Aimee Mann's career took off after a stint in the '80s rock band 'Til Tuesday but she found even more success after regaining control of her music by going indie
By Tesa Nauman
Unlike a lot of people, when songwriter/singer Aimee Mann is at home, relaxing, she doesn't listen to music.
" ... For a variety of reasons, one of which is we don't have a working CD player," Mann says, chuckling while speaking from her recording studio in West Hollywood, Calif.
Many fans throughout the U.S. and Europe, however, have working CD players and listen to Mann's music when they want to relax, become energized or just want to hear Beatlesque melodies combined with evocative lyrics.
Mann, the former lead singer of the pop rock band 'Til Tuesday, first came to prominence in the '80s when the band had a Top 40 hit with the song "Voices Carry." Next week the Bijou Theatre will be the setting for Mann's first musical visit to Knoxville when the singer performs a special acoustic set, with guest musician David Ford.
In the 90s, after 'Til Tuesdays disbanded and after going through a bad time with her former record label, Mann started her own label, SuperEgo Records. She has released nine solo albums, including the soundtrack to the 1998 film "Magnolia." The film's director, Paul T. Anderson, wrote the screenplay while listening to tapes of Mann's music given to him by Mann's husband, singer Michael Penn. Anderson not only loved Mann's music, he even had her film videos for the soundtrack during the filming of the movie, with the cast even singing one of the songs. Mann garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Song for "Save Me" from the soundtrack.
On Halloween, the number of solo albums released by Mann will rise to 10 when she releases a Christmas album, "One More Drifter in the Snow." The album features holiday standards as well as a Mann original.
To look at her, one would never suspect that boxing plays an important part in Mann's life, in and out of the music spotlight. A few years ago, Mann, who is tall, thin with long blond hair, took up boxing as a hobby. She's still an amateur, and plans to remain one. Boxing is a hobby that lets her unwind from her music career.
"In order to get in the ring, you have to be so at the top of your physical peak. I'm not particularly athletic, so (boxing professionally) is not really for me," Mann says. "Because I've been on the road so much, it's hard to stay in (shape). You really have to stay in great shape and you really have to practice a lot."
Mann practices at the gym with a boxing trainer, working on her technique and learning more about the sport. Her boxing partners are people she knows and trusts. But, is she ever afraid she's going to get knocked out?
"You've got to be careful who you go in the ring with. There's no reason for me to go in with a professional boxer who's really out to get me," she says. "The last time I sparred, I sparred with a friend who is on the same skill level, and neither of us are trying to kill each other."
While to the average observer, boxing may seem like merely throwing punches at your opponent, Mann says there's a lot more to it.
"Boxing is really complicated. Like anything, you really have to dedicate your life to it. I really like it and I like being able to up my skill level enough so that I can do some sparring. But it really takes a lot to get to that point."
Her skill level at writing, playing and singing complex pop and alternative rock songs always seems to be at its peak, however. Her music is very much a combination of The Beatles, Badfinger and similar bands along with Mann's unique musical perspective. Her melodies are enhanced by her complex lyrics bemoaning the loss of love in a way that makes the subject matter seem new and refreshing.
She mixed her hobby with her career last year when she released her ninth solo album "The Forgotten Arm," a concept album that traces the relationship between two people, one of whom is a boxer. The album's title comes from a boxing move invented by a friend of Mann.
"It was kind of a joke, but I thought it was a really interesting, evocative phrase, so I used it," she explains.
The idea to create a concept album came after Mann wrote the song "King of the Jailhouse," about two people who run away together, driving around the country in an old Cadillac.
"I got such a picture in my head, and I liked the idea of continuing to write about these two characters."
When asked if there's anything about Mann that most fans don't know about her, she says that she's afraid fans might think she's a serious person, because her songs tend to be bittersweet.
"People think I'm really sort of a depressive person. I'd like them to know that I think the people around me consider me to be much, much more lighthearted than you'd think. Most of my friends are comedians, for instance."
Mann, who's spent most of the year touring, doesn't know what her next project will be.
"I think after this tour I'll probably clean out my office and sit down and listen to my work tapes that I've accumulated over the last year. I'll see if there are any ideas for songs that I feel like following up on. You know, just really get down to song writing and see where it takes me," she says.
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