ITíS AN OLD story by now: the recording artist versus the major-label record company. Itís a battle Aimee Mann has fought on more than one occasion and against more than one enemy, and which finally led to the creation of her own label, SuperEgo Records. And, ultimately, it has led to Mannís latest record, The Forgotten Arm, a concept album she knows would never have seen the light of day at any of the majors.
The Forgotten Arm, the fifth solo record for the former íTil Tuesday frontwoman, chronicles the rise and fall of the relationship between a junkie boxer and his girlfriend. Mann learned the term "the forgotten arm" from a drug-addict friend who taught her to box more than a year ago. "I thought that was such a cool-sounding name, especially for the boxing move, which is basically a move where youíre kind of distracting the guy with punches from one side, so he forgets about your other hand," Mann explains. "I thought that was a perfect metaphor for the record, too."
Q: Tell me about the genesis of this record, and how it became a concept album.
A: I started out just sort of writing songs as usual, and then I thought about how Iíd gotten a lot of comments when I did interviews for the last record, where people said that they thought the last record was kind of like a concept album. Then at the same time Iíd been listening to a record that was a real favorite of mine by a band called the Honeydogs, and it was called 10,000 Years; we actually helped them put it out. And it was a concept album. And then I thought, well, maybe I should just make this a concept album, because itís more to my taste to take an idea and really explore different aspects of it than to try to write 12 different songs about 12 different things, most of which I donít care that much about. I mean, if Iím not really interested in something, itís kind of hard to finish a song about it. Itís more interesting for me to explore one idea more thoroughly.
Then at the point where I wrote the song called "King of the Jailhouse," which is about two people running off together to Mexico, I thought, maybe I should take this as the loose plotline, and have these two people be the two characters, and then I can talk about the things that I want to talk about, the things that interest me, from their point of view. Itís kind of like two sides of the same coin in a relationship that has drug addiction as its core.
Q: Did you feel like you really knew the characters by the end of putting this album together?
A: I didnít really think about it like that. From an emotional point of view, when I was writing, there were always two or three people as a composite that I had in mind for each character. And also just the basic dynamic, too, because I knew a lot of people who were drug addicts, but I knew so many people who also were in various kinds of relationships with drug addicts or alcoholics, like [with] parents that had been alcoholics and dealing with the aftermath of growing up with that, or people trying to have relationships with addicts. So I was very familiar with the dynamic, and hearing a lot of peopleís stories. And Iíd been going to Al-Anon meetings, because I had one friend who relapsed, and it was a really awful scene. So hearing lots of peopleís stories, and going to open AA meetings and stuff, it really gave me a lot to draw on.
Q: You recorded the album over five days?
A: The first half was four days and the second half was five days. And then I did do vocals separately.
Q: Was that the fastest youíve ever put an album together?
A: Yeah, thatís pretty super-fast.
Q: What was that process like?
A: It was great. I loved just getting in and out. The only problem is that it was so much fun that I wouldíve liked to keep it going just for the experience. But itís really great to not have, like, 50,000 overdubs to fuss over and try to figure out how to make work in a mix. It made things seem much easier. The whole experience just kept it right at the point where everybodyís inspired and excited, and as soon as it starts to get stale, you move on.
Q: Do you think this is an album you couldíve made if you were with any other record label besides your own?
A: No. I think any kind of midlevel band or midlevel act, itís like, you always have to dodge those bullets where theyíre trying to make you into a thing that sounds more commercial. I doubt that anybody wouldíve considered a concept album the direction to go in toward commerciality.
Q: How much do you think your music has changed since youíve been on your own label?
A: I think itís changed. But thatís sort of within the scope of what I do. Itís hard to know if that really translates. I mean, I donít think I wouldíve made the last record on a major label either, because I wouldíve worried that the themes are too down. I could never tell people itís about addiction ó I mean, it was about addiction as a metaphor; this record is really more about addiction, like, itís actually straight ahead. But I wouldíve worried that they thought that would be too down-tempo and too depressing, that there werenít any singles on the record. I think that continually getting that kind of criticism, that youíre not commercial enough, your brain starts to censor things before they even get developed. Because you donít want to do something and then get attached to it and have it get thrown out in the garbage. So I think that really is a change, to not have that self-censorship anymore.
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Issue Date: June 3 - 9, 2005
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