WITH THE FORGOTTEN ARM NOW IN STORES, NIGHT WATCHMAN GOT A CHANCE TO EMAIL ONE OF HIS FAVORITE SINGER-SONGWRITERS: AIMEE MANN.
Night Watchman: I read in a review for one of your concerts where someone shouted out a request for "Voices Carry", to which you allegedly replied that they had about the same chance of hearing that as hearing "Free Bird". But now there is an acoustic version of "Voices Carry" that you recorded for iTunes. Why the change of heart? What does or did that song represent for you?
Aimee Mann: The song represents the beginning of my career, and I felt that maybe it was time to be able to share a different version of it with the fans through iTunes.
NW: Although it must have been difficult to go through all the crap that you had to go through with labels and trying to get your music out, was there any benefit to having to struggle so much?
AM: Yes. The benefit is that I realized that I like doing it myself, and that I enjoy the process so much more.
NW: If you could go back in time to tell yourself one thing at the very beginning of your career, what would you say to yourself?
AM: You canít please everyone.
NW: Do you consider yourself to be a control freak?
AM: Not really.
NW: How did Magnolia change your life? Can you watch the movie, or does hearing your music in it pull you out of the story?
AM: Magnolia changed my life in a huge way. The director, Paul Thomas Anderson, was so generous by using so much of my music in the movie. He wrote scenes to my songs. The Magnolia soundtrack brought me new fans. It really jump-started my career again. I was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a couple of Grammys. I can watch the movie-- I just think back to when Paul would explain and portray the scene to one of my songs. At first I would think it sounded so strange. But then, when you would watch the finished scene, it was really great.
NW: Did you grow up listening to singer-songwriters? Does it feel good to see that singer-songwriters are coming back into vogue, and that people seem to be paying attention to good songwriting again?
AM: I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan. It does feel good to know that music is moving in that direction.
NW: The Forgotten Arm was produced by Joe Henry instead of Jon Brion, who produced your last couple albums. What is the difference in the way The Forgotten Arm was done?
AM: Well, Joe approached the record by wanting to record it with a live feel, so we recorded in a matter of days. Before, I would record all the tracks separately with the band and then do overdubs. That would take much longer. I love the way The Forgotten Arm turned out. It feels very natural. I told my band I wanted the record to sound very alt-rock with a little dash of [band] Mott the Hoople, and I think we achieved that. I had been listening to old Elton John-- Madman Across The Water and Tumbleweed Connection-- and old Rod Stewart-- Every Picture Tells A Story. I loved the sound from that time, and that influenced the sound for this record.
NW: Here's a question about Jon Brion. Donít you think itís about time Jon put out another solo album? Heís a killer producer, but I want to hear more of his stuff.
AM: Yeah, I guess itís time. I'm also always interested in the movies he scores and produces for others.
NW: Your songs have a very autobiographical feel to them. Is it easy for you to put yourself into other peopleís heads and write from their point of view?
AM: Yes. I find it interesting to be able to write from all points of view. At times, there are aspects of things Iím going through-- or that friends of mine are going through-- that would come out through these characters in my songs. But mostly the songs are not about me.
NW: The Forgotten Arm is a concept album. Is it easier to write songs around a common feel or theme, or do you get trapped?
AM: It started out as a theme, and then it just got rolling. When I was writing The Forgotten Arm I imagined these two characters: John and Caroline. I saw them as characters in the Seventies, because the sound of my record was inspired from music from that time. It was like writing music to a movie that only I knew.
NW: Who else comes close to the kind of music you hear in your head?
AM: Elliott Smith.
NW: A reoccurring theme on many of your albums is that of drug addiction. Although it usually appears as more of a metaphor, is drug addiction something that you encounter a lot in the people that you know, or do you use it as more of a shorthand for how easily people become addicted to things?
AM: It's not a lot of people, but I do know people that have problems with addiction. The problems of addiction do interest me a great deal. I am fascinated with people in general.
NW: Did your interest in boxing lead to the development of the character of John in the story of The Forgotten Arm?
AM: Yes, it did. I am really into boxing, so I made the character of John a boxer.
NW: Are you a good boxer? I bet youíve got a killer reach.
AM: Iíve been training and sparring for about a year and a half now. Iíd like to think I am getting better at it. It takes a lot of concentration. I spar with my producer, Joe Henry, a lot.
NW: If you could box any famous person, alive or dead, who would you fight?
AM: Bob Dylan. Heís a boxer, you know.
NW: In your professional opinion, do dogs have lips?
AM: Hmmm... Iíll go with no lips.