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The Books

The Books return after a five year break with new album ‘The Way Out’

Serial cut-and-pasters The Books are back with a new album after a five-year break since their last offering, ‘Lost and Safe’. However, when I say break, perhaps what I mean is systematically raiding every North American charity shop’s CD sections in a continual quest to find one-off samples. Ranging from the obscure to the outright strange, they all collectively make up the key components of The Books’ musical equation informing their ‘sound’ as a whole. “The Way Out’ really is a smorgasbord of genres from the heavy to the soft, playful to serious all the while dipping in and out of distinctly varied aural ball-parks and doing so seamlessly. How many other artists that you can think of are able to drop an unedited Ghandi soundbite in the middle of an album and for it to confusingly make sense? We speak to The Books’ Nick Zammuto to delve deeper into the methods behind their morish musical madness…

Dazed Digital: Formidably, blending genres is familiar territory with the new album being no different - fluctuating between electronica, spoken word, folk, industrial, classical, hip-hop and a few others I’m probably missing. Could you walk us through the typical recording process for you both?
The Books: Our process starts with what we can find lying around, mostly stuff from thrift stores. On our tours we stop at 'Goodwill' type places and raid their Audio/Video/Vinyl sections, looking for rare or one-of-a-kind type recordings like home recordings, bizarre religious stuff, instructional videos, hair-and-makeup et cetera. Then Paul carefully cuts and categorizes it all into a 'sample library', which becomes our primary instrument. Using the 'library' as the starting point I then try to figure out how it can all fit together musically. There are certain moments from the library that jump out immediately and so I tend to focus on those as inspiration for the tracks. Then we start recording our own instruments and rhythms and write lyrics sometimes to use as the glue that holds it all together.  It feels a lot more like animation than a band playing in a room. I think we're happy if we get a few seconds of useful sound everyday. It usually takes a long time to finish a track.
DD: A 22-second quote from Ghandi constitutes one of the tracks on The Way Out. Were you interested in that quote specifically or do you follow his teachings more broadly?
The Books: Ghandi has such a wonderful speaking voice, if for no other reason; we wanted people to hear his voice unadulterated. On a previous record we used the voice of Einstein speaking about Ghandi, so it seemed a natural follow up. What Ghandi literally says here is amazing - "I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is, underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and recreates." It was recorded in England in 1931. Beyond it's larger political meaning it also kind of serves as a sampler's ethos, so it works for the record.  Generally, I've always been very curious to see how eastern ideas enter western culture, and mutate from there.

DD: It's been five years since your collaboration with Prefuse 73. Is a collaborative release something you would consider doing again?
The Books: Certainly. We're open to most anything if it feels right but to set the record straight, our collaboration with Scott Heron was not really that involved. We just sent him a couple discs of raw materials and he came back a couple months later with an entire record. From our perspective it was pretty easy, more a remix than a collaboration.
DD:  How does your work translate into a live show compared to the album itself?
The Books: We also collect a lot of visual samples, mostly from VHS tapes, and our live show has a projection that is tightly synched to the performance. We make the videos ourselves, so it has the same feel as the music. We like to think of the video as the lead singer of the band. It soaks up a lot of attention so we can focus on playing the music. I've had a long time interest in synesthesia - not in the clinical sense, but more the cognitive sense; when images and sound come together to form more than the sum of their parts. We strive for those types of connections in the show.
DD: What was your initial reaction when the French Ministry of Culture asked you to make some music for their elevators?
The Books: Sheer joy. We knew in that moment that we had really made it. We wrote three one-minute songs for them, with, as one might expect, rising or descending chord structures, mixed with all of the French samples in our library.
DD: Are there any more upcoming film-related projects for you?
The Books: Yes, we recently finished a soundtrack for a documentary film about the Biosphere II project, which I also had a hand in editing. You might recall the media frenzy that the 'Biosphere' created in the early nineties, when eight people locked themselves in a hermetically sealed miniature earth in the Arizona desert. The director, Shawn Rosenheim, is a friend of ours who is fascinated by utopias (and distopias) which lead him to the 'biosphere'. With any luck, the film will be out this year.

DD: Why 'The Books'?
The Books: It seemed a good fit for Paul and Me. We have no claim to coolness. We're both a bit square-ish, but we love what we do.