It takes a whole lotta talent to articulate moments of sadness or anxiety and capture that feeling within any artform. To harness these sensations and channel them into a message that is wholeheartedly positive, however, requires something additional to talent.
As the Coronavirus panic gripped New York in spring of last year, Roddy Bottum, Keyboardist of multi-platinum selling band Faith No More, and his partner Joey Holman, whose projects have included his eponymous fuzzy indie project HOLMAN, and alt-rock outfit Cool Hand Luke, took their opportunity to flee the city.
As if the worldwide apocalypse wasn’t enough to contend with, both of their mothers were in poor health, so Roddy & Joey embarked upon a 3,000 mile roadtrip to the surf town of Oxnard, California, in order to care for Roddy’s mother in her final days.
“We drove all the way to California just as things were getting crazy.” Roddy recalls via our video interview. ‘So we knew we were going to be stuck inside and dealing with not seeing anyone for a while’.
Armed with an acoustic guitar and the piano that Roddy played as a child, the duo flirted with the idea of making a song together. However, as the nationwide lockdown evolved from a moment, to a period, into a significant spell of time, their musical project took on evolutions of its own.
At a juncture that could easily spawn the most melancholic and reflective of output, the stark difference between MAN ON MAN’s debut LP and other lockdown albums is the steadfast sense of positivity and optimism throughout the tracks.
“It was a really dark place,” Roddy recalls. ‘With the pandemic, BLM and our mothers all happening at the same time. Our only option at that time was to look at to the light at the end of the tunnel.’
“Roddy is very good at centring the positivity in our relationship, he’s very positive in general,” Joey continues from the same Zoom window. ‘Despite the fact that the world was going to shit and his mum was dying. In the music, there was this element of digging deep to find things to be hopeful about.’ He turns to Roddy and says a pre-emptive “you’re welcome”, with enough sarcasm to neutralise the sincerity of the previous heartfelt compliment.
“There’s always this conversation around songwriting; that you should write about what you’re feeling,” Joey goes on. ‘But I think that sometimes hope is overlooked in that conversation. What you hope for and what you hope to feel is just as real as what you might be feeling right now.’
The crux of this positivity comes from the way in which the couple centre their gay relationship without hiding behind ambiguity or metaphor. Favouring instead to write with unashamed frankness (I was frowning down the promenade and then I got to thinking about sucking you off) and unreserved romantic vulnerability (baby, you’re my everything, more than summer, fall, or spring).
As refreshing as this life-affirming outlook may be in the context of the past year, MAN ON MAN haven’t rested all of their laurels on the feel-good factor. Roddy & Joey’s self-titled debut offers a genre-spanning collection of tracks that would be almost unrecognisable to fans of Faith No More, who received multiple Grammy nominations in Rock & Metal categories.
From the heady shoegaze of ‘Stohner’ to the wistful slacker pop of ‘It’s So Fun (To Be Gay)’, via ‘1983’s euphoric thump; the 11-track LP has proven itself to be as accomplished in its musicality as it is in its ideology.
Upon releasing the first MoM single, ‘Daddy’, the duo saw their pro-love message reciprocated in abundance, as fans from the gay community reached out to show their appreciation for the music video’s depiction of their romance.
“It was flattering to be in that position,” Roddy says fondly. ‘Where queer people were saying ‘thanks so much for that voice, that’s really an optimistic place for us to go.’
The video, which shows the couple kissing in their underwear, wasn’t received with such fondness by the YouTube censorship team, who removed the track three days after it was posted.
Joey remembers receiving the notification. “There was no discussion, it was just taken down and we could click a link to try to contest it. I think the fact that Rolling Stone caught wind of it and did a second interview with us about that helped.” MAN ON MAN’s newfound fanbase also rallied with haste, and the video was re-uploaded as quickly as it was removed, ‘we’d only been around for like 3 days technically, but our fans spoke up and posted to YouTube.’
This action from YouTube – a platform where heterosexual artists performing in their underwear is commonplace – is proof in itself of the importance of homosexual representation and the distance that remains in the journey to equal treatment, whether the bias is conscious or not.
The theme of representation is prevalent throughout MAN ON MAN’s work. Representing the bear community (hairy, heavy-set gay or bisexual men), Roddy and Joey have spoken in previously about the media-friendly image of young, hairless members of the gay community that are pushed to the fore of the culture .
On the theme of showing the depth that LGBT culture has to offer in a positive light, the tracks that the duo produce fall outside of the pop-facing sonic pallet which is often associated with the gay community. Joey discusses his own relationship with finding an identity within his sexuality; “I wasn’t into to stereotypical gay stuff,” he says with well-utilised air-quotation marks, ‘and I didn’t come out of the closet until I was like 26 or 27. I just didn’t want to be lumped into things which I didn’t relate to.’
The artist, who found his way into music through the church band scene of the southern states, eventually reasoned his own path into self-acceptance, “I remember saying to myself, ‘if you don’t like the definition of what being gay is, then redefine it and figure out what it means for you.”
Joey is quick to clarify that, as he grew more comfortable within his sexuality, he came to enjoy the archetypal cornerstones of gay culture that he once rejected. “I became really happy for the camp, stereotypical gay stuff,” he reflects. ‘Cause there are so many people who came before us who we view as this stereotype, but they fought their asses off to be able to be in a community where they can talk about their interests.’
Whether intentionally or not, it feels as if Roddy & Joey are cultivating a community of their own through the MAN ON MAN project. As lockdown thaws and the possibility of normal life resuming grows into a reality, this project has not only endured, but thrived, and MoM will be touring in the near future.
“It’s going to look fucking fierce,” Roddy promises. ‘It’s going to look really rad, it’ll be a full band. Ideally we’d be out playing shows right now.. that’s not going to happen, but its’ coming soon.”