‘Art can really have a transformative effect,’ the musician said.
On Saturday, the extremely talented musician and songwriter, Aimee Mann, will visit Port Washington to perform at as part of a 13-date East Coast tour ending at Carnegie Hall.
Mann, who first achieved fame with the 80s band Til Tuesday, spent the last couple of decades flexing her musical muscles in all sorts of interesting ways including movie soundtracks (“Magnolia” – nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy), concept albums (“The Forgotten Arm” about two lovers who meet at a Virginia State fair), holiday music (2006’s “Another Drifter in the Snow”), and live music (the CD and DVD “Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse”). If that weren’t enough, she’s tried her hand at acting, with recent guest appearances in the IFC television series “Portlandia.” Smart, funny, and an insightful songwriter, Mann’s lyrics read like poetry, which is probably why she was invited to perform for President and Mrs. Obama at the White House Poetry Night this past year.
Patch’s music writer, Ann Latner, was fortunate enough to catch up with Mann by telephone in her studio in California as she finishes up recording her latest CD, tentatively called “Charmer.”
Ann Latner: You’re about to start on a tour that covers 13 shows in 16 days. That’s pretty ambitious. Is it hard to do show after show like that?
Aimee Mann: Well, it depends on if you are in shape… vocally. Vocal chords are like a muscle, you have to keep working them out.
AL: So, have you been doing that?
AM: (laughing) Not really. I guess now is the time to start. After about five shows you really start feeling it.
AL: Port Washington will be your second stop on the East Coast tour.
AM: Oh, well, I’ll be in fine shape then!
AL: What can your Port Washington audience expect at this show?
AM: I’ll be playing as part of a four piece band. I’m playing guitar and doing vocals, and there will be keyboards, bass and drums. Part of it will be semi-acoustic. I like to do semi-acoustic; it feels more intimate. I’ve been doing a lot of trio work without drums, so some part of the set will have that intimate feeling.
AL: Will you play any old stuff?
AM: Songs from old records? Maybe. We usually do a mix, and of course some new songs.
AL: Do you ever do Til Tuesday songs?
AM: The problem is that I have so many songs that are slow and sad that it’s tough to pick.
AL: Why are so many of them slow and sad? Are you a sad person?
AM: They’re more interesting to write. Conflict, in general, is interesting. But I’m usually pretty happy in contrast to the songs.
AL: Your new CD will be called “Charmer.” What’s your interest in charm? I once read a quote that said “Charm is the ability to make someone else think that you both are wonderful.” Is that your definition of charm as well?
AM: That’s very true. Charming people are always very interesting and are generally also very narcissistic. Narcissists are fascinating – lively, great talkers, interesting… but can become tiresome after a while because they often take over the conversation. I think that’s funny. Charm becomes a form of manipulation, and there’s a slightly sinister aspect to it.
AL: You’ve performed for the President and Mrs. Obama – what was that like?
AM: Oh my God – that was so awesome! The reality is that when you play a show that’s not in a regular venue it can be technically awkward and challenging. We were worried about that. This was part of a poetry workshop. We performed in the East Room, on a modest little stage – very intimate. There had been workshops in the afternoon and I was really listening to the poets talk, really inspired hearing people discussing art and poetry. It had a profound effect on me. The enthusiasm and interest by Michelle Obama in bringing art and music into the White House was just amazing. Art can really have a transformative effect.
AL: Any plans on doing more movie soundtracks in the future? Your work on “Magnolia” was brilliant.
AM: Oh thank you! That was really a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. In general, the studio really has a lot to say about the music, and a lot has to do with the taste of the director. Most directors don’t want one artist to dominate the entire soundtrack.
AL: What about acting? You’ve done some of that as well.
AM: I love doing comedy. I think it’s easier to be the straight man. I’m great at playing myself, as long as I don’t have to show any strong emotion.
AL: I understand that you’re working on a musical based on your concept album – “The Forgotten Arm.” Any timeline on when fans may get a peek at that?
AM: Things move pretty slowly in that department, so it will probably be a while, but I’ve been working with producer Paul Bryan and I have new songs. We’ve hired a writer – David Henry Hwang who did “M. Butterfly”. And we are in talks with the creative director of the Public Theater in NY.
Mann will be performing a sold-out show at Landmark on Main Street on Saturday, January 14th.