NEW YORK (AP) – She couldn’t get the songs on Aimee Mann’s new album out of her head. They seemed to be rushing out at a rate that shocked even their owner.
“It was just a sense of urgency and I’m not sure why it was. It was like a literal fever. There were songs that I wrote in one day, that’s not my thing at all, ”she says. “Once I started really focusing on it, it became my whole life for a while.”
It became “Queens of the Summer Hotel”, 15 songs created for a pending stage adaptation of the novel “Girl, Interrupted”, Susannah Kaysen’s memoirs about her psychiatric hospital stay in the late 1960s. The album will be released on November 5th via Mann’s SuperEgo Records.
“It’s a lot of fun to take a piece of prose and think about how to turn it into a song and think about what the mood needs to be and try to imagine it as it would appear on stage” says man.
While the show’s way to the stage is still in the air, the songs it inspires have Mann’s characteristic sardonic humor, ironic lyrics, atmospheric melodies and a strong emotional response. How they get used to the stage doesn’t seem to bother the songwriter.
“I don’t know what it will look like. It can just be more like a play with some music. It’s up to them, but because I’ve had so many songs, I thought, ‘Well, now I feel like I have to record them.’ “
“Girl, Interrupted” is about the nearly two years Kaysen spent at McLean Hospital, an upscale Massachusetts mental health facility. The bestselling book, published in 1993, contains vivid portraits of fellow patients and helped fuel the discussion about how to deal with mental illness in the United States. A film with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie followed.
Mann, who first rose to fame as the front woman of ‘Til Tuesday and earned an Oscar for her work on the soundtrack “Magnolia”, started the book and tagged passages that she thought would make interesting songs or scenes that would could be translated into musical moments.
“My idea was that each character have a song – similar to ‘A Chorus Line’ – in which each character talks about their own relationship to the overarching topic,” says Mann.
So “In Mexico” is a portrait of a character from the book who lived in Mexico and who shot at speed. “Burn It Out” is about a character who sets himself on fire. A mention in the book that the poets Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell were also treated in the same mental hospital led to the song “Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath”.
Mann called the album “Queens of the Summer Hotel” so that it could stand independently of the last “Girl, Interrupted” cast album. It got its name from a smooth comment by the poet Anne Sexton, who was also treated at McLean Hospital. Küster called it “a summer hotel”.
Mann and her regular contributor, producer, arranger and songwriter Paul Bryan grounded the sound in the pre-hippie sixties with the flair of classical music that runs through the orchestration, a nod to Chopin and Mozart.
Bryan helped give the album almost visual cues, such as adding insane strings to “Give Me Fifteen,” a song sung by a narcissistic, misogynistic doctor. For “At the Frick Museum” he arranged the strings so that they sound as if someone were strolling on tiptoe through an empty museum.
“It’s not just a collection of songs loosely based on an idea. They are very specific to characters and things that happen in time in the play, ”he says.
The album is so well thought out that there are two small interludes – “Check” and its recapitulation – that mimick the sound of nurses making repetitive visits and examining patients. “As an arranger, it was really fun to hang clothes on these songs,” he says.
Mann called the process an “interesting puzzle” and a challenge. “I found that really exciting. I mean, I am familiar with the topic and have been interested in me for a long time. “
In fact, the album comes four years after their last “Mental Illness” which won a Grammy for Best Folk Album. She has spoken of her struggles with depression and anxiety, in part to destroy any stigma.
“I think the American mindset is that if you have a problem you should be able to solve it yourself. Admitting that you have a problem means being weak. It’s all this ridiculous, harsh individualism, ”she says. “But I think it relaxes a bit and people take these things more seriously.”
One of the most powerful songs on the new album is “Suicide Is Murder”, a monologue by the narrator about her own suicide attempt. It starts off a bit snippy and calls the plot “pre-planned, rehearsed tragedy” before it gets serious: “Be careful that everyone who knew you / will be cursed and some of them will die too / There is no end to the questioning / Why?”
“I’m close to people who have committed suicide and it’s really devastating and in a way that very few things are,” she says. “It kind of reminds the listener of the terrible toll they will take from the survivors.”
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