The Associated Press
February 2, 1996, Friday, BC cycle
ADVANCED-DATE: January 22, 1996, Monday, BC cycle
SECTION: Entertainment News
LENGTH: 825 words
HEADLINE: Music Makers:
BYLINE: By DAVID BAUDER, Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: ALBANY, N.Y.
Business Woes Almost Prompted Aimee Mann to Call It Quits
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Making music is the easy part for Aimee Mann.
The business of music - contracting with a company to press your songs onto CDs, distribute them and promote your artistry - has been so harrowing that it prompted the singer to call it quits last summer.
"I called up my manager and said, 'I'm out,' " she recalled. "Start trying to find me a job writing music for movies."
Fortunately, the blue period passed. And an effort to make "I'm With Stupid," an album she recorded more than a year ago, available to the public finally succeeded with its January release by Geffen Records. Mann is sticking with it.
Complaining about "the suits" is so routine when musicians get together that Mann is reluctant to join the chorus. Yet her nightmarish experience of the past decade would have broken many a weaker-willed person.
A songwriter in the pop-rock vein, Mann is so respected by her peers that Elvis Costello recognized her on a London street and the two wrote a song together. But she hasn't sold many records since the 1984 hit "Voices Carry" she had with the defunct band 'Til Tuesday.
That put her at odds with her label, Epic Records, and launched a prolonged fight to escape from her contract. It meant a five-year wait before her critically acclaimed 1993 album, "Whatever," hit the stores on Imago Records.
All seemed well until Imago collapsed. That left Mann with a completed followup album but no company to release it, and Imago officials wouldn't release Mann from her contract.
Imago brokered a deal with another record company, Reprise, to put out "I'm With Stupid" last summer. Yet when Mann's manager asked for a meeting with Reprise executives to talk about promoting the album, she said they hadn't even listened to it.
Mann dug in her heels, refusing to do any work to sell the album through interviews or concerts. It was her way of attempting to scuttle the deal.
"Why should I kill myself when it's going to die?" she said. "Why should I be its pallbearer?
"I know the business enough to know that if you have a record coming out and nobody's listened to it - they don't even care about you as an artist, much less the particular record - then it has no chance in hell.
"You're not going to just get lucky."
She was even willing to sell her music by mail order, but she would have been sued by Imago because they owned the rights to her music.
That's when the thought of quitting seemed appealing.
"I just thought, 'I'm not made for this business,' " she said. "I don't know how to deal with these people. I'm not strong enough. I'm not mean enough. There's either something in me or something missing that allows other people to play these games."
Her effort to stop the release by Reprise succeeded, and Mann was able to land a deal with Geffen, a company that has had considerable success selling rock records in the 1990s.
"I'm With Stupid" has a tougher, more stripped-down sound than much of Mann's previous work, and is filled with lyrics about manipulative people and dysfunctional relationships. Yet her melodic sense is never sacrificed, particularly on "That's Just What You Are" and the strong album-closer, "It's Not Safe."
Mann views the record as she would a long-term lover, as opposed to the starry-eyed first few days of a romance.
"I'm proud of this, but I don't have that delusion that it's the best record ever made, that you kind of keep for a few months afterward," she said. "I think it's a good record, there are some good things on it, but it's not the next 'Sgt. Pepper' or anything."
The album features guest appearances from Juliana Hatfield, Michael Penn, Bernard Butler of Suede and Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze.
Mann was spending a few months in London when making the record. Her song, "Sugercoated," is about Butler, whom she contacted after reading in magazines about how he'd left Suede and wanted to work with other people.
"I, of course, didn't want to call him up myself because I don't want to risk that kind of embarrassment," she said. "So I had my manager call his manager."
Becoming cynical about the music business has taught her to appreciate the quality of people with whom she has worked. In turn, their appreciation of her has helped sustain Mann.
"You always wonder when they're going to realize their mistake, when they're going to listen more closely and say, 'Oh, I always thought you were saying something else. That line isn't that good, after all,' " said the self-effacing singer.
"I find it incredibly gratifying, and it's the one reason that through all of these horrible business problems that it doesn't really affect the music or it doesn't affect my attitude about the music," she said. "It's like, 'I've made a record, and my friends have heard it, and my friends think it's good.'
"Anything else would be icing on the cake," she said.