Aimee Mann on Fiona Apple, Portlandia, and performing with Common at the White House
Three decades into her career, Aimee Mann remains as consistently fresh and challenging a singer/songwriter as in her days fronting the mid '80s new wave band, 'Til Tuesday. Since then, Mann has had a strong solo career, delivering one of the greatest film soundtracks in recent memory with P.T. Anderson's Magnolia, and with her recent release, Charmer, Mann continues to introduce herself to a new generation of music fans who are hungry for her uniquely dark and stirring brand of songwriting. We recently chatted with Mann about pop music, Magnolia and why charming people hate themselves.
See also: Aimee Mann at the Ogden Theatre, 10/9/12
Westword: In your recent single, "Charmer," you've written: "When you're a charmer/The world applauds/They don't know that secretly charmers/Feel like they're frauds/When you're a charmer/You hate yourself." This seems like a pretty venomous accusation, is this directed at anyone in particular, or just an observation?
Aimee Mann: I don't think that's venomous at all -- that's just the way it is. And that's the sad part of it. In no way do I want that to sound mean. I think everyone relates to that, you know? If you're at a dinner party and you're telling a story and all of the sudden you think, "Oh my god, listen to me. I'm such a numbskull. No one wants to hear about this."
Everybody has those moments when you think, "listen to what a phony I am." But it's the people who are afraid of being phony who are a lot less phony than the people who aren't. It depends on how much people want to bring those things up to the surface and examine them. There are people who don't want to do that at all, and those people remain more ignorant -- or even dangerous.
And yet those dangerous people can, at times, remain charming.
Yeah. But it's a continuum that makes it interesting, going from sweet and delightful to fascinating to "what do they want from me?"
You seem to have reached a threshold in your career where you no longer have to sell yourself as much as an artist. While you're not at Lady Gaga status, it seems that you can live comfortably as a musician, and I'm wondering if that can be a trap creatively, or if you still challenge yourself to grow as an artist.
Well I don't think that I'm at any kind of level where that would be a problem. It's not like I'm a Top 40 artist that's dependent on a certain kind of fame. I think, as a singer/songwriter, people like what I do, and it's not like I'm ever going to go off and make some crazy electronica/polka record. I'm not that interested in changing genres or shaking it up for any reason. But I certainly don't feel like a slave to a style, either.
Many musicians who've had success in the decades that you have are no longer relevant today. And yet you've remained relevant for younger generations; are there things you've avoided that have trapped other musicians?
I do think that something like having a bunch of songs in an interesting, hit movie [P.T. Anderson's Magnolia] certainly helps introduce you to a new audience and refreshes you to your old audience. It's very easy to think of someone as, "Oh, they've been around for a while; they're kind of a has-been." But it really helps to have new eyes to introduce you to a new audience.
But I was really never interested in chasing success, making singles according to what the record company is saying is hip. And also I couldn't do it. Some people can and are good at it, but I'm just not that person. But at the same time, I feel like my music is pretty accessible. I don't feel like it's too left of center. And yet, record companies have treated it as if it's this crazy, experimental stuff. There's that shrug of "this just isn't a single; I don't know what we're going to do with it."