. I think I’ll find peace when I’m fucking dead. No peace ‘til then. That’s okay, I feel like restlessness is good. I’ll sleep when I am dead.

D: Where is a magical place for you that isn’t your home, and why?

H: The hour and a half, or forty minutes, like tonight when I am on stage. That’s the best that it is. It’s when I can leave all my bullshit on the side of the stage and just get it out. It’s like an exorcism. But as soon as I’m back off stage I jump right back into my body.

D: What do you think about vinyl versus downloading and the way that listening to music has changed?

H: Well, I mean, we don’t sell any records, none. I like vinyl. People are always going to download. Spotify and music streaming isn’t going to go away. It sucks that a band can have someone listen to their song half a million times and only get paid seven dollars. What can you do? Maybe people will come to our shows. It’ll get sorted out, hopefully, at some point, but I feel like right now that divide between the few bands that can survive and those who can’t is just growing wider and wider.

I don’t listen to music very much. I’ll listen to a song on repeat, like Manu Chao’s King of the Bongo for three months. Or on this tour, I’ve been listening to A Ghost is Born, the Wilco record, and I would put it on when I’m on tour, and the third song [Kidsmoke (Spiders)], I’m asleep. It puts me to sleep, which is nice when I’m on tour, because I can’t sleep. Unfortunately, now I like the record I can’t sleep, I keep hearing new things, so it’s like, damn you, Wilco! I have to find a new sleep record. We just toured with this girl, Xenia Rubinos, and she’s amazing, and I’ve been listening to that a lot. My friend, Shilpa Ray, she’s putting out an EP soon, on Nick Cave’s label. She’s amazing, look her up! 

D: How would you describe the sound in your head?

H: Well, right now it’s like... *makes the sound of a whistling kettle*, as I have tinnitus, so my ears ring. That’s all I can hear right now. It sucks. Before the On Oni Pond writing sessions, we moved out to the woods. It was only meant to be a month and it ended up being six months, and my girlfriend was great, but it drove me crazy cause all I could hear was my ears ringing from the quiet. I needed to be in the city where there is noise all the time. 

D: Why did you call the album On Oni Pond?

H: There’s this American film called On Golden Pond, and I like this concept of going to the woods to get away from the city, to clear my head and get away from band people I wasn’t really getting along with. I get out there and still have all the same issues that I’m just not dealing with, I’m just somewhere pretty and on top of that it’s so quiet I can hear my ears ringing. It’s maddening that I can’t find the relaxation. So, I like this concept of going someplace beautiful to just relax and it’s full of demons, and that’s what onis are, they are these little Japanese demons. The saying is if you are a child that is nothing like your parents then you are an ‘oni child,’ the child of a demon. I liked the idea that you go someplace to relax and it is overrun, but you can’t go anywhere, so you have to make peace with your problems and just enjoy it. So that’s where the title came from. It was a nice balance of fucked up and pretty, which is kind of what I think this band has been all along from day one.

D: What has been your favourite piece of music from 2013?

H: I liked Blurred Lines the first time I heard it. Now I can’t stand it. I love Get Lucky, it’s such a good song. I liked the Jacuzzi Boys record. They have a song called Double Vision. Bill Callahan, I was listening to that. He’s a great lyricist. I was listening to Arctic Monkeys today. I hadn’t heard it yet. I like the Ski Mask album too.

D: If you could give the teenage you one piece of advice, what would it be?

H: Don’t start a band. I would have moved to California with all my friends and tried to get into the movie industry instead. That’s what they all did, and they are doing fucking great. I feel like film makers and comedians have a lot in common with musicians. In a weird way it’s the same kind of fucked up life.

D: What’s the best thing about music and being a musician?

H: Getting to meet you, Dominic! Just getting to meet different people, you know. That’s the best thing about it, just travelling and seeing the world, seeing the bathrooms of the world, the rest stops. There can be a lot of drudgery when touring, maybe 90% of the time, then you have 10% of the time when it’s amazing. I remember when we were supporting Life Fantastic and I was swimming in this freezing lake in Nova Scotia, Canada. The same day I was at the beach in LA. It was wild. Or I could be in Berlin, talking to you. It’s crazy!

D: Which of your own lyrics best sums you up?

H: It’s probably the chorus to Van Helsing Boom Box. That song probably came from the darkest place of my entire life. But that’s the amazing thing about that song is that I can write a song from that kind of place and then it can be the type of song that tonight someone can propose marriage to someone else to (yes, supposedly that happened). It’s weird how music can work like that, it’s amazing! It’s transformative. If you write a good song, an objective enough song, that’s also personal, it can really transcend anything to someone, which is amazing. I still can’t wrap my head around that a song or an album I wrote is somehow a soundtrack to someone’s life, because they’re all the soundtrack to my fucked up life. Every record is a chapter, or chapters of my life.

D: What’s your happiest ever memory?

H: That’s a tough one man, what’s yours?

D: If it’s a non-musical memory, as music is what keeps me going, then it was my time two years ago In Budapest, Hungary. 

H: Mine was the first time that I looked into another person’s eyes, a girlfriend at the time, and I could see the totality of love. I feel like I’ve been searching for that look, from that point on, for the rest of my life. I threw that away, because I was young and I was dumb and I didn’t know it. I’ve never seen anything so honest or shocking. It scared me, but it was amazing. It was the first time that I’d ever seen that. It killed me, that look. I realised in that moment that my perception of loving another person and receiving that kind of love, we were on the same page. Amazing! So, I’ll probably look for that for the rest of my life. It makes me happy that someone could have those feelings for a fucked up soul as my own.

On that note we exchange some further words, we step out of the tour bus where we had shared a beer, and we go off to meet some of the band and Honus’ friends and we are embraced by the madness of life on tour with one of the very best bands out there. If you are yet to discover their music, I can only recommend it greatly. Live and on record a wonderful collection of material is on show. I wish all the best to the band in the future.

On Oni Pond, the latest album by Man Man, is out now.