Interview: Aimee Mann
Thu, 24 Jul 2008 11:11:31
Aimee Mann’s wry worldview helped inspire the film Magnolia, and her epic battles with her major label–and subsequent liberation in 1999–helped inspire a generation of songwriters who wanted to strike out on their own. Bachelor No. 2, her Magnolia-era solo album, is the crown jewel in her catalog–its success made even sweeter by the fact that it had initially been rejected by the majors for lacking commercial appeal.
The newly released @#%&*! Smilers is Mann’s best album since Bachelor No. 2, a return to form of sorts (it’s even being publicized as such). The title playfully references how annoying happy people can be for people who aren’t prone to putting on happy faces themselves. To help promote the album, Mann announced a YouTube challenge, encouraging fans to submit their own performances of “Freeway” (one of the album’s standouts) for a chance to win the right to perform onstage alongside Mann. The winner will be announced soon; this writer is pulling for this entry.
Mann spoke to ARTISTdirect recently about cartoon profanity, the perils of turning 31, and the unlikely parallels between global warming and illegal downloading.
I read in a blog or somewhere that the “@#%&!” had to be dropped from the album title in order to get it in Wal-Marts and so forth. That can’t be true, is it?
I don’t think that’s true–I haven’t heard anything about that. It’s not even profanity, it’s punctuation! Plus, I don’t think Wal-Mart carries our record anyway. But obviously you can’t have a record that says Fucking Smilers on it–but that wouldn’t be appropriate anyway. Having it be cartoony was my goal; I think it’s funnier.
Otherwise it would set the wrong tone. It’s not really an angry, bitter record.
Yeah, it’s not an angry screed or diatribe.
It does lead me to wonder about the famous James Lipton Inside the Actors Studio question: what is your favorite curse word?
Lately I’m leaning towards archaic euphemisms… calling people knucklehead or nimrod, that kind of thing.
You’ve been a defender of artist copyrights and protecting an artist’s right to make money on album sales. There’s a popular perception out there – perhaps as a justification for illegal downloading – that artists make all their money on touring and merchandise, and that’s there isn’t much money to be made in album sales anyway.
I make no money touring–and how many T-shirts do I sell? Ten? You know what I mean? I don’t make money selling T-shirts. I probably make enough money to pay the guy selling T-shirts. If people are thinking that burning a CD or downloading on a non-pay website is not affecting the artist… it’s the only way I make money. If I don’t make enough money to pay for the next record, I will not make another record. It’s a simple thing, but it’s very difficult–you can’t turn an interview into a lecture. Whatever choices people make, that’s their choice. But I do feel obligated to point out that only really big acts who play in probably 7,000 or 10,000 seat places make money. I make enough to pay my musicians, pay my crew, fly people around, have a bus or hotel rooms or whatever–and that is it.
If you’re a musician, people don’t want you to break the mythology of the rock star; nobody wants to hear you talk about money. And I don’t want to talk about money, either. But they want to believe in the dream, so there’s a denial about it all. To say anything that puts the pin in that balloon…people get really mad at you. To hear an artist talk about money and how they make money is really unseemly, and makes them immediately think about you as a person who’s trying to make money–which is antithetical to the whole idea of you as an artist. Obviously, I love music and I love playing and making records and writing songs–I love it. But there’s another part of me that has to be reasonably practical and make a living and pay for a record. You know, it’s weird, it’s the dilemma of the one person who affects many, like the person who doesn’t vote. It’s the problem of voting, the problem of litter, the problem of global warming. On a small scale, for musicians, this is our global warming–our structure is falling apart, one download at a time. Side musicians then have to be fired because nobody can afford to pay them, studios go out of business, gradually records don’t get made except for from people who are voracious attention seekers.
“Thirty-One Today” presents turning 31 as the watershed birthday, rather than turning 30. Why is 31 the tougher age to reconcile?
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