Zammuto's second act pays homage to his past
Published: April 18, 2012
Nick Zammuto has been many things in his life: an entry-level grunt at an L.A.-based pharmaceutical company, an Appalachian Trail hiker (literally, not figuratively), and for six years a devoted homesteader on a Vermont mountaintop where he and his family built a house and grew most of their food. But the 2011 breakup of the sonic scrap-heap pop group the Books — which Zammuto occupied opposite cellist Paul de Jong through a decade of critical acclaim — resulted in two new jobs: serving as public relations and front man for his new project, which bears his surname.
In January, Zammuto told Pitchfork that getting into the details of his former project's breakup "does not serve anyone" and that he and de Jong "deserve a shot at rebuilding."
In our recent interview, I tell him the move to part ways with de Jong was humane but not very "rock 'n' roll."
"You want me to just tear into him," Zammuto said, laughing. "I could have gotten way more attention if I had flown off the handle." The decision not to comment came after much consideration.
Zammuto (the band) carries on in the tradition of the Books. The songs are as mechanical, patch-worked, and unclassifiable as previous work by Zammuto (the man). But the Books used live instruments sparingly, instead relying on sequencers, samplers, and a symbiotic relationship with stage visuals. Zammuto (the album) was recorded entirely using live instruments, with the intent to reproduce all sounds onstage.
"The Books was … sort of a meta-band," he said. "Now we're a four-piece, more of a rock show. I'm looking forward to playing for sweaty, clubby audiences as opposed to [being] more of a museum piece."
Zammuto features a cast of characters that share the frontman's madly scientific musical approach. Gene Beck (who also contributed to the Books) plays guitar and keyboards ("Sometimes simultaneously," Zammuto said). Drummer Sean Dixon was hired almost exclusively on his polyrhythmic merits, which are apparent on the spare, contemplative "Shape of Things to Come." But Zammuto's most understated and evocative member might be Zammuto's brother Mikey on bass. His pensive, melancholy tones frequently underscore the weighty, hyper-real mix of pricey elation and freedom that the new album is filled with.
"Oh man, February was just … it felt so good to be playing with these guys," Zammuto said about debuting the band's stage show. "A total 180 from what I was used to with the Books."
Hearing Zammuto express such jubilation about his new project made me thankful for what he described as "the women in my life" talking him down from retirement. But for kicks, I asked him what he'd be doing if he had hung up his instruments for good. The answer was quintessential Zammuto (the man).
"Construction, actually," he said. "I love working with wood and especially framing … creating that space from nothing. Nailing boards together is an incredible thing … scratches that primordial itch." •
Explosions in the Sky, with Zammuto
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