The Associated Press
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June 18, 1993, Friday, BC cycle
ADVANCED-DATE: June 7, 1993, Monday, BC cycle
SECTION: Entertainment News
LENGTH: 781 words
HEADLINE: Music Makers: Mann Returns With Fresh Attitude
BYLINE: By DAVID BAUDER, Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: ALBANY, N.Y.
At the height of her record company troubles, Aimee Mann simply couldn't turn on a radio or stereo.
That was a pretty dramatic step for a woman who used to work in record stores, tearing open the boxes of new albums as soon as they came in and claiming her favorites.
"It got to the point where I just didn't want to listen to music," the former lead singer of 'Til Tuesday recalled. "It just reminded me of the industry, and I was so fed up with the industry. Now I'm buying all sorts of records and it's really fun."
The 32-year-old songwriter, who recently has released her first solo album and first new music of any sort in five years, is upbeat again after an odyssey that almost crushed her spirit and her career.
Her Boston-based band had a huge hit on their first album in 1985 with "Voices Carry," fueled by a video that became a staple on MTV depicting Mann as the victim of an abusive relationship.
Through two more albums with Epic Records, Mann's work became progressively better as 'Til Tuesday disappeared from the public eye. She peaked with 1988's "Everything's Different Now," an album of baroque pop music that depicted a romantic breakup in heartbreaking detail.
Mann was unhappy that critical enthusiasm over that album wasn't matched by enthusiasm at Epic.
"We were selling places out and nobody from the record company was coming to see us," she said. "We'd go into radio stations and people would ask us, 'Do you have a record out?"'
Mann said she felt pressured to follow the lead of such bands as Cheap Trick and Heart, who turned to hitmaking songwriters like Dianne Warren and Desmond Childs. She considered their work too formulaic.
"I said, 'I'm a songwriter. I write songs. Perhaps you didn't notice that,"' she recalled. "They said, 'Are you willing to write with other people?' And I said, 'Yeah, I wrote with Elvis Costello. Are you telling me that he's not good enough?"'
After the sour experience of "Everything's Different Now," Mann knew she didn't want to make another record for Epic. The company wasn't so sure it wanted her, either.
But negotiating her way out of a contract took time and some disappointment, when a potential deal with a new company fell through just as she was about to complete a buyout with Epic.
"After a while you start feeling, 'it doesn't matter if you're good,"' she said. "Good doesn't even come into play anymore, because you're not being presented to the public and the public says, 'Oh, I like that,' or 'I don't like that.'
"You're presented to people who are trying to second guess what the public wants, which is not remotely the same thing. These people don't listen to music."
Mann recorded "Whatever" on her own and finished about a year ago. She struck a deal with the relatively small Imago Recording Co.
Except for the brassy first single, "I Should've Known," her album is mostly folk-rock, influenced in part by the Kinks, Neil Young and Randy Newman records to which she'd been listening.
She understands that some people may wonder why she's emerged with a solo album.
"For people who didn't hear the last two records, it doesn't make any sense and they find it a little annoying, even," she said. "I understand that. If the lead singer of Berlin came out with a solo album, I'd say, 'Yeah, right, I'm sure it's going to be a masterpiece.' Same thing - it's the same era, same kind of haircut."
As if on cue, Entertainment Weekly opined in a "Whatever" review: "A good album from former 'Til Tuesday chanteuse Aimee Mann seemed about as likely an event as Judy Collins' going hip-hop."
Still, the magazine gave Mann an "A."
"I don't blame them for thinking I fell off the face of the earth, but clearly I wasn't in a position where I could do anything about it," she said of the listening public. "It was really odd, but I was glad for the break, to tell you the truth."
Mann, who pronounced herself ill-suited to public life, used the time to settle into a routine in Boston. She occasionally would play casual shows with friends, and she's been writing with fellow Boston resident Peter Wolf.
The little details of a normal life often find their way into songs, such as the time she was walking in her neighborhood and spotted an elderly man raking leaves in his front yard.
She resisted the urge to talk to him, figuring he'd find a young woman in a black leather jacket intimidating.
But she went home and based a song on him. "Mr. Harris," which features a string quartet, is a first-person tale of a romance with a much older man.
"The mood I was in, that was probably my speed," Mann said with a laugh. "A nice, 70-year-old guy is just about right for me."