A brief chat with Nick Zammuto from The Books

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.


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."


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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