A brief chat with Nick Zammuto from The Books

Chat with The Books

By Bassam Tariq

Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog celebrating the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

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For those who aren't familiar with The Books, check out my post from Friday where I shared some clips from their music.

I was lucky enough to have a quick phone chat with Nick Zammuto, one-half of The Books. The other half, Paul de Jong, was at the doctor's office at the time. Paul, as Nick puts it, is the "consummate collector" of the samples the band uses. In fact, all the archaic audio and video footage The Books have been collecting are archived and cataloged. "There's a lot of research that goes into what we do," Nick remarks as I try to quickly scribble his words down. At this point, my voice recorder died and my handy notepad dictated the rest of the conversation, albeit selectively.

Some Boing Boing readers were wondering about the new album, so let's get that out of the way first. The last LP came out in 2005 and we have only heard one beautiful cover of Cello Song by Nick Drake since. I asked him why it's been taking so long. "Children," Nick says, well aware that it's been a while, "I have a three year old and Paul has a daughter that's two." In the four years, Nick has edited and scored a documentary entitled, Biosphere 2, and has built a house with his wife in south Vermont. "But we're now in a place where we're comfortable to start again." Nick resides in New England now while Paul is in Albany, NY. They meet up once a week and see where everything is headed. Nick was a little vague on when we can expect the album. "Maybe Late Winter or early Spring 2010." They have left their old German label Tomlab and are now shopping for a new home.

What makes The Books a unique band is their ability to seamlessly integrate samples with intricate compositions that somehow end up flowing pleasantly. Here is the first track from their first album "Thought for Food", fittingly titled, "Enjoy Your Worries You May never Have them again."



"As we travel we go around thrift stores and Salvation Armys. We pick up a lot tapes before they end up in a landfill. They are all going to be gone soon." Digging up random archived videos and showcasing them to the world isn't really anything new. There are countless sites dedicated to highlighting this kind of stuff. But what separates The Books is the sincerity they approach the material. Case in point - in their live rendition of "That Right Aint Shit" a video plays with the founding members of the Mormon church taking their hats off and putting them back on. Before they start playing Nick says, "Hats off to them, and hats off to you" (start the video at 1 minute)



"I'm fully aware of the meta element with our music. We're recycling culture that would otherwise be lost. You know, you get so immersed in life and if you step back and see it for what it is, you'll see there is a lot to love and a lot to question."

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In a world of cynical sites like Everything is Terrible and TV Carnage ripping apart and de-contextualizing videos found in thrift stores and libraries all around the world, The Books have uniquely crafted their mundane collection to stand for something more open ended and sincere. I asked him if he had seen anything uniquely Muslim as they went through all their footage. "We did find a tape of the Muslim Mr. Rogers." I couldn't believe it, and flooded the line with laughter. "Yeah, he was teaching kids how to wash their feet. But sadly, we lost the tape in the mail." To be honest, a part of me cringes when artists/musicians carelessly appropriate pieces of the Muslim experience, but I have faith in The Books. "We are very careful with how we use the material. Everything points to a more gentle approach." Let's hope they find that video tape.

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Published 1:55 pm Sun, Oct 4, 2009

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About the Author

Bassam Tariq is an independent filmmaker. His first feature, THESE BIRDS WALK, will be released in theatres this November by Oscilloscope Laboratories.

8 Responses to “A brief chat with Nick Zammuto from The Books”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Just to clarify, the video of the mormons are not of the founding members. They are of Lorenzo Snow and others, around the turn of the century. Mormonism was founded more than 50 years before these individuals rose to power in the corporation known as Mormonism.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nice article, Bassam. Both Nick and Paul are wonderful, friendly, weird, gentle people with great ideas about life and music. Two other great interviews with Nick are available through archive.org: http://web.archive.org/web/20050324233551/http://www.musicforamerica.org/music/artist/2437 and http://web.archive.org/web/20060820001327/http://www.lastvisibledog.org/arts/2006/03/books.html

  3. AnoniMouse says:

    “That Right Aint Shit” was beautiful and so sincere.

  4. Anonymous says:

    They reach some intriguing moments in their work and I have enjoyed listening to them too.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hah, I sat right behind the guy that took this footage. Nifty.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey-

    Another interview conducted with the books for my now-defunct college radio show:

    http://redwood.colorado.edu/kramern/1190site/interview/Books-Interview-pt1.mp3

    http://redwood.colorado.edu/kramern/1190site/interview/Books-Interview-pt2.mp3

    These guys were nice enough to do this interview in their van after playing a show in a little club in Denver, and moving all their own equipment. They were super, super nice & I thought this might be nice to add to this post if people were interested.
    -nat

  7. knumb says:

    The Books are the awesome. I was at that show in Philly too. I missed them this time around but I really wanted to go. It is nice to see them getting some well deserved love on bOING bOING

  8. Anonymous says:

    do not hesitate to see this live show. it is truly amazing. the other videos they’ve made are entrancing.