Aimee Mann has written many songs about heroin addiction and other forms of physical and emotional anguish, so it’s pretty remarkable — even comic — that she launched a Christmas variety show last year, in conjunction with her first-ever holiday album, One More Drifter in the Snow (Superego). Along with some friends — musician Grant-Lee Phillips, actor John C. Reilly, comedians Paul F. Tompkins and Fred Armisen — she hit the road to spread holiday cheer Bob Hope–style with Christmas standards, on-stage banter, and, uh, a Hanukkah Fairy. Speaking from husband Michael Penn’s studio, she chatted about this year’s tour (which comes to the Berklee performance Center on Sunday), its non-PC title, and, of course, Christmas.
So, Christmas. Your favorite holiday, I take it?
Well, Christmas is always good because there’s guaranteed presents. People forget your birthday, but it’s impossible to forget Christmas. When you’re a kid, it’s the most fun, exciting holiday, and then it just kind of lives on.
What’s your earliest Christmas memory?
I don’t have a specific one, but I do remember as a kid waking up in the middle of the night and looking out to see if I could see any kind of crazy bright star. It was always very mysterious to me.
I don’t think I was the only one who was surprised when you released a Christmas album. The idea seemed almost ironic, but the execution was sincere and powerful. Did you expect people to be surprised?
At first, I thought it was a goofy idea too, and maybe borderline retarded. I think people didn’t react that well either; they thought “sellout,” or it was a side project at best. But it was fun, and I hope people feel the real musical feeling in there.
All of us have that Christmas song we’ve heard enough of — the song that, every Christmas season, seems to exist solely to torture us. What’s yours?
That I hate? “Frosty the Snowman.” If I never hear that song again. And “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” They meld together in my mind. You start singing one and somehow you end up singing the other.
At the end of the day, you are Aimee Mann. You release concept albums about heroin addicts. You get nominated for an Oscar for penning soundtracks to dark movies. You have to get a kick out of becoming the arbiter of Christmas good will.
I know people think I’m depressing, a dark and melancholy person. But I’m not, and I do think that contrast is kind of fun.
When did the idea for a holiday variety show first come to you?
I think my manager suggested it. My husband and I kind of did something like that years back when we took a comedian on tour with us. Plus, my MC, Paul F. Tompkins, does a variety show. I just think it’s a fun idea.
Variety shows feel like something out of a bygone era, from our childhoods. Is there a part of you that embraces it because of that connection?
Absolutely. It’s nostalgic in a real way, but also ironic. It’s like playing charades: part of you always thinks it’s nerdy, but part of you thinks it’s fun.