Music Interviews

Man On Man: “Take away all the venues and queers would still find a way to get together” – Interview

Indie-rock distortion and gay pop confidence meet in a new project from Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum and partner Joey Holman. Now they’re ready to take it on the road

Man On Man

Man On Man

There’s an electrifying contrast to the music Roddy Bottum makes. As keyboardist for Faith No More he helped create some of the most virile alternative rock of the ’80s and ’90s, then with his follow up band Imperial Teen, he mastered the art of classic power pop songwriting laced with homoerotic innuendo. His latest project Man On Man, a collaboration with his partner Joey Holman, is a defiantly queer synth and guitar affair that mixes both. Releasing their first record as the world comes round to life after Covid, the pair spoke to us about how it came about.

“We wrote this record during the first round of quarantine,” Holman explains. “Roddy’s mum was sick, we were in New York City and she was in California, We drove out, mid March. Because we weren’t sure what was going to happen with borders being closed, so we made the decision to be on the west coast. As we were driving, Roddy had the idea to make music just for fun, to pass time and to send to our friends.”

That almost whimsical suggestion from Bottum gradually snowballed into a new band and eventual album. “The initial creative process was very much about coping, we’d just moved, had an intense five day drive and the process was showing ideas we’d written on the first day,” Holman recalls. “Showing stuff, writing together and just talking about what the project was. At the time we had low aspirations about just having fun together. We didn’t go in with any existing music but by day two we began to see things take shape.” Bottum confirms this, saying, “There were so many levels of intensity. Just getting to California was a trek, it felt like a horror show and getting to a safe space was really dramatic. Then the uprising happened so that was a direction we went in creatively and then my mother ended up dying and that was also a direction we went in. So many things happened in this last year and all those chapters pushed us in different directions. We recorded everything on our own, a couple of friends mixed it and our friend Joey Howard played bass on a couple of tracks, otherwise it was just us alone doing our thing.”

Talking of different directions, the initial sound for the record was a world away from where it eventually ended up. As Bottum candidly reveals, “We started with a lot of quiet sounds. We had an upright piano and were doing some acoustic things and it was coming from a really heartfelt kind of emotional intense place. But then having done that, we said to ourselves, let’s change it, let’s go really hard, make something really loud.” The art of songwriting can be extremely personal, especially when writing about personal grief and global uncertainty but it was never an issue for the duo. “I think a lot of the quieter songs were written early,” Holman confirms, “processing what the fuck was gonna happen to us and the world, so it felt introspective and timid. I lost my mother in September 2019 then five or six months later were driving out and then Roddy loses his mum over the summer. It’s no surprise that art is absolutely an outlet for emotionalising, specifically loss. Once we adjusted to the new reality, humans’ greatest ability is to adapt, we made a new normal quickly. We both came to an agreement, let’s keep going, and let’s not do one thing.”

For Bottum, there was a real liberation in having a musical partner who doubled as a romantic one. “I’ve always liked writing lyrics,” he admits. “I mostly I write on my own, but this was us together. Creating with your partner is a challenge unto itself. While there’s some vulnerability involved, it’s also a super rewarding and safe place to be in, to create art and lyrics together. I feel very confident jumping into a process with Joey. We can say ‘No that’s not enough or no that’s too much’.” That sentiment of security and trust is shared by Holman who states, “Roddy and I have always come from a place of supporting each other and we created a very free space for us to do that. Yeah, there are occasional critiques of a lyric line or guitar line but we always let each other just say what we want to say. To be truthful, it wasn’t hard to be vulnerable. We’ve been making music long enough, where if something needs to feel heavy in a song we know how to make that happen.”

“When we’re looking to work with people, we always go to our queer family first.”

That honesty and confidence is reflected in the band’s cheeky videos and lyrics, which explicitly deal with same sex attraction. “With hindsight, no one’s really done this before,” Holman acknowledges. “Looking back there’s never been two guys, who are a couple, who talk about having sex with each other openly and then talk about tender things like love and affection.” Such emotional honesty being revealed doesn’t scare him. “I don’t feel that vulnerable as an artist, once it’s out of our hands. It’s not up to me to decide what people do with it or think about it. I know that I’m proud of it and I’m proud of my partner because he’s such an incredible structure for me to feel supported and loved and that’s all I need.” Bottum is no stranger to controversies surrounding honesty. “When I came out, it was like I was pushed to make a statement, the world was not a great place. It’s still not a great place. We’re coming from a place where we wanna share and make a political statement about inclusivity and confidence and self empowerment.”

Inclusivity for the pair means working with specifically queer artists, wherever possible. “It’s something we talk about a lot,” Bottum clarifies. “When we’re looking to work with people, we always go to our queer family first. Christeene (the controversial drag performer) is one of our best friends. Jack Pierson did our cover art. Most of the art that we have and appreciate comes from our queer family. Christopher Schulz, a good friend of ours who does a magazine called Pin Ups, he’s so smart, and he did the layout for our record. We gave him the materials and he made choices that spoke to our queer identity. There’s something we don’t need to explain to a queer artist that just inherently comes up and works to our advantage.” Holman is equally adamant. “The last thing we want is a straight person’s take on what queer is, even if you feed references to them. We want to work with people who are queer and get it or who let Roddy and I take the wheel.”

Holman found particular inspiration working with noted photographer Pierson on the album art, which features close up shots of the pair wrestling. “Both of us are really into photography. I experience queerness through photography, I could go on and on about photographers, for me that’s historically what I’ve been inspired by. Jack’s a friend and somebody that we both respect and love so much. I knew of him and was a fan before I met him. To be shot by him, at his studio, that very incredible talent, to be able to experience that in person, it was heaven.”

Man On Man

Man On Man

Another key influence for the pair is the late Shannon Michael Cane, the prolific Australian zinester, former manager of New York’s legendary Printed Matter store and founder of the NYC Art Book Fair. “Shannon was my best friend,” Bottum proudly states. “He was such a pillar of community, so intent on bringing together and showcasing people’s art. He was such a great person in that way.” Holman shares that high regard: “I never knew him personally but I felt his influence, I know the impact he had on the queer community, in New York and across the globe.”

Building connections with people around the world means a great deal to Bottum and Holman, as Holman explains “Man On Man is an umbrella for a lot of different ideas we have. We have this community we call Chosen Family. The goal is to get away from social media, and connect people in more meaningful ways; for example we’re starting a pen pal programme. We have five hundred people globally already. Although we have social media, we only use ours as a way to connect with fans and showcase what we’re doing. We’re not trying to revolutionise anything, we’re just getting back to connecting with people how we all used to. Ninety-five percent of our conversations are about our community, what are we doing with them, how can we provide a service for them, what can they do with each other. What does it look like in a venue with us, is it a show or something more?”

“There’s never been two guys, who are a couple, who talk about having sex with each other openly and then talk about tender things like love and affection.”

Playing live shows is something both are keen to do, and soon. “What makes me excited about live shows is playing next to Roddy, playing these songs,” says Holman. “We’ve explored our dynamic too through the videos. There are performance shots in them. Performing is starting to take shape. We’re both really ready to get onto a live stage, playing the songs.” Bottum continues: “We just started working with a booking agent. We’ve never performed together. We did one acoustic thing, on Instagram, but we haven’t performed Man On Man live, so it’s going to be super fun. There’s a lot of fear going into this next chapter of the world, we’ve lost so much but that’s super pertinent. We are at the cusp of so many possibilities; it’s really exciting to think about.”

Bottum isn’t going to be held back for much longer. “Listening back to the sequencing, it took me back, it’s so heavy and front loaded but kind of for me it’s an interesting statement on Covid and the time we’re in, really full on, really intense. As a poetic statement to the time we’re in and what we’re dealing with, it makes sense conceptually. I’m super comfortable with that right now.” Holman concurs: “I think our influences, the current experiences were going through, you could be on a beach and be depressed about something, you could be financially secure in a mansion with an in-house chef, and if you’re not feeling it, it doesn’t matter. The intensity of the Covid pandemic influenced us greatly. We’re so proud that it has a diverse feel across the record. You can’t just listen to Daddy and understand what it is, because we have songs like Baby You’re My Everything and It Floated and then heavy songs like Stohner. That’s what I love about what we do. It doesn’t feel one note.”

Talking of stoners, we ask if the pair are big on drugs. Although Holman had gone six years without smoking, Bottum recalls a recent experience with narcotics. “We got stoned the other day. We were up in Provincetown and went to a weed store. They had edibles so we had a super small dose, it was called Bliss, and we got so fucked up, in a good way, we just laughed. We watched the Stohner video playback whilst stoned, it was an incredible experience. I’ve been going up to Provincetown the last couple of summers, it’s a magical beautiful place, and you’ll see John Waters just riding around on a bicycle. One time, Jack [Pierson] invited me to have dinner so we went to this mayflower diner and had dinner with John.” Holman is also a fan of the popular LGBTQIA holiday destination, saying “It’s very of the rainbow. It’s quite one note but everyone’s there: creatives, finance people, poor queers staying three to a bedroom.” That ingenuity is what he hopes will keep the band’s momentum going. “You could take away all the venues and queers would still find a way to get together.”

Man On Man’s eponymous album is out on 7 May 2021 through Polyvinyl/Big Scary Monsters. Further information can be found here.

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Man On Man: “Take away all the venues and queers would still find a way to get together” – Interview