martes, marzo 15

Reading between the lines with The Books

Reading between the lines with The Books
By Celeste Tabora
(for Chord Magazine)

At home, listening to nothing but the hum of the computer and The Books’ latest album, Lost and Safe, I’m filled with a certain type of peace. I notice the details I would normally miss: the light’s reflection off my pendant moving on the wall as I breathe, the small dust bunny in the corner I might have missed when I swept this morning. When concentrating on the many layers of music that make up a Books song, I wonder how Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto determine that a track is finished. This thought only induces a landslide of other questions, which eventually leads me to calling the duo at their new North Adams, Mass. home-slash-studio.

“We moved locations once again, to a bigger bedroom basically. Our studio is slightly larger and much warmer – more conducive to playing our instruments. The sound library has grown immensely. We have a lot more to draw from,” describes Zammuto of the new digs.

The duo now works in an attic in a Victorian home, a huge improvement in spaces compared to their last room, which was in a freezing pantry across town. He describes the way in which they file their sound library by phrases. Between moving, establishing this new way of storing sound files, and recording the latest album, it’s hard to believe The Books have time to do little else, considering that de Jong lives in New York and even took a trip to his homeland of Holland recently.

“We went for about ten months straight on the record full-time. It’s a long, slow process. It’s very tedious at times. Since there’s two of us, we take on different roles; there’s no particular role that either of us has. When one of us is in the studio, the other one is working on a different track somewhere else. It breaks up in a natural way. It takes a lot of concentration … that’s kind of why I live where I live. There’s no chance for a real social life around here,” laughs Zammuto, speaking humbly as if trying to not disrupt some other discussion happening in the room. “I live in this bizarre world of sounds for months at a time. Over time you get all these sounds that resonate in different ways. I did a lot more lyric writing this time around.”

It’s true. You’ll find a lot of shoegazer-like singing on this album. In addition to their regular instrumentation (stringed instruments like mandolin, cello, and banjo), they’ve incorporated plastic drainpipes and a vintage Hohner clavinet. Preparing for their first live tour this May, The Books have also collected a great number of fonts to display at their shows as well as friends to help orchestrate their full-band feel.

“We’ve been synching video to a lot of our tracks. Working with text as an image is a wonderful thing. Visual word play. We’re very wordy people; we read a lot, write a lot,” Zammuto’s southern accent trails off and he pauses for a moment. “I studied the visual art and have always been interested in text as an image. Like, trying to see a word for what it looks like rather than what it means. Oftentimes what it looks like fights, or resonates, what it means – it’s an idiosyncratic thing that we have in our daily lives and it’s funky to explore.”

I inquire about the medium they use in which to record these songs. Zammuto describes it as being nothing extraordinary: your typical consumer digital recording process. With infinite possibilities for layers within that medium, and infinite time in your own studio, added onto small-town Massachusetts – when do The Books say when?

“It reaches a point where it just feels done,” Zammuto explains. “We’re two sets of ears, we hear totally different things – so we communicate a lot on how we’re doing things. There comes a point where you get exhausted and you step away from it. So you take a couple weeks off from the track and you listen to it with fresh ears and you can tell what needs to be done. But then again, if you listen to it two weeks later and you’re like ‘That’s pretty good,’ then you leave it the way it is.”

Getting the answer to my initial question, I said my goodbyes and happily returned to being hypnotized somewhere between that heart shaped pendant reflection on the wall and "Lost and Safe" in my ears.

© 2009-2010 celeste tabora