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Aimee Mann, Ted Leo team up as the Both

Christian Lantry

Aimee Mann and Ted Leo admit they’re not the most obvious pairing in indie-rock. Their respective styles, at least on the surface, seem at odds. Since establishing herself in Boston in the 1980s with the bands ’Til Tuesday and, just before that, the Young Snakes, Mann has been an acclaimed singer and songwriter beloved for her cool croon and literate turns of phrase.

Leo, by contrast, has been a force in the punk realm, known for his blistering guitar prowess while fronting Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. He, too, has Boston roots, having lived here (Jamaica Plain, Cambridge, the former Combat Zone) in the late ’90s, by which time Mann had already left the city.


After going on the road together in recent years, Leo and Mann decided to form a new band born out of mutual admiration. Under the name the Both, they’ve created something unlike anything else in either’s catalog: a power-pop duo heavy on hooks and melodic detours. The Both released its self-titled debut earlier this month.

Ahead of Friday’s show at the Paradise Rock Club, Mann and Leo chatted with the Globe on a conference call from Mann’s house in Los Angeles.

Q. Aimee, it sounds like you had the idea for this band.

Mann: The first notion was when I was watching Ted play, and I was so impressed by the unique and full sound that he got just accompanying himself on guitar. I thought: Done as a duo, that would be a cool, stripped-down thing. There was one song, in particular, that he was playing, which is on the record [“The Gambler”], that I really had this urge to play bass on.

Leo: The kismet factor is that when I was writing that song, I actually had Aimee in mind. Rhythmically and melodically, I thought Aimee would dig it.


Q. Ted, you mentioned in the video trailer for this new album that you were “shaken” when you got back Aimee’s first notes on the song “You Can’t Help Me Now.” What was so jarring?

Leo: Aimee was actually very measured and kind in her first series of notes. Look, we’re very good friends and we’re equals in this partnership, but I was also a fan of Aimee’s before we got to know each other. I respect her so highly that for the first time in a really long time, I had this feeling of, this person who I respect so much is handing me negative notes about something I wrote. It was really just my own quaking ego. The fact that I don’t usually get shaken like that made it even more shaking. But we got past that pretty quickly. From that point on, it became a very fun thing to question my own input and bring it up as a question and not a done deal.

Mann: After the first song, there wasn’t much of that. It was only on the first song because we were getting our bearings. Ted, I’m sorry you were shaken. [They both laugh.]

Leo: Look, I needed to be shaken like that. It’s literally the best thing that has happened to my writing process in my life.

Q. What’s a song on “The Both” that you either wouldn’t or couldn’t have written without the other person?

Mann: My favorite song on the record and the best example of that is “No Sir.” It’s definitely a blending of each of our styles, but it goes to a really interesting place. It’s one that I started with the verse, which has sort of a minor cadence, and then Ted took that stem and made it travel around to some really interesting places that are so exciting, so completely different from what I would do. It’s like that game you play where one person starts a drawing, and then another finishes it, and you’re like, “What? An elephant with a giraffe’s head?” But it’s great.


Q. Does it feel like there’s any overlap in your fan bases? Are we going to see a totally different audience at your shows as the Both?

Mann: That’s a big question mark. I hope so.

Leo: I think there has always been some overlap. Hopefully this will just push the two sides of the Venn diagram further on top of each other.

Mann: It’s exciting, but it’s really scary too. You don’t want people to drop off because it’s so different. It’s really like having a brand-new band and we have no idea what to expect.

Q. Aimee, you’ve mentioned that this feels like the first rock band you’ve ever been in, but as someone who lives in Boston, I have to ask: What about the Young Snakes?

Mann: The Young Snakes were sort of a post-punk, new wave, art-rock, noise . . . I don’t even know what our genre was. But it was a band that you’re in when you’re 20 and you go, “We’re breaking all the rules!” Until you realize how boring it is to break all the rules. “We’re not even gonna have cymbals!” That was our thing. We had cowbell. “No cymbals, man! Cymbals are a form of oppression!” I don’t know what we were thinking.


Q. I’m going to put you on the spot: What’s a song by the other that you’d like to cover, and what would you do to it?

Leo: Well, we’re doing a little of that [on tour]. I want to put vibraslap [a percussion instrument] all over Aimee’s songs.

Mann: I’m totally down. I’m gonna put the güiro [a Latin American gourd used as percussion] on yours. Honestly, I like to hear Ted sing his stuff. What’s exciting for me is to hear him sing my stuff, because his voice is more what I always think my voice is going to sound like. But then I listen back, and I’m like, oh, it’s Karen Carpenter. I can’t get away from that even when I think I’m being hard-hitting.

Leo: I feel the same way. I do a lot of harmonies on my records, but they rarely get busted out live. It’s the proverbial chill up the spine to hear her voice joined with mine.

Interview has been condensed and edited. James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.