Aimee Mann: Lost In Space
Me: So I assume that this call finds you somewhere in L.A. today? How’s the weather? How’re you feelin’?
Aimee: Yeah, I’m in L.A. It’s a little overcast today. I was up a little bit late last night because it was my husband’s birthday. We had some friends in for dinner.
Me: So I understand you cobbled “Lost In Space” together between touring?
Aimee: My touring schedule is usually a couple of weeks on and a week or so off and a couple a weeks off so depending what’s going on most of the touring I did was with the Acoustic Vaudeville. I have a real problem with having to sit down and write awhile record in order to put out a record. To meet it feels kind of taxing and I dunno’ how people do it, just sit down and write songs because they have to. So I like to start recording as early as I can. I started about a year and a half ago, I had three songs that were ready to go so we started with those (“Pavolov’s Bell” and “Guys Like Me”) — There are a handful of songs (“Nightmare Girl” and “The Moth”) that are going to be saved for bonus tracks, both for the presale and special packaging for Christmas — and then I went to Europe for a couple of weeks then I came back and I had another song, just kind of doing it in bits and pieces which kind of helps me to maintain perspective so that I’m not just hearing the same song every day.
Me: Was the thematic cohesion of the record an intention from the start?
Aimee: I think it came together over time because I don’t usually… When I go into the studio I don’t feel like I have to make deaccessions about what’s going to go on the record because you never really know what’s going to come out in the studio because sometimes you can have a song that is your favorite song and the version that you come up with in the studio just doesn’t work. So you can’t really pre-decide what the records gonna’ be. That’s another reason why I like to start early, because there may be songs that you’re counting on that aren’t really happening. So it’s nice to have it be over a longer period of time so you have more to choose from.
Me: You never know how a song’s gonna’ evolve from its demo.
Aimee: I don’t really demo stuff. we recorded this who record on pro tool and i think in Pro Tools you can kind of demo along with recording for real I usually just do a really simple version with acoustic guitar and a vocal and put orchestration on it real quick and flesh it out and see what it needs, you know, you can always replace the instruments you don’t really like. So you really have the demo and the real version in the same one, so it’s not like a case of getting attached to the demo and the demo being great.
Me: Was the malaise, the noncommittal nature of these characters in your songs a point of departure? Or a place you arrived?
Aimee: As far as the theme I think that there were songs that were turning out well that I really wanted to have on the record and they seemed to really match up with other songs and then there were clearly a handful of songs that really didn’t make sense with the first group of songs so I just made a decision that it really made a better overall record from beginning to end to have themes that sort of dovetailed with each other and you know a theme and an atmosphere also.
Me: The incidental space sounds remind me of the AM-sounding blips and beeps and feedback you had on “I’m With Stupid.”
Aimee: [Laughs] I hadn’t thought of that.
Me: How did that come together?
Aimee: That was definately purposeful. Some of that was just happenstance and then it started to really lock in with the feeling of the record so well that we decided to keep it going. Some of that comes from guitar affects. Sometimes he plays with guitar effects that even after you stop playing they keep going or they have because he’s putting them through a really long chain. He has these old and bizarre guitar effects that has its own noise. Sometimes it sounds like birds sometimes space noise and that sound came up a lot ‘cuz it’s a chain that he used a lot. I really like the way that it fits in with it. It certainly fits in with the title of the record which is pretty much the theme.
Me: Instead of just a collection of singles…
Aimee: Yeah. For me as a listener, I really like an album that’s pulled together as a whole from beginning to end. But you know where the songs have something to do with each other rather than ‘Here’s my ten songs.’
Me: The character in these songs remind me of Cheever’s “The Swimmer” or Paul Thomas Anderson’s characters. From the outside looking in, it would seem you and Michael are the preeminent American singer/songwriters, you’ve had so much success with “Magnolia” and self-releasing “Bachelor No. 2.” So what gives? Who are these people? Where do you find them?
Aimee: People are like that. People are disturbed. People have problems. They’re all people I know in one way or another. I know ex-drug addicts I know people who have struggles with their own identity you know they’re trying to figure out who they are or representing themselves as one thing and being disconnected from their real selves or they’re totally confused or completely fed up and unable to ever connect with anyone in any really way. i think these are kind of common things, I mean, maybe everyone doesn’t have them all the time, probably a bit more the 3:00 in the morning crisis but it’s definitely nothing I haven’t encountered in real life.
Me: So these are personal real relationships, not abstractions?
Aimee: As a songwriter if I’m writing about somebody else I’m writing about a state of mind that I’ve had or I also do a lot of reading about psychology so there’s a lot of things that I come across that I try to apply to myself or people I’ve known so it’s definitely more personal than just lemme’ write about my friend Joe. So all of it tries to relate everything to myself because if you can’t have any feeling about it than it doesn’t really make for a good song.
Me: I imagine you were aware of the slippage between “heroin” and “heroine” in “High On Sunday”?
Aimee: At one point I was going to call it “Heroine” with an e but I didn’t like the, when we talk about that song we refer to it as “Heroin,” I just didn’t want to call it “Heroin,” because it’s like, ugh, too much. I was definitely aware of that. Most of those lyrics were written by a friend of mine. That song was written almost as an exercise where this friend of mind who makes sound for us was starting to write songs and wanted my advice about some things and he emailed some lyrics which I really like so then he said he was working on some lyrics to go with the music and I really felt that for the intensity of the words which are really kind of raw and on the obsessive desperate side these you really have to have music that echoes that feeling. The music that he was working on was a little too light in tone it made your not take the lyrics seriously. So I composed some music for him just as an example. And then as I was working on I was really enjoying the song a lot. I think that for me those lyrics, “Let me be your heroin,” that’s a little raw for me. But i thought it made for an interesting song and I likes it the more I worked with it.
I knew what he was writing about. And you try to apply that to your own experience because a lot of people know what that’s like to feel very compulsive about another person, to have this idea, in this
songs its the idea that you’re trying to encourage another person to become totally dependent on you so they’ll be more attached to you in a drug like kind of fashion. So it’s like using this other person in a mood altering way and hopoing that hey will use you in that way trying to encourage their weaknesses so that they’re more dependent o you. It’s completely thoroughly hilariously dysfunctional but it’s also just very real. I know people who do that I’m sure I’ve done it myself. And so there were some lyrics I added and some things that I changed that a) made it a better song and b) made that scenario more understandable to me. You have to try to relate to it in a really personal way in order to be able to work on it or connect to it or perform it.
Me: Why do you think you’re drawn to this deep, dark, heavy stuff?
Aimee: It’s the kind of thing that I think about more than other things because I’m always interested in solving the difficult problems of being a human being. And people are very fucked up, you know? I’m no exception to that. And the people around me are fucked up, so there’s no lack of fucked up people to write about. But to me it’s a noble enterprise to try and understand people and to try and understand the least understandable aspects of people, the least understandable impulses. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about drug addiction and alcoholism. You can sort of understand it, you can kind of guess that people feel bad so they drink to feel better and that’s sort of logical. But people also do lots of stuff that doesn’t seem to be very logical and yet I felt like it’s really tied together, that there was a similar impulse behind it. You know like people cut themselves up — I had a boyfriend who used to do that, he would cut his arms up — and people have eating disorders or they do things that they do that you can kind of tell is manic or compulsive but the thing that they do isn’t itself destructive so it seems, although it seems to disrupt their life in some way but it’s like hard to callanybody on it. I think people have a range of things that they do that can all fall into the category of addictive behavior which all stems from the same thing: a compulsive behavior in order to alter your mood. And so this is the kind of thing that I’m interested in. Why am I interested in it? Because I’m trying to explain inexplicable behavior, inexplicable impulses of mine and people I know. And I don’t think I’m that different from anybody, I don’t even think that the people I know are that screwed up. I mean, the guy who cut his arm up, that’s pretty extreme, that’s pretty sad. But people do it. A lot of people do it. It happens. And so I wanna’ know why. And I think that writing a song is an extension of conversation that I have with my friends, conversations I have in my own head.
Me: I have to ask the obligatory MTV question: video plans?
Aimee: We don’t have any plans and of course I’m putting this record out myself like I did the last one so I’d like to make a video ‘cuz I think we could come up with some goofy idea and do it really cheaply but MTV’s like tough to get airplay so I don’t know if there’s a real forum. It’s actually funny because we had a couple of fans did sort of animated versions of my songs which I love so we just sort of felt maybe get a couple of those guys and do something else. So I don’t really have a plan but I think that my manager doesn’t think we can do it as cheaply as I do of course he’s probably right. So I dunno’. If you don’t have an idea to just cram something in is always sort of a mistake, I think.
Me: Tour plans?
Aimee: I’m trying to get back over to Europe for a few weeks before I start US shows. My guess is we’ll start the US shows in the end of October. It would probably just be my show. Michael has to get started writing his next record.
Me: Tell me about the packaging, ‘cuz I have the advance. I’ve heard animated 45-pages?
Aimee: I thinks it 32 pages now. We just wanted to do a nice package actually for Christmas we want to put the package in the form of a book so we’re working on that. Actually it was the thing we wanted to come out with but it took too long to manufacture. We’ve hired an artist who is a graphic novelist named Seth and he publishes with Drawn & Quarterly. He has a collection called “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” that i really really liked. So I thought about him ‘cuz I wanted to have a cartoonist do the package. And he’s done illustrations for each song and there are comic strips and he illustrated the cover…
Me: I wanted to ask about collaborations. Glen Tilbrook on “I’m With Stupid” LP. John Brion on “Magnolia” and “Bachelor No. 2.” What about Michael?
Aimee: Michael came into the studio a couple of times. He put a drum loop together. He just stopped by a couple of times. He was working on another record — he’s producing Liz Phair’s next record — so he wasn’t really available. I think Michael and I are so used to working in the studio independently that it doesn’t really occur to us, like, “Oh I’ve got to get my wife on my record.” People think that it’s a treat to be asked to do something and come down to the studio. But because that’s what we do… I don’t think he would think it’s a big treat. If I asked him to come in and play guitar or something he might think if it more as a chore, ‘cuz he’s doing that in the other studio. So I know he’s not going to be offended if I don’t ask him to come to the studio or vice-versa.
Me: So you put a little nail in the coffin of my transition which was how does a young singer/songwriter like myself get you singing along with him?
Aimee: Well, you know, I guess that I’d have to hear the song and if I really really liked the song I’d do it. I think there are two things: you have to feel like you have something to contribute and then you just have to have time to do it, ‘cuz, you know, I’m often just not even in one place.
Me: Well, I’ll send my most recent release to Michael [Houseman, her manager].
Aimee: Yeah, definitely
Me: And if it finds its way to you I’d be a thrilled man. Regardless, I’m thrilled to have spoken with you.
Aimee: Well, thank you very much.
Me: And I’m lookin’ forward to seeing you out on the road.
Aimee: Lookin’ forward to hearing your CD.
Me: Aaaah, bless your heart.
This interview later appeared on MTV News Online