ON THEIR OWN, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo might seem to operate in disparate spheres. Mann's poetic folk-rock vignettes have made her something of an icon since her days fronting Boston new-wave band 'Til Tuesday, while Leo's jagged rock slivers have yielded one of the more unique catalogs of politically fueled punk in the last 15 years, with and without his band the Pharmacists. But the two have recently formed a duo called the Both, so perhaps any differences are superficial.
"I heard a lot of essential similarities between us," says Mann, "enough to make me feel like the differences were merely stylistic—but not harmonically or melodically or lyrically that different. It's different enough to keep it interesting, but not so different that there would be a lot of arguments."
The common ground is clear on the Both's self-titled debut. The Both finds Mann's harmonic fluidity and agile bass playing dancing around Leo's nuanced chord progressions and slightly aggressive vocal delivery. The end result is an intimate affair, carefully weaving the pair's musical similarities through a prism of pop-saturated rock tunes.
For both Mann and Leo, though, their bond was cemented prior to playing a note together.
"We get a kick out of the same dumb things," says Mann. "I think that really helps on the road, because it's a nonstop parade of dumbness."
"It was probably our off-stage ability to get along that made a collaborative project initially seem doable," Leo agrees.
Which is not to say the entire process has been a cakewalk. Leo remembers a list of notes Mann gave him early on in the collaboration, concerning the joint songwriting on "You Can't Help Me Now." But nervousness and vulnerability were soon discarded.
"I've never really worked this closely writing with someone before," says Leo. "The only apprehension I had was, 'Am I going to measure up? Is my ego going to survive this process?' But we sorted through all that stuff really early on."
"Ted has a really interesting harmonic approach that is slightly different than mine," says Mann. "Enough so that if I have an initial verse and it needs a chorus, I hand it over to him and he comes up with something and goes to a place that totally makes sense, but it's not remotely what I would have done with it. I think I've been able to come up with ideas that are sort of Ted-like but that are still in my wheelhouse."
Ever complementary (and complimentary) to one another, Mann and Leo shadow each other's praises. "When we're working together, I get the benefit of Aimee's harmonic choices and movements," Leo says, "and she gets the benefit of mine, and they do wind up making the songs their own thing. Some third entity, as it were."
The two also reveal that, after this tour, they have plans to pen a musical, and that they've been in talks with a playwright. Thanks to their close, joke-heavy bond, and my own inability to parse their sarcastic, secret language with one another, I have no idea if they're telling the truth.