Musician Aimee Mann Opens Up

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Musician Aimee Mann Opens Up
Aimee Mann talks about love, addiction, and her album, The Forgotten Arm.

Would you say the album is about a get-together or a breakup?

It's really not about either. It's more about two people who are trying to find certain things and trying to escape certain things, and they're trying to do both through each other. Before anybody can really have relationships, they have to deal with the major issues in their lives. To me, this story is acknowledging that. The relationship between those two people really has a lot of love in it, but it's like love is the easy part; that's not really the point. In the story, the guy has a drug addiction that becomes more apparent, and nothing can really happen until that’s dealt with. I know a lot of addicts—or recovering addicts—or alcoholics, or people who had parents [who were addicted]. It's exploring the dynamic of both sides of love. It's a heartache all around.

When you were writing, were you sympathizing more with Caroline or John?

Both. I wrote songs from both points of view and they're both kinda in the same boat. She has this idea of what she wants her life to be and is just barking up the wrong tree—a tree that won't ever really deliver that kind of life—and he thinks drugs are gonna help him live the life he wants to live, and so they're both misguided.

How does someone like her make someone like him "better”?

A very close friend of mine is a drug addict, and he's relapsed, and I just literally don't know how to deal with it. You can't "do" anything, anyway, except in terms of your own feelings. Some people think they’re helping and they're really not helping. …You can’t change anybody. [Laughs.] It's hard to change somebody when they think what they've got works for them.

Does dating the "bad boy" always have to end the same way?

That personality looks good on the outside, but really falls apart when you get close to it. They're never really known. The façade—the act and the show—is fascinating, but there's no getting past it.

The way you write is very literary, lots of narrative—and this is a love story. What do you consider a great love story?

I'm very suspicious of love stories because they give a really false impression. Love stories depend on the idea that you can gain your emotional sustenance entirely from another person. I think that's a very dangerous road, because you can't. It's a huge burden on the other person, and inevitably one of the people starts pulling away, like "Aah! I can't take being your caretaker."

Any relationships that were a catalyst for your songwriting?

I had a relationship with [musician and producer] Jon Brion, and I found that really inspiring because he's such a great musician and he also played music all the time in the house. He was the house DJ—always playing guitar and stuff. Just to be around such a great musician, it's inspiring. So we made a lot of music together and played shows here and there, nothing career-based, but just for fun. He’d be hanging around in the living room in his pajamas, playing some chord progression, and I'd walk in and be like, "What is that? I have some ideas for that."

How’s writing songs around your husband?

We don't write together; we play shows, but don't write. Most of the time when I play him something, it's more for his professional opinion, like "Do you think this needs a bridge?" or "Should I keep it at three verses?" It's not really like "Hey, honey, listen to my new song."

Do you look to movies for inspiration?

I'm not one of the people who goes to the movies, especially a lot of Hollywood movies. I just can't handle the nonstop action; I get into a stupor and my brain shuts down. But a really great movie can be inspiring. Last year I thought Eternal Sunshine [of the Spotless Mind] was really, really great. It was like the most dysfunctional relationship that we've all been in, and yet they still go ahead and say, "Yes," even though they know how it will supposedly end. There's something so touching and human and pathetic about it.

You've talked about how you don't really think of your relationship with your husband as a "relationship," because you define a relationship "as being this sort of unwieldy, nightmarish thing." Does The Forgotten Arm reflect that?

The Forgotten Arm is a reference my friend made to this boxing move, where you hide one arm below as you're hitting with the other. After a while, the forgotten arm comes up in an uppercut. The drug addiction in this story is that surprise punch. You try not to think about it too much until it's too late. And relationships can be like that. If you grow up around relationships that aren't very healthy, then you get an idea that relationships themselves are the thing that makes you unhappy. So I find it's best to just redefine them altogether.

Aimee Mann was interviewed by Katie Hasty, a music writer based in New York.

Would you say the album is about a get-together or a breakup?

It's really not about either. It's more about two people who are trying to find certain things and trying to escape certain things, and they're trying to do both through each other. Before anybody can really have relationships, they have to deal with the major issues in their lives. To me, this story is acknowledging that. The relationship between those two people really has a lot of love in it, but it's like love is the easy part; that's not really the point. In the story, the guy has a drug addiction that becomes more apparent, and nothing can really happen until that’s dealt with. I know a lot of addicts—or recovering addicts—or alcoholics, or people who had parents [who were addicted]. It's exploring the dynamic of both sides of love. It's a heartache all around.

When you were writing, were you sympathizing more with Caroline or John?

Both. I wrote songs from both points of view and they're both kinda in the same boat. She has this idea of what she wants her life to be and is just barking up the wrong tree—a tree that won't ever really deliver that kind of life—and he thinks drugs are gonna help him live the life he wants to live, and so they're both misguided.

How does someone like her make someone like him "better”?

A very close friend of mine is a drug addict, and he's relapsed, and I just literally don't know how to deal with it. You can't "do" anything, anyway, except in terms of your own feelings. Some people think they’re helping and they're really not helping. …You can’t change anybody. [Laughs.] It's hard to change somebody when they think what they've got works for them. Keep Reading...

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