On her latest album, singer/songwriter Aimee Mann mixes thoughtful lyrics with sparkling melodies and just the right amount of attitude.
Courtesy Photo

It’s been a few decades since Aimee Mann memorably stood up in a Carnegie Hall audience singing “Hush, hush, voices carry,” much to the dismay of her boyfriend, in the video for ‘Til Tuesday’s 1985 hit, “Voices Carry.” That tune peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts and scored the then-fledgling band an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Band.

More than two decades later, Mann the solo artist remains an independent and refreshingly defiant voice in the music world. Her latest CD, @#%&*! Smilers, is comprised of songs with thoughtful lyrics and sparkling melodies infused with a hint of attitude. I recently chatted with the songstress about her new album, how ridiculous award shows have become, and why she’s still stoked to not be on a record label.

I really like the new song “Ballantines” from Smilers, and the duet with Sean Hayes. He’s so great. What a weird and awesome voice. He has this song that is one of my favorite songs over the last couple of years called “Fucked Me Right Up.” You have to download it immediately. It’s really great, it’s got a nice vibe to it, and the playing, it’s really good. : He’s a great performer.

What inspired that song? I had a dream. I dreamt that I was listening to that song, and I woke up and the only thing I could remember is that it was telling a story and that each chorus sort of summed it up with the name of a beer. And the only one that I could even remember was Ballantine. I was trying to regain the flavor of that [in the song], and Ballantine is kind of a low-rent beer with nostalgic qualities, and so I just started to think of this story of a guy who used to be a big shot in town and he comes back and he’s kind of down on his luck and people are like, “Screw you, you were an asshole when you were here.” So just that idea of you used to be the guy that everybody would buy [drinks for], you know, and now he just can’t catch a break.

Do a lot of your songs come to you in dreams, or is that unusual? Every now and then I’ll dream about a song and you can’t remember anything of it. It’s so aggravating. I mean you try, but it’s very hard to drag it up to the surface. Even in my dream, I’ll go, “Okay, I have to remember this,” and I try and remember the chord progression and I just can’t :

You’re on your own label. How do you get your music out there? You do the usual things, mailing lists and some ads in magazines and try to get on iTunes. It’s little things here and there and hopefully they add up. It’s a very weird time because people aren’t buying music and they don’t listen to music in the way they used to. And there are so many people trying to be musicians and trying to put out records.

Are you still happy to be independent rather than tied to a big label? Absolutely. I would never want to be on a record label again. Never. I just don’t like people telling me what to do. I know this sounds obnoxious, but I have admitted that that’s what it comes down to. I love constructive criticism and I love people collaborating. : I’m happy to have people do my work for me, but they have to care about music. They have to be about making a great record first and then seeing how you can sell it later. I can’t [agree with], “Let’s see if we can make it sound sellable.” What is that anyway?

You have a couple of videos for songs from @#%&*! Smilers on YouTube. Were those shot for the Internet specifically? Yeah. There’s no target anymore, like to do something for MTV :

Do they still even play music? I honestly don’t know. I’m so divorced from that world. I watched like two seconds of the VMAs [MTV Video Music Awards] and I was like, “I’m so glad I don’t belong to this anymore.”

Why is that? Well, it so has nothing to do with me. It’s a whole crowd of people I don’t really follow : Here’s what that means to me: The people who get nominated have the $3,000-a-day stylist to help them pick out clothes. And the same thing with the makeup artist, and it’s a weeklong affair to prepare for it. But it’s all so dressed up in this way that is so not me. Not even what I think of as my musical genre.

Back when you were in ‘Til Tuesday, you went to one or two of those shows? We won a best new artist back in ‘Til Tuesday, but it was like the second year [MTV] did it, or something. Nobody took it seriously; nobody watched it or paid attention. Now it’s just another big award show, an excuse to have a bunch of stars parading around.


UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Aimee Mann at Campbell Hall on Friday, October 2, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.


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