When queer musical duo Man On Man—Roddy Bottum and Joey Holman, whose partnership is both creative and romantic—released its eponymous debut album in 2021, it was as if someone opened a gallon drum of poppers and we were all experiencing the same thrilling head rush. Bottum, who many know from his time in Faith No More, hinted at some of what we heard through his other band, Imperial Teen. However, when combined with Holman’s youthful exuberance, Man On Man took the sound and the style to a whole new level.
Even if you’ve been listening to other contemporary gay bands, nothing could prepare you for what this pair has in store with their latest album, Provincetown (Polyvinyl). Not shying away for a moment from its sexy subject matter, Man On Man effortlessly avoids the dreaded sophomore slump and proves they are in peak condition on songs including “Take It From Me,” “Gloryhole,” “Piggy,” “Showgirls,” “I Feel Good,” and “Kids.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bottum and Holman ahead of their show at Gramps in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
Gregg Shapiro: I’d like to begin by thanking you both for coming here to Florida to play in Orlando and Miami at a time when the state isn’t being seen in the most favorable light, especially when it comes to its treatment of LGBTQ people. Did you have any hesitation about returning to the region to play?
Roddy Bottum: Thanks for saying that. We totally addressed it amongst ourselves. When we were talking about coming down to Florida, we were like, “Yeah, it is fraught with a whole bunch of shit. Someone said to me the other day, “That’s so good that you can go down there and represent.” Which is a really good way to look at it, and the way we would have looked at it anyway. We’ve been talking a lot in the car about what Florida means—how queers and women, specifically, in Florida have to work really hard to represent themselves. As a result, Joey was estimating that the queers and the women are way fiercer down here because they have to work so hard to represent.
People think that by not coming here, they’re punishing the state. But there are a lot of gay people who live in this state. Don’t punish the gay people who live here, because I’m pretty sure most of us didn’t vote for DeSantis.
Joey Holman: We also don’t want to give the impression that we’re coming down to Florida to do it a favor. I think one of the most repulsive views of Florida, even more so than the actual shit that’s going on, is that Floridians aren’t amazing. That they aren’t progressive, that they aren’t fighting, and that they aren’t relevant. We need Florida and Floridians. I think that there’s a slight perspective that can be a little bit condescending to places like Florida. Wait a minute! Florida is getting resistance because Florida resists. It would be silly for us to come down here and ignore that strength.
I went to college in Boston in the 1980s and we made frequent trips to Provincetown, which is one of my favorite places on earth. The new Man On Man album is titled Provincetown. Please say a few words about your connection to that gay mecca.
RB: Geographically, it was a reference point for us because it’s where we made our record. But then also, in a spiritual sense, it’s where an assemblage of our community, in a really extreme and specific way, exists. The balance of those two things spoke volumes to us when we were thinking about the title of our record. We were a little bit wary of claiming it as our own, but I don’t think there’s a danger in that. Every spectrum is there. [So the title speaks to] what we wanted to put out there with our record.
Do you ever run into John Waters?
RB: For sure. We’ve seen him riding around on his bike. We meet all sorts of people there. Even J. Mascis of the band Dinosaur Jr., who’s on our record on the song “Hush”.
Provincetown, as well as Man On Man’s 2021 eponymous debut album, is gayer than most of the current albums I’ve heard, even from gay artists. It also reminds me of my favorite 1980s gay Boston band Human Sexual Response. Would you consider them an influence?
RB: No. I think the lack of influence [from] those sorts of bands in my life, and in Joey’s life growing up, influenced us more than anything.
Provincetown opens with the song “Take It From Me,” which contains the lyrics “Poppers, disco/1980s San Francisco/Steve Lady, Bambi/At the Crystal Pistol.” In terms of the 1980s being an influence, were you born in the ’80s, Joey?
JH: Yes, 1983. The 1980s influenced me more than you realize. I think you have an intrinsic tie to the decade you are born in. Those were my formative years. The things that I noticed—the nuance, the culture, the attitude, the energy—that’s what informed me in my most formative years. I think, also, when you go to college with people in your age group, there’s this mandatory “go back in time” thing with music.
JH: You have to go to the ’80s. That’s where I discovered going beyond emotion, going beyond time and place, and going more into atmosphere. There’s a simplicity that exists from the ’80s and a repetitiveness in the music that really inspired me as a guitar player and as a songwriter. There’s a lot from the ’80s that I think informs both of us. I think the attitude of the music, and the culture that the music was creating—the core of it resonates with both of us.
Is that when you started making music, Roddy?
RB: Probably so. Like in the opening lines of that song, I talked about living in San Francisco at that time as a 17- or 18-year-old kid. Being influenced by that culture, on the frontlines of the introduction of AIDS and queer sensibilities. Particularly in San Francisco, it was a rampant time for those ideologies.
“I Feel Good” sounds like the kind of summer song that would sound great blasting from a car with the windows down, or at a P-town tea dance. Are there remixes in the works?
JH: We aren’t closed off to it.
RB: We haven’t pursued it.
JH: If the right person came along to do it, we’d be totally into it.
RB: It’s a funny song. It’s one that we started playing, and then we turned off to it, and then it turned into a thing. When we play it [in our concerts, Joey explains] that this song story started as sort of a tongue-in-cheek sort of reference. Like, “I feel good, but we didn’t really feel good.” But it’s actually more literal now. I do feel good.
JH: It’s a song about owning your choices, and not being a victim of your choices. Being in a relationship, doing what Roddy and I do. You can view it as “It’s hard, we’re an indie rock band, we’re two queer people, we don’t make sense in the bigger conversation with where queerness is headed right now.” But it’s also, “Look at the beautiful world we’ve been able to carve out because of what we do and who we are.” That’s something to be proud of. In that way, I do feel good.
This past weekend was the Pitchfork Music Festival, and Lollapalooza is coming up soon. I’ve seen plenty of queer bands at both. Would Man On Man like to play those festivals?
JH: Of course!
RB: Yeah, absolutely. We started our band and we had a specific agenda. It was a little bit naive, but we honestly thought the places that we would do best were queer festivals, playing to our queer family. That works to a large extent. Also, there’s a process where people who aren’t necessarily queer get on board with our ideology of being queer. That’s [a process that is just] as satisfying as preaching to the choir.
I love the way that “Piggy” addresses hookup culture with some heartfelt advice: “You gotta first love you/If you wanna fuck me.”
RB: That gets a chuckle when we explain it onstage. Gay men definitely relate. We recently did a collaboration thing with Grindr. I don’t know if Grindr reached out for that reason or if they were aware of us referencing queer hookup apps.
This brings me back to the up-front sexuality of the album, which you can hear on the cruisy “Who Could Know” and the sexy “Gloryhole.” What does it mean to you as queer artists to be able to share songs such as these with queer listeners?
JH: I’m so comfortable talking about gay sex, even lyrically. It’s a balance of us being proud of our story, proud of our interests, and proud of what we write about. And also, this is part of our culture. All of our friends talk like this.
RB: I feel the same way. It goes back to what we talked about at the beginning. Going back to our truths. I just want to put truth out into the world. I’m aware of that truth not being there when I was growing up. I want to address that in a provocative way that I didn’t have [the ability to do] when I was a kid.
Do you remember what you would consider the first queer song you ever heard?
RB: Yeah! “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. There was so much talk about that song at the time. I didn’t really understand that that was a queer song, but I remember clocking it. Like, “Oh, OK, this is gay.”
JH: What was that song in the ’90s that was “I Kissed a Girl”? Not the Katy Perry one.
Yes, the real one by Jill Sobule—by a real queer artist.
JH: The song had a great video. That was big. Also, in some ways, Tracy Chapman. I think her queerness was connected to what she was doing. She looked like a lesbian to me, and that made me feel like I need to pay attention to her.
RB: Phranc, too—early on.
WHAT: Man On Man’s Houston appearance
WHEN: October 12
WHERE: White Oak Music Hall