Manning up

7.7.2009

By Noah Michelson

What about the graphic novel you've been talking about writing. I know you said at one point you were practicing drawing by cartooning your friends' conversations.
Here's where I am: I did a lot of cartooning and I practiced drawing a lot -- enough to realize that it takes professional people who do this all the time and are really good at it years and years to do a book. So, that seems pretty daunting. And then I realized that my work ethic may not be up to those standards. [Laughs] But what I did start to do is that I started painting. Every few years I'll go, I want to paint! and I'll get out the paints and the easel and then start painting and go, Oh. This is really hard and then put it away again. But I started painting again and I realized that all the practice that I got from cartooning made it a lot easier. So I've been doing that and it's been super fun.

Are you going to have a big exhibition like Marilyn Manson did?
Is Marilyn Manson a painter?

Huge. They go for thousands of dollars.
That's awesome. Are they any good?

They're exactly what you'd think they'd be: creepy children missing limbs, stuff like that.
Oh my god. That's awesome. Really, what I'm painting right now is this project that came about by accident but I feel like it's fun practice for me. I have a friend who works at the White House, who's Deputy Assistant to Obama and he works on Joe Biden's campaign, and I visited him a few months ago and he had just moved into his new office and it has really high ceilings and gigantic empty walls. He had like, one photograph of Obama and I was kind of making fun of him saying, 'I really love your artwork. It really fills up that wall.' And he said, 'You do art. You should do a mural of the presidents.' He was like, 'Where's my portrait of Millard Fillmore?' and so kind of as a joke I thought, I'm going to paint him a portrait of Millard Fillmore, and then we were joking about this via email and it developed into 'How about the three worst presidents?' Three really dud presidents like Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan and whomever. And so I started painting and I wanted more to choose from because they were getting better as I went along so I thought, I'll do the 10 worst presidents.

I'm seeing a new line of tour T-shirts.
[Laughs] I have a couple more presidents left to go. I think I have eight of the worst ones.

Just for fun I ran one of your songs through the Genius function on iTunes to see who else would come up. I got everyone from the Velvet Underground to Beck to Fiona Apple to Simon and Garfunkel to Neko Case. Where do you think you fit into the musical landscape?
I think I feel like I'm pretty influenced by people like Neil Young -- that kind of post-post folk, melodic, acoustic guitar-y stuff with some sort of basic Beatles influence that no one can escape.

When you went out on your own it was the '90s and there was that whole 'Women In Music' rocker chick thing going on. Did you feel like a part of that? Do you feel like fit into a that club?
There are two ways to think of it. Back then, when I was on a major label, a lot of the conversations would be people at the label saying that they didn't know how to market my music and I'd go, 'Come on! Look at all these other women -- Liz Phair, etc. Surely it fits in with those people.' So I never thought it was so different. Of course you like to think you're different because you're an artist and all that but I guess I never thought I'm breaking any kind of new ground. There are a few artists every now and then that I'm very influenced by. When Liz Phair's first record came out I was very influenced by that. There was a band called the Loud Family -- Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things was a record that I listened to like a million times. I was very influenced by Scott Miller's songwriting. I was very influenced by Elliott Smith. To me it's really obvious -- I can hear myself being influenced by those people. And Fiona. I definitely had this moment when Fiona came out where I was like, Well, I can quit now! [Laughs] Like She's doing kind of what I would want to do -- but better.

You've done some acting -- you were in The Big Lebowski and a few other things. Do you want to do more?
When I do my Christmas shows I make these little videos that I show and just from doing that I got a little experience improvising with my comedian friends and I thought that was really fun. I think if it's a situation where I'm more or less playing myself and I can improvise a little bit, I'm up for it. As soon as I have to say something word for word then it just feels stiff and I die and don't know how to make it work.

I love that you were on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. How did you get roped into that?
I guess somebody in the camp was a fan. I had actually never really watched the show and wasn't familiar with the whole phenomenon but everyone I know was like, 'Oh, you have to do it!' And I said, 'OK. I'll do it.'

Do you remember your big line?
I remember I said it like 20 times and it was really embarrassing that I couldn't get this one line natural. You always think, Acting is going to be easy! but for me it's really hard and I kept thinking, This is really not going across very well.

Especially when they have you saying, 'I hate playing in vampire towns.'
Right? It's hard to go, How would I say this in real life? [Laughs]

Aimee Mann is currently on tour. For a full list of tour dates and other info, check out her website.

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