The south will rise again
Friday April 8, 2005
Mann... 'I always wanted to ask Mick Jagger why he wanted to sound like a hayseed'. Photo: Pete Millson
Where Aimee Mann grew up in Virginia, the southern rock of Lyrnyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers was on the radio and blasting out of the stereos of every Ford Camaro that cruised the streets. Mann rebelled by discovering the Sex Pistols and Devo, but one listen to her new album, The Forgotten Arm, will prove that you can take the girl out of the south (she lives in Los Angeles), but the south will rise again whether the girl likes it or not. A concept album about a boxer returning from Vietnam to travel across the US with his girlfriend, The Forgotten Arm is an ode to working class America in both sound and content.
The Forgotten Arm comes as a statement of freedom, too. A big name in the US, Mann's career has been blighted by battles with record companies ever since she started in the mid-1980s. When her label Interscope underwent a merger three years ago she was told to make more commercial music, despite having had success with her soundtrack to the film Magnolia. So she left and set up her own label. "I overheard a conversation where the bosses were talking about what a terrible disappointment the last Sheryl Crow record was - because it had only sold a million and a half records," she explains on her decision to break rank. "Then I had a meeting with the bosses and they hadn't even bothered to listen to my record. But they believed that with a bit of expert tinkering I could be turned into Avril Lavigne. At that point I thought: forget it."
Mann certainly doesn't look like Avril Lavigne. She's twice her age, a foot taller, and her main interest in life, outside of her work, is boxing. "I don't like getting punched in the nose," she says, "but it's a lot better than courting fame. When I started performing in the 1980s I became very recognisable quickly and I didn't like it at all. You get stalkers that you have to be nice to, because you don't know if they're fans or maniacs. Getting followed around is really creepy. Now my fame level is low, but my income is higher than it would be if I were on a major label. It's the best of both worlds."
Mann has a tendency to get deeply involved with a single record or film to the exclusion of all others. Recently it has been The Last Waltz, the film that Martin Scorsese made about the Band's final star-studded concert, where everyone from Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell queued up to do cameos. "The guys were playing it on the tour bus, and that's when I realised I wanted to make a record with a live, country rock sound to it," she says. "What really impressed me was that the Band looked so cool and sounded so great, and created this camaraderie on stage. It was what music should be about: a sense of friendship. It's a sweet feeling."