In June of this year singer/songwriter Aimee Mann released her sixth solo album, called @#%&*! Smilers; in August she played two sold out shows in New York, as well as a free show at Barnes & Noble. At the end of that week she told us about a quintessential New York moment she had that started at the latter show and ended at the rooftop of the Hotel Chelsea, as well as how to pronounce her new album title.
You're just released your seventh solo album and it's called @#%&*! Smilers. How should we pronounce this title and what's the significance? I just called it 'Smilers' now, but the way it started out I guess was more like 'Fucking Smilers'. Like cartoon curses. A long time ago I'd follow an internet newsgroup called alt.bitter and there was a thread called 'fucking smilers' dedicated to people's frustration dealing with other people telling them to smile more. So those people would be referred to as 'fucking smilers'. It became term between me and a friend that we'd use all the time. As a woman in the music industry it's also something I can particularly relate to. The request to smile more or be more peppy in promotional efforts for an album. I periodically still encounter it and I started thinking about this title when I was being asked why I wasn't writing any happier songs. But it's not like I'm depressed writing them (laughs) and I don't think they sound particularly sad. I like gravity and I think you can't have levity without gravity. That's like fiddling while Rome is burning.
@#%&*! Smilers seems to have at least two noticable differences from previous records. The first one being that electric guitars were forgone in favor of different key based instruments. Was that a conscious choice? The guitar thing just kind of happened. We had recorded a few songs and really didn't even notice they didn't include electric guitars. We had a bunch of keyboards on there and it was more like "Oh we don't really need guitar on this track". After we noticed that we did kind of made it a mission statement that we just had to do the whole record without electric guitars. All these different keyboards were capable of making all kind of sounds like moogs and distorted wurlitzers. Paul Bryan, the producer, and the musicians are all super nerdy about it, finding new toys all the time so fast I can't even keep up with it myself.
The second difference on this record is that it seems to be more geared towards story telling through characters rather than first person narratives about yourself. These songs are less about me and more story or character based. That also just kind of happened without thinking about it too much. I liked it in retrospect. I should also say that if someone interprets the way my songs sound and it's cooler than the actual background I will go: ok yeah, thats it. People can give it their own context and it's usually not so far off. 'Freeway' is a good example. It's about a drug addict who just kind of went from one person to the other and charmed them into giving him more drugs. People wrote about it as if I was chronicling this whole underworld and that did sound a lot cooler.
You started your own label, SuperEgo, in 1997 and since then you have released your albums that way. If we look at todays music industry that almost seems like a blueprint for what a lot of indie acts now are doing. Do you have any thoughts on this development and the changes in the industry? I've definitely seen drastic changes in the industry. All the big companies seems to have merged into just a few. The big get bigger and the small scatter around for what is left. I don't really know how they even stay in business. Nobody buys music anymore. I don't really see it going anywhere but down from here. It's like we're having our own little mini global warming as an industry where we're standing on an ice berg and it keeps getting smaller. Music is perceived as free now.
You did have just about your highest charting first week, #32, with this new album. Are these changes affecting you career as well? Definitely. If music sales are down by 50% as a whole, they are for me as well. It might be the highest chart position, but the overall sales number is lower.
You've spent a few days in New York between your Highline Ballroom and Music Hall Of Williamsburg shows. Did it spring any good NYC stories? I actually had a quintessential New York moment the other day. I had played this combined reading/show at Barnes & Noble with writer Joseph O'Neill who just published his book Netherland. Joseph is an Irish guy that was raised in The Netherlands and now lives in NYC. He read some from the book, and I played a few songs and there was a Q&A afterwards. We ended up going for drinks. Joseph lives in the Chelsea Hotel and there was a rooftop party filled with all these creative interesting people. Writers, graphic designers, musicians, all kinds of people. It just blew my mind. And the Chelsea Hotel is so much the Chelsea Hotel, like you'd imagine it. It was so awesomely New Yorky. Everyone is just a little nutty here. Little much leeway to be eccentric.