Copyright 1999 Details

Details Magazine

November, 1999

924 words
SECTION: Pop Arts: Music
BYLINE: Dave Itzkoff
HEADLINE: Mann on the Move

After years of being under the thumb of her labels, Aimee Mann gives corporate rock the finger

Aimee Mann has been reborn so many times now, she practically qualifies as a Buddhist. Since she split from 'Til Tuesday, the made-for-MTV band she fronted in the '80s, legal and financial snafus have twice damned her to career purgatory. This year, Mann should have ascended to chart-topping heaven: After surviving the Universal/Polygram merger that cost nearly 200 of her labelmates their recording contracts, she headlined the second stage of this summer's Lilith Fair and was due to release her third solo album, Bachelor No. 2, in the spring. But when Interscope, the Universal subsidiary she had been passed to, told her they "didn't hear a single: on the new record, Mann told them to take their multinational conglomerate and shove it. Will she spend another 40 years wandering the desert, or will she finally make it to the promised land?

How can someone so talented, so respected by her peers, and so attractive have a career so screwed up?

A lot of things went wrong. Besides having my records held hostage by labels that merged or went bankrupt, record companies would consistently see me as having the potential to be a real sellout. People looked at me and said, "Wow, if you dressed her up, she'd be pretty hot," and they just couldn't let that fucking go. I never looked to them like Leonard Cohen or Elliott Smith or Joni Mitchell. I looked like Roxette.

How are you going to sell the new album without the label's support? Will you just drive up to Tower Records with a bunch of CDs in the back of the station wagon?

What we're going to do-- and when I say "we," it's just my manager and I-- is not worry about having some big, obvious release. I'll sell records at shows, because that's always fun. People can buy it on the Web from or download it from I'm sure we'll be able to get distribution and major stores. If it's too much work-- and it probably will be-- we'll find a smaller label and sign a deal with them.

Do you realize you've waved good-bye to any possibility of commercial success?

I'm one of those people who just cannot handle success anyway. It requires not only stamina but an ability to put on a false face 24 hours a day. I'm not a schmoozer. If I don't know you, I don't fucking know what to say to you. I'm not being a dick-- you're just a stranger, and I'm racking my brains for clever comments, but I'm not that fast on my feet.

So how do you handle yourself onstage?

It's difficult to know what to say between songs. I'm no good at banter, but I have so many friends who are comedians, I get one of them to do banter for me. They'll come out and say, "Hi, I'm Aimee Mann," and tell some story about the next song, whether they actually know what it's about or not.

Now that you've moved to L.A. and you're doing music for movie soundtracks, have you gone Hollywood?

I haven't been to any parties. I am involved with Magnolia, a Paul Thomas Anderson movie coming in December, so I've been to the set. I hung out with Tom Cruise, which is about as Hollywood as you can go. But he's got to be the most charming person I've ever met-- so charming you're almost suspicious. He's so attentive, you feel like everything you say is witty and fascinating.

You have actor friends, musician friends, and comedian friends. Do you have any friends who aren't in the entertainment industry?

I have a friend who's a librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She actually went to school for it. And I have a friend who's getting here master's in psychology.

Is there anything you'd like to study?

I want to take piano lessons because I don't play keyboards at all. It's very hard for me to understand having different hands playing melody and harmony-- it's a split in the brain that I don't have. I want to take a self-defense class. Not just for defense, but for the fun of kicking the shit out of a guy in a padded suit.

How did you write the last song you wrote?

I write a song when there's some kind of persistent emotional feeling that's stayed with me for a while, that I'm sort of chewing on. The last one I wrote I'm calling "Ghost World." I had just read Daniel Clowes' graphic novel Ghost World, which is about two girls who have just graduated form high school, and it was one of the best things I've ever read in my life. Then, when all the stuff with Interscope was going down, I had a persistent feeling very similar to the one I had when I graduated from high school, which is, What do I do with my life now? Maybe I should just forget music altogether and do something else.

What would you do if you suddenly packed it up?

[Husband and fellow singer-songwriter] Michael [Penn] would like to have a kid. There's that idea. But I don't go into anything large like that without doing some kind of research. I've never really felt babies were cute. I guess they're cute, but they're not that much cuter than real people.

They're supposed to be cute. It's supposed to trigger a mothering instinct.

Boy, I hope so.