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Aimee: boxing, Obama and me

Singer, songwriter, actress . . . boxer? We could only be talking about Aimee Mann. She is the queen of the pop song as perfectly polished put-down; a velvet glove hiding a steel claw.

But the LA-based musician -- who plays the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in January -- swapped pop hooks for right hooks for a spell, climbing into the ring to learn the ropes about being a fighter, Katie Taylor-style.

"I got into boxing about 10 years ago," says Aimee down the phone from Los Angeles. "I started to do some boxing myself. The trainer Freddie Roach is a friend of mine and I got a chance to train with him for a while.

"I really love it. It's fascinating to participate in it. I feel like I learned a lot from it -- especially about forcing yourself to remain calm when you're under a lot of stress. That's a really valuable skill to develop.

"But it's very, very exhausting. Once you're out of shape, it's really difficult to get back into shape. So I content myself with watching boxing matches at home now!"

Aimee recorded a knockout concept album about a boxer called The Forgotten Arm back in 2005, and, broadening her canvas, is working on a musical based on a version of that story for the Public Theatre in New York.

Her collaborator on this pugilistic project, Paul Bryan, also produced her new album Charmer, which is an archetypal Aimee Mann record in that it contains the most melodic radio-friendly songs . . . that somehow never get played on the radio.

Charmer is the 8th studio album Aimee has made since she became a solo artist after the break-up of her band Til Tuesday. It's been noted how it has echoes of classic 1970s pop/rock.

"I've been thinking about what my idea of pop music was -- which is pop music from the 1970s and 1980s. I've been going back and listening to old stuff and contrasting it with my memory of what I felt was interesting about, say, The Cars and Blondie, which at the time seemed to have such a revolutionary sound because they used synthesizers.

"But when you go back and listen to it, it's really a basic rock band -- with a synthesizer on top of it. It's interesting how the addition of just one instrument can really change things."

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Fans of The Shins will be excited to hear Aimee's duet with lead singer James Mercer on 'Living A Lie'. How did the pair meet?

"I had this song which was a duet and really needed a very strong male vocal because the male voice starts the song and it's a pretty long verse," explains Aimee.

"James was the first person we thought of. So then we called his manager to see if he had any interest, and we got lucky -- he happened to already be in LA."

Aimee has also been busy moonlighting as an actress -- her friend, the singer/songwriter Joe Henry persuaded her to take a role in movie Pleased To Meet Me alongside Loudon Wainwright III and John Doe, which was filmed earlier this year in the US.

But she was even more excited about being invited to perform in the White House in May 2011.

"It was really incredible," says Aimee. "I was very nervous about the whole idea. I was like, 'Oh my God, Obama is sitting 10 feet in front of me'. There was this star-struck thing. He's charming and Michelle is amazing. The White House was beautiful. I'm looking at a picture we took with them as I speak -- it's on my wall at my office.

"There was this afternoon seminar for high school poetry students so there was a bunch of poets there. They all answered questions about how they write and who their influences were. I found that unbelievably inspiring -- because I was never that interested in poetry.

"So by the time we got to the performance in the evening, I felt like I was going through this transformation where I was thinking about art and its place in the community and how it is at the heart of civilisation, and how it contributes to lifting up the human condition.

"Michelle Obama was very interested in the idea of not just having art as this added-on thing, but it being really important to society. That was transmitted to me in a really profound way and I was really affected by it."

Once a regular visitor to these shores, Aimee's first Irish gig in years takes place at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin on January 31. I tell her I first saw her live in the Gaiety Theatre in 1994.

"I remember the Gaiety as being one of my favourite shows that I've ever played," says Aimee. "Dublin's wonderful and the people are amazing. It's always a real treat to come. And the audiences are really smart there."

Charmer is out now. Aimee plays Dublin Bord Gais Energy Theatre, January 31. nkelly@independent.ie

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