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.


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.

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