Ryan Kattner of Man Man had a unique upbringing. A self-described Air Force brat, he was born in Texas but subsequently moved all over the world. As a result, he didn’t experience the typical American adolescent experience of listening to what was popular on the radio.
“I feel that at a time when I would’ve been influenced by peer pressure, second to fourth grade, I was in Germany, so that influenced me in strange ways,” says Kattner, who adopts the moniker Honus Honus when recording and performing with indie rockers Man Man. He spoke via phone from his Los Angeles home. Man Man performs on Tuesday, July 5, at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights. “My first CD, for instance, was the soundtrack to La Bamba. My mother and I saw it on the Air Force base. We also saw Fred Astaire movies. My dad listened to classical music and classic rock. My first cassette tapes were the Fat Boys and Weird Al. It’s a weird hodgepodge of influences.”
Initially, Kattner convinced his parents to buy him a Casio keyboard because he wanted to experiment with the sound effects on it. His parents agreed as long he committed to taking piano lessons.
“I was more interested in the helicopter sounds," Kattner says. “I didn’t progress very far with the lessons, but I did get the keyboard.”
In high school, he bought a “crappy Ibanez bass” that came with a “shitty Peavey amp,” as he puts it. “I thought four strings would be easier to learn than six strings,” he says. “I bought my book of [the Red Hot Chili Peppers] Blood Sugar Sex Magik tablature and realized [playing bass] is a whole different thing.”
He then picked up the guitar for a bit before migrating back to piano after he bought a Rhodes keyboard for $400.
“At the time, that was my rent,” he says of the purchase. “I eschewed paying rent at the time and bought this electric piano. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was tired of playing guitar and wasn’t very good at playing guitar. There was a physicality to playing piano that I liked, and I learned to play by playing with drummers, so my playing was rhythmically informed.”
Man Man came together in Philadelphia in the early 2000s.
“I never intended to be in a band,” Kattner says. “It was something I was doing post-college. I went to school for screenwriting and playwriting. I thought it was a fun exercise and outlet.”
Man Man benefited from the fact that Philadelphia embraced all kinds of music, ranging from hip-hop to art rock.
“Philadelphia is a great, weird city,” Kattner says. “It has a very strong identity and sense of self. That comes across in what I was doing musically. There was a sense of ‘I’m going to do what I do, and I don’t care if you don’t like it.’ I owe everything to Philadelphia as far as where I come from musically. It’s a city that has Sun Ra and Hall and Oates and Meek Mills and I could go on and on. There are so many different sounds and a punk attitude. At the time, cool art bands were happening. I loved that scene. But I honestly really just wanted to make one record and get on with my life.”
For 2020's Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between, Man Man’s first release for the indie imprint Sub Pop Records, Kattner sought to once again evolve.
“I feel as if I’m learning something new with every album,” he says. “You want to continuously challenge yourself. When I relocated to L.A. in 2013, it was a matter of challenging myself. I was fortunate to meet [producer] Cyrus Ghahremani. We just connected instantly. I recorded with him. He had a home studio. We spent three years tracking the songs.”
The album came out in the midst of the pandemic, and the band wasn’t able to tour in support of it. Kattner was crushed.
“It was absolutely devastating,” he says. “It was our first release in six years. We had the option to push the release, but I didn’t want to. I felt like people needed something like it at the time. Music is a great salve when you’re trapped inside. Career-wise, it was pretty devastating. It makes you just wanna quit.”
An album highlight, “Cloud Nein” features gruff vocals and retro-sounding instrumentation. Its cooing backing vocals and woozy horns give it a Beatles-esque vibe.
“It’s definitely influenced by an ex-person I played in the band with,” he says of the song. “When we did the video for that, I just used Shutterstock footage of an old man dancing on the street, and the video ends with the world exploding. We did the video and then COVID hit, and I have this song of a man dancing in the street by himself with the world ending. I didn’t mean to predict that.”
An hour-long infomercial he saw in Ohio helped inspire the funky “Future Peg,” another album highlight, and the short, whimsical skit called “Oyster Point” provides a reprieve from the rollicking other tunes.
“I love interstitials on albums," says Kattner when asked about "Oyster Point." "Some don’t age well, like early Snoop records. The opening of that song is taken from a cassette tape I found of a 7-year-old me singing to my newborn brother, and the song ends with us trying to buy a broken bass clarinet off Craigslist from someone in Oyster Point, CA. It thought it’s a really pure way of telling the story of my life. There isn't a purer three-act narrative of why a person shouldn’t play music.”
Kattner says he's excited to play songs from Dream Hunting, but he's also planning to introduce about six new songs on the tour as well.
“Our band is awesome,” says Kattner. “We are six deep. We’re a great live band — legendary. In this day of information, it’s rare to be a band that flies under the radar. Unfortunately, we still get to hold that banner above our heads. We’ve been rehearsing for the past two weeks because we’re trying to get about 30 new songs under our belts. You go see a band, and they maybe play 15 songs. We play twentysomething songs and there’s no banter, baby. It’s all gas and no brake. We can squeeze 24 or 25 songs into a set. It breaks us, but this is what we do for people. We’re excited to play these shows, and we love the Grog Shop.”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].