Interview- An open Book: Folktronic duo brings sound collage back to Cville
It's a mix of the anachronistic librarian approach–- card-cataloging, Dewey-decimaling–- and decidedly forward-thinking sights and sounds that inform the musical consciousness of Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto of The Books.
It was fate, their musical collision. The scene was a dinner at de Jong's New York City apartment–- or, more appropriately, his living room, where Zammuto literally stumbled upon de Jong's electronic collection of sounds and images piled across the floor. The two found such similarity in their musical aesthetic that over ten years The Books evolved into the provocative and complex "sound collage" that attracts swarms of cult followings across the country–- and in Charlottesville. Their mesh of nostalgic acoustic melodies with futuristic loops of sound sampled from hypnotic self-help tapes, home recordings, and television clips found a fervent audience as the main event for the debut of the Southern Cafe and Music Hall in the fall of 2009. The Books carefully deconstruct their everyday surroundings to find clips and snips, anything to provoke a response from listeners–- and from themselves.
The Hook: Your first encounter with Nick was a musical love-at-first-sight. How did it all play out?
Paul de Jong: Nick had a girlfriend at the time who was an acquaintance of mine, so I had him over for dinner. I had a year where I watched three to four movies a day–- I must have seen 750 movies that year–- and whenever I would see or hear something that really grabbed me, I'd quickly rewind and record it on my mini disc recorder. I ended up with all these mini discs of movie sound effects, dialogue, fragments of music. So I had stacks of mini discs against my wall and Nick walked in and said, "What is that?"
The Hook: Your shows are a multimedia explosion. Is more of your production energy focused there, or in the studio?
PdJ: It's definitely creating the library that precedes the music–- such endless hours, always, in composition–- hours of agony, a process of decision making that's really intense. Once you have the music, it's a matter of making it work for the stage. It might look complex, but once you have the music mapped out, things come together–- it's clear what needs to be done. When you're composing, it's never clear what needs to be done.
The Hook: How does the composing process play out?
PdJ: Over the past years, my duties have started leaning to sample collecting, video collecting, creating a monstrously big library that's our main instrument to work with. We rarely sit together at a computer composing–- it's better to divide the work. You bring something to a certain point individually, then hand it over to your partner, who takes it in a completely different direction, a different level that you couldn't bring it to yourself. Some things get completely written by Nick, and all I do is give a certain suite of samples.
The Hook: The Way Out is your first release in five years–- why?
PdJ: We worked for seven years together really intensely, and at some point after three records, we had to hit the reset button. We both started families at the same time, and we needed a place to ground ourselves–- it's very different from how we worked before that, where we moved around a lot, had a bachelor existence. There's a certain focus in this record, every song is a more contained world in itself.
The Hook: Where do you go from here?
PdJ: We really don't know–- it has a lot to do with what comes in our path, in the sense of what's the new raw material that I'm digitizing, cutting. Playing live has really proved to be an incredibly wonderful way to communicate our work and connect with our fans.
The Books play at The Jefferson Tuesday, October 5. Black Heart Procession opens. Doors open at 8pm and tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door.