MAN ON MAN is a musical project from Joey Holman (HOLMAN) and Roddy Bottum (Faith No More and queercore legends Imperial Teen), each respectively renowned for infusing indie rock with an undeniable queer sensibility. The variety of inspirations and dynamic shifts in their eponymous debut contribute to a record that feels at once boisterous and poignant in the way it conveys the joys of queer love.
They describe the project as ‘more than a band: it is a partnership of two beautiful queers who are committed to creating a language that is both musical and visual, and that transcends what we know of gay music.’ SNACK was fortunate enough to sit down with Bottum and Holman to discuss the liberty and challenges of songwriting with your romantic partner, and bringing this intimate project on the road.
Do you guys have a big connection with Scotland at all?
RB: We’ve always had good times there; I love Glasgow a lot. I would go there with Faith No More and play multiple nights at Barrowlands, so I would stay for five days. I remember going with my bicycle and having an amazing connection with the city.
JH: I’m friends with CHVRCHES and Lauren [Mayberry] is always talking about it. We’ve never played there as MAN ON MAN and I’m dying to play a show there. It sounds like everyone turns out and is into it, which is what you want to hear as a band.
How are you feeling about performing the new record, having recorded it over lockdown, and now sharing this intimate project with a live audience?
RB: We wrote the songs, but we never had any idea of playing them live: we just liked playing together. When we talked about maybe doing a record, there was a far-fetched idea of doing a tour, but nothing was set in stone. The record came out and all of a sudden it became obvious we had to start doing shows.
We both come from bands, and the only way we could initially figure out how to do this was to tour with a full band. We started doing that, working with people we liked from New York, and did two or three performances. But quickly it became logistically impossible for us: with the size of venues, the way we travel and the money we make, it didn’t make sense to have four other people on board. It was a hard decision to make given where we come from, but we decided on playing with just the two of us. It was a scary place to jump into, but we did it, and it turns out we really like it. It looks nice on stage, and the story is right there in front of you.
JH: All we want to do is tour, having been stuck inside for so long. We’re lucky to be here [New York]. But we’re excited to go into spaces with the queer people who have been listening to our music for nearly two years. It’s always rewarding to talk to people you have met on social media in real life. We let our 2021 shows inform the energy of the new record and it’s been fun to play out live.
RB: My whole life I’ve spent in clubs listening to live music, and that was the biggest challenge of the pandemic. I’ve missed that community and the energy of people who are passionate about music.
What was the genesis of the project? How did you transition from a romantic partnership to a creative one?
JH: The extent of what we’d done musically together before MAN ON MAN was one time in my bedroom, me on the computer on a Saturday morning, not really ‘for’ anything. You would think starting a band together would be the most obvious thing for two musicians in a relationship. It was never on our radar. But at the beginning of the pandemic, we moved to California after Roddy’s mom got sick.
Roddy was rehearsing with Faith No More and I was working on my solo record, so we knew we’d be working on music in some capacity. But Roddy questioned why we didn’t just write a few songs; we would be stuck in this house for the next two weeks! But it was never meant to be a band, it was probably something we would just share with our friends.
But once we released the video for ‘Daddy,’ that informed much of the future for what MAN ON MAN would become. We didn’t even have a name for the band a week before releasing the first single.
‘Daddy’ firmly established the bold imagery of the project, with the two of you stripped down to your underwear.
RB: The video and the imagery are testament to things that happen naturally. There were low stakes at that point: we were just pleasing ourselves. No standards to uphold, we just said, ‘Let’s do something sexy and fun together.’ Doing videos at this point, we tend to think a lot more about what we’re doing, but for ‘Daddy,’ we just didn’t care, we were having fun, and it reads like that.
JH: The most conversation we had about the video was not until after it was released. That’s when we started getting a lot of reactions from it. The purpose was to have fun and do what we naturally like. And it’s funny, when we talk about the video now, I feel it became something so much more than anything we would have thought about.
Songwriting is an inherently intimate process: was it easier or more challenging, writing together?
RB: Easier and harder. At the end of the day, looking back on the songs and what we’ve accomplished, it’s more rewarding to do it with a person you’re close with. But in terms of the two of us working together, the stakes were high. We hadn’t communicated or collaborated that way before; it was awkward and clunky and we got in fights we hadn’t gotten in before … but getting through it was real rewarding.
The songs are more special that way and we set out to impress each other in a weird way. It took us and our communication to a new level; we’re able to speak to each other in ways we hadn’t before.
Do you have similar musical taste, on the whole?
JH: Not really, no, but it plays to our benefit. We bring our style to the song. We’re both under the influence of the people we love and the song we’re making becomes its own thing. Roddy might have a decision that wouldn’t be on my radar as an idea, and whatever I bring regarding guitar or lyrics may be influenced by something I loved when I was younger.
You bring those two together and it might not make total sense, but if you told me to listen to the record halfway through our drive to California, I would never have believed we could make this type of record. I’m so giddy about it – we come from such different places musically, but we’ve created a record we both really love. We’ve been writing new music recently and that spark is still present because I respect Roddy so much as a songwriter and lyricist…
RB: … and genius …
JH: Yes, and genius! I always feel a little egotistical, but our music is really good. And sometimes we have conversations about queerness or our visuals, which we’re really proud of, but at the end of the day the music is great and speaks for itself.
Do you ever feel like the conversations about your work’s queer sensibility risk overshadowing the music?
RB: More than anything, MAN ON MAN is an amalgamation of who we are, our relationship, queer love, and our music. It’s all one package. We get attention for a lot of different elements of what we are.
People are here for the videos; some people just want to see us in our underwear. But then music fans are just really into the music, or people might be into the politics of it. But we have a pretty good community of people who appreciate MAN ON MAN as a whole.
How crucial is it for you to work with fellow queer artists?
JH: For the music specifically, it was just me and Roddy. Our friend Joey, who is queer, played bass on a couple of songs on the record, but otherwise it was just us. For our music videos, two were shot by us, but we collaborated with Steven Harwick on our video for ‘1983.’ We worked with a queer graphic designer, Christopher Scholtz, for our album packaging and Jack Pierson, who did our album photography cover is queer too.
RB: We do everything ourselves, but we do our best to work within the community. It always works out better for us.
JH: It’s paramount for us. If we’re gonna work with somebody, we will go to great lengths to find a queer person to work with because they’re just going to get all the references, the vibe … nothing’s going to feel out of place. And they’re going to bring their references in queer culture we might not know about.
What can the audience expect from your upcoming live shows?
JH: We’re coming to the spaces that we play in a vulnerable way: no banners, no big lights, it’s not a big production. It’s us as a couple playing music we wrote for each other, love letters, and we’re conveying that energy of our love live. It’s really loud, and it still rocks without a band, so it still feels like a huge show.
There’s an element of tension without a band that we’re able to create in a great way. It puts our hearts on our sleeves and allows us to get in the zone, the hypnotic nature of performing. My biggest hope is that people come to our show, understand the circumstances of how we created our project and feel a sense of inspiration that they can do the same thing for their own projects. We want to inspire them to just fucking do it: that’s what we did, and the world is dying to hear queer voices.
You’re about to embark on a huge tour, but do you have an idea of what may be in store next for you?
RB: We’ve been good at turning our disadvantages into advantages. We had to cancel dates because of the pandemic, and in the last ones we had to cancel we had time we could use to write songs. We’re a good chunk of the way through a new record, and it’s been fun to tour and find our strengths onstage: what we like to do and what’s hard for us. We’re leaning into a different ‘us’ than from when we started. It still feels good to be loud and boisterous and to have leaned more into that realm of songwriting. But the plan is to write a record this summer.
MAN ON MAN, their debut album, is out now on Polyvinyl Records
MAN ON MAN perform at Broadcast, Glasgow, on 13th May