Voices Carry: Aimee Mann and Ted Leo Discuss Their New Band and Album, 'The Both'

by James Wood
Posted Apr 9, 2014 at 2:08pm

Aimee Mann is an Oscar-nominated singer/songwriter and bassist who has scored hits as a solo artist and with 'Til Tuesday.

Guitarist Ted Leo is a Midwestern punk rocker who’s established a reputation for musical genius as a solo act and with his band, the Pharmacists.

Now, both artists have joined forces and are calling themselves the Both.

Their self-titled debut album, which will be released April 15, speaks to the friendship and mutual respect Mann and Leo share. From the hook-laden harmonies and Bronze Fonz references of “Milwaukee” to the social messages of songs like “Volunteers of America," The Both is an album with the DNA of Mann and Leo strongly imprinted on it — and one refreshingly unique and engaging debut.

I recently spoke with Mann and Leo about their new album and collaboration.

GUITAR WORLD: How did the Both begin?

Mann: Ted was opening for me on my last album and tour, and the music he was playing really piqued my interest. I remember while he was playing I’d often start thinking to myself, "You know, I really want to play bass on that song!" and after a while, I asked him if I could sit in. We started playing and having so much fun that it led to the idea of writing some songs together that eventually became this record.

What was the process like writing for the album?

Leo: Generally, one of us would come up with a theme either musically or lyrically and then we’d kick it back and forth. We’d usually start over email and then get together on video chat or in person and put it together. We’re both deeply a part of the songs we’ve written together.

Tell me a little about the song "Milwaukee" and the reference to the Bronze Fonz.

Mann: Ted and I were in Milwaukee taking a walk after sound check when we came upon the Bronze Fonz [a sculpture depicting Henry Winkler, the actor who played Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days]. It’s a commemorative sanctuary that misses on so many marks. Originally, I wanted to send Ted a piece of music and wrote some words down about the statue just to be funny, but as I was working on it I started becoming attached to it.

Ted, what are some of the differences between your solo career and working with Aimee?

Leo: The act of setting out to write with someone as a collaboration is something I’ve done from time to time, but not in as pointed a way or for a more specific goal as having this band with Aimee. I’m still learning as a musician from this project, and because we’re doing it together I’m able to focus on locking in with someone as opposed to being the driving force.

Aimee, you were quoted as saying that being in the Both makes you feel like you’re part of a rock band for the first time. Why do you feel that way?

Mann: Even though it’s mostly just the two of us, when Ted and I play live it really feels like a band and a shared experience. ‘Til Tuesday was a band, but it often felt like I was driving. This feels more like a co-drive.

Did you always aspire to be a bass player?

Mann: I started out on bass and played it in ‘Til Tuesday and the Young Snakes. Bass also was my main instrument when I was going to Berklee. When I do my solo shows, it’s more convenient for me to play acoustic guitar and have my producer, Paul Bryan, play bass. He’s a fantastic bass player. For this project, it’s been really fun to play bass again in such a stripped-down capacity. There’s something very satisfying about it.

Ted, when did you start playing guitar?

Leo: I was in bands as a singer before I started playing and didn’t really pick up guitar until I was about 18. At this point, though, it’s become another appendage. Working in a three-piece with a bass player as interesting and amazing as Aimee also allows me to step out as a guitar player in a way that I haven’t done before. I feel that I’m playing a more free-er form of guitar than I have in the past.

Can you tell me the origin of the song "Voices Carry"?

Mann: I had heard someone use that phrase and wrote it down because I thought it sounded interesting. The subject matter was a friend of mine who was talking about a girl he was seeing. He would tell me how she was very affectionate whenever they were alone together but as soon as they got in public she acted like she didn’t even know him. That’s what I wrote it about.

What are you most looking forward to with this project?

Leo: We’ve both been doing this so much over the course of our careers, but thankfully, some things never change. The album is finished and about to be released and the tour dates are booked but haven’t yet begun. All that’s left now is the anticipation of getting out there and going to work. It’s trepidatious and exciting!

For more information, visit the Both's official website.

Photo: Christian Lantry

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.