Best of 2020: Man Man’s Honus Honus Makes a Controversial Choice

He picks his own record as his favorite of 2020.

I have a pretty controversial answer: my own record, Man Man’s Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between. It’s an album that took a long time to pull together, and my bandmates really put everything they had into it alongside me. I’m so proud of it. It’s unfortunate it had to come out in these times, but on the other hand it was nice to hear that it helped others get through their pandemic. Little did I know when I wrote the record that the themes would be so relevant to 2020. I definitely had some existential conflicts, straddling a place in my career where it was like: Is it time to throw the towel in or keep pushing the boulder up the mountain? I was at a crossroads in a sense, and that’s what the album tackles. And then that’s what all of us had to tackle in 2020. 

The music video we did for “Cloud Nein,” we dropped it in February and everybody was locked down in March. The video is just an old man dancing by himself, in abandoned city streets. I’ve been joking for years that I make apocalyptic pop music that would make sense once the world was over, but I didn’t anticipate that joke coming to fruition.

We had the option of pushing back the album release once we realized that everything was kind of teetering off the edge and there would be no touring — basically no career for any of us. I opted to put it out, because I feel like people need music. And that’s what the feedback has been. The irony of it all is that I didn’t anticipate that all the hardworking freelance writers and all of the music journalists would all be laid off. So something that you work really hard on gets released into a vacuum of sorts, and people have to find it on their own. To be honest, that was pretty heartbreaking. But at the same time, I think that the product will hold up over time, if people ever find it.  It was supposed to be a really triumphant return, and it was derailed by something completely out of our control. I can laugh about it. This makes sense. 

I think with this record I was able to talk all these natural feelings of anxiety and self doubt and bend them into something that to me was cathartic in a lot of ways, but wasn’t weighed down by that. It also exudes a sense of joy, and I think that’s why I’m proud of it. It takes adult themes… It’s not heavy. There are moments of it, but there are also lots of moments of levity. There’s a transformative quality of songs and lyrics… For me something that feels like the end of the road might for someone else feel like possibilities. That’s the cool thing about music.

If I had known that this would unfold the way it did, I would still put the record out when we did. I’m happy it’s out there. But as far as being hopeful, I don’t know. I’ve been talking with my bandmates all the time, and we don’t anticipate being able to play until next fall at the earliest, maybe even 2022. We’ve been around for close to 20 years, and we can subsist with touring, but that’s it. We’re all struggling, but everyone’s struggling. I have no job and no career prospects, so I’m burning through any savings. But everyone’s struggling, and we’ve made a soundtrack to it all!

I really didn’t think this record was going to happen, and that’s why I’m so proud of it. There were so many times I just wanted to quit. It seems fitting that it would come out now. I finally got the rock up the mountain and then it just rolled back down on me! But I’ll get up again, I guess.

I’m so unprolific. I have friends and colleagues who could probably knock out 10 records in this quarantine. For me to get to an album with 17 songs, it takes me four or five years. I don’t throw away much. If the album has 17 songs, there were probably only 19 or 20 written. I wish there was a better way. The thing about living with songs that long is that they truly become a part of your DNA.

I was talking about this article with my partner, and I told her I was struggling because during this time I’ve just been riding my bike all the time, listening to world music or podcasts. I’ve listened to some records from this year, but I was struggling about what to talk about. She said, “Dude, it’s a no brainer, just talk about your record. You’re proud of it.” She gets all the credit. She knows how proud I am of it, and how devastating it was to release it this year. Ultimately the work will speak for itself—that’s what I keep telling myself as I cry myself to bed every night. [Laughs.] Please notate, “He laughs.”

As told to Josh Modell.

(Photo Credit: left, Dan Monick)

Honus Honus (aka Ryan Kattner) has devoted his career to exploring the uncertainty between life’s extremes: beauty and ugliness, order and chaos. The songs on Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between, Man Man’s first album in over six years and his Sub Pop debut, are as intimate, soulful, and timeless as they are audaciously inventive and daring.

(Photo Credit: Dan Monick)