Supergroups have come and gone in indie rock history, but few have gelled as organically as Mister Heavenly. Comprising hell-raising Man Man frontman Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus), Islands & the Unicorns singer/songwriter Nick Thorburn, and tough-as-nails Modest Mouse (and The Shins) drummer Joe Plummer, the trio traffics in effortless 1950s pop tinged with a hint of ruined romance — hence the title of their debut album, “Out of Love” and their self-coined micro-genre “doom-wop.” (The band is occasionally joined on bass by actor Michael Cera, though he’s not expected to join this leg of the tour.) The back-and-forth of Kattner’s deep, guttural growl and Thorburn’s nasally, high-pitched near-falsetto are the main draws of Mister Heavenly, a “balance/imbalance” Kattner told Folio Weekly has always fascinated him. The mustachioed madman also chatted about the easygoing formation of the band, the bodies in his closet and his abiding love for the Oldest City.
Folio Weekly: All three of you come from successful bands. What brought you together to form Mister Heavenly?
Ryan Kattner: Nick and I had been talking about it for years, but we happened to be on the same coast at the same time, and I happened to have some down time before recording the last Man Man record, so we were like, “Let’s do a 7-inch, keep it simple and if we end up choking each other to death during the process, then we’ll know it wouldn’t work.” But it was very chill.
F.W.: Did you and Nick hammer out songs and then bring them to Joe, or was he in the songwriting mix as well?
R.K.: I’d had the same conversation about collaborating with Joe, so I figured I might as well kill two birds with this project. But the songs came together between Nick and I pretty playfully; it was a lot of fun, and initially we were going to bullshit the drums, but I was like, “Why don’t we get Joe? He’s a badass.” It’s interesting how everything fell into place, and we’ve just been running with it since.
F.W.: You definitely hear that playfulness on “Out of Love,” though there are also a lot of darker themes hiding under the surface.
R.K.: That was one of the draws to Nick and how he writes songs. I felt like we were kindred songwriters; we’re both kind of haunted, but we don’t try to dwell on it — we try to channel it, or at least disguise those haunted bodies and skeletons in our closet. I say playful, but we didn’t approach this any less seriously than our own bands. It was just fun to work with another songwriter, because I’d never done that before. I could trust his instincts.
F.W.: I understand the perception among critics has been much different than that of listeners.
R.K.: That’s the one unfortunate thing. Any negative reviews I’ve read don’t have anything to do with the record, like people have a beef with Nick and I, for whatever reason. One review said, “If it wasn’t these guys, this would be an amazing record.” What the hell’s that supposed to mean? Just enjoy it for what it is.
F.W.: On the flip side, I’m sure you had Man Man, Islands and Modest Mouse fans who came in knowing it would be great.
R.K.: All the positive feedback is from people who’ve actually listened to the album. It’s a great rock record. People who may have shied away from the more experimental sides of our other bands could definitely get into Mister Heavenly. It’s super poppy, but without sacrificing the integrity of what we’re about.
F.W.: Have the live performances gone well? It can’t be easy for a new band to immediately slay it.
R.K.: I think we sound killer. One thing that bears being mentioned is the songs and the way we came together. We didn’t do it as leftovers. Everything was created organically, with the only guideline being — and this is the only link to doo-wop — to keep it simple. But you can bury a lot into a simple structure.
F.W.: Man Man has played some legendary shows at Café Eleven in St. Augustine. Are you excited to return?
R.K.: Let’s just say that I was presented with a handful of cities in Florida to play and I had to pick one, and obviously I picked St. Augustine. I love playing there — I wish Man Man could get down there again.