Aimee Mann, with a side of dark humor

The singer-songwriter evokes characters in her new album

  • Singer/songwriter Aimee Mann performs at the Recher Theatre.
Singer/songwriter Aimee Mann performs at the Recher Theatre. (Handout photo, Sheryl Nields )
April 08, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Aimee Mann's best-known songs — "Wise Up," the Academy Award-nominated "One" — have given her a reputation as a lyricist of bleak and tragic ballads.

But Mann has always displayed a streak of black humor. One doesn't need to go much further than her Twitter account for fresh evidence of this.

"Am I really going to read this giant autobiography of Slash?" she tweeted recently. "Signs point to 'unlikely.'"

On Oscar night, the missives were just as acid. "We here in my living room are finding these Adrien Brody commercials inexplicable," she wrote.

Her most recent album is equally sardonic. It's called "[Expletive] Smilers," and it's inspired by the kind of relentlessly happy people she has met while living in Los Angeles. She's now on the road promoting it and performs Sunday at the Recher Theatre.

The "[Expletive] Smilers" press notes say that you approached making it like a journalist, looking for characters. Where did you find these people; did you go out and do proper interviews?

It's never that sort of serious or studied. A lot of the times, I take people I know and make them composites and create fictionalized stories. There's usually a type I start with and I make up a scenario about that person. It's interesting to try to get inside their heads and see what drives them.

The title of the album is provocative. Where does it come from?

It's referring to people who try relentlessly to make you happy. There's a sort of an implication that if you're not smiling all the time, it's an affront to them. You're not even allowed to walk down the street contemplating whatever it is you're contemplating. You have to smile on command.

Did you start writing these songs after you finished touring with your last LP, "The Forgotten Arm"? Or are there older ones there as well?

I'm always in the process of writing songs. Sometimes I let stuff just sit around and be dormant, in a half-finished state. It could be years before I pick them up again. They get written at varying times. I'm sure there are songs here that had their initial seed years before I finished them, and then some written before we recorded.

Where did you record and how long did it take?

It was recorded in Los Angeles at the Sunset Sound Factory. It was not very long. It was all sort of first, second and third takes. We rehearsed in pre-production beforehand, and we did that so we could record it live. We were probably in the studio not more than five, seven days

You made the surprising decision to use a Wurlitzer piano in the recording. What kind of sound were you going for?

A Wurlitzer is this really classic instrument, and a classic sound. In this record, we kind of decided not to have any electric guitars. The keyboards did all the work of the guitar, the Wurlitzer sonically takes the same space as the guitar. I just suddenly felt like guitars take up too much space in the recording and especially with my voice, they can swallow it up.

How did the writer Dave Eggers make a cameo on the song "Little Tornado"?

Dave has this organization, 826 [National], where he tutors kids, and so he does a lot of benefits, and I've played a bunch of them. At one of the benefits, I heard him whistling backstage, and I was like, "You've got to whistle on my record."

What's that song about?

Lyrically, it just sort of refers to one of those people that come into your life and create a huge amount of destruction, and I started to personify that and pictured it as an actual little tornado.

Are there plans for movie work?

Nothing on the horizon, movie-wise. That's always super-fun, but it's the luck of the draw. If someone calls you and asks, great.

What do you get out of Twitter?

I'm a sporadic tweeter. I like to have an occasion. Like if I'm getting together with friends to watch the Oscars. It makes sense to make comments to something like that. I do think it's good to let people know if I'm playing a show, but that's the kind of thing I tend to forget to do. But then sometimes my manager will get on my account, and he'll beat me to it.

erik.maza@baltsun.com

twitter.com/midnightsunblog

If you go

Aimee Mann performs Sunday at the Recher Theatre, 512 York Road, Towson. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets, which start at $27.50, are sold at the door or at missiontix.com.

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