Q&A with The Both’s Aimee Mann and Ted Leo

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Q&A with The Both’s Aimee Mann and Ted Leo
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By Erich Wagner (Photo/Christian Lantry)

Singer-songwriter duo The Both may have put out their first record earlier this year, but they have a storied history.

Ted Leo was involved in the D.C. punk scene in the 1990s before forming Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, while Aimee Mann saw success in the 1980s new wave band ‘Til Tuesday before embarking on her own successful solo career.

Leo and Mann have a two-night stint at The Birchmere next week, and they took some time to discuss their music, the off-beat sense of humor that brought them together, and how to accessorize during a holiday variety show.

Alexandria Times: Would you like to describe how you guys came to be a project? I know you started getting in touch on Twitter and toured together for a while.

Ted Leo: Yeah, we had actually been friends for a long time, and, we sort of like, just because we appreciated a dumb, short joke, we started communicating a lot more on Twitter. We both guested on a lot of mutual comedian friends’ shows over the years, and that’s how we got to know each other. We never actually toured together until 2012, and then it was over the course of traveling together that we thought it might be fun to start writing and it sort of took off for both of us like wildfire.

Obviously, at first glance, it seems you are coming from complete opposite spectrums. You were in the D.C. punk scene for a little while, while she was always more of a straight singer-songwriter. How did that end up blending?

Leo: Well, I think both of our histories are more varied than either of us get credit for. I lived in D.C. for a while and I definitely was a part of that, but I also lived in Boston and grew up in the New York area, where I’m back to now, and I’ve been involved in a lot of different scenes …

But you know, Aimee started out in weird, noisy art-punk bands in Boston before ‘Til Tuesday, they took off. She had a history of DIY herself form the very beginning, and I’ve done a lot of singer-songwriter stuff over the last 10 years. We both appreciate a good melody and as smart lyrics as we can provide, so I think we come together on that.

Aimee Mann: I feel like my bonafides are more annoying art-rock, at best.

Leo: I hear the term punk in the broadest sense, because if I didn’t, I would not be included in it myself.

Mann: I mean, “F— the system,” if the system is melodic songwriting and music that wasn’t super annoying to listen to.

You mentioned earlier that part of the reason you became friends was similar senses of humor and guesting on comedians’ podcasts. You’re both sort of known for the same kind of stage banter.

Leo: I sometimes get in trouble, well not in trouble, but my bandmates [in the Pharmacists] tend to get a little annoyed with the length that I will go on when on stage. And talk about annoying: If my, what I consider to be, dry, humorous stage banter is not going over well with the audience, I will force the issue to the point of being very annoying.

Mann: I’m just going to talk until you laugh.

Leo: That’s why it’s great to be on stage with Aimee. We can entertain each other.

Mann: And hopefully the audience is along for the ride.

On your record, an interesting track is “Honesty is No Excuse,” which is actually a Thin Lizzy cover. Can you talk about why you decided to do that song?

Leo: Well, yeah, if I remember, we decided to do that song and put it on our album because it was one of those touchstones for our idea of what a band we would do together would sound like. We were listening to that song together, and it brought up a lot of mutual areas of interest for us. Because it kind of sparked a real drive to actually start writing together, we decided to include that officially as part of our band’s DNA.

This is being billed as a sort of a Christmas show. [Comedian] John Hodgman is going to be there as well, so can you talk a little bit about what might be a little different in your set, and what you’re doing special for the show?

Mann: Well, there’s going to be some Christmas stuff. There’s a theme that I think maybe we should not reveal until we’re at the show. So there’s a video that will frame the scene of the evening. We’ll play a couple of Both songs; we’ll probably play a couple of solo songs. I’m not sure what Mr. John Hodgman is going to do, but I don’t know if he’s going to do Christmas stuff or not.

Leo: We’ll rope him into some stuff. You have to understand this in the context of: it’s the Aimee Mann Christmas show. If you’re familiar with the history of that, there’s a lot of variety. There’s music and there’s comedy.

Mann: There’s a lot of variety … There may be a skit or two perhaps, a parody song might make an appearance. Maybe some costumes. Possibly a wig. You’ve got to stick a wig in there somewhere, even if you don’t need one.

The Both and John Hodgman in Aimee Mann’s Christmas Show, 7:30 p.m., December 15 and 16, The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., $49.50 www.birchmere.com; www.the-both.com.

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