Q&A: Man Man

Man Man: Life FantasticMan Man: Life Fantastic (Anti-, 5/10/11)

Man Man: “Knuckle Down”

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Oddball rock band Man Man has crafted its best album yet in Life Fantastic, a record that showcases the band’s finest songs with its strongest production to date. For the group, it was a significant and symbolic new direction, recording with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Rock) in Omaha, Nebraska. We got a chance to talk to frontman Ryan Kettner from the road and ask him about the sneaky shape that Life Fantastic took and the experience of working in a “real-deal, bona-fide studio.”

Let’s start with an easy one. What would you say to describe Man Man?

That’s the easy one? (Laughs) Exorcism.

That’s it?

That’s it. Exorcism.

What are you most excited for people to hear on Life Fantastic?

Just to hear the record. I’m real proud of this record. I think it’s our most deceptive record we’ve ever made. I think it’s our best record we’ve made, but I think it’s our most deceptive because the initial impression is, “Whoa, it sounds polished and different.” It’s sneaky because the production’s so good that you can lose sight that there’s a dark, dark center to this tasty treat.

What do you mean by that?

Our new album, it’s a grower. People who like our older stuff, but maybe are turned off by the production, really got to dig in, ’cause like I said, it’s a lot sneakier than any record we’ve done. It gives the impression that it’s tame, but it’s about as tame as sending your dog to obedience school because it bit off somebody’s face. It still might be in that dog to bite off someone else’s face. I wouldn’t keep it in a room with my infant daughter. Which, for the record, I don’t have.

How did working with producer Mike Mogis help shape this album?

Well, the band’s always been a balance of extremes: control and chaos, beautiful and ugly. I feel like Mogis really captured that. There are some songs on the record that are outright beautiful, but then when you realize the content of the song, it’s different. It kind of throws you off. And that’s a good thing.

What was it like to work with a producer?

Absolute nightmare. (Laughs) No, it was good. We never worked with a producer before. We just went to the producer phone book and he was the first name we came across. All the pages before it were ripped out. It was also our first time we worked in a real-deal, bona-fide studio.

Why did you decide to go in that direction, with a producer and studio?

We don’t want to keep making the same record, you know? For us, it’s important not to be one of those bands that gets comfortable and stagnant and keeps making the same record. And I can’t write the same songs I wrote seven years ago; I’m just not the same person. There’s a charm to every album — there’s a narrative; there’s a storyline to every one. We’re just trying to constantly evolve.

Did this change in recording also change the songwriting process?

No, we went to Omaha with the songs. The record was already written. The big asset of having Mike…was [that] we came in, and he helped us find a place for all the sounds we were creating. An interesting thing about this album: I feel like some people’s impression is [that] it’s so streamlined and sparse. But on these songs, there are just as many things happening as our older songs; it’s just the way it’s arranged.

What do you call the little guy on the album cover?

It’s part of a triptych, actually. That’s a totem, and there’s two other totems. That little guy, for me, is the birth of the record. The triptych, very simply, is three totems: the birth, living, and death. When you see all three images together, it makes more sense. But I think he’s protecting or representing that implication of this record.

How has the live show evolved with the new material?

You gotta come check it out; it’s killer. It’s our first big national tour since our last record. We’re on tour with all of our stuff, [and]…we have a lot of stuff. It’s nice to have all of our own gear, but…we have a lot of stuff. It’s not an easy band to tour with — I’ll put it that way. We’re not just guitars, bass, and drums.

If you ever meet a band called Woman Woman, will you be allies or archenemies?

Depends if we’re attracted to them or not. (Laughs) Actually, let me clarify that statement. It depends if they are attracted to us. They’ve got the upper hand in that situation.

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