Ted Leo on Recording with Aimee Mann and the Next Pharmacists Album

Ted Leo performs in London, January 2013. Photo: C Brandon/Redferns

Ted Leo is happy to be very busy at the moment. The New York songwriter, who toured in support of Aimee Mann this past fall, is currently in Los Angeles about to go in the studio with Mann to record an EP for their new duo, #BOTH. Leo and Mann traded barbs on Twitter regularly before touring together, which explains the hashtag in the band name (more on that later). Leo called us from L.A. to chat about recording with Aimee Mann, goofy band names and where he’s at with a follow-up to 2010′s The Brutalist Bricks.

How did you and Aimee decide to go in to the studio and do this thing for real?

Well, we’d been friends for a long time, but never actually toured together. We would see each other either when I was passing through LA or Aimee was passing through New York. And of course on Twitter. Which is why we — it’s arguably a bad idea — have jokingly continued to keep a hashtag in front of our band name. It was really touring over this last year [fall 2012 tour] that we just kind of started to get inside each other’s heads musically more. I had a new song that I was playing on tour that we were talking about, and she started playing and singing on it with me every night. That led to the whole thing. I really have to give her credit for actually stepping up and making it happen. Because people talk about this kind of thing all the time. We should totally do something together! Yeah, we should do it. Let’s get it going. And it never happens. But within a week of getting back from that tour she had emailed me the verse of a new song. It took off from there.

So, seriously, why did you decide to put a hashtag in the band name?

Yeah. Well. [Laughs] It’s been really funny watching the reaction to that, and I think that was part of the point. Inside jokes are sometimes a pretty bad idea, but this was so stupidly indigenous to us and really reflects our stupidly amazing relationship on Twitter. We were doing it as a joke and then we got to the point where we were like OK, we really have to get rid of that. Then two weeks laters, we were like, actually, I’m kinda into that. In all honestly, I think my eyes have become so accustomed to seeing that kind of thing that I actually felt like the word looked better on the page with a hashtag in front of it than without. So we just decided to leave it, and let the chips fall where they may.

When will the record be out, and can we expect it to sound like that video that’s been floating around the Internet?

I’m in LA this month because we’re working on this. We’re going to do a five or six song EP next week that will probably put out at the end of the summer, I think. It won’t all sound like that. That song is part of the mix, but that was the first thing we wrote together and it’s branched off in interesting directions from there. It’s wound up being much more of a rock band than I think we initially even imagined ourselves. The shows we’re playing in LA are going to be with another bass player, guitar player, and a drummer. And we’re making the record with a drummer. It’ll be like a three-piece rock band. At the risk of overstating this to the point of where I’m a little afraid that it starts to sound like he doth protest too much, I think it actually has been pretty amazingly collaborative. To the point where it’s really hard to say whether the needle goes towards Aimee’s side of the equation or my side of the equation with most songs. You can definitely hear what each of us brings to the table. It goes from songs that start out more like Aimee Mann-ish power ballads, then when I come into the process it changes into something different. Like a more upbeat shuffle-y Thin Lizzy punk rock song. I’m into it! I like it.

Are you prepping for another record after you finish with Aimee?

I’ve been writing constantly since the last record [2010’s The Brutalist Bricks]. I have way more songs than I know what to do with, honestly. But part of the reason that I haven’t done a new record yet is because I don’t know what to do with these songs. I actually don’t know what to do with them. I’m not really feeling the record yet. So I’m still writing and I’m going to be recording it myself with my band. I’m also working on getting a better studio together for myself. It’s an ongoing process, but it ties in with both things. We’re gonna be done with this EP in a couple of weeks, but I think we’re gonna wait until the end of the summer to put it out, because we both have a goal of getting each of our next individual records out around the end of the year. Just trying to time it so we can have a little bit of time to tour on the #BOTH project before our individual things ramp up.

Will the next record be with the Pharmacists?

Yes. That’s a fungible concept. It’ll be a Ted Leo and the Pharmacists record. But what form that actually takes, I’m not sure. It might wind up being like an older one, where there’s a lot of different people coming together. Certainly my drummer Chris [Wilson] who I’ve been playing with for 13 years now, or something, will be there. As will James [Canty]. After the touring cycle of the last record, we all needed some downtime. Everybody who you know will be involved, but there may be other people involved as well.

Do you think this new project is ripe for a Portlandia cameo?

Ha! I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. You’d have to ask Fred [Armisen] and Carrie [Brownstein]. I’ll say this — and I think you could say this about both Aimee and me individually, too — there’s a great deal of humor in everything we do, but there’s nothing ironic about it. So we can play the fool, but we’re actually quite serious about what we do. We have fun with it! But maybe that actually makes sense for Portlandia.

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