LENGTH: 999 words
HEADLINE: Her own Mann
BYLINE: Greg Haymes
Her own Mann
For Aimee Mann, the indie route pays off with creative control and surprisingly strong sales
"All the perfect drugs and superheroes
Wouldn't be enough to bring me up to zero."
It should come as no surprise that "Lost in Space," the latest album by pop-noir singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, delves deep into the realms of despair and depression.
It's what she does best.
"Yeah, I do write a fair amount of dark material -- but, well, there's just so much out there right now that's designed to be nothing more than good-time party music," says the 42-year-old, who steps into the spotlight at The Egg in Albany on Saturday night. "Other people have that pretty well covered, so why should I even try to include things that hint at that? That's not really my specialty."
But even fans who have been following her music since her days as the frizzy-haired frontwoman of 'Til Tuesday might not be prepared for something this strong. Even Mann herself wasn't expecting the 11 songs on "Lost in Space" to evolve into meditation on the harrowing nature of addiction and emotional obsession.
"I don't want people to get the idea that I'm some kind of drug addict writing notes from rehab -- although sometimes I wish that were the case, because at least that would be a simple explanation," Mann says with a wry chuckle.
She didn't start out with any particular theme in mind. "I think what happened was that I had an interest in addiction and did a lot of reading on the subject of drug addiction," she says. "So while I was writing songs during that period, it was a topic that just naturally kind of crept into the writing.
"There were a couple of friends who I met who were ex-drug addicts, so a lot of our conversations concerned Narcotics Anonymous and various rehab programs," Mann says. "And those discussions became a kind of framework for how I ended up writing.
"If I'd been going to a lot of baseball games, then I'm sure various baseball metaphors would have worked their way into the lyrics."
Irony and acid
Sung in her warm but world-weary voice, the songs are full of the irony, acid-edged observations and infectious, sinuous melodies that marked her three solo albums: 1993's "Whatever," '95's "I'm With Stupid" and 2000's "Bachelor No. 2."
A longtime cult favorite and critic's darling, Mann's thorny brand of pop got a big boost in 1999, when director Paul Thomas Anderson used her songs as both inspiration and leitmotif in his intimate L.A. epic "Magnolia." The song "Save Me" was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy.
The film and accompanying soundtrack album brought Mann back into the mainstream. Ironically, it came just as she was leaving her trying major-label life behind.
Mann's first solo album, "Whatever," was released on Imago Records just as the label was flatlining. For "I'm With Stupid," she signed with Geffen Records, which was subsequently swallowed up by Interscope Records, which in turn merged with Universal.
Somewhere along the way, record company executives seemed to lose interest in Mann's music.
After much delay, Mann was able to buy "Bachelor No. 2" (which included a handful of songs from "Magnolia") back from the company, and released it on her own indie label, SuperEgo Records.
Mann -- the only artist on SuperEgo's roster -- is considerably happier with the hands-on, do-it-yourself approach to the recording business, despite the hard work of running a label.
"It's tough getting the word out about a new record and doing the marketing, especially when you have no resources," she says. "We don't even really have any personnel. In fact, we just hired a third person to help with the label responsibilities, so that's a pretty small staff: me, my manager and now his assistant -- that's it. And I can't really do much on the business end of things, because I'm out on the road being the artist, doing concerts and promotion."
But touring is the main promotional responsibility of an artist. Shortly after Saturday's show at The Egg, Mann and her three-piece band (which includes new guitarist Julian Coryell) head over to Europe for a month-long road trip.
Her own terms
In the meantime, she remains pleasantly surprised at her ability to sell her music on her own terms. It's a topic on which even Mann can sound almost cheery.
"I figured that if I could sell 50,000 copies, I could make a little money," she says. "I could continue to make really nice, low-budget, lo-fi records, and I could get along. At least I'd be my own master.
"It's not like I was making any money with a major label anyway, you know," Mann says. "So if I'm not going to make much money, I'd rather at least have more fun making the record and doing it my own way. I might as well have some creative freedom and avoid the constant supervision of people who don't like me."
But SuperEgo's success exceeded her modest expectations: "I'm actually able to sell my records -- a really significant number of copies -- and that's just amazing to me. I thought it would be a lot more difficult," Mann says.
"As a tiny label, we just try to do a little here and a little there to let people know that there's a new record out there. If you get the record into stores and get the CD displayed prominently for a while, then you can reach your audience. A ready-made audience who will be excited to know that you have a new record out -- that's very valuable following.
"And for me, it seems that there's about 200,000 people who fit into that category," Mann says. "That's incredible."
AIMEE MANN with Duncan Sheik
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany