Knockout Music 

Singer/songwriter Aimee Mann is in fighting form.

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"Music is a very evocative art form," Mann says. "Songs become soundtracks for people." Her voice is full with strength and longing, ferocity and emotion, all hallmarks of the singer/songwriter genre. "I'd like to feel like I fit right in there," she says.

The other place Mann feels like she belongs might surprise you: the boxing ring.

Ever since she was a kid, Mann wanted to try boxing, she says, despite its "no girls allowed" reputation. A few years back, a friend gave her a lesson, and she was hooked, training now about five times a week.

"I am super-fascinated by it," she says. For one thing, boxing requires thinking. "Boxing is involved," Mann says. "There are the punches you throw, and then there's the strategy." When you train, she continues, "you punch the mitts and the trainer calls out the combinations. It's more than hitting the bag."

Taking boxing lessons with a trainer has become her favorite means of training. "If I don't have something to keep my mind occupied," she says, "I start to remember how tired I am."

The only problem is that Mann's been missing out on boxing lately. She's been touring on and off now for about 18 months, and straight touring is not her speed. "I don't like to work that way," she says. "You get burnt out."

Funny thing is, being a musician and being a boxer are strangely akin, at least according to Mann: "Boxing is deceptively complicated and music is like that too. In boxing, you have to keep your balance when you're throwing punches and keep your composure when you're being thrown punches." Performing onstage offers the same challenges, she says: "Staying relaxed when you're boxing is like staying relaxed onstage."

For Mann, those needs for intellectual stimulation and for relaxation apply not only to performing but also to creating. She says she often plays melodies or chords when she's warming up before a show instead of that night's lineup. "I don't want to get bored with the music," she says.

But she records those "warm-ups" so she can refer to them when she has time to write. Being stress-free is a requirement in order for Mann to create. "That's the best way to come up with something," she says — "when you're not trying, you know. Like when you're joking around with your bass player, writing a song about him eating tortilla chips."

Although Mann hails from Richmond, she says it's very unfamiliar to her now, having left at age 18 to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. That was round one, you might say: "I couldn't really sing," she says. "I couldn't really play the guitar. But I learned really fast, started a punk band, got some attention, and then one thing led to another." S

Aimee Mann plays Groovin' in the Garden with David Ford Friday, Sept. 22, at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. 6 p.m. Tickets $15-$20. 1800 Lakeside Ave. 262-9887.

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