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Now read our brand new interview and watch the duo’s new video below…
“I really didn’t even realize I was missing the idea of working with somebody else until Ted and I started playing together, even just a song here and a song there.” And thus Aimee Mann explains the genesis of her new band The Both, formed with fellow troubadour Ted Leo. Both artists have spent years as solo acts, but while touring together (Leo opening for Mann), they realized they were both ready to hang up their solo runs – at least for the time being – and collaborate on a project. That culminated in the release of The Both’s eponymous album in April on SuperEgo, the label Mann founded in the late-’90s.
“Management is amenable to whatever the artist wants,” Mann laughed while discussing the choice to produce the album through SuperEgo. The Both is currently in the middle of a smattering of tour dates, which kicks off on the West Coast with an appearance at the City Winery in Napa Valley tonight.
While Leo was “the master of driving himself around in a car alone from one scrappy gig to another,” according to Mann, he says he was ready for a change, even though he didn’t even realize it until it happened. “[The life of a solo artist] is not without its charm, but I will admit that I didn’t even necessarily realize that [the joy in making art] had left the process for me until it came back in; we started working together that I realized ‘Oh yeah! This is supposed to be fun!’ There’s a level of joy and creativity that the grind of my solo career sort of sapped.”
The respect between the two is palpable, and Mann describes the opportunity to collaborate with Leo as irresistible. “When you meet certain people or start working with certain people, it helps you have a realization of things that you’re missing. And I just had this abrupt sudden realization that ‘I’m kind of tired of doing this by myself.’”
The group’s songwriting process was a team effort in the truest sense of the word, and each of them left the vestiges of a solo songwriter behind. “We made a pretty explicit pact early on to really try and remove our egos from the process. We look at each song as something we each have the power to make something great together with and to trust each others’ instincts and put aside a little of the preciousness of the solo writer,” Leo says.
However, one song on the album – the lead track “The Gambler” – is a track that Leo wrote alone, but it wasn’t without Mann’s influence. “The truth of the matter was that I was writing that song with Aimee in mind, thinking to myself, ‘I bet Aimee would like this. I gotta ask her to do something on it when I actually record it.’” Mann responded to the song positively: “To me, that song was really an example of what the midway point between the two of us would look like, and plus I just thought it was a great song. Hearing Ted play it live was the thing that made me say to myself , ‘We should be in a band together, and this is what it would sound like,’” says Mann.
On the album is another “touchstone song” as Mann describes it – a cover of “Honesty is No Excuse” by Thin Lizzy, which Mann heard for the first time when Leo played the original version on his iPod while the two were touring. “That was an early Thin Lizzy song, and I wasn’t familiar with it. There was something I found really interesting about it, and it felt to me like another example of what our band could sound like,” Mann says. Leo agrees, stating, “It kicked off a lot of discussion about what we would do if we were to start a band.”
The crowds at the group’s live performances thus far have shown “a really surprising amount of familiarity with our album which had JUST come out,” Leo says. Mann was also surprised at the level of interest in the group itself. “It’s definitely a different audience. I’m sure there’s some cross-over, but there were also a lot people who weren’t necessarily followers of either of ours, but rather fans of the collaboration.”
Mann describes the new record as “creepy,” and one song that embodies that theme is “No Sir,” which Leo describes as being “about somebody who is kind of getting in his own way while also being crazily paranoid.” Mann says the song touches on themes of mental illness, noting “I think there’s a certain amount of mental illness that you can walk yourself into if you allow yourself to have certain kinds of thoughts – when you indulge in the sort of thinking that everybody else is at fault, that all of your feelings are because of and can be blamed on other people, that you don’t take responsibility for your own feelings, that people are doing things at you rather than just living their lives – once you start that kind of thinking, if you don’t examine it, it does start to snowball.”
The two played with the album’s creepy undertones with the cover art, which is a photo of toy dolls dressed up to look like Mann and Leo, in a scene of “a dark tunnel of foliage,” as Leo describes it. Mann says it originated from an idea that she had “to dress up Ken and Barbie as The Both and put us in a diorama in the woods.” She also says the scene represents the duality of the album and its artists: “I just feel like there’s a bit of a creepy undertone to the songs and [the cover] kind of reflects that. We’re fairly happy people but we write these songs that have the darker undertones.”