Although Man Man initially gained attention for an eccentric, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to music, their forthcoming effort, On Oni Pond, is their most accessible. “We really wanted to write songs that kind of stick in your craw,” frontman Honus Honus says, “from day one, I’ve just been trying to craft the best pop song I can. Pop as I see it."
On Oni Pond is still a far cry from what anyone would consider commercial, but Honus is not averse to people calling it pop. “Fine by me,” he allows, “as long as people actually listen to the record and give it a shot, and don’t write it off as another Man Man record…because if that’s the case then I don’t think people actually listened to the record.” It turns out the shift in direction came from an altered approach to the songwriting process. “I thought that by stripping the writing down to just me and Chris [Powell, a.k.a. Pow Pow, the band’s drummer] we could just attack it however it felt in the moment and not get bogged down,” explains the frontman. “When you’re collaborating with a lot of people, things can get complicated. It was fun to just bounce ideas off one other person instead of a band. It was really refreshing.”
In an attempt to illuminate the group's singular perspective on pop, we asked Man Man's main man to call out some personal pop favorites -- according to his own definition of the term -- that have enthralled his eardrums over the years.
Outkast, “Hey Ya”
"I think the greatest pop song ever written was 'Hey Ya,' hands down. I don’t know how you write a song like that and have a career afterwards. How can you ever top a song like that? It’s perfect -- the catchiness of it and the uniqueness of it; they have their sound and they write this song that I think for all intents and purposes is kind of strange and it’s still a pop hit."
Faust, “The Sad Skinhead”
"It’s just over two minutes long, and it’s just a great, simple, hooky little rock song. And the hook is a marimba line. Also, the song is crudely sung in English by a German, and there’s a distorted guitar solo that’s almost an anti-guitar solo. It’s pretty amazing. I would never say that they’re a pop band, but something about that song is purely infectious. It’s a song that will just totally prick up your ears. Pop is even better when it comes from people who are not necessarily anti-pop but they kind of arrive at that doorstep by their own devices. For me, the most amazing kind of pop songs are ones where there’s real personality behind them, there’s a real band behind them, and it doesn't feel like they’re crafted in some sort of hit machine."
Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines”
"I’m still impressed by people who play into a format and can still craft a unique song. That’s a challenge in itself. I loved that 'Blurred Lines' song. I’m over it now, but the first time I heard it I said, 'Man this is a great pop song, and I know I’m gonna hate it by the end of the summer.' I can’t stand 'Blurred Lines' now; it’s one of, like, four songs that’s on the radio. It was great when I first heard it."
"There are songs that I’ll hear now that were played on repeat that I still love. 'Milkshake,' I think, is a prefect pop song. I could listen to that forever. There’s an attitude – 'Blurred Lines' is like a wink and a nod, and it references Marvin Gaye, so there’s not necessarily an originality to it, it’s kind of a fun 'nudge, nudge' attitude. 'Milkshake' is a pop song, but there’s definitely a schoolyard attitude, which is pretty rad. And Kelis is amazing."
The Fat Boys, Crushin’
"I could trace back to my youth and I think of the first couple of cassette tapes that I had. My first cassette tape that I ever got was Crushin’ by the Fat Boys. I was living in Germany. My dad was stationed over there. In the rec center where I would play ping pong, they would play [Fat Boys movie] Disorderlies on the VHS player, and that’s how I first discovered the Fat Boys."
Los Lobos, La Bamba soundtrack
"Around that same time, the first CD I owned was the soundtrack to [Ritchie Valens biopic] La Bamba. Some of those songs I guess, like 'Donna,' were pop hits when they first dropped. For the longest time I was like, '[Actor] Lou Diamond Philips is so talented! Not only is he acting, but he’s writing all these things?!'"
The Rolling Stones, “Beast of Burden”
"In my mind, 'Beast of Burden' was a pop hit. Whenever I hear that song, it kills me. It just relates to a couple of relationships I was in, where whenever I was in a bar they would play the song, and it just got ingrained into my DNA."
Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
"I know I’ve already said I have a favorite, but I think the best pop song of all time is 'Don’t Worry, Be Happy.' It’s a cappella… such an amazing song. We used to do a social experiment on tours years ago where our music before the band would play, we’d just loop 'Don’t Worry, Be Happy' on repeat, sometimes for 20 or 30 minutes, while we were setting up onstage. I feel like it’s the most positive, wonderful song, and it’s a real litmus test for people’s personalities, because you’ll see whether they respond positively to it or whether they have conniptions."
Gary Glitter, “Rock and Roll Part 2”
"One time we played my favorite karaoke song on repeat before a show, which is 'Rock and Roll Part 2.' We tested that one out when we played in L.A. a couple of years ago. Surprisingly, enough people weren’t annoyed by it. I mean, there’s no words, but that’s my karaoke song because I can’t sing other people’s songs. And then our first song out of the gate, we played 'Rock and Roll Part 2.' We conditioned them to be into it."
Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing in the Dark”
"As a kid that was my favorite pop song. I used to jump on my parents’ bed and sing that song. In blue jeans. I was envisioning myself as [the Boss' dance partner in the video] Courteney Cox."
On Oni Pond will come out September 10 via Anti Records.