Singer songwriter and musician Aimee Mann first became known as the lead singer of the group Till Tuesday. She later found huge success as a solo artist, earning a Grammy and an Oscar nomination for her song “Save Me” from the movie Magnolia. She stopped by the SiriusXM studios recently to talk with Ron Bennington about her newest release– her eighth studio album– Charmer.
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Ron Bennington: “Charmer” is the new album and that is also the single. And I think it’s perfect timing here with the last debates to talk about and think about charmers.
Aimee Mann: Oh yeah.
Ron Bennington: Because that’s what happens to us. That’s basically I think the personality type.
Aimee Mann: Well, I think people – look, people respond to that especially because it’s – it all takes place on television. And there’s a certain kind of constructed personality that plays better over TV than a complicated actual personality. And it’s tough. It’s just tough. This is what you get because these are the people who are going to get ahead.
Ron Bennington: And the funny thing that you say is – it’s our fault because we don’t want to know that things are complicated.
Aimee Mann: Yeah. It doesn’t come across. I mean I think people tend to think in very black and white terms. That – are you the good guy? Are you the bad guy? Not – are you the complicated flawed person who may have some really…I mean look at Clinton.
Ron Bennington: Right.
Aimee Mann: Like his unbelievably complicated and out of control personal life – but this world champion…like a real intellectual, a real champion for the people who – for the have-nots.
Ron Bennington: Well, it’s not unlike JFK who’s kind of had the same kind of history.
Aimee Mann: Exactly.
Ron Bennington: And the FDR stuff got really….
Aimee Mann: Exactly.
Ron Bennington: But the interesting thing is – it means like – we’re never going to get that perfect 100% person. But why should we? Why should a person be somehow super human?
Aimee Mann: It’s not possible. The best you can hope for – that’s not even a thing to hope for – is that they appear to be that sort of super human person. I mean that’s why…I’m an Obama supporter. I think he’s – the ways in which he doesn’t really come across are probably to his credit. That – meaning he has to cultivate a certain amount of charm and a certain kind of a constructive personality, but I think he’s more reluctant to do it than other people because he really does care. He more is like kind of a policy wonk than other politicians. But it comes across as being sort stiff or stilted or at a loss for words because that’s not his area of expertise.
Ron Bennington: You are somewhat of a like an urban anthropologist through out this album.
Aimee Mann: (laughs) That’s good to hear. Made me sound very classy.
Ron Bennington: And you’re saying these are – what I love about relationships, is that we get into them time and time again almost the same exact way.
Aimee Mann: Tell me about it.
Ron Bennington: Yeah. Like we all have – whatever our weakness is….
Aimee Mann: Whatever our thing is, yeah.
Ron Bennington: And we work our way out of it – we get back into it.
Aimee Mann: (groans) I know. Over and over. And if you’re lucky, you get like a diminished lighter version of it the next time. I mean I think that’s the best you can hope for – is like – okay, here I am again. Here I am again. It’s not quite as…I don’t want to tear all my hair out. Just part of it.
Ron Bennington: One of the things…and you never want to say that victims are at fault, but they do seem to have a way of finding each other. Like abuse victims will find abuse – But one of the things that women do that’s fascinating to me – is to take on the role of whatever the guy’s personality had been up to that time. So I’ll have women friends – that if they’re dating a guy who’s into cars – they’re suddenly going to car shows.
Aimee Mann: Yeah.
Ron Bennington: And then their next boyfriend – they’re a surfer. And I’m like – so, this is what…these are your new interests.
Aimee Mann: Well, it’s a real co-dependent mechanism. It’s the idea of…you bend you’re personality to fit the personality of the person…I mean honestly, it’s like – you make the other person your higher power. And then you bend yourself into a pretzel to appear agreeable or appear a good match, I guess.
Ron Bennington: And does it ever work? I mean is it ever a long term thing? Do you think?
Aimee Mann: That’s crazy. I mean it’s built on….That’s a….It’s built on sand. That doesn’t last.
Ron Bennington: “Crazytown” is another song which is a real weakness of men. And you called it…you called it “town” instead of what they normally say on the street. (Aimee laughs) But what is it about men that…we get attracted to these insane women.
Aimee Mann: Well, the crazy girls are…they’re exciting. And they’re very vivacious. And they’re up for anything. Which I think for dudes, immediately translates into – I’m up for sexual anything.
Ron Bennington: Right.
Aimee Mann: So, a guy will like that. And there’s like a life and a spark that is very attractive. And also, but like underneath, a kind of vulnerability that in that is also very attractive. So they become very protective at the same time. And I think – there’s the other version of the crazy….the men’s version of “Crazytown”. I think that’s probably usually the bad boy.
Ron Bennington: Right.
Aimee Mann: They’re exciting. But seem vulnerable on the inside because they’re broken and damaged. And this is how people get sucked in.
Ron Bennington: I think it’s amazing that you’re willing to write about these things. One of the things about music writers, I tend to think that they keep themselves in the smallest possible thing to write about. But I think that you go off into some of the Randy Newman type – Paul Simon type places. Elvis Costello type places. What do you think makes you go off like that?
Aimee Mann: People are fascinating to me. People are really really interesting. And also, when I see behavior that I’m affected by – that I – that I’m troubled by or that I’m…I have a weakness for. I mean I do have a weakness for charmers. And even when you know that a person is bad news and you know that their charming thing is just a front and you’re pretty convinced that they are just flattering you. It’s still…(laughs)…blows my mind how hard it is to just walk away from that. So to me, it is fascinating to see myself like stay in a relationship with people like that – despite the evidence. Or to see people I know stay involved with people despite evidence. So, I want to know how people work. And I want to – I don’t know – in a lot of ways it’s a kind a way to sort of examine a puzzle and try to figure it out. And also, to try to figure out my own…what I think about things or how I react to things and what my own weaknesses are.
Ron Bennington: How did you get into working with so many comedians? Because I think the variety aspect of what you guys have been doing at Largo is just fascinating. And it’s as old as entertainment, but we kind of forgot it for awhile.
Aimee Mann: It’s sort of like the tapas of entertainment. I mean I love a variety show. A little comedy – a little music. My husband and I, about 10 years ago did this show that we called “Acoustic Vaudeville” where we would have comedians come on the road with us. And the conceit of that was….and this started at Largo which was like a little dinner club. It’s actually now moved into a bigger theater space. But because we would go to comedy nights on Monday night – we ended up meeting all these comedians. And so the conceit of the show was that we both felt very awkward talking on stage between songs – like we didn’t know how to do the between song banter. So, like a pinch hitter – bring in the expert who knows how to banter in your place. So, people like Patton Oswalt or Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Kindler…I think David Cross did some…Todd Barry.
Ron Bennington: One of the great things about you and Michael (Penn) is that you guys have always surrounded yourself with good people. Like you always have…both always have such good players playing with you. It’s always really great professional shows. And then these stand ups come in who are kind of, to me are like a Michael Penn or an Aimee Mann of stand up. You know what I mean?
Aimee Mann: Well, thank you because I think these guys are so great. Patton is just….
Ron Bennington: He’s phenomenal.
Aimee Mann: He’s a good friend. So, it was interesting because they would step in and act as if they were us – saying various bantery things – of course, in a ridiculous way. I think when the audience kind of listens to a comedian….I don’t know – like after people laugh, it’s almost like they concentrate more on your songs and your lyrics. And it was interesting to kind of see how that worked on an audience and I found it to be a really great experience.
Ron Bennington: Well, also because like the old revue shows that they used to do. And Motown– the same band would stay on and different singers would come out. It changes your state when you’re in the audience. And doesn’t get you into that one groove thing.
Aimee Mann: Yeah. And it probably like it makes sense – you can have several different artists on the road…you sort of package artists because it’s getting too hard on the road to pay for like a real…I’m out with a full band, but I mean it’s….I mean you can’t make any money that way. So, I bet you that’s part of it. That’s part of it.
Ron Bennington: What do you think a lot of that has to do with? The fact that it’s harder to make money on the road.
Aimee Mann: People just don’t pay for….they download music, don’t pay for it. You know, that’s it. I mean, you can’t…it costs a lot of money to make a record. Even if you make a pretty cheap record. I mean if you have other musicians playing on it. Unless you’re one of those people who can make a record on a laptop and play everything yourself. But that’s a particular sound that’s going to get pretty old. That sort of laptop construction.
Aimee talks about filtering through the large amount of entertainment available now.
Ron Bennington: Oh I agree 100%. Do you think that it even cheapens the live performance with people – where they don’t come in with the same amount of ability to pay attention to it or value it because of the way they treated it before?
Aimee Mann: Yeah. There’s so much entertainment. I mean there’s millions and millions of bands and records and downloads and websites. I think people are over-entertained and they don’t really get the benefit of sitting and concentrating. I mean I’m lucky because my audience is a little bit older and so, they grew up reading books and not having 57 channels.
Ron Bennington: But also, I think listening to albums – where you would put on an album – sit and listen to it and then think about that album– not have it as background music. Because like I was talking about your lyrics– those lyrics are a story in themselves. Where you could sit down with liner notes, go over it and think – I agree or I disagree or this reminds me of this.
Aimee Mann: Yeah. And there’s so much….so many things to kind of listen to. It’s sad. Because it is such a satisfying experience to sit down and just listen to music and pay attention to it in a long form. But there’s so much stuff out there, I think as a listener, that’s my problem now – is that there’s so much out there – I don’t know what to focus on. I don’t know…I feel like there’s like this rushing stream of stuff and I don’t know what to grab out of it.
Ron Bennington: Well, because we’ve kind of lost that filter where they said – okay, the gatekeepers are gone, but there was some good of like – here’s the albums this week. You can listen to them – here’s what to think of. But now if you’re getting it from everywhere – it becomes confusing.
Aimee Mann: I think people are very bad at filtering out the millions of little bits of information and they’re bad at choosing. I mean I find that….I mean I’m not even like a computery person, but I find it like very difficult to just turn off the computer and like sit and concentrate and do a thing that I want to do. Instead, it’s just like an endless round of dicking around and like – oh, let’s see what my friend posted on Facebook about whatever or check Twitter 8000 times a day.
Ron Bennington: It just all happens so fast now. Well, the new album is terrific. And I love the fact of the way that it’s kind of a theme album without being….
Aimee Mann: A little bit, yeah. And the theme – it gets picked up here and there, but it’s not 100% through out the record.
Ron Bennington: But at the same time, all the songs fit together and I mean it really is an album. You’re out touring this right now.
Aimee Mann: Yeah, yeah.
Ron Bennington: Is that enjoyable for you? You enjoying being back on the road?
Aimee Mann: It is, yeah. And the last few years, I’ve been doing kind of a semi-acoustic thing. And for the new record, I actually have like a full band – a 5 piece band, an electric guitar and a drummer, so it’s like a really full big sound and it’s been awhile since I’ve had that, so that’s very exciting.
Ron Bennington: That’s fantastic. “Charmer” is the album and of course you can check her out at aimeemann.com and the twitter is @aimeemann. And she checks constantly – 8000 times a day.
Aimee Mann: 8000 times a day.
Ron Bennington: Aimee, thank you so much for stopping by. And I hope we see you next time through.
Aimee Mann: You will.
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You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.