She is the great articulator of the biggest things we think about: "How can anyone love me?", "Why the hell would anyone love me?", and the old favorite, "Why would I love anyone when all it means is torture?"
— Paul Thomas Anderson, Los Angeles, 1999
Aimee Mann (September 8, 1960 — ) is a Los Angeles-based American songwriter and musician who became renowned for fronting the 1980s New Wave band 'Til Tuesday. Regarded by many critics and peers as one of the world's most talented songwriters (on par with Paul McCartney and Neil Young according to David Thigpen of Time magazine), she is widely considered to be a poster child for how the indifference of a record company can virtually destroy a musician's career. Perhaps the best description of Mann that I have read was penned by Chris Willman in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, who calls her "one of rock's most elegantly gifted writers, with a well-attuned psychological acuity to her catchy kiss-offs that any angry young woman should envy. Bitterness, regret, and recrimination never sounded any sweeter, or smarter."
Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Mann's childhood was rather tumultuous. Her parents became estranged when she was just a few years old, and Aimee was caught in the center of a custody dispute. At age 4, her mother kidnapped her and fled to England, returning stateside a short time later. As a result of her parents' behavior and intervention by courts, Mann spent some time with child psychologists, and developed into a quiet, withdrawn adolescent ("I wouldn't talk at all," she has said).
In the late 1970s she moved to Boston and started taking classes at Berklee College of Music. Punk rock had finally made its way across the pond, and New Wave was spawned from the growing influence of both American and UK bands. Mann dropped out of Berklee in 1980 to form her first band, the punk-inspired Young Snakes. Following their breakup, she hooked up with a drummer she'd met at Berklee named Michael Hausman. They started dating, and soon began living together. By 1983, they had joined up with keyboardist Joey Pesce and guitarist Robert Holmes to form 'Til Tuesday, a pop-rock group riding the crest of Boston's New Wave scene.
'Til Tuesday (A brief overview)
The band made a name for themselves around the Hub area playing local gigs over the next few months. When radio station WBCN held their fifth annual "Rock 'n' Roll Rumble" competition, 'Til Tuesday entered and took first prize, which included US$2000, recording studio time, a video production, and an appearance on the then-young MTV. This helped pave the way for a multi-album contract with Epic Records, and MTV's heavy rotation of their video for "Voices Carry" pushed their debut album of the same name to gold status in 1985. Sadly, it would be their only hit song. Their sophomore album Welcome Home followed quickly on, but lacked the flash and sparkle of their first release.
During the heyday of 'Til Tuesday, Mann's love affair with Hausman evolved into a strong mutual friendship, and she fell for songwriter Jules Shear in what would turn out to be a highly publicised romance. The two collaborated on several songs, including the title track to the band's final studio album, Everything's Different Now. Once the relationship crashed, Mann's cathartic songwriting produced much of the album's remaining material. In the aftermath of the breakup, Mann hit a period of writer's block which was cured through a number of projects with other artists. She performed backing vocals on "Time Stand Still" for Rush's Hold Your Fire album in 1987, and co-wrote "The Other End Of The Telescope" with Elvis Costello, who'd developed a deep respect for her songwriting. Mann recorded this song for 'Til Tuesday's third album; Costello's version shows up on his 1996 release All This Useless Beauty.
By 1989, executives at Epic Records were putting pressure on 'Til Tuesday to come up with a hit single to equal or surpass "Voices Carry". The band's lineup had changed several times, and internal disagreements over artistic issues, coupled with the record company's forceful suggestion that other writers be brought in to produce songs with "mainstream" appeal, led to the group's eventual dissolution.
After 'Til Tuesday hit the skids, Mann was ready to embark upon a solo career. She was now a mature writer with a cult following, and started composing new songs in earnest with Hausman as her manager. However, the executives at Epic Records had other ideas. They intended to hold her to the contract that she had signed as a member of 'Til Tuesday, and wanted two more albums written and recorded to their "hitmaker" standards. Mann balked at their demands, resulting in a prolonged legal battle. In the end, Mann got out of the contract, but not before three years had slipped by.
Taking the new songs she had written for Epic, Mann found a deal with Terry Ellis' new independent label Imago Records and released her first solo album, Whatever, in May of 1993. Unfortunately, Imago was on the brink of disaster, and lost its distribution deal with BMG and its financing soon after Whatever hit the shelves. Mann had been in the studio working on material for a second album, but Ellis would never release it and wouldn't let her out of her contract for almost two years. During this period, the only new release Mann saw was the inclusion of her song "That's Just What You Are" on the soundtrack album from Melrose Place, a series on Fox Television. This generated new interest in the artist, but because of the circumstances with Imago, would not be properly exploited by releasing the new album. Ellis finally sold it to Geffen, which then signed Mann in 1994, releasing I'm With Stupid in January of 1996.
Nothing Is Good Enough
Adding insult to injury, the Geffen label (which had been sold to MCA Records in 1990, and later to Universal Music Group) was swallowed up in 1995 by UMG's Interscope label, whose fortunes had been made in gangsta rap. When the new bosses starting questioning Mann about her choice of material and writing partners, it was a major case of deja vu. She had been writing and recording material for her third album, and was told by executives that they didn't like what they were hearing. Frustrated, Mann went back to the drawing board and wrote several new songs, including "Red Vines" (in a deliberate attempt to give the label a single), and "Nothing Is Good Enough," a song about bad relationships which was also an obvious slam at her record label and its management.
In late 1997, Mann finally tied the knot with songwriter Michael Penn (the older brother of actor Sean Penn), and the following year she made her film debut with a walk-on appearance in the Coen brothers' movie The Big Lebowski. But by the time she had completed the recording of her new album, UMG's corporate parent Seagram had bought out PolyGram's musical holdings for US$10.4 Billion, cutting 3000 jobs and some 200 artists from its combined rosters in order to save money and produce higher dividends for its shareholders. Somehow, Mann survived the cut, and was told that management actually liked her new album and wanted to meet with her about it. Unfortunately, Jimmy Iovine hadn't heard it yet, and kept Mann hanging for weeks while he went off on vacation. "The problem is, I'm not hearing nothing because they love it," Mann said at the time. "When I finally hear from them, it's going to be something like, 'We really think you need to rerecord four songs.' So I'm waiting for bad news. I just don't know how bad the news is. I'm two inches away from saying: 'Keep the record. I've had it. I'll make another one at home, and I'll be shed of you people once and for all.'"
Mann's intuition was dead on. Iovine reportedly said, "Aimee doesn't expect us to put this record out as it is, does she? If Aimee just wants to put out a record for her fans, this is not the place to do it." By now, Mann wanted out, but her heavy involvement with P.T. Anderson's highly successful film Magnolia only made Interscope cling to her more tightly, recognizing that she had the commercial appeal to become a star. Stardom wasn't what Mann had in mind, and she instructed her lawyers to negotiate a price to buy back her master recordings from Interscope, and to get her out of the contract.
Luckily, Interscope was willing to cut a deal, releasing her master tapes and absolving her of all contractual obligations in 1999. Mann and Hausman formed their own label, SuperEgo, and released the songs that had been recorded for Interscope as Bachelor No. 2 or, The Last Remains of the Dodo in March of 2000. Initially available only from her web site (at http://www.aimeemann.com), the album went on to sell over 200,000 copies - more than either of her previous two albums that were released on major labels. It features Mann's second collaboration with Elvis Costello, "The Fall of The World's Own Optimist".
This is how it goes
With Bachelor No. 2, Mann finally broke free from the corporate shackles that had bound her for so many years, proving to herself and to the industry yet again that artists with an established following can go it alone and succeed. Aimee always wanted to be her own boss and create music on her own terms anyway. At long last, she could write music without second-guessing its approval, and without beady-eyed accountants peering over her shoulder.
In 2002, Mann released her fourth album, Lost In Space. This was the first time she'd ever had an album released on the same record label for which she'd recorded the songs, and the first one crafted without the guidance and supervision of forces external to her creative process. Lost In Space is a full serving of traditional Aimee Mann subjects, but is presented with an overall theme and feel for the album as a whole which is quite a departure from Mann's past efforts. It's comfortable, less edgy, and the resentment is almost gone. As one reviewer put it, this is the new "post-Magnolia" Mann, which is likely to be more appealing to all the new fans she picked up since the movie soundtrack. Then again, the sources of Mann's angry, bitter songs are no longer a force in her life, so this may be the beginning of a whole new era.
With 'Til Tuesday
Voices Carry (Epic) 1985
Welcome Home (Epic) 1986
Everything's Different Now (Epic) 1988
Whatever (Imago/BMG) 1993
I'm With Stupid (Geffen/Imago) 1995
Magnolia Original Soundtrack (Warner Bros.) 1999
Bachelor No. 2 (SuperEgo) 2000
Lost In Space (SuperEgo) 2002
Live at St. Ann's Warehouse DVD/CD (SuperEgo) 2004
The Forgotten Arm (SuperEgo) 2005
Articles from various periodicals archived at http://www.aimeemanninprint.com/
This material is copyrighted ©2002, 2003 and may not be reproduced
in any manner or distributed outside of everything2.com without
the author's express written consent. All rights reserved.