Man On Man on Queerness in Indie Rock, Controversy, and Community

Man On Man on Queerness in Indie Rock, Controversy, and Community

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I was really into the first record from Man On Man, which is comprised of Roddy Bottom (Faith No More, Imperial Teen) and Joey Holman—and their follow-up Provincetown is just as solid while expanding their sound in subtle and interesting new ways. I thought there would be a lot of interesting things to talk to them about, especially since they are in a relationship together outside of their creative partnership—so we hopped on a call a few weeks ago and chatted it all out.

The new record's titled after where you made it. Tell me about what Provincetown means to the both of you.
Joey: Provincetown is a town both of us went to separately before we were in a relationship, like most queer people in New York. It's where we told each other "I love you" for the first time. From a historical perspective, it's a place where a lot of queer artists have gone to make their art and shut out the underlying friction of being gay anywhere in the world. It's a place where we can be ourselves, and the way that informs our music and our band energizes us. We have a lot of great memories and great friends there.

Roddy: When we started this project, we didn't have a huge agenda. The world was changing for us in a crazy way, and the pandemic was just starting. We'd just started our relationship and were going through some crazy stuff. Joey's mom was really sick—she had cancer, and he was taking care of her—and right around the same time my mom got really sick. It was a really intense time for both of us to be starting a relationship, but we jumped into what we are and what we became in a really profound way. We were both very confident about what we were to each other.

Our relationship came out of this dark place, and getting through the pandemic and our mothers' deaths, the combat of what the world was at that point, we were able to find a way to make music together. We hadn't planned on it, we just knew we were going to have a bunch of time to explore different things. While driving from New York to California, somewhere in the middle we were like, "Let's get some microphones and start making music," because we hadn't done that before. Joey had a guitar in the back of his car, and there was a piano where we were quarantining. So we had a few microphones sent there and started working through musical ideas.

It didn't become anything until we shared it for the first time with our community. It got a really big bang of a response from people in our world—a response that surprised us. From that point, it changed to, "OK, we are a band, we have a message, and we're representing in a way that hasn't been represented." There was a validity to what we were doing that came unto itself.

This is a project that literally started during the pandemic. While making this new record, did you feel any weight from this having started out as a "pandemic project"?
Joey: I honestly don't think so. The main conversation that we were having through the music we were making was the fact that we'd played for two years all over the U.S., the UK, and Europe. When we made our first record, we were just passing time—it was very accidental. We played enough shows to let our own experiences on stage, and the conversations we've had with people, inform the kind of music that we wanted to make on Provincetown. There wasn't really any carrying of the insanity of the last couple of years, which might be because this project has always been an escape for us. Our music is about community and escapism, but also making sense of everything. If anything, it feels like we broke free of the pandemic.

Roddy: Coming out of the pandemic was such a renaissance for a lot of people, and it feels like that for me. That moment of going back to a show after being shut down for so long was such a crazy experience. It was spiritual! To experience something as a community was so mind-blowing and liberating.

I want to talk about your guys' sound. As someone who listens to a lot of different types of indie rock, you guys dabble in a lot of different types of indie rock that only people who listen to a lot of indie rock would recognize. What's some stuff that inspires the both of you?
Joey: If you made a Venn Diagram of me and Roddy's musical tastes, where we would meet in the middle is actually kind of slim. We come from very different places when it comes to what we listen to. But where our differences exist is also where Man On Man exists. I was influenced by indie rock bands like Mineral, the Gloria Record, Elliott, and American Football, and my favorite band was Silverchair. There's parts of what I write, from a guitar perspective, that were inspired by that. But when you add the drum sounds and synth sounds that Roddy makes, it's harder to make that connection. Those indie rock bands were the first time I was able to connect with music in an emotional way.

Roddy: We have an age difference between us—20 years. That in and of itself sets up a spectrum. Joey was a young teenager listening to music way after I'd already done that. Our generational takes on music and provocative culture are kind of different. But we both do have a similar regard when it comes to taste, which comes up when we create stuff—what's valid, and what's not. There's something unspoken that happens between us. We do have references that come up for both of us, like Stereolab.

Joey: We write for each other, too. Roddy knows what will, in a musical sense, turn me on—and I know the same for him. I'm trying to show him stuff I know that he will like. I think we're in a place in our relationship where we know what will make the other person excited, and there's a lot of those songs on this record. My musical history varies a lot, and Roddy teaches me a lot. My favorite band is Bloc Party, who we saw last night, and Roddy was like, "You mean Gang of Four?" [Laughs] Our differences make us what we are.

How has your creative relationship evolved alongside your romantic relationship?
Roddy: When we made our first record, it was all about discovering each other, and uncovering what was magical about the love we had for each other. It was all over the map—trying different tones as we were feeling out things and getting to know each other. We were exploring each other for the first time. We joked about how this record would turn into Rumours, about the drama that ensues a couple of years after the relationship starts. It hasn't gotten to that point, but it's gotten to a point of comfortability that's different. We were able to hone in on our craft since we know each other in a more intense way now. It's so hard to make decisions and collaborate, but at the end of the day it's always worth it, and always fulfilling.

I'm curious to hear you both talk about your overall perspective on the legacy of queerness in rock music. What have you observed during your lives?
Roddy: When I was a queer kid in Faith No More, I had queer kids in my scene, but it was a much more shrouded issue. People didn't deal with it. It was so crazy at the time—Freddie Mercury was not out of the closet at the time I was making music. Michael Stipe was someone who people would talk about, but no one really knew for sure. "Maybe he's bi." Bob Mould! All of these people who were sort of my contemporaries didn't really proclaim their sexual preferences, so when I did make that decision to come out and talk about it in the sense of who and where I was—I think we were in a middle of a tour opening up for Metallica and Guns N' Roses, two of the most misogynistic musical statements on the map—it felt like real rebellion at the time.

Even though it was difficult and scary, it was super empowering to be able to wave that flag at that point, because no one else had really done it. I felt really emboldened by that. Today, it's a different scenario. I was listening to this comedian on a podcast who was saying that Pride isn't really a thing we care about anymore. I don't know...I don't think it's that extreme for me. He was talking about young people and how they address their sexuality, which is clearly way different from when I was a kid.

Joey: For anybody to come out as anything is a ridiculous precedent to set, so artists who aren't out—it can definitely smell of "Oh, they're just being an artist and they want to do their thing. It's not about their sexuality." But I grew up in a very small town in Georgia and was desperate for anything besides Will and Grace, or these squeaky clean Queer As Folk whatever. I wanted somebody to come in and show me the grittiness of queerness—the parts of it that are actually cool, not these marketable comedic aspects.

When I think about music today, I'm disappointed that there still seems to only be this appetite for young and skinny, and the metric for anyone being really good right now is how fierce they can be. I don't find that a lot of people still have that big of an appetite for rock bands in the queer world.

That being said, when we play shows, the bitches come out. They see our sets. So we're always encouraged and surprised by people who are still into rock music. But from an indie rock perspective, it would be nice to paint the picture that when I was growing it up it was a scene for alternative kids. But, let's be honest—"alternative" meant one thing, and that was white and straight and usually male. The way that women were treated, gay people were treated, Black and brown people were treated...we shouldn't be defining alternative and independent cultures by what is the larger part of culture today, which is white males.

I think it sounds clichéd now because it's been part of our conversation for the last several years, but I look back at that time and it was absolutely not safe for me to be out, in a seemingly very subversive crowd. That is the reality of what it used to be, and I'm encouraged that there are people like Roddy from that area who are able to call it like it is. It's encouraging for kids to be like, "I've never heard a band like this before that's gay." People are like, "I really wish I had you guys when I was a teenager," and I'm like, "Dude, me too, this would've been amazing."

When YouTube banned the "Daddy" video, that generated a level of coverage that you might've not gotten otherwise. I'm always interested to hear about what it's like to have that profile elevation all of the sudden, especially when it's due to something beyond your control.
Roddy: It's a tricky situation, because anyone who's in the position to talk about this has put themselves out there. I was definitely looking to provoke. I liked the notion of putting something out there that would get reactions and get people to think. The provocation of it was really important to me. A lot of people were watching it—it was really becoming a thing—and then, suddenly, YouTube pulled it. So it was almost like the antithesis of getting attention.

But it also couldn't have happened any better. It was unfair and didn't make sense, so we were in a situation where we had to defend ourselves, which felt good. It was a complicated time for us. We hadn't intended to do anything other than make music for ourselves and our friends, and it was suddenly a lot bigger than we intended. But since we were isolated, it was so fun. [Laughs] All the doors were closed, but we were getting all this attention, which felt good.

Joey: I played music in my early 20s and moved to New York shortly after that, and I put music in the rearview. So when Roddy and I started this project and put out this single, I truly thought the audience was going to be 40 people. We made that video on an iPhone, we made the music on a laptop. There was no professional quality, we were just having fun. To see the reaction from people on a certain outlet that was super homophobic, fatphobic, ageist, a person, I've never had to internalize peoples' public perception of what I've done in that way, and it was really shocking how that affected me when I first witnessed it. It felt like being punched in the stomach. I felt incredibly insecure and out of my body.

I realized it wasn't really up to us to decide what people thought about it when it was out there, and that was really hard for me to accept. But then it was like, "Well, yeah, keep doing what you want to do." The beauty of art is that you can let it go, and even if people don't like it, you can say, "Well, I wanted to do that, so that's why I did it." If people are gonna be shitty about it, that's fine, because there's gonna be so many people who are into it, too.

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Jamie Larson