Posted April 22, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

The Both: Leo and Mann say they’re better together

The Both, photo by Christian Lantry
The Both, photo by Christian Lantry

During their tour together in 2012, Ted Leo and Aimee Mann began sitting in during their respective sets. Though Leo comes from more an indie rock and punk background and Mann is a straight-up singer-songwriter, the two discovered they had plenty in common and decided to form a band and cut an album. Dubbed The Both, the band just issued its self-titled debut, a collection of spunky power-pop tunes that feature jagged guitar riffs and harmony vocals. The album was recorded in Los Angeles with Ryan Freeland and produced by Mann’s longtime friend and band member Paul Bryan. We spoke to Mann and Leo shortly before the start of their tour.

You toured together last year and that’s when you realized you could make an album together. What convinced you it could work?
Aimee: We kind of built up to it. It was first going to be an EP. Once we started recording, that’s when we realized it would be a real thing. If we wanted to tour, it had to be a record. We just enjoyed being in a band together. It felt like a band immediately and once we started playing with a drummer, it really felt like a band.

Ted: Phase One was how much we enjoyed playing with each other the first time we toured together. Phase Two became “let’s try some writing.” That quickly became Phase Three. We had a batch of songs we could make an EP with. We realized it was something that deserved more than a one-off EP and we built it into a full album and real band.

How did the first song come about?
Aimee: The first song was actually “The Gambler,” which was a song that Ted had been playing live. Although it was Ted’s song, I had this urge to play bass and sing on it, which is not something that happens to me. I’m not someone who asks to sit in or jam with anyone. That’s not my thing. Ted was singing a duet with me in my set. I sat in on “The Gambler” and a couple of other songs. We started cross-pollinating our sets and playing together on stage more. By the time we got off the road and started talking about writing songs, we felt like we had a live thing.

Ted: With “The Gambler,” the punchline is that I had written that with Aimee in mind.

Aimee: You wrote it as bait, huh? That was like the worm you put on a hook.

Ted: It was Mann bait. I kind of had the chorus before anything else. It had an Aimee groove and I wondered if she would be into it. I thought I should reach out to her. As fate would have it, I didn’t have to risk embarrassment about it by bringing it up on tour and asking her if she would sing it with me because she asked me about it first.

Talk about the way you had to sing differently.
Ted: I feel like I sing better with Aimee. Her voice is something that I admire. We lock in and sync very well together, but that won’t work as well if I push my vocals too hard and they end up pitchy. When we are trying to lock in so tightly, that over-reaching would be a problem. Singing with Aimee has helped me to figure out how to hit the spot that I want to be at.

In rising to meet her level, I sing better.

Aimee: I appreciate that compliment. I feel like Ted is a better singer than I am actually.

Ted: I think 90 percent of the people who read this interview will argue with that.

Aimee: Ted’s pitch is better. His tone is more consistent. His range is better. I have a range of about three notes. I sing a lot of stuff that’s higher than usual for than me. There’s an aspect where I feel like I’m petering out of my range when I’m singing harmony. I’m also not used to singing harmonies. It’s fun to work on something and improve on it and feel like you’re getting better at it. It’s pushed me to sing in different ranges and sing in a way I don’t normally. I like our voices together. I like it when we sing in unison and I didn’t think I would.

Ted: On the batch of songs we’ve done, it’s a nice punctuation. It’s an emphatic thing when we go unison that jars me out of whatever reverie I had been by being lulled by our harmonies, and I mean that in a good way.

How did you have to adjust musically?
Ted: In my own band, my approach changes song by song. Another area that I cause myself problems is trying to be the sole engine behind the whole project and driving too hard to the point that it’s teetering on collapse. That’s become a character of what I do, but trying to lock in with Aimee has helped me a get handle on that. It has freed me up to play a little better and a little looser because I’m not pushing so hard.

Aimee: I haven’t played bass with any regularity in a long time but that didn’t take long to adjust to. It was nice to get back into it. The times when we played Ted’s solo songs, I have to say, were literally too fast for me. We played his song “A Bottle of Buckie” and I had to practice it so many times to work up to the tempo.

What can we expect from the tour?
Ted: We have the songs from the album. That would be a bit of chintzy set if we left it at that so we’ll pad it with our own songs and a cover or two. We also have some new songs that we’ve written and if we get them together in time, we’ll include them in the set too.

Aimee: We’ll be a hearty three-piece. We have a live drummer. It’s going to be the three of us. Ted will play a little keyboard but it’s pretty much a power trio.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

April 24

April 25

April 26

April 27

April 29

May 1

May 2

May 3

May 5

May 6

May 7

May 9

May 10

June 13

June 14

June 15

Northampton, MA – Pearl Street

Boston, MA – The Paradise

Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall

New Haven, CT – Toad’s Place

New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom

Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg

Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer

Pittsburgh, PA – Mr. Smalls

Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom

Ann Arbor, MI – Blind Pig

Chicago, IL – Metro

Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line

Pomona, CA – The Glass House

Los Angeles, CA -The El Ray

Solana Beach, CA – Fine Line


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].