Interview by Jon Bream
Jon Bream, Star Tribune, September 11, 2010 (original article at Star Tribune)
A family that plays together
Songwriting sisters Aimee Mann and Gretchen Seichrist have never performed together. That's about to change.
The Internet cannot solve all conundrums. Google "Aimee Mann" and you'll learn that the celebrated Los Angeles singer/songwriter grew up in a family of brothers. But nearly every mention of Gretchen Seichrist, the captivatingly arty Minneapolis singer/songwriter, says she is Mann's sister. What gives?
"We have different fathers," Mann said when we got them together by phone. "I was in the first litter. And we did not know each other at all growing up."
Aimee was 14 when she first visited Gretchen.
"You sang a Loudon Wainwright song for me," Seichrist recalled. "It was that 'They got drunk last night' song ['The Drinking Song']."
It was at least another 10 years before they got to know one another. Now Mann, 50, and Seichrist, 45, will play their first shows together this week at the Dakota Jazz Club.
In a 45-minute conversation, the sisters discussed their music and each other. They sound instantly familiar with each other on the phone. But they haven't really talked all that much about their Dakota gigs, which Seichrist will open.
Seichrist has been to the downtown Minneapolis club, but she hasn't told Mann anything about the Dakota.
"Is it made out of ice or is it made out of candy?" Mann jokingly asked.
As of two weeks ago, she hadn't yet rehearsed for the shows, the first nights of her fall tour with an acoustic trio.
"We'll probably trade off instruments and we'll try to simulate a full band sound with three people," promised Mann, who first gained fame for the 1985 hit "Voices Carry" with the group Til Tuesday, but is best known for her Oscar-nominated "Save Me" from the 1999 "Magnolias" soundtrack.
"I've done a couple of acoustic tours before. For me, it's preferable. It's easier to connect with your musicians in that great way where you start reading each other's mind, and you can hear yourself sing better. The more people onstage, the harder it is to do that, because you're separated by technology in some way.
"Gretchen's going to have a 20-piece band. You're providing the spectacle for the evening."
Mann is just guessing -- she's never seen a performance by Seichrist, who bills her band as Patches & Gretchen and offers artfully eclectic Dylanesque, poetry-reciting, performance-art-inclined rock.
First musical collaboration
Will the two sisters collaborate onstage at the Dakota?
"We have not discussed that at alllllll," Mann said hesitantly.
"I can't even collaborate with my shoe," Seichrist piped in.
Actually, they've never played music together. "We don't even really know each other," Mann joked. "We've had some meals together. We live very far apart."
Their only collaboration has been "Medicine Wheel," a song from Mann's 2008's album"@#%&*! Smilers." Seichrist sent poems to Mann, who set one of them to music. They haven't discussed further joint efforts, but Mann suspects it might happen.
"We're not planners, me and Gretchen," she said.
So what are they?
Mann described Seichrist: "She's extremely creative, probably the most creative person I know. Her creativity bleeds into all kinds of different areas, where like the visual bleeds into the musical and poetry and stuff. I also think she's very insightful and very tough with her approach to life. There's this no-[b.s.] stance, like: 'This is what it is and I'm going to acknowledge the reality of that and not pretend it's something else.'"
"Except when I listen to Love 105," interjected Seichrist, referring to the Twin Cities oldies radio station. "I just cry five times a day listening to those songs."
Seichrist attempted to describe Mann: "Intelligent, beautiful, thoughtful. God, it feels like I'm in grade school here. To me the most important thing that's different about her, it's a rare thing but it's very simple -- I'll say it as an example: At one point when I started showing her some songs in a very crude form, it was what she didn't say. She didn't say, 'Musicians need to play for a long time.' She said, 'The problem is you need someone to figure out this part of it. Just find that person.'"
That was the vote of confidence Seichrist needed to become a performing songwriter. She has released two albums on her own, including last winter's "Sugar Head Pie."
Seichrist has lived about half her life in Minneapolis. Her father, Ron, taught design at Minneapolis College of Arts and Design and, in 1993, cofounded the Miami Ad School (there are eight campuses, including Minneapolis, on three continents). The single mother of a 13-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, she said Mann is an important aunt.
"She's perfect for my daughter, who is Ms. Superstar Wannabe," Seichrist said. "My daughter is very creative and she's already chosen Aimee as a role model over me. It's awesome for my daughter to have that role model in the family. It's not like a Hannah Montana type."
Mann, an old-school pop craftswoman, had a birthday last week. And her sister will have a bunch of presents awaiting her arrival: "I'm making her a whole line of Patches & Gretchen products. Jelly, barbecue sauce, T-shirt and a hand-crafted, hand-painted slip, tablecloth and a pillowcase."
At least one of them is a planner. Sometimes.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719