It began as a tale of two Twitter accounts, but now Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter Aimee Mann and hardcore-punk veteran Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists) are putting the final touches on their EP as the new duo #BOTH.
The EP will feature roughly six original, rock-oriented songs written by both Mann and Leo and made for a three-piece band. The release is slated for the end of August, “before either of our own individual albums come out,” Leo added (hint, hint). #BOTH will be playing Los Angeles-area shows in March.
Leo spoke with Consequence of Sound about how Twitter inspired the fine, albeit odd, pair of musicians to collaborate and how shockingly smooth the songwriting process was. He also put to rest any rumors about being the Horse_ebooks account.
I really had no idea how close you and Aimee were until I started following you “both” on Twitter. What role did Twitter play in the creation of #BOTH?
The whole thing with the hashtag really started as a joke between us. We’d spent a couple years only communicating over Twitter, and we’ve been friends for a long time. Previous to this fall, we’d run into each other a couple times a year if she was in New York or I was in L.A. So when we toured together in the fall, and we were kinda on the same bus and stupidly tweeting each other from like 5 feet away, the whole thing became a joke that amused us. Now that we’re working together, we see each other a lot.
Is collaborating with Aimee similar to what they say about moving in with a best friend? You know, you find out all this personal stuff, ticks, and things you didn’t know?
I’ve got to say, it’s been a pretty amazing process so far. The idea of actually collaborating with someone as opposed to playing a piece of music they have written is daunting, and there are a billion variables that you can’t predict. But I think as Aimee and I have gotten closer, we have realized how much in common we have and how much respect we have for what the other person does and what they’re bringing to the table. The writing process has largely been long distance, but it’s been line by line, verse by verse, part by part; we’ll send each other something and go back and forth until it’s finished.
In terms of your own aesthetics, are there certain songs that feel like “Aimee songs” versus “Ted songs,” and how did the collaboration process affect your personal style?
That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say that I’m ever trying to mimic Aimee’s tone. I’m much grittier than Aimee and can be a bit more convoluted in my phrasing—sometimes it’s the kind of thing where it just isn’t going to work for her to necessarily sing something the way that I’ve written it. Whereas I can go deep into myself, in my own turgid, mortifying way [laughs]. So, we really combined our styles. If I write a line that says something I want to say, but it’s hard for her vocally, then she can express that. Ego is pretty checked at the door. We go through [the music] together, and we both feel good about it — not just satisfied — that mitigates the needle moving in one direction or the other in terms of our styles.
That being said, I’ll certainly write something, and I’ll go, “I’m gonna think about what Aimee would say; whether it rhymes enough” or what she would want to do. By the same token – and, one of the first things she ever said to me about my music was “Yeah … Lotta chords … You use a lot of chords” – and she’s right! One of the first songs we wrote together, she was like: “How about we put a couple more chords?”
Aimee’s last album, Charmer, went in a distinct pop direction. The faster tempos, the simpler structures reminded me a lot of The Tyranny of the Distance, and I know I’m not the only one who would love a return to that sound.
It’s interesting you bring up Tyranny, because that was one of my first “solo” records. I hadn’t really settled into a personal aesthetic with my own songwriting, which is what the road and constant touring started to codify for me later on. Another songwriting friend of mine called that record “an awesome mixtape,” and it does kind of bring in a lot of those elements. That is similar to what the batch of songs that we [#BOTH] have together – or what it’s closest to in my own catalog. That being said, it’s going to be a rock record – we’re doing it as a three-piece band – but the songwriting goes from everywhere from slow, Aimee Mann-style power-waltzing to shuffling and Thin Lizzy-esque.
Switching gears a bit, do you generally welcome new technology and social media? Or do you begrudge it until you finally give in?
I think I’m largely a “welcomer” of technology with a certain amount of begrudgement [laughs]. The bulk of my identity forming music was spent appreciating life before the Internet and before even CDs. I do cling to an appreciation of older analog formats, and I do sometimes long for a simpler life when one wasn’t constantly plugged into everything – that creates its own responsibilities. On the other hand, I’ve always kind of embraced new technology and the good things about it. I’ve had a band website since the mid-90s, which was kind of early for bands back then. I used to blog ferociously before things like Twitter.
Twitter is your preferred social outlet?
As far as social networking goes, I love Twitter in opposition to broadly encompassing things like Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook. Each of those things I ran screaming from in succession. I really found them to be too demanding of one’s time and energy and — this is not a judgment — but my life is such that I don’t spend much of my day in front of a computer, and people who do expect you to be able to interact with them in the same way they respond. Whereas with Twitter, there is much less pressure on each interaction. You can put links and respond, and if something gets deeper, you can send an e-mail.
Do you correspond frequently with people who you don’t know in real life?
Oh, yeah. Oh, all the time. Absolutely, I have a number of friends in real life who I met via Twitter. But back in the day, I used to answer every e-mail I got. I used to take one night every week and just respond to e-mails until I passed out. And a lot of those turned into deep friendships I’ve had for years and years.
Ever thought of communicating under a fake name? If you’re Horse_ebooks, please come forward.
[Laughs.] I’ve thought about starting an account to try out humorously parodic stuff. But then I think about my online identity as it meshes with my actual identity, and I feel like if it’s something I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying under my own name, I probably shouldn’t put in out there anyway…