Ted Leo And Aimee Mann On Ego, Humor And The Uncanny Valley Alternative rock legends in their own right, the pair say their collaboration as The Both began with a shared obsession: a statue in Milwaukee that looks just a little too real.

Ted Leo And Aimee Mann On Ego, Humor And The Uncanny Valley

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Once again, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland.

Famous songwriting teams used to put pencil to music paper in small offices at the Brill Building, or find their voice while gigging around Liverpool. Today, they don't even have to live in the same time zone. And they can even inspire each other through 140 characters or less.


VIGELAND: Veteran singer/songwriters Aimee Mann and Ted Leo call L.A. and New York home respectively. But they bonded over Twitter, and their followers got to watch as their mutual admiration blossomed into a partnership. Their combined talents are now known as The Both.


VIGELAND: As writers, both Mann and Leo are known for their heavy subject matter, but every once in a while, on this album and on stage, another side shines through. They're both really funny. The first song they wrote together became a bizarre first video. It's about an encounter they had on a tour stop in Milwaukee. They'd stumbled upon that city's tribute to Arthur Fonzarelli, a statue locals call the Bronze Fonz.

AIMEE MANN: First of all, of course, we were, like, oh, we've got to take a picture with it. But none of the pictures we took - they were all kind of horrifying and we couldn't figure out why. So we became sort of obsessed with the Bronz Fonz.

TED LEO: Yeah, are familiar with the Uncanny Valley...


LEO: ...concept? It's, you know, when something is almost too realistic, but, like, just shy in a way that is very creepy, like with a lot of kind of virtual reality images and robots and things like that.

VIGELAND: Just off a little bit.

LEO: Yeah, just enough to make it deeply unsettling, and I think that this particular piece of public art captures that really well.


MANN: I started writing about this day that we had walked around and seen the Bronz Fonz and also there was a big bronze duck, which was also bizarre...

LEO: Yeah, very angry duck.

MANN: ...because it was twice the size of a real duck and we didn't understand, like, why that was so big, but the Fonz was so small. And so, kind of as a joke, I had said these lyrics. And then we sort of became attached to them, so we made it into a real song.

LEO: You know, we had the discussion, can we keep these lyrics in, and I think we decided not only can we, but we must.


VIGELAND: Let's get into your collaborative process here. Ted, you tend to write some pretty muscular songs. Aimee, yours can be a little more delicate. I know I'm over-simplifying your work, but how did you go about finding a middle ground as you were writing the songs, as you were figuring out how to put this album together?

LEO: Well, we'd spent enough time with each other on the road, listening to each other's music, talking about it, getting inside each other's heads that when we began to work together, there was a natural back and forth without either of us, you know, being required to push or pull, that, you know, hopefully met somewhere in the middle, not by consensus, but as, you know, as a truly kind of new thing of its own.

MANN: Yeah, it wasn't strain. I mean, I made an effort to, when it was me coming up with sort of initial stems for songs, I made an effort to try to absorb a little of Ted's style and write a bit more in that manner, but it wasn't that it was necessarily outside of my style. It's just that it's outside of my style of singing. That's the only problem. It's, like, I just can't really deliver a lot of energy or aggression in my vocal.

But, you know, with this it's fine, because I, you know, I have Ted to do that.


VIGELAND: I'm speaking with Ted Leo and Aimee Mann. Their first album together is coming out on Tuesday. It's called "The Both." That's also the name of their band. I'm going to ask you each the same question, and Aimee, tell me something on this album that only Ted Leo could have written.

MANN: Well, "No Sir" to me is a perfect example, because that's a song that the initial verse was an idea that I had come up with.


MANN: And then, Ted takes it into a sort of chorus-y bridge thing, which first of all, is already really interesting form-wise, but harmonically takes it into a place that is so perfect and absolutely nothing that I would have ever had thought of.


MANN: Where that chord progression goes, how it sort of climbs this weird hill of modulation, and then modulates back down, it's so interesting and odd and perfect and sophisticated, and sort of raw all at the same time. That is very Ted Leo to me.

VIGELAND: All right, Ted. What's something that only Aimee Mann could have written?

LEO: You know, I actually am also going to take "No Sir" as an example. I think, you know, hearing Aimee talking about it just then, I'm realizing how that really illustrates, I think, what we do and how we work together, because what she just described of where I took the song I would never have been able to do without the platform that she presented me of the kind of, you know, first couple of verses and chorus.

I don't think I would have thought to write that kind of soulful, you know, six, eight waltz-y rock ballad. And the spooky atmosphere that she lays out at the beginning of it is something that I love and it actually remains kind of my favorite song on the album.


LEO: And I think this is an example of where I feel working with Aimee actually pushes me to heights of my own that I have not achieved by myself because there's no way I would have begun a song that way, let alone taken it, you know, where it went. And, you know, I have her obviously to thank for starting it.


VIGELAND: That's Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. Together they are The Both. Their first album together comes out on Tuesday, but if you'd like to give it a listen, every track is at our website right now as well as their Tiny Desk concert. That's at nprmusic.org. Ted, Aimee, thank you so much. It's been fun.

MANN: Thank you.

LEO: Thank you, Tess.


VIGELAND: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR App and follow us on Twitter. We're @NPRWATC.


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