Copyright 1999 San Jose Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News
Wednesday, September 22, 1999
LENGTH: 868 words
HEADLINE: Aimee Mann goes independent with release of moody songs
BYLINE: Jon Matsumoto
SINGER-SONGWRITER Aimee Mann has received both critical acclaim and praise from musicians such as Elvis Costello and Elliott Smith. What she hasn't received is a great deal of respect from the record labels that have employed her. During the past 10 years, she has staunchly resisted their attempts to make her music more radio-friendly, battling executives at Epic, Imago, Geffen and Interscope in the process.
Bachelor No. 2 awaits
Recently, the wrangling finally stopped. After wriggling out of her Interscope Records obligation, she is poised to release her third solo album independently. Bachelor No. 2 is due next month on the tiny Superego label, which was created by Mann and her manager, Michael Hausman.
"I've gleaned this reputation as the one who complains about record companies,'' Mann says by phone from her home in Los Angeles. "Now that I don't have to deal with them, I have nothing to complain about. It's totally great. However much work it will or won't be (to put out the album myself) or however many or few records I sell, I really don't care. To not have to worry about (pleasing a label) makes everything fun again. I was just ready to quit entirely.''
Most of the music on Bachelor No. 2 was recorded while Mann -- who performs at Slim's in San Francisco on Saturday -- was signed to Geffen Records. Geffen was absorbed by Interscope Records in the huge Universal Music Group-Polygram merger in December. Mann was encouraged when Interscope decided to pick up the option on her album, which she had spent two years putting together. But discouragement set in when she realized she was a low priority at the label. When Interscope ultimately refused to release the disc and requested that she write more commercial songs, she felt she had reached the end of her rope.
"We assumed they (Interscope) had kept us on the label because they had heard the finished songs and wanted to put the record out,'' says Mann. "But quite frankly, I don't think they put much thought into it.
"I just don't want to play that game again -- to write a bunch of songs and have them say, `These aren't acceptable.' Then you just get to feeling bad, and years pass. Nothing's ever good enough. Why go through that?''
Mann was allowed to leave Interscope with her unreleased songs in hand. Appropriately, one of the tracks on the upcoming disc is titled ``Nothing Is Good Enough.'' Mann says it's partly about a friend's troubled romantic relationship but acknowledges the lyrics also concern her dealings with record companies.
Bachelor No. 2 features a number of moody ballads with imaginative arrangements. The tracks "Satellite'' and ``The Fall of the World's Great Optimist'' simmer with an engaging noir-ish, classic-pop quality. Mann's moody new material doesn't possess the often high-tech gloss of most current hits, but neither are these mostly melodic songs esoteric.
Unfortunately, Bachelor No. 2 is coming out during a particularly uninspiring time in pop radio. ``Almost overnight, radio has gotten extremely narrow,'' says Mann, 39. ``I realize that nothing less than Britney Spears will do at this point -- nothing less than dance-pop, sequenced-drums kind of (songs). I'm just not interested in that.''
Songs on soundtrack
While Bachelor No. 2 will be released with little fanfare, another Mann project has generated a strong buzz in Hollywood. The soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming film Magnolia features seven Mann songs, dealing with ``guilt, betrayal and salvation,'' she says, and the movie was partly inspired by some of them. Some material from the soundtrack is included on Bachelor No. 2.
Clearly, Anderson's status as one of Hollywood's hot new filmmakers (he wrote and directed Boogie Nights) has helped bring attention to Magnolia. Mann appreciates the freedom that soundtrack work sometimes can offer. ``You can get away with more interesting atmospheric songs (for films) than you can on radio, where everything is `follow the bouncing ball,' '' she says.
Mann didn't always fly below the pop-music radar. Her career started with a bang when her Boston-based group Til Tuesday scored hits in 1985 with its debut album and single ``Voices Carry.''
``Til Tuesday was at the right place at the right time,'' she says. ``We were all just perfectly marketable. We were all big hair, dressed up and looking good. All the guys were really cute. We were super-marketable. The song (`Voices Carry') was really catchy, but the thrust (music and the image weren't) on us. We were into it.''
After Til Tuesday broke up in the late '80s, Mann went solo. A private person, she says she's never craved fame or fortune, which is perhaps why she hasn't become better known. ``This is kind of a tricky area,'' she says, ``because I don't want it to seem like I'm saying `I could have been a big star.' But that need to be the center of attention is what gives some people that charisma. I don't have the desire to be . . . the center of attention. I have more the need to be alone.''