Jacqueline Di Milia Since word got out that Mister Heavenly, a band comprised…
- Posted on May 16th 2011 1:30PM by Dave Morris
Courtesy of Man Man
"People are gonna be like, 'Man Man's ballin'!'" says Honus, with characteristic black humour. "They have a tractor trailer and a U-Haul trailer! And there's nothing in the tractor trailer! Wow! They waste a lot of gas."
Today, the usual tour woes are weighing on Honus, which explains perhaps why he forgoes the wacky children's television show host persona he sometimes dons on the record. He describes the songwriting process for 'Life Fantastic' bluntly: "It was excruciating." That explains the three year gap between 'Life Fantastic' and 2008's delirious 'Rabbit Habits' -- at least partially.
Honus offers further insight: "I write music and words at the same time. Which means that I loop in the piano the same verse for 18-hour stretches, which can drive roommates crazy. But I don't bring anything to the band unless I've sang it to myself at least three or four hundred times, you know? Unfortunately that's why I'm not the most prolific."
There's an element of the tortured artist in Honus -- one with a sharp sense of humour -- but by the sounds of it, struggle is the price Man Man have paid to evolve over the course of four albums. And how has he evolved as a songwriter? "Right now I'm interested in feelings, rather than getting swallowed up by my problems," he laughs ruefully.
'Life Fantastic' songs like 'Dark Arts,' Honus says, came from feelings that weren't exactly positive, however. He cites as inspiration "life events -- you know, friends dying, relationships ending."
"In the past I've been able to channel that into creativity, but this time around, not so easily. I had to find another way of looking through it. In an interesting way, it made me kind of reconnect with why I started playing music in the first place. Therapeutic reasons, you know? Like exorcism."
Another revitalizing factor was launching the side project Mister Heavenly with Nick Thorburn of Anti- labelmates Islands (and formerly of Unicorns), which has been rumoured to explore a sound being dubbed "doom wop," and features actor Michael Cera moonlighting on bass.
Honus describes the experience as liberating: "Man Man is the only band I've ever been in, so it's interesting now to have a different kind of outlet, where I could do stuff that I wouldn't do before. And you know, I can blame it on Nick. 'Oh, you don't like that part of the song? That's not me, that's Nick.'"
Remarkably, the project's name comes from venerable Toronto concert venue Lee's Palace, where Man Man and Islands have played many times. "I've always loved Lee's Palace. I always liked the name, I always wondered who Mister Lee was. And Nick and I were like, batting around names, and we were like, 'How about Mister Lee? Or Mister and Missus Lee?' We eventually just agreed on Heavenly."
Playful moments abound on 'Life Fantastic,' like 'Piranhas Club' with its '50s rock 'n' roll shimmy and lines like "I'm not a barracuda even though I flash my teeth," which, as Honus points out, are far easier to hear than on past albums, thanks in part to producer Mike Mogis. Honus is wary of fans missing the varying degrees of shade amid all the light, but having made the album, he's happy to have made it through the process with a product he personally likes.
"I had gotten into music to not go crazy, and playing in this band was making me crazy. There was some searching, in order to get back to the right place and to kind of muscle through these feelings. And for that reason alone, that's why I'm really proud of this record."