The American singer-songwriter Aimee Mann fronted the new wave band ’Til Tuesday before launching a solo career with her acclaimed 1993 album Whatever. In 1998, she played a German -nihilist in the Coen brothers’ comedy The Big Lebowski. Her eighth solo album, Charmer, is out today, and a stage-musical version of her boxing-themed concept album, The Forgotten Arm, is in the works.
You recently had a cameo as an impoverished-musician-turned-cleaning-lady in the US comedy show Portlandia. Have you ever thought you’d have to don the -Marigold gloves for real?
That plot was based on a real experience that Carrie Brownstein (a star of the show and former singer and guitarist with the group Sleater-Kinney) had. She hired a cleaner and the person who showed up was in a band – I don’t know which one, so don’t ask. So far I’m managing to get by without cleaning houses, but it’s probably just a matter of time.
Charmer explores how people -utilise their personal charm, whether innocuously or otherwise.
Yes. At its best I think charm consists of being interested in and attentive to other people, but maybe the problems start when people see themselves as a series of outside accoutrements and become expert in appearing to be a certain way. That can be dangerous.
The song Labrador seems to be about our complicity in being charmed, this idea that we are sometimes tail-wagging stick chasers.
That’s part of it, but that song is also looking at how, when someone is charming, they’re selling you a story. The guy in Labrador sticks around even in the face of a lot of mistreatment because he believes in the story the woman first told him about herself. But he realises he’s been sold a lie.
Do you think good-looking, charismatic folks steer an easier path through life?
Easier in some ways and harder in others, perhaps. The fall is a lot harder for good-looking people – and it does eventually come. I think people who are charming and charismatic don’t tend to do a lot of introspection because they are achieving their goals, whereas people like me, who might be more mentally unstable, hit bottom harder and faster. Consequently, we work to become more self-aware. Maybe it’s more rewarding over time.
You’ve said that Charmer was partly influenced by 1970s and 1980s “super-pop” bands such as The Cars and Blondie.
Right. My biggest influences are still late 1960s Beatles stuff and people such as Neil Young, but there was undoubtedly a certain excitement when, as a young person finding Parallel Lines by Blondie, you realise you’re hearing something very fresh and punky with a pop edge. I also like the way those new wave bands used synthesizers, so there’s a bit of that on Charmer.
The US comedian Patton Oswalt is a friend of yours. What have you learnt from him?
I see that his mind is always working, examining the sentence that someone has just uttered from different angles. So he’s always playing with language and meaning. Comedians have an approach to whatever is thrown at them that is very easy and confident and, I think, maybe a little bit of that has rubbed off on me. I’m much more comfortable on stage than I used to be.
Any plans to come and play in the UAE?
Not at the moment. It would be difficult to get a whole band out there, but I’d love to do it and I’m sure it would be fascinating. We’ll have to see what we can do.