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Aimee Mann And Ted Leo: A Collaboration, Inspired By The Fonz

Aimee Mann and Ted Leo at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, the site of the very first show they played together. (Benjamin Wick)

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Aimee Mann and indie rocker Ted Leo inhabit different ends of the rock music spectrum, but life on the road has a way of bringing musicians together. In 2012, while touring in support of her most recent solo record, Charmer, Mann invited Leo to be the opening act. She initially thought her music was a bit too soft and melodic for the progressive punk guitarist of The Pharmacists, but Leo jumped at the chance. After a successful show at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee and a day spent exploring the city, they were inspired to write a song, thanks in part to The Bronze Fonz, a statue of Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days, which was set in Milwaukee. Months later, after constant contact via Twitter, the duo joined forces to record an album as a new band called The Both.

They returned to the Pabst Theater to perform "Milwaukee," the lead single from their self-titled debut, and chat with Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg about how their strengths have pushed each other's songwriting to a new level.

"Sometimes, I'll write a song that I think that 'This a real rockin' song,'" said Mann. "Then my voice gets on it, and once again, it's a lilting folk song. So I really like that Ted brings a lot of energy...and verve...vim...he brings an enormous amount of zeal!"

Given the amount of time they've spent touring together, we wanted to know just how much Mann and Leo know about each other's habits and foibles. So in an Ask Me Another Challenge called "The Newly-Formed-Band-Game," we challenge the songwriting partners guess how the other person answered a few random questions. Find out if Leo can name the one thing Mann would save in a fire, and the answer may surprise you.

Interview Highlights

On finding the similarities in their playing styles

Ted: I think that what people think are the differences of our backgrounds are a little overstated, you know? I mean, Aimee does play rock songs, and I do make use of melody every now and then.

On the duo first encounter with "The Bronze Fonz"

Ted: We had a fun day in town being startled by the oddness of the Arthur Fonzarelli statue.

Aimee: I'm not gonna lie, it's not the greatest likeness. I'm sure you guys are proud of it, as you should be.

On who spends more time checking their smartphone

Aimee: Ted is a smartphone wizard. I've never seen anybody text as fast or tweet as fast, or have such a ready hand with the emojis.

Ted: It's perhaps the speed differential that made me answer that you actually spend more time on your smartphone.

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Transcript

(APPLAUSE)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Now let's welcome our VIPs. Ladies and gentlemen, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo.

(APPLAUSE)

TED LEO: Thank you.

AIMEE MANN: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Welcome. Now you guys do a ton of touring. You've been to Milwaukee probably many times.

MANN: One time.

EISENBERG: One time?

LEO: One time together. One time together.

MANN: One time together.

EISENBERG: One time together. And separately?

LEO: Many times.

EISENBERG: Many times?

MANN: Possibly one other time.

EISENBERG: One other time.

(LAUGHTER)

LEO: I've been here many times.

EISENBERG: Now you've both come from fairly different musical backgrounds. Aimee, we know you as a melodic singer-songwriter. Ted, we know you from Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and punk rock bands. How did this collaboration come about?

MANN: I had a record out about a year and a half ago called "Charmer" and I was doing a lot of touring and...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

MANN: ...and I think a promoter or a booking agent or something suggested Ted to open, which I would have thought that maybe you wouldn't be interested because maybe it was a little too soft and melodic for you or whatnot. But, you know, we had met several times and I knew he was a great guy and a lot of fun to be around, and I thought, this is a great person to have on tour, I think it's a great match. So I kind of jumped at that idea.

LEO: I jumped as well. I mean, we did already know each other but we hadn't ever toured before. And I think that what people think are the differences of our backgrounds are a little overstated. You know, I mean Aimee does play rock songs and...

MANN: Totally.

LEO: I do make use of melody every now and then.

(LAUGHTER)

LEO: But, you know, we were on tour and it was actually here after playing at the Pabst Theater that we had a - we just had a really fun day in town being wildly startled by the oddness of the Arthur Fonzarelli statue and, you know...

(APPLAUSE)

MANN: I'm not going to lie; it's not the greatest likeness.

(LAUGHTER)

MANN: I mean I'm sure you guys are proud of it, as...

LEO: As you should be.

MANN: As you should be on some level.

EISENBERG: Now we were just talking that I was like, oh, different backgrounds. You're like, actually, there's a lot of similarities. But how have your different strengths pushed each other's songwriting?

MANN: You know, sometimes, I'll write a song that I think like, this a real hard rockin' song. And then my voice gets on it, and once again, it's a lilting folk song. So I really like that Ted brings a lot of energy and verve. That's not a rock word, but vim. How about that? No, that's not...

LEO: Vigor.

MANN: That's for - these are very NPR words.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Beautiful. Yeah.

MANN: Zeal. He brings an enormous amount of zeal.

(LAUGHTER)

LEO: Yes. Yes. I'm very eager. I get up every day. Aimee's reputation as a singer-songwriter for the ages is not undeserved. And I very much find that - I mean it's really just helped me just because I want to rise to a certain level has really helped me sing better, think about the words that I'm using better, and it's been a fun process of growing, you know, with that.

EISENBERG: That's beautiful. You both said beautiful things to each other. That was like your new band vows.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: So I think the people in the audience here in Milwaukee would probably throw cheese at our heads if I didn't make you sing the song "Milwaukee." So what do you think, guys?

(APPLAUSE)

LEO: I think we can do it. One, two, one, two, three.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MILWAUKEE")

THE BOTH: (Singing) We walked over the bridge in Milwaukee. Past the statues of Fonz and the duck, with the wind kicking in and the sparrows all running amok. And that woman, your friend who was pregnant, put your hand on her belly for luck. And I laughed 'cause it's you and I knew that you knew you were stuck.

(Singing) You can tell by the laugh in the dark at the sound of the bell. You can tell. It's the nucleus burning inside of a cell. It's a nucleus burning inside of the cell.

(Singing) We got over that bridge and went walking back to a table with cards to be dealt. And a show where the whole front row's taking pictures of itself. And then, man, your old friend turned the night on its end, like your time was a bottomless well. But you grabbed me and said, come on back from the ledge for a spell.

(Singing) You can tell by the laugh in the dark at the sound of the bell. You can tell. It's a nucleus burning inside of the cell. It's a nucleus burning inside of the cell.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, The Both.

After the break, we'll play a game inspired by the "Happy Days" episode where Fonz lost his cool. And we'll quiz our VIPs, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo about how well you get to know each other when you share a tour bus. So stick around. I'm Ophira Eisenberg and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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