Since wrestling her way out of a major label contract and releasing her own albums beginning with 2000s Bachelor No. 2 singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has charted an uncompromising career.
The Oscar nominee (for 1999s Save Me, from the movie Magnolia) has shared the stage with Hollywood comedians, released acclaimed albums (like her most recent Charmer) and charmed a devout following with smart lyrics and a smoky, lullaby-friendly alto. Manns latest project is #BOTH with Chicago rock songwriter Ted Leo, who opens for her Tuesday at McGlohon Theater.
Mann spoke to The Observer about writing with Leo, maintaining a stable career in an unstable industry, and practicing her way into a career.
Q. Do you and Ted Leo have a similar approach to songwriting?
A Not that similar, but thats kind of the fun of it. You make an educated guess about what is it about his style? Can I write closer to somebodys style and what does that mean? The fun is in getting it wrong. The happy accidents. It makes things happen really fast. If youre working on something and you have the initial idea and dont know where to take this next, you immediately email it to the other person. Its nice to have that kind of novelty and nice to have it not be all your voice, but two people trying to find the third place.
Q. You wrote with comedian Tim Heidecker and have several comedian friends. Is there a similarity between songwriters and comedians?
A To me, the interesting thing is to see how comics use language and twist language and take an idea and look at it from all different angles to see the possibilities in it. Its not dissimilar to what you do with a song take a metaphor and look at it from all different angles.
Q. Were you a writer as a kid?
A No. I came to it late. I played some songs on guitar, but I didnt really know what I was doing. There was this music school that had a summer session and I wanted to see what it was all about. I thought if I learned about music that would help me know if I had talent for it. I wasnt like a natural musician playing by ear since they were 4. I had to work at it. I think creativity comes different ways to different people. I needed a lot of structure before I was able to be creative. If someone says write a 16-line poem about an apple, it narrows it down. It did teach me the value of practice, because before I went to the school I thought either you were good at music or you werent. I didnt realize practicing besides the idea of practicing scales you can practice hearing chords and become better at telling what chords they are. To be able to work at that and get better was a revelation.
Q. You were ahead of the game putting out your own albums.
A That was the best circumstance for me when people were buying records. Putting out your own records when people arent buying records, its hard to make enough. Im trying to figure out how to make the most of it. There are tours where Ive made zero money. Its hard to figure out what the point is. Bit by bit you adjust certain other things.
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