Manning up


By Noah Michelson

Aimee Mann had her first taste of fame in 1985 when her band, 'Til Tuesday, hit the Billboard Top 10 with their song 'Voices Carry.' Five years later Mann left the group to begin a solo career and since then she has released nine albums (including the soundtrack to the film Magnolia which scored her an Oscar nomination, a live album, and a Christmas record), the most recent of which is 2008's @#%&*! Smilers.

Over the last 18 years Mann has been signed to a major label, left to languish on said major label, gone indie, and secured a ferocious fan base that has already scooped up enough tickets to sell out much of her upcoming tour. Beloved for her uncanny ability to distill the anguish of lost love and the surprises and disappointments of everyday life into gorgeous, four minute melodic folk rock packages, Mann chatted with us about her saddest song, her new hobby painting the worst presidents in American history, and trying to nail her single speaking line on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Out: You're about to head back on the road again. How is this tour going to be different from other tours you've done?
Aimee Mann: The last tour was a full band tour specifically promoting my new record. I had two keyboard players and bass and drums and I played acoustic guitar, so the renditions of the songs were pretty faithful to the arrangements on the record. This tour is an acoustic tour -- well, semi-acoustic -- with a stripped down format: it's me and the two keyboard players. We haven't started rehearsing yet so I'm not really sure, but I think depending on the venue we're going to do an almost all request show. But, you know, there are some shows where you can't do that, so we'll have a set that we can do too. I'm trying to play a lot of songs that I don't usually play live, just to kind of change it up. We'll probably switch off instruments and each play everything. Obviously because they're keyboard players they do the lion's share of the keyboards but I'll probably play a little bit of piano and acoustic guitar and bass.

2005's The Forgotten Arm marked the first time you really started playing the piano. Why did you decide to move over to the keys?
I really just wanted to try writing songs with a different instrument in case that led to new ideas. Acoustic guitar I've played for so long and I'm not really a 'guitar player' guitar player -- I just play chords and I do find myself almost automatically playing the same kind of chord progressions, so, it was just an attempt to stay out of any rut and keep it interesting. And I like knowing I'm learning new things as a musician.

When I saw you play on the Lost In Space tour you mentioned that people were saying your song 'It's Not' is the saddest song you've ever written. That was over seven years ago -- do you feel like you've outdone yourself and come up with something even more tragic since then?
I think it's pretty tragic. I played it a little bit on the last tour and I think it could be the saddest song. It's a song where nothing bad has happened: it's not somebody saying, 'I'm sad because I broke up with someone' -- it's really about a deep inner ennui and this complete inability to move forward and not know why you can't move and not know why you're stuck. It's about not really knowing anything and having this sort of vague yearning that something could make you feel better, but also knowing that that won't work either. It's sort of like that in between where you're like, I want to change my life and not do the same things over and over, but I don't know what to do next.

It makes me think of '31 Today' off @#%&*! Smilers. I'm actually turning 31 next week and while I'm nowhere near feeling the depths of despair that the character in the song is feeling, there's something very close to home there. And that song reminds me of 'It's Not' as well -- something about that nauseating sense of This is not where I wanted to be and I don't have any clue how to get where I want to be.
Exactly. Exactly. And also I think with certain numbers -- I can't remember if I had this when I was 31 -- I probably had it more when I was 41 -- where you hit milestones of 30 or 40 and you're like, Meh. That wasn't so bad! I don't feel any different, and then you come to the next year and you realize that on some level you maybe thought you were going to go backwards, like, Oh, right -- people get older. I know we know this and it seems ridiculous but there are times when you just realize it: People get older and it's not going to be any different for me. I think that's part of becoming more mature -- realizing that there's this shared trauma in everybody's life that they have to face and help each other through.