AIMEE MANN & TED LEO (a/k/a The Both) play Port City Music Hall on Saturday night.
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo “were aware of each other and running in similar circles for a while,” but it was at a pledge drive for Tom Scharpling’s late, lamented The Best Show on WFMU that “we first really hung out and actually played together,” says Leo.
“You were wearing a sailor hat,” Mann reminisces.
But it was later, on Twitter, that they really hit it off. “Twitter is just such a great forum to be an exceptional doofus,” says Mann. “Ted and I really enjoy being doofuses together. There’s something about having just a ridiculous conversation that other people could overhear. It’s like kids giggling on a bus or something.”
In fact, “it eventually translated into kids giggling on a bus,” says Leo; the two toured together in 2012, as opener and headliner: he the politically-minded mod/punk mensch, she the songwriter/bassist most famous for fronting ’80s new-wavers ’Til Tuesday, scoring Oscar and Grammy nods for her Magnolia soundtrack, and moonlighting as Fred and Carrie’s put-upon housekeeper in Portlandia.
Soon enough, “we started writing together,” says Leo. “It was so fun and so energizing and fulfilling that it really became obvious that we should keep going with it.”
And so they became The Both, whose self-titled debut was released on Mann’s Superego Records on April 15, and who come to Port City Music Hall on April 26.
Leo and Mann live on opposite coasts; most of the album was written by comparing notes transcontinentally. “We’d start with stems of an idea and kick them back and forth,” says Leo. “Then we’d try to come together...and hone them into the finished product.”
A listen to “Milwaukee,” the instantly catchy first song from The Both, spotlights the push-pull of the pair’s different but complementary styles: Mann’s mellifluous voice and propulsive bass lines, working in tandem with Leo’s harmonies and trebly guitar leads. (Drummer Scott Seiver played on the record; for the tour they enlisted Matt Mayall. “We’re a power trio,” says Mann.)
The song’s vaguely Celtic thump, bass-forward melody, and descending guitar lines sound a little like Thin Lizzy. That’s no accident. “For me it was a really fun challenge to come up with song stems that I thought were ‘in the style of’ Ted Leo,” said Mann — which she confesses often boiled down to generalizations such as, “He uses a lot of chords!” or “He likes Thin Lizzy, so let’s try a shuffle.”
Indeed, The Both regularly cover Thin Lizzy’s “Honesty is No Excuse,” and Leo says their mutual appreciation of that song was “this place of overlap for Aimee and me that in a way kind of kickstarted the whole thing.”
“Collaboration is really fun,” says Mann. “It’s good to get outside of yourself. A part that I might write that I think is really hard-hitting, then I put my soft little voice on top of it and it’s totally not what I intended — but to hear Ted’s voice on it really brings that sort of energy to it that I can’t deliver myself.”
“That works both ways,” says Leo. “Aimee has a really classic sense of delivery and melody that I very much enjoy locking into. I think it helps me write a better part.”