Rising Stars [Issue
A Mann Stands Alone By
The Forgotten Arm
Aimee Mann has quite a few stories to tell. After the multi-platinum success
of her band, Til Tuesday, four critically acclaimed solo records and,
a decades worth of troubles with various record companies, Mann is now
heading out on a new kind of adventure: releasing a concept album.
Arm (on Manns SuperEgo Records) is a stellar collection of loosely-
related songs. The albums second track, King of the Jailhouse,
sets the scene as listeners follow a drug-addled boxer named John and his troubled
lover Caroline on a cross-country trip. Manns songs have always had a
story-time quality to them, and Arm seems like a natural
step for her craft. All the tracks work well by themselves, but the disc plays
even better as a whole.
I dont really know a lot of concept albums, said Mann in a
recent phone interview, I always think of them as a prog-rock, cape-wearing,
Stonehenge-y kind of thing. I think my approach was more as if I was writing
songs for a soundtrack. That was probably because once I had this song that
was about people running off together, I immediately got all these pictures
of scenes from road movies like Two-Lane Blacktop and Easy Rider.
Working on 1999s Oscar-nominated Magnolia soundtrack with writer-director
Paul Thomas Anderson strengthened Manns music-as-imaginary cinema ideology.
One of the scenes I had in my head was a scene from his first movie Hard
Eight where Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly run off together.
However, the singer didnt set out to write a lovers-on-the-run rock opera.
Songs that are written over a specific period of time tend to sort of
orbit around the same concept, Mann explained. King of the
Jailhouse was so specifically about two characters and I sort of got a
mental picture from that song and I thought, why not have these same characters
and have them carry the concepts that are in the songs anyway?
On the production side, Mann was lent a hand by acclaimed singer-songwriter-producer
Joe Henry, who added a fun, improvisational vibe to the tracks rootsy
sound. I wanted to make a record that sounded very different than the
last record, and I wanted to do it a different way, she said. Having an
outside producer helped bring out the best in Mann. He can be more objective,
she said of Henry, and its a lot easier to have an outside ear.
The main thing is that hes a great songwriter so he knows the value of
a song and how to treat a song.
Adding Henry to the mix opened up some new avenues for Mann. Recorded in just
five days with an ace four-piece backing band, the album features few overdubs
and plays like an intimate live show. His genius of production is that
he picks the perfect people, Mann said, and knows that theyre
gonna come up with great stuff. The resulting sound is loose and even
a little jammy, revealing similarities to southern rock and alt-country.
Its safe to say that Arms ambitiousness would have been curtailed
had Mann tried to record it for a major label. After suffering several label-related
headaches on her first three albums, she now steers clear of music conglomerates
and makes music her own way. I dont really know what the state of
the music business is right now, revealed Mann. Im just so
thankful that I dont have to deal with that. Its so bureaucratic
and weirdly ego-based and not even business-oriented sometimes. A record companys
job is to sell, promote, and market records, but all they ever want to do is
try to interfere with the music and its like, Youre not qualified!
Manns current situation, away from the mainstream music business, suits
her fine. Mann releases all her own material and, through her artist-friendly
United Musicians company, handles all the marketing and promotion on her own.
As The Forgotten Arm testifies, her fans are able to hear Manns
songs exactly the way she wants them to be heard. I have a built-in audience,
so its not that difficult, she said, but being on a major
label makes it so difficult because you cant even do your job and theyre
not doing their job and it just drives you crazy.
The Forgotten Arm