In his own right, gay modern rock icon Roddy Bottum is a living legend.
His association with influential bands including Faith No More (remember “Epic” and “We Care A Lot”?) and Imperial Teen (remember “Yoo Hoo”?) put him in a class by himself. His latest musical project, “Man on Man,” with boyfriend Joey Holman, may be his most personal, as well as his queerest. Take the song, “It’s So Fun (To Be Gay),” for example, which includes the line “Birds do it, bees do it/We do it too,” or the overt and graphic sexuality of “1983” and “Daddy.” Add to that an impressive variety of musical styles and the duo’s eponymous Polyvinyl Records debut ranks among the best of 2021. Roddy and Joey were kind enough to answer a few questions about the new album.
For those not in the know, how did the two of you meet?
Roddy Bottum: We're both musicians and we both live in New York. Joey had reached out to me about an Imperial Teen song that he liked. He was doing a recording and he was asking about a recording technique that Imperial Teen had used. We started to talk and soon after we had that conversation, I was performing in a band called Nasty Band and we were doing a big show. Joey came to the show and we met then and started hanging out.
How long ago was that?
RB: Almost two years (ago).
What can you tell the readers about the genesis of “Man On Man,” including the name of the duo?
Joey Holman: The genesis was us going out to California during the beginning of COVID. Roddy’s mom was sick. His family is from L.A. We thought it would be best, considering that we didn’t know what was going to be happening, to get out that way in case something serious happened with his mom. We rented a car and we drove west. We were in the middle of Texas and Roddy said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we just made a few songs while we're in quarantine?” That was the beginning of it. After writing probably three or four songs, we were taking a lunch break and we were talking about what our project was going to be called. I just said “Man on Man,” and it stuck.
Great name, seriously! Can you please say a few words about your songwriting process and if it differs, at all, from the way you wrote songs in your other bands?
RB: It was an interesting journey writing music together. Though we’re both musicians, we hadn’t written together before we went to California. It's kind of a stretch. I always admire when couples do things together in any realm. Creatively though, it's especially intense. I've never created and written with a boyfriend before, so that was completely new. We had to develop a language and mutual respect and a way of listening that was different than just being in a band with friends. There are so many more levels and more nuances involved in a relationship.
JH: I always say that writing music with a partner is like going to college for your relationship. You learn how to communicate in different ways. I think the creative process, in general, brings out a lot of your personality that is usually kind of tucked away. It's a unique thing to be creating with somebody else. A very specific thing to do with other people. Very rarely do we get to see that side of a partner while they're in the middle of the creative process. The main thing that was different for me is the only music I played before was in a Christian band when I was in my 20s. The process was pretty limiting. With Roddy and me, we made it clear in a lot of our conversations that, even before we had a band name, that we would feel free to express ourselves however we wanted to. That was a new thing for me. To feel open to talk about gay sexual content or to be open about my love for another man even. It felt really good!
The song “Daddy” makes reference to “fuckin’ quarantinin’,” “Kamikaze” contains a virus reference, “Beach House” has the line “stressed out and stuck in.” Would it be fair to say that the album is a product of the pandemic?
RB: Yeah, definitely. When we got to California, we got to a little house in Oxnard, which is 15 miles north of L.A. We had to quarantine there. We knew this going in. The journey of what we had gone through, traveling from New York to California, formulated what we were dealing with and what we knew was coming. Being in that house alone together and letting it all sink; the most dominant themes and things that were going on were those of the pandemic. The weight and the magnitude of what was coming and what we were in the middle of. In the middle of that, too, we were dealing with a lot of grief. Joey's mother passed away a couple months before that, and my mother was getting sicker and sicker and she eventually passed away. In the middle of that, too in the same sort of capsule of songwriting, creativity for our inception, the uprising was happening. It was just a lot of intensity. The record, for sure, is like a time capsule that reflects on where we were at that time and how we were getting through it, and what togetherness as a couple meant in that space.
What would it mean to you if the year-round Pride anthem “It’s So Fun (To Be Gay)” was embraced as such at global Pride events?
JH: I think that would be a dream for us. We’re in the process of making a video for that song. We had a long conversation last night that re-energized our understanding of what “Man On Man” is. We want people to feel they're completely fine if they don't identify as straight or if they don't subscribe to a certain gender or whatever it is. Non-straight people are completely A-OK. We're going to be donating our first day/launch day Bandcamp sales to an organization called Born Perfect, whose goal is to end conversion therapy. That really speaks to the whole point of the song. We have so many moments of feeling stress. Most of our lives we see very clearly that the world is mostly straight. Sometimes for gay people, queer people, anybody that's not straight, the takeaway can be that this world is not for me. We often need to be reminded of the beautiful moments that we have as a community, as a family. For me, it's the most rewarding experience to be able to be with my community. The truth is that it’s very fun and it's really beautiful and we would love for people to adopt that as a worldwide Pride anthem [laughs]!
RB: For sure! We're so proud of what we do and we are so proud of our community. To push that into the realm of the whole world and our community feels really strong.
If “Man On Man” was invited to perform the Pride festival circuit in a post-pandemic world, is that something you would consider?
JH: Hell, yeah!
RB: Yeah, in fact we’re going to insist on it!
It’s only March, but “Two At A Time,” which includes the wonderful lines — “Look ahead at all the possibilities/Living to the best of our abilities/Windows open, yes to visibility,” — not only sounds like the perfect summer song for the beach or blasting from open car windows, but also one with a vision of a post-COVID-19 world. Am I on the right track?
RB: Certainly, yeah. That's what we're aiming for. I think when we were in the throes of the pandemic, and all of the sort of intensity that I was talking about before, it was our goal, everyone's goal in the world today, right now, to get through this. I think we, as a world, are so much looking forward to the possibilities of getting through this all. That's where our heads were at in the making of all our songs.
I also love “1983” which sounds like a future tea-dance classic. Is there a remix in the works and what would it mean to you to hear it blasting at tea-dance in Ptown, Key West, and Fire Island?
JH: OK, first of all, your questions are amazing! I just want to say that.
JH: I love you! I think it's funny, even before we were talking about finding a label or whatever, we were already in the mindset of doing remixes. We have a lot of friends who do that. It’s very likely that we would be doing something like that in the future. I think there's a lot of powerful melodies and music lines that I think would make for amazing remixes. (For) “Daddy” alone, I feel like there could be 50 different remixes of that song. Roddy’s synth lines in “1983” make me want to punch a wall, they’re so good. I freak out. When I first heard them, my whole body was vibrating. I would love to hear those lines in a remix.
It makes me think of New Order.
RB: When you asked us about writing music as a couple, that was a big part of it. As we were writing music together and as we were creating our different parts and sharing them with each other, as a couple, as I'm making music with the man I love, a lot of it was showing off. I really wanted to impress Joey when I was making my parts, in a way that I've never made music before. Like there was a lot at stake. I really wanted to impress him and make him love it in a different way.
It sounds like you did exactly that.
JH: It worked!
Even though the album opens with the heavy rock of “Stohner,” it’s the moments of full-on beauty, in songs such as “Lover,” “Please Be Friends,” “It Floated” and “Baby, You’re My Everything” that dominate the record. Can you please say something about that juxtaposition?
RB: Making the record, we traversed a lot of different musical moods in our creativity. I keep going back to this, but it was such an intense time. We couldn't help but be super introspective and thoughtful and pensive and super sensitive about the world and where we were. Because the record is such a time capsule and a reflection on what we were all going through as a community, I think we tended to, particularly in the sequencing of the record, let it follow the course of writing and the course of history that happened. When we started with the COVID, none of us knew what was going on. As stuff sunk in and we started to realize what we were dealing with, shit got real serious real fast. It definitely informed our songwriting at that point. Like we were saying earlier, the record is a reflection of the time and what happened. The fact that the record ends on these tones of beauty and reflection makes sense because it's in conjunction with what we were going through at the time.
Gregg Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.