Man Man frontman Honus Honus, aka Ryan Kattner, is a Jedi master of deadpan delivery, even while crammed in a van with five other guys and a pile of gear.
"We've been touring a lot," he remarks wearily. "We don't even own a van. We rent a van. We don't own a trailer, but we definitely need a trailer."
He pauses for a moment, and in the background, Notorious B.I.G. booms out of low-budg speakers.
"I feel like I'm in a piñata."
That's what you get for being in a band that in 2005 Rolling Stone dubbed the Best Stage Show at South-by-Southwest. The Philly boys worship at the experimental altar of Frank Zappa and Tom Waits and list Lord of the Flies, Aztec rituals and the Jerky Boys as influences on their MySpace page. They've been known to don tennis outfits and war paint on stage, and they tear through electrifying sets without pause.
Tinkling piano, wheezing accordion, tinny horns, jazzy flute noodling and shoo-do-be-do girl choruses tangle with gravelly vocals and blood-drawing shards of synthesizer and guitar. Waltzes erupt into indecipherable noise and a screamo assault comes to a jarring halt with slow-bowed cello.
It's a circus sideshow. However, Kattner insists, it's not gimmickry.
"We are serious about the music, but we have fun with it," he says. "It's a way to combat any kind of jadedness. You have to have some sense of levity or you'll go motherfucking crazy. I guess we could brood more."
Could the Man Man name be costing them Serious Band Cred?
"Most band names are pretty terrible," Kattner acknowledges. "We just tried to come up with a name that's not as terrible as the rest."
(Kattner and his bandmates one-upped those terribly named bands with terrible stage monikers. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Honus-squared. Oooh, your name comes from a book of spells-double, double toil and trouble that crap back to Charmed.)
Beyond the black-magic references and on-stage hoo-ha, Kattner says Man Man's music has depth.
"I have people tell me all the time that they'll sing the lyrics to our tune and realize it's a dark song. It's more subversive. I don't have any intention of singing about "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow.'"
That last bit refers to the early-'70s Frank Zappa song with a chorus that goes "Nanook, a-no-no/ Don't be a naughty Eskimo." (Amazingly, "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" got widespread radio airplay and the album, Apostrophe, was one of Zappa's most commercially successful.)
The point of Kattner's comment is that Man Man is about heavier stuff than naughty Nanook. Like beards and mustaches, for example.
"The only problem with a name like [Man Man] is that people write about your facial hair. It just so happens that most of the guys in the band have shaved."
Except Kattner. He's still mustachioed.
And back to that band name: If "Man Man" hadn't passed muster, the guys also kicked around "Moyster"-that's a Jewish oyster-and "Bamboobs."
Still, two albums-2004's The Man in a Blue Turban and 2006's Six Demon Bag-prove the band to be legitimately ambitious. And props from tourmates like Cat Power and Arcade Fire don't hurt, either.
These days, Man Man is sans label and shopping around a new album they expect to finish recording in May. That explains the rented van.
"We're not on a label, so we're footing the bill ourselves. It's exciting. We're running on fumes. The coffers are on empty."
In San Diego, the band will be playing Epicentre in Mira Mesa, a bummer for the over-21 crowd, a coup for the kiddies.
"We try to play all-ages shows whenever possible. I remember not being able to get into a bar or club to see bands. It's great to see kids freak out. They freak out pretty good."
Freaking out is a natural reaction to Man Man, which Kattner describes as an "accidental misstep from other accidental missteps" in his life.
"This," he says with careful emphasis, "is what happens when you don't make the varsity team."
Man Man plays at Epicentre on Friday, April 6. Doors open at 7 p.m. $10-$12. 858-271-4000.