Copyright 1996 Time-Life, Inc.
Grooves Magazine, Volume 11
LENGTH: 1, 300 words
SECTION: pages 8-9
HEADLINE: Q & A with Aimee Mann: Aimee Mann talks about life, love and the angst of dealing with a dysfunctional record industry
BYLINE: Kara Manning
For a fiercely talented artist, Aimee Mann has certainly had a rotten streak of bad luck during her 12 years in the music business. Had things gone as originally planned, her second solo album, I'm with Stupid -- a vibrant collection of tough, truthful songs -- would have hit the record stores nearly a full year ago. At the time, "That's Just What You Are," a song from the Melrose Place soundtrack, was snaking rapidly up the music charts, giving Mann her first chance at a hit since 'Til Tuesday's 1985 smash "Voices Carry" and providing what seemed like the perfect springboard for her new album. Her bitter three-year struggle to extricate herself from her contract with Epic Records was well in the past and her new agreement was secure with Imago Records, an indie label that released her critically acclaimed solo debut, Whatever, in 1993. Success seemed barely a breath away. Then the Titanic hit an iceberg again when Imago lost its distribution deal and folded, placing her new album in limbo. Finally, in January 1996, nearly a year late, the album was released by Geffen Records and Mann was back on track. In January she sat down with Kara Manning and discussed the vicissitudes of love and the record business.
Your record label Imago collapsed last year, just around the period when you had a hit with "That's Just What You Are." So instead of having the ammunition of this new album to follow the single, I'm With Stupid wasn't released at all.
Well, that's the kind of thing that makes you think that the music business is filled with nothing but stupid people. That seemed elementary to me. In fact, I had been promised that if the label didn't get back on its feet, a separate deal would be made to put this record out. But people have their own agendas; they don't really care about what it may be doing to your career or your life.
Did you remain calm throughout this ordeal?
Yeah, I calmly decided that the only thing for me to do was quit the music business and find some other way to make a living.
You decided that in the past nine months?
That's how I finally got on Geffen. I called up [Imago president] Terry Ellis and said that I couldn't be in this business anymore because all anybody does is lie to you. It was depressing to realize that nobody cared about what was going to happen to me. There were no inquiries as to whether I had enough money to live on for an entire year while this album was in limbo. I mean nobody cared! I didn't want to just sit there and try to think of strategies. Maybe the world works that way, maybe the music business works that way, but I didn't want to work that way. So I called up Terry and told him everything I felt. A couple of days later I got a call that he had started talking to Geffen. The funny thing is he never called me about it. He just called Geffen and made the deal.
As if you were a commodity rather than a human being.
I'm almost afraid to ask, but where did you come up with the album's title, I'm With Stupid?
I've had it since I first started writing songs for the record. Is it about the record company? Could be. Is it the person you're with? Could be. I think most people's lives are about how to negotiate around the stupid people in the world.
You call the song "Ray," featured in this issue of Grooves, a love song to an imaginary friend.
When you're writing a song about someone you're in love with, it's directed to them. But sometimes I base things on different people, so that you have an amalgam. That's your imaginary friend. Your ideal person. Kind of the way I'd feel about someone if they weren't such a total nightmare.
Have former boyfriends ever responded to the songs you've written?
I think only one. We were having an argument and he said, "You're writing all these songs about me." And I thought that was really funny, because I'd said the same things to him a million times.
Then again, you work with producer Jon Brion, and the two of you were once romantically involved. Proving that former lovers can have a great creative partnership.
Totally. He's an incredible musician, and we really do have a special connection together when it comes to writing songs. He has a feeling of reverence for the whole process. His policy is that you write about things that are important to you. If you write about stuff you don't care about, you're slacking.
Who decided to strip this album down so that it's musically more raw and bare-boned, unlike the more ornate production quality of Whatever?
I really wanted to do that because I felt like there was a little too much going on throughout the first record.
I've always considered your music a soundtrack to my life. Do you get that response not only from a lot of women, but from men as well?
Yes. Somebody once did a market research survey and supposedly my audience is 80 percent male. I think a lot of guys do feel like that. And I've my own theories about it.
What are those?
Well, in interviews or reviews, I sometimes get the assumption that I write form a female point of view. Whatever that is. I don't think that's true. I think my approach is a little more masculine.
I see what you mean. You're never a victim. So I'm kind of curious what you think about this Alanis Morissette take on female rage; music that screams, "look what you've done to me."
I think it's kind of nice if we can get the idea of women being completely pissed off. Get more people comfortable with the idea, "Yeah, no kidding that happens." It's not some special kind of female scorned rage or bitchy wildcat; it's a person who's legitimately angry at being treated badly. I don't know about you, but I felt that growing up there was always a stigma in being angry. Women are less often allowed to have those feelings of rage and jealousy. We're supposed to be Mrs. Happy all the time.
At the moment that you're falling in love with someone, does a little voice in your head go, "Uh-oh, here we go again?"
I'm actually with someone now and we're... engaged is the word. We were really good friends for a long time and I liken it to tapping on a hockey puck on ice. If there's no friction on the ice, no other obstacles, the puck keeps moving.
Is there a track on I'm With Stupid that you feel particularly proud of?
"Par for the Course." There's a whole feeling of resignation about the lyrics that the music makes you feel. I remember when Jon and I would work on that song, everybody's blood pressure would drop, and you could barely find a pulse in the studio. It would always have to be the last thing we worked on in the day because it had a physically depressing effect.
Do you feel extremely hopeful these days?
Yeah, and extremely cynical at the same time.
Is that how you keep yourself in balance?
People sometimes ask if I'm bitter. And I always say, "yes, of course." But what does that mean? It means that I don't want to keep making the same mistakes and beating my head against a brick wall.