Ryan Kattner (Man Man) Talks the Joy of Losing Your Mind on Tour

During the madness that is tour, you can enter a unique and enchanted headspace. That's when it becomes surreal, magical and, above all else, fun.

Once, in the middle of the New Mexico desert — as the sun was dipping below the horizon — my band and I stopped at a lonely, surprised-it-was-even-open, post-apocalyptic-vibing gas station for a refuel/sanity break. It was a long drive-day off on a very long national tour, so we had nothing but time. As we stumbled out of the van, limping half-awake toward the dim glow of the dilapidated building — dreaming of immaculate bathrooms that did not lie therein — I happened to glance out at the desolation beyond and was surprised to see a phantom of a man stumbling through the expanse. His face was sunken and caked with dirt, his dusty hair matted, his clothing seeped with travel, and his eyes were lost and glazed over in a Harry Dean Stanton-from-the-opening-of-Paris, Texas kind of way.

Where the hell did he come from? Where the hell was he going? There weren’t any other cars or buildings in sight — or lights shimmering in the distance that would indicate a point of origin. The wanderer poked his head into the gas station but didn’t enter, and half-asked/half-gesticulated for a cup of water. The attendant shook her head “no” and before any of us could do anything or even register what was happening, he closed the door and disappeared back into the desert void. Wild.

A Visit from Mister Reaper

Once, during the load-out from an all-ages art gallery/performance space in Tucson, Arizona, called Solar Culture, we heard the horrible screeching of car brakes and saw an SUV tear past us on the railroad tracks behind the venue. As sparks spat from the marriage of undercarriage and rails, we marveled at the madness of it all. Was the SUV stolen? Were we witnesses to an insane joyride? Was this person unbelievably drunk? It was probably a case of “all the above.” Either way, the caper was short-lived, as one hundred yards or so down the way the SUV blew out a tire and skidded to a stop. The driver (a.k.a. maniac) ground their gears and tried to steer off the tracks, but the rims were locked in. The same thought brewed in all of our heads, and it was as if we had unintentionally summoned all the bad mojo in the world when we heard what none of us wanted to hear: a shrill train whistle somewhere down the line.

The SUV kept spinning its tires on the track, desperately trying to drive onto the embankment, but the driver was not getting out of the car! A buddy visiting from Philly and I sprinted what felt like a football field’s length, our lungs burning, toward the car, screaming for the driver to get the fuck out. We probably used those actual words. Unfortunately, the driver ignored us and figured s/he could outrun the train to the intersection where the tracks met the road. The train, fast approaching, couldn’t stop in time, so it blared its horn as it slammed on its brakes. We couldn’t hear an impact over all the noise, and by then the car and train were too far down the line for us to see what happened. Maybe the SUV made it to the intersection? Most likely it did not.

As the band drove away later, eager to put distance between us and the heaviness that we’d seen, I realized that, in the chaos, I had somehow lost a shoe. I ended up wearing one shoe for the rest of tour, and it was a constant reminder of that insane night.

Sleeping with Peepers

In the early years, before my band was able to afford the relative luxury of motel rooms, we did what all bands do: slept on floors, slept in the van at rest stops, slept in sleeping bags covered in cat hair of mysterious origins and tried to ferret out all the quiet, hidden, tucked-away places in crash pads offered by generous fans.

When we first graduated to motels — or, rather, one motel room with five other guys sneaking in after we got the keys — one of us had to rotate out nightly and pull van duty. Van duty was basically sleeping in the rental van, guarding the gear that was crammed floor-to-ceiling as if the vehicle were an overstuffed Hobbit hole. I tended to volunteer for this simply because it was a rare respite from being around everyone else. Sure, it meant sleeping with the windows cracked (but not open enough for a stranger to reach their hand in) and peeing in a bottle, but it also meant seeing the bizarre goings-on in motel parking lots late at night: peeping toms snaking window-to-window trying to see a flash of flesh through the curtains, and creeps trying to peer into our van.

It would get so stuffy in the van that I’d end up sleeping in only my underwear, and I learned over time to keep a blunt object and a werewolf mask within reach. I had woken up enough times to a peeper’s shadow peering in the van window. I knew better. If you’re emboldened enough to try to steal a van, the last thing you’d expect to encounter is an almost-nude, sweaty, werewolf-masked man swinging a club and wielding a Gatorade bottle filled with urine. The things you learn.

Carving Joy from Madness

I have been lucky enough to be able to tour and sustain a sort of living from it. And by “living,” I mean years and years of living out of duffel bags and storage units and never knowing if there’s ever going be enough left over to pay my bills when the tour is over. But I’m thankful for that living nonetheless.

And by “tour,” I mean in a van, not a bus, which is a different beast entirely. We’ve done a few support tours riding in a headliner’s crew bus and it was really tough on my psyche; I’m an insomniac who can’t sleep in a moving vehicle. I prefer traveling by van. There’s a camaraderie that is forged when you’re forced to see the country together, when you’re forced to Pete and Repeat the following routine:

  • Wake up early, sometimes unbearably early.
  • Eventually agree on breakfast. Panera (bless you) if nothing else. Hotel sausage as a last, last resort.
  • Crawl into a filthy van with your fellow exhausted travelers.
  • Drive three or ten hours to the venue (depending on the cruelty and irrationality of how your tour is booked).
  • Load in gear.
  • Set up gear.
  • Wait for the local sound guy or your own sound guy to run cables and microphones.
  • Wait for the doors to open to the general public. Hope somebody comes. Maybe nobody comes.
  • An opening band or two plays. (Or three or four opening bands if there is no God, which there isn’t. Surprise!)
  • Play a show.
  • Load out.
  • Go to the motel, sleep for a few hours.
  • Wake up and do it all over again.

Eventually, exhaustion can wear you down. Touring is learning your breaking point and pushing through it. Over time, I’ve learned to relish the moment when my mind snaps halfway through a trip and everything goes dark and I hate everyone for no good reason because that guy chews too loud and that guy sighs too audibly (me, apparently) and I question all the life decisions I’ve ever made and ask myself the old question: “Does what I’m doing even matter anymore? I’m not finding the cure for cancer. Am I just making more disposable content in a world filled with disposable content? Why am I wasting my time?”

Obviously, this is not a fun place to toss your brain, BUT if you manage to slog through it, learn to juggle the contradiction of caring and not caring, you can enter a unique and enchanted headspace. At that point, everything becomes surreal, magical and, above all else, fun.

Oh, theres no private green room adorned with terrible band stickers and graphic penis graffiti to change in before the show? Not even a filthy, fruit fly-infested mop closet? AND none of the monitors work AND theres only two microphones AND the only bathroom in the entire venue doesnt have a door on the toilet stall AND I ate questionable Thai food a couple of hours ago?” 

Who cares? I bought this Frankenstein mask with a movable mouth and I plan to terrify every passing car tomorrow on that long-ass drive from Spokane, Washington, to St. Paul, Minnesota.

Oh, we have to load in our gear through this alley so thickly carpeted with cast-off heroin needles that it feels like Im walking barefoot even though Im wearing shoes AND dodge all the junkies shooting up into their hands and necks around us AND avoid the imminent fistfight between Junkie Giant Who Looks Like Jaws from Moonraker and Scary Doped-Up Guy?

Fuck it. Carry something. By the way, did any of y’all see that dude with one arm and one leg somehow navigating his bicycle through traffic earlier? Or that poor prostitute sitting on the sidewalk, holding her bleeding head and crying as we drove under the overpass earlier? It was a straight-up Fellini/Jodorowsky moment, right?

Oh, its 1 a.m. and we have to take off after this show in Nashville and drive to the Lower East Side in New York City to play some show at 7 p.m. tonight? Really? ” 

Sure, whatever. Sounds great.

When you reach this point, you start playing some of the best shows of your life. And you can tour forever because nothing can faze you. You’re impervious to inconvenience. You’re invincible to the world. You care about nothing and it’s wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

However — and here comes the rub — tread carefully. If you go too far down the rabbit hole, you just might just find yourself wandering in the New Mexico desert at dusk looking for a glass of water that no one will give you. Like what I did there? Well, to tell you the truth, if that stranger had just waited a fucking second or two, I probably would’ve hooked him up with a drink. Just saying.

photo credit: Garrett Coffey

Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus), is a musician-songwriter, film/theater score composer, screenwriter, mustachioed multi-hyphenate living in Los Angeles. Texas-born, he grew up in the Philippines, South Carolina, Germany, Illinois, Alabama and Missouri before finally settling in Philadelphia and pouring his scattered upbringing into his bands Man Man and Mister Heavenly. He’s releasing his first solo album in 2016. Michael J. Fox as Teen Wolf is his spirit animal. You can follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. (photo credit: Mike Gerry)