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The Both: Aimee Mann and Ted Leo Throw a Grenade.

April 16, 2014

Text by Rick Kauffman.

the_both_coverWhen it comes to the forces of attraction, covalent bonds or gravitation pull, it’s the mass and distance between objects that matters the most. Like the space that separates atoms or the gaps between celestial bodies – one universe within the other over and over again – we rotate, we dance, we join and we collide.

Take two musical powerhouses, both of whom have garnered their own gravitational pull through spectacular outbursts of sight and sound. Sound may not carry in deep space but here on Earth, those waves come crashing.

In the instance of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, who each earned their stripes over decades of writing and touring, their bond was formed of friendship and musical kinship. Thus, as spectacularly as an atom is born, The Both was formed and a new musical odyssey has begun.

“Ted was playing a new song of his, called ‘The Gambler,’ which is now the first song on the record,” said Mann, whom Leo had supported on tour as a solo act away from his full-time group Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. “There was something about that song. It was an interesting intersection of a bond between two people, of what a co-writing situation would sound like. I was really drawn to it.”

Mann, who over last 21 years has released eight solo albums, is best known for her original contributions to the film Magnolia, in which she earned Academy Award and Grammy nominations. Her most recent album, Charmer, led to the tour with fellow solo act, Ted Leo, who had taken some time away from TL/RX after releasing their sixth and critically acclaimed album The Brutalist Bricks in 2010.

It was an occasion of two musicians enjoying each other’s artistry and deciding to take that spirit on the road. But, during the course of the tour, Leo and Mann spent more and more time occupying the stage during the other’s set, a “cross-pollination” of sorts. The workable union that formed to create music via a two-headed approach was something they did not expect to find.

“I wouldn’t necessarily at this time work with another person,” Leo said, “but where we’re both at right now, and the way that we understand each other, does foster the ability to abandon ego for the betterment of the project. Each song becomes a fun puzzle to try to tweak and get it to the best place.”

The pieces for The Both’s self-titled debut started falling into place as the artists sent back and forth bits and pieces of a song through iPhone voice memos and the like. The long-distance musical union flourished chunks of songs fell into place.

“We weren’t in the same place, so basically one or the other had a basic stem or a chunk of an idea,” Mann said. “You send it off and see what happens. The initial idea is usually pure inspiration and with the second verse, that’s when the hard work begins. Really, it’s just great to ship it off and think, ‘That’s his problem now!’”

Newly invigorated by the fresh writing style, Leo shed what he called a time in his musical career that wasn’t necessarily stale, but “a little less than inspiring.”

“For me the collaboration lit a new flame,” he said. “At the hardest of times, writing music can be hard and not be fun. But it’s hard to complain about writing music being your job. The majority of these songs came pretty easily.”

Leo’s vocal registry has been trained by years of playing hardcore punk while Mann sings with a soft-spoken vulnerability. One could assume they took an approach to find both power and parallax in their vastly different musical styles.

“It’s not often do you get to throw a grenade into the existing structure, have it blow up and settle in a totally new form,” Mann said. “Ted and I were ready, willing and able to take a complete left turn in a direction that was pure fun, pure inspiration, like when you were a kid.”

Ted Leo and Aimee Mann’s debut collaborate album The Both was released yesterday. Their accompanying tour will make a stop at Union Transfer on May 3, 2014.

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