Aimee Mann was best known for ‘Til Tuesday until the sountrack for Magnolia gave her a whole new career. Fresh off the completion of her American tour, here she talks about life after record labels and her boxing repertoire.
DC: Have you enjoyed being on tour?
AM: It’s good. I think one of the key differences not being signed to a record label is that you don’t come under pressure from them to tour when you’re not up for it. So I set my own pace-and that makes a big difference. I don’t usually go more than three weeks at a time. 21 days seems to be the point when everyone starts to lose it.
DC: Do you mean getting along with the other people you’re with? Or being away from home and all your usual rituals?
AM: Well both. You’re basically living with ten people in one room. And that’s not easy. Grown people. The bus doesn’t have a lot of square footage and you are all sleeping in it together.
DC: Do you like this independence? Does not having to rely on record labels give you more freedom?
AM: Knowing record labels and knowing the kinds of things they would object to-they just object to everything that’s interesting. I’m sure they never would have sanctioned [my last] tour. I’m sure they would be weighing in on everything that happens on the tour, on the comedians, and what people say, and the songs. Honestly, I don’t want to have that outside input that doesn’t come from any kind of a musical place or an artistic place.
DC: How do you think it would be different if you began your career now with the internet and Myspace and Facebook?
AM: I don’t know. I don’t envy anybody trying to start a career right now. There really is no music business left, in a lot of ways. People don’t buy records anymore. I don’t know how people can support themselves. For instance, my Christmas Tour cost me a fortune to do. It didn’t remotely break even. I did it for fun.
DC: Do you still buy records yourself? Are you online discovering new bands?
AM: I don’t have a lot of time and I forget to do it. I’m on the road a lot, when I’m playing shows I’m in a different headspace. Because I’m performing music every night it’s like I want to give my ears a rest.
DC: In your other songwriting do you ever impose restrictions on yourself? Do you like that type of discipline?
AM: I do like that discipline. I don’t generally do that except for the one record, which was a concept record with two characters.
DC: That was The Forgotten Arm. How does that feel looking back on it?
AM: I almost wish it was even more structured. Some of the songs are not even as specific to the story as I would have liked.
DC: Your lyrics are so literate—is that where you begin when you write songs?
AM: I start with the music. Well this is the game I play with myself: the music has a story in it, and what is that story? Here is the emotional tone—what is a story that makes sense with that tone? What is a story that would bring you to that tone?
DC: Looking back on Magnolia after all these years, what does that feel like now? Has there ever been another film where the music has had such an impact? Jaws is the only one I can think of.
AM: [LAUGHS] I think that’s props to Paul Thomas Anderson, because I think all the music in his movies does that.
DC: Like the Johnny Greenwood compositions in There Will Be Blood.
AM: Yes, and especially the songs that he chooses. Like Boogie Nights, I thought the song choices were really good. He has a nice ability to step back and allow the music to take over and tell the story in a different way, in an emotional way that hits you in a different place. Even for Magnolia, I don’t think it had to be my music.
DC: He said that he wrote it thinking about you.
AM: Yeah, well he was listening to a tape of mine while he was writing it. I think it kind of got incorporated.
DC: But the first time you actually saw the characters singing it must have been something.
AM: That was crazy. I couldn’t imagine how that scene was going to work. I was really worried about it. It just seemed to be such an odd idea that I didn’t see how it was going to make sense and not look stupid. I didn’t count on the fact that he’s got such a sense of the surreal. It’s like his [Paul’s] surreal is more real than real. It was surreal but it came across as emotionally realistic.
DC: Now that you’ve had your music in a film when it’s so involved can you go back to having it play in the background, like while some teenage couple makes out?
AM: I have no control over that. If somebody wants to throw it in the back of a bar scene that’s fine. With Magnolia it was a perfect storm of circumstances that played out very fortunately for me.
DC: Do you think you have a reputation as being bleak? Not bleak necessarily but that you explore the intense side of human relationships?
AM: That certainly comes up in reviews so I guess I have that reputation. But I don’t know why I should have it any more than anybody else.
DC: Well maybe your lyrics are better.
AM: [LAUGHS] What’s interesting to me is drama and conflict. Things aren’t interesting without conflict and resolution of conflict—or striving towards a resolutions of conflict. To me that’s interesting. And also, by the way: that’s just how it is. Oh you don’t have any problems: What about getting older and eventually you’re going to die? What about solving that problem mentally in your head? There’s a problem for you even if your life is perfect. Life is a series of problems to figure out how to solve gracefully and with dignity. That is what life is and I can’t see it any other way. And that’s glorious, that’s great. It doesn’t mean anybody has to be in a bad mood either.
DC: What are you up to after the tour?
AM: I haven’t been in the boxing gym and I want to start boxing again. I’ve been drawing and toying with an idea of doing a graphic novel. My drawings are very rudimentary—my bass player is amazing we do these cartoon jams and trade pages. [TAKES OUT BOOK] It’s really just an exercise: it’s totally ridiculous about this old couple that has a demon living in this shed in the backyard.
DC: These are great. I love the Old English type.
AM: Yeah, that takes forever.
DC: Can we go back to boxing for a second?
AM: I’m really into boxing. I go to a gym and I’m friends with a trainer who’s a pretty famous boxing trainer and I train with him.
DC: Is that about discipline and escape?
AM: It keeps me really interested as a way to exercise. When you work out with a trainer he’s got mitts and he calls out combinations and it’s like rehearsing what it’s like to be in a fight. (Gets up and assumes boxing stance.) He calls out combinations and you have to throw punches but he also swings at you and you have to duck. You have to keep on your toes. What I like about it is that it’s very strenuous but because you’re so mentally occupied you don’t realize how strenuous it is until the bell rings and you’re like ‘I think I’m going to throw up.’
DC: How did you get interested in that?
AM: I was interested in it when I was a little kid. Because I wanted to do everything when I was a kid—I thought everything was interesting. I wanted to go scuba diving and I wanted to learn how to surf. Because I grew up in the 60s girls were not allowed to do anything. As I’ve gotten older and realized that women can do things like that I thought, ‘Why not? Now’s the time.’
DC: Would you be welterweight?
AM: I think I’m a lightweight, or a featherweight.