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Short answer is: yeah, you'll have to use bunches of layers.
Longer answer is: don't use AE for your audio at all. Export a lossless file from AE and do the sound in your NLE or a sound editing program. I wouldn't use AE for your final compressed output anyway, so you might as well do your audio work in an application that's better for it.
Alternate suggestion if you MUST do your audio in AE, but don't want bunches of layers, use hold keyframes and keyframe the volume to a riduculously low level then back up.
....and to expand on Szalam's comments, AE is a God-awful application to use for editing.
It's great for effects, motion graphics and compositing, but there are far better applications to use for editing. AE will really waste your time and strain your patience as an editing app because it was built to do other tasks.
If you have no other choice, that's one thing. But if you DO have a choice, run away from AE for editing.