Ryan Kattner isn’t sure if anyone will come to see his band Man Man.
It’s been four years since the band has toured, and even longer since their last record, On Oni Pond. Now they hit Santa Cruz on Jan. 11 as part of a short string of West Coast dates, their first shows since 2015. They’ll be road-testing some new material for what will be a new Man Man record, which has no official release date yet. They’re also just getting a sense of who they even are as a band.
“I’m trying to tap into why I’m even doing this anymore. Music is weird right now. Especially if you’re making—are we rock music?” Kattner asks himself mid-sentence. “Hopefully there’s still an audience. Who knows anymore?”
He has reason to be nervous. His group carved out a loyal cult audience in the early 2000s with its oddball, punky, avante-pop sound. But Kattner’s last record, 2016’s Use Your Delusion, which was released as a solo record under his stage moniker Honus Honus, didn’t do as well.
“I feel like the majority of Man Man appreciators out there in the universe have no idea it even existed. They definitely didn’t come to shows. That’s okay, it’s only my life,” Kattner says. “It was just a reaffirmation of that fact that you never go solo.”
The smaller crowds on the Honus Honus tour were documented in a recently released film, also titled Use Your Delusion.
“It wavers between tragedy and comedy, my life,” Kattner says. “It turned into a feature documentary of a sad tour.”
He’s eager to tour under the name Man Man again, though he’s a little vague as to why he took a break from the band, which had toured pretty much constantly for 15 years up until its hiatus.
“Man Man was being an unruly brat, so I had to put it in the corner for a timeout. But we all know you can’t put baby in the corner,” he says.
The material on Use Your Delusion is spiritually very much in the same demented world as any other Man Man record, though in some ways it’s a bit more bonkers, which Kattner says was a result of it not being attached to the Man Man name. He dabbles heavily with synthesizers and tinkers with some unexpected genres like reggae and New Wave, creating an almost uncomfortably happy sound at times. He refers to it as an “apocalyptic L.A. pop” album.
“I wanted to go for a vibe of Leonard Cohen’s The Future, even though it’s nothing like that. But in my head that was the synths, and we had fun with it,” Kattner says.
It’s not like Man Man have ever not been weird or completely out of place. Originally formed in Philadelphia, the band’s first record, The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face, is a swath of primitive Beefheartian prog-pop, charged with youthful hysteria and a trunk of instruments that could please the hearts of a traveling medieval minstrel troupe.
By their second album Six Demon Bag, the band’s songwriting and live energy jumped a couple of notches. With each record, Man Man got just a hair more accessible.
“When I first started, I was making music to not go insane,” Kattner says. “It was supposed to be, ‘Let’s make that one super earnest, possibly unlistenable record at 23.’ Pull it off the shelf some years later and say, ‘Look what I made, kids.’ And they’ll be like, ‘You’re not my dad.’”
Whatever nervousness Kattner has about Man Man reemerging in 2019, he’s also soothed by the fact that Man Man has never been a part of a trend.
“I think the sound of two coconuts banging together is way cooler than a drenched-out reverb guitar solo,” Kattner says. “Everybody is always trying to cop a style. We just sound like us, for better or worse. It kind of Robinson Crusoes you. Then you learn to adapt.”
The world is a totally different place since Man Man last played together. It’s hard to predict how crowds will respond to the band now.
“I’ve been trying to write the perfect pop song since day one. I just don’t know how, or the audience hasn’t learned that it’s wonderful yet. My music will make sense on a melted jukebox after the fallout,” Kattner says. “Good thing our apocalyptic jams haven’t gone out of style. If anything, they’re more timely. Who would’ve thought the world could go so haywire in such quick fashion?”
Man Man plays at 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11 at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $15. 423-1338.