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By Bree Davies
Three decades into her career, Aimee Mann remains as consistently fresh and challenging a singer-songwriter as in her days fronting the mid-'80s new-wave band 'Til Tuesday. Since then, Mann has had a strong solo career, delivering one of the greatest film soundtracks in recent memory for P.T. Anderson's Magnolia. With her recent release, Charmer, Mann continues to introduce herself to a new generation of music fans hungry for her dark and stirring brand of songwriting, and to endure against the tradition of ego-drunk songwriters pushing on past their time.
Westword: In your recent single, "Charmer," you wrote: "When you're a charmer/The world applauds/They don't know that secretly charmers/Feel like they're frauds/When you're a charmer/You hate yourself." This seems like a pretty venomous accusation. Is it directed at anyone in particular, or just an observation?
Aimee Mann: I don't think that's venomous at all — that's just the way it is. And that's the sad part of it. In no way do I want that to sound mean. I think everyone relates to that, you know? If you're at a dinner party and you're telling a story, and all of a sudden you think, "Oh, my God, listen to me. I'm such a numbskull — no one wants to hear about this." Everybody has those moments when you think, "Listen to what a phony I am." But it's the people who are afraid of being phony who are a lot less phony than the people who aren't. It depends on how much people want to bring those things up to the surface and examine them. There are people who don't want to do that at all, and those people remain more ignorant — or even dangerous.
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And yet those dangerous people can, at times, remain charming.
Yeah. But it's a continuum that makes it interesting, going from sweet and delightful to fascinating to "What do they want from me?"
Many musicians who've had success in the decades that you have are no longer relevant today, and yet you've remained relevant for younger generations. Are there things you've avoided that have trapped other musicians?
I do think that something like having a bunch of songs in an interesting hit movie certainly helps introduce you to a new audience and refreshes you to your old audience. It's very easy to think of someone as "Oh, they've been around for a while; they're kind of a has-been." So it really helps to have new eyes to introduce you to a new audience. But I was really never interested in chasing success — making singles according to what the record company is saying is hip. And also, I couldn't do it. Some people can and are good at it, but I'm just not that person. But at the same time, I feel like my music is pretty accessible. I don't feel like it's too left of center. And yet record companies have treated it as if it's this crazy, experimental stuff. There's that shoulder shrug of "This just isn't a single. I don't know what we're going to do with it."