Aimee Mann: It's hard to figure out what the hell is going on in the music business
Photo courtesy of artist
Has Aimee Mann found a new muse in a pop-punk pal? Maybe. The singer-songwriter returns to the Twin Cities for a string of shows that have her collaborating with tourmate Ted Leo. For such a determinedly confident person, Mann pens the most emotionally raw lyrics that can be written -- something that is laced throughout all of her music.
From her hotel room in New Orleans, Aimee spoke with Gimme Noise before her shows at the Dakota and the Fitz about finding inspiration in her new project with Ted Leo called the Both and gives us a glimpse into her songwriting process.
Gimme Noise: You are still touring off the last album that came out last year. Are you looking to release any new music soon?
Aimee Mann: I have a project that I'm doing with Ted Leo since we finished tour last year. We were friends before touring together, but we started writing together and that led to us starting an EP. It went so well, we decided we'd do a whole record. We had talked to Matador Records about putting it out, but I think because they have so many records coming out next year, we would have to wait another year. So I think I'm gonna release it on my own label.
Gimme Noise: What was it about Ted that drew you to him so much?
Aimee Mann: I'm a big fan of his music, obviously, but he's also just really fun to be onstage with -- I think it came out of that. While on tour, he was playing some new songs, and there was this one song that I really wanted to play bass on, so I asked him how he would feel about me sitting in on bass. He said, "That's really weird, because I was actually gonna ask if you wanted to play bass on it." So I started playing on that song, and then singing backup, and we really liked the way it sounded. I said, "Well, we should write some songs together. Maybe we'll put out a couple of songs or something." It went really well, and we played a few shows together just the two of us, and that was super, super fun, so it made me want me to turn it into a project that we could spend some time on. Ted and I did some shows, and then we added some drums. I could definitely see some touring like this, and also because I haven't played the bass in a while. The record is power-pop -- bass, drum, and guitar.
Gimme Noise: Do you feel it's a lot different from your regular solo stuff?
Aimee Mann: Yeah, it's pretty different. You can definitely hear songwriting elements from both of us, but the lineup is pretty different.
Gimme Noise: You've been making music for a long time, but I think it's amazing how we can meet people at different points in our lives that inspire us to do new things.
Aimee Mann: Yeah, exactly! It's always good to go with that. I think especially because the music business is up in the air, and I think fifteen years ago people would be advising me, "Don't make some side project. Who cares about that? You should really release another record." The business is so unpredictable, and people don't really buy records in the same way they used to, so I feel like you might as well follow what is interesting and what's fun at the time -- especially fun. Life's too short.
Gimme Noise: I guess even I did this to you by asking if you have new material coming out even though you just released a new album last year, but does it bother you when you feel as if you have to constantly be putting out new content?
Aimee Mann: I don't really feel as if I have to respond to that pressure. I'm doing it from my own internal pressure of "Let's do this while it's a thing that we're still interested in." This is maybe just me, but if you don't make a big push to get something done, then it does tend to take forever -- especially putting out a record, because by the time you finish it, there's only so much lead time for press, but you have to do it three months in advance, then you have to get the artwork together, and that takes way longer than you think. Then, "Oh, it's Christmas," and nobody's around. [laughs] It's things like that. So it always takes a lot longer than you think it's going to.
I feel since Ted and I started writing last December, we've been working at a break-neck speed, saying "Let's make this happen!" and still it takes a year and a bit.
It's hard to know how to maneuver in this business; it's hard to figure out what the hell is going on sometimes. I'm not even trying to figure out what's going on. I'm just going to make a record, write, and play music, and I'll see what happens later.
Gimme Noise: A musician and friend of mine, Paul Engels, reintroduced me to your music. He told me he thought "Save Me" was one of the saddest, yet hopeful songs ever written.
Aimee Mann: That's a wonderful way to describe that song.
Gimme Noise: How do you gauge what is a good line when you're writing?
Aimee Mann: Well, there's two factors that has to say the things that I want it to say, but it also has to say it in a way that has some kind of interest factor or elegance or pithiness -- I don't know. I really value being able to choose the right words, or I value that in other writers. When I come across a line where the words are just perfectly chosen and interesting, it makes me happy, so I try to do that for myself as a listener.
Gimme Noise: Do you come up with the lyrics or melody first when writing?
Aimee Mann: Almost always the music, because the lyrics come out of the feeling of the music. When I come up with the melody, I hear it and think, "It's about something, or it's got an emotional tone. What is the emotional tone?" After that, I can think about the story and picture the character that fits the emotional tone, and I develop it from there.
Gimme Noise: Someone who I think is a brilliant lyricist is Ben Gibbard, and I know you worked with him a little bit last year. How did that come about?
Aimee Mann: I did! We're pals; we have friends in common. He was working in Los Angeles and in the same neighborhood, and he asked me to do this duet with him. I really, really loved that song.
Gimme Noise:I read an interview when he was doing press for his solo album wherein he talked about you, and he spoke about how funny you are. Are people surprised to hear that about you?
Aimee Mann: [laughs] My music is fairly gloomy in general. Ben is really funny. I think both of us are friends with various comedians, and I think hanging around with really funny people will eventually rub off on you a little bit. If anybody thinks that I'm funny, it's because I'm friends with Patton Oswalt -- somehow he's rubbed off on me.
Gimme Noise: Perhaps that's why you were invited to perform at Wits in December. Most of that is going to be dialogue rather than music. Are you comfortable doing that kind of thing?
Aimee Mann: Yeah, it's going to be just six songs. I am comfortable with that. I am friends with Tim Heidecker, and yeah, I'm confident he'll help me be funny, too.
Gimme Noise: It's interesting how different energies play off each other like that.
Aimee Mann: I think it's interesting, too. I think that show is very cool; I like that it has a bunch of different kinds of things.
Gimme Noise: Will the Dakota shows be solo, or is it the project you and Ted are working on?
Aimee Mann: No, I'm doing an acoustic thing; it's still my own show, and Ted opens with his solo stuff. He plays electric guitar, but I come out and play a couple of songs with him during his set, and he will play a few songs with me on my set. We may even play a few songs from our project those nights.
Aimee Mann will perform at:
Dakota Jazz Club on Sunday, October 20 and 21, 2013 with Ted Leo
AA, $40-$60, 7 pm
Purchase tickets here.
Wits on Thursday, December 5, 2013 with Ted Leo and Tim Heidecker
AA, $43.71-$52.97, 8 pm
Purchase tickets here.
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