Ryan Kattner needed a change. Man Man’s frontman, more commonly known to the Philadelphia-based band’s listeners as “Honus Honus,” realized he couldn’t ever make a record like Life Fantastic again.
It’s not hard to see why. The band’s fourth album emerged from a chaotic and tumultuous period of Kattner’s life marked by the deaths of close friends, a motorcycle crash, tax audits, and a brief vagrancy stint. “I definitely didn’t want to replicate that environment or even write the same kind of album,” Kattner says. “It’s alright to channel the spirit, but if you keep going to the well it’s boring. If you don’t evolve it just gets stagnant.”
Faced with Life Fantastic’s disappointing response, Kattner decided to hit the reset button with Man Man’s sound. Out of that place would emerge the band’s fifth album On Oni Pond (out September 10 on Anti-), a record that personally and professionally marks a new direction for the freewheeling and energetic experimental rockers.
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Given that Man Man had “hustled for so long,” Kattner says he felt a sense of urgency in making On Oni Pond. Throughout last summer, Kattner and drummer Christopher “Pow Pow” Powell hammered out songs for eight-to-nine hours each day. Once they completed On Oni Pond’s demos, they headed west to Omaha, Neb. and reconnected with producer Mike Mogis, who they worked with on Life Fantastic. Almost immediately, the Bright Eyes multi-instrumentalist and Saddle Creek Records co-founder noticed a different vibe that felt more spontaneous, fun, and allowed for more experimentation.
“There were too many cooks in the kitchen [during Life Fantastic’s sessions], so to speak,” he says. Mogis says they were able to “cut to the chase” and make the record in three weeks instead of three months. Above all, Mogis noticed Kattner’s musical growth and artistic determination while making On Oni Pond. Man Man’s frontman dialed in his lyrics, honed his vocal takes, and created space in their songs for hooks to shine through. “It wasn’t chock-full of instruments,” says Mogis, which he thought made the record a more minimal and improved effort.
Ultimately, Kattner and Powell hope that listeners will explore On Oni Pond without relying on preconceived notions. In the past, Powell says music critics labeled Man Man’s sound as “circus-like” or “carnival-esque,” even though those words only describe a couple songs in its wide-ranging and eclectic catalog. Both think On Oni Pond challenges those ideas, combining Man Man’s signature energy with a more nuanced and collaborative songwriting approach.
“We want people to give it a chance,” Kattner says. “But we’re just afraid that people will just be like, ‘Oh, Man Man I know those crazy guys.’ The record has so much more to offer than that perception.”