Any artistic partnership requires some give and take, and The Both — a new collaboration between Aimee Mann and Ted Leo — is no exception.
"I was just telling Ted that [we fit] because he's a really hard worker and makes up for my essential laziness," Mann explains, as Leo laughs. "I'm an exacting task-master but I'm also lazy," she continues. "It's not a great combination!"
For anyone paying attention to Mann and Leo's respective solo careers, news of The Both was no big surprise. The two had been orbiting each other for some time — constantly tweeting back and forth (this project was originally called #Both), appearing in the same music videos and, about a year-and-a-half ago, going on tour together. "That tour was just a suggestion from my booking agent that came kind of randomly," Mann recalls. "[Leo] traveled with us by bus and that's how our friendship peaked. That's how we started writing together." After tour was over, they continued to write songs long-distance.
In any supergroup, there's the risk of creating a "less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts" situation. Mann and Leo aren't wildly dissimilar, but some fans might wonder how well Leo's frenetic major-chord punk could mesh with Mann's mopey Beatles-esque pop.
But with her mellow, measured approach, Mann meets Leo's rambunctiousness and grounds it. In turn, Leo's fervor draws Mann out of her seemingly natural gloom, without sacrificing edge. Each of their songwriting idiosyncrasies show up on the self-titled record — the opener, a last-straw send-off called "The Gambler," sounds like an "Aimee song" and the power-pop anthem "Milwaukee" might be more of a "Ted song" — but together they've made something both comfortingly familiar and fresh enough to justify its existence.
"I think there's an essential kind of energy and verve that [Leo] has that I often feel like I wish I had more of, so I really enjoy borrowing from him when we write songs," Mann says. "There's a harmonic sense that he has that is different from me. If I start the stem of a song and hand it to him, it always comes back having gone in a very interesting direction, one that I never would have thought of."
"I think that entering into a project with someone you respect as much as I respect Aimee," Leo adds, "it really helps me up my game. I learn from her all the time."
Musical compatibility aside, it's Mann and Leo's friendship that makes The Both work. "I feel like Ted and I have shared goals," Mann says. "This is going to sound very hokey, but these are the kind of things we talk about: the idea of doing the right thing in the circumstance and what is the right thing and how to trust the other person to give you the sense of perspective." Power struggles and inflated egos can become an issue in any band, particularly when more than one member is used to being in charge. "Even down to like, ‘Oh, you didn't like that line?' or ‘Oh, that chorus wasn't good enough for you?'" Mann laughs. "Of course it's very easy to get bent out of shape. But I feel like my friendship with Ted motivates me to try to deliberately set that stuff aside."