Singer-songwriter still her own Mann with DIY model

Fri May 23, 2008 5:34pm EDT
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By Evie Nagy

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Aimee Mann named her new release "@#%&! Smilers" as a tongue-in-cheek protest of people who constantly prod others to put on a happy face, even when they don't feel like it.

But as Mann herself admits, her seventh solo album, due June 3 on her own SuperEgo Records, is one of her most "smiley" works to date.

And why shouldn't it be? The singer-songwriter has enjoyed more than two decades of success, much of it through her own toil as a pioneer of the now thriving do-it-yourself model of the music business. "Smilers" is the former 'Til Tuesday vocalist's fifth release on SuperEgo, which she founded with manager and longtime collaborator Michael Hausman in 1999 after negotiating a contract release from Geffen.

The themes on "Smilers" aren't all cheerful -- Mann masters wistfulness and dissatisfaction on songs like the synth-laced "Thirty One Today" -- but there's a musical playfulness throughout that culminates in closer "Ballantines," a piano-bar romp with trombones. The variety is a deliberate departure from 2005's "The Forgotten Arm," a musical "novella" about a relationship headed for trouble.

"I think because the last record was a concept album and had a narrative that went through the whole record, I was in the mood to do something completely different and make every song its own thing," Mann says. "So if it needed horns, great. If the next song was just acoustic guitar and sounds like Neil Young, great."


Hausman says that Mann's desire for this level of creative control was a major factor in her decision to leave the major-label system. "Her decision was based on creative reasons," Hausman says, "and I gave her the confidence that from a business standpoint, she could make a living."

Boosting this confidence was Mann's success with the 1999 "Magnolia" film soundtrack, as well as the pair's early grasp of how to leverage the then-nascent power of the Internet to reach fans.   Continued...

<p>Singer and composer Aimee Mann performs at the 50th annual Cinema Editors Eddie Awards February 27, 2000 in Beverly Hills. REUTERS/Rose Prouser</p>