Nick Zammuto doesn't really know how to describe his role in the band that bears his name.
"I'm the man behind the curtain, I suppose," says Zammuto in a call from his home in rural Vermont.
Zammuto is best known for his work in the band The Books — a group that sort of perfected the art of musical collage, beginning in the early 2000s. The Books performed in Knoxville both at the Bijou Theatre and during the Big Ears festival, and Zammuto says the group "had a blast."
The Books, though, had run its course.
"It felt like a drag to work on that project for many years," he says. "But because I loved it so much and it was so much a part of my l identity and my livelihood that I didn't want to see my baby die, there was a lot of artificial respiration that went into it for years. Finally, I got so exhausted that I kind of threw up my hands and said, 'OK, what am I going to do now?'"
Zammuto said his wife recognized that he wasn't going to be happy unless he made another album, so he put a new band together with Nick on guitar and vocals, his brother Mikey Zammuto on bass, Gene Back on keyboards and Sean Dixon on drums.
"In a lot of ways it's a continuation of the Books. We use a lot of the same aesthetics and the show still has a lot of multi-media components, which I think was a lot of people's favorite experience with The Books. For quite a few of the tracks we're playing along with a video that is sort of like a fifth member of the band. The show is as much a visual thing as much as a concert."
Zammuto says he sort of backed into making music.
He says hearing a version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as a child growing up in Massachusetts had a profound impact on him.
"I could not imagine a single person playing that. The sound of it, first of all, is harrowing. It's like a nightmare, but a beautiful nightmare. It's got this incredible musicality, even though it's really dark. And I was kind of imagining this real freak of a person playing it — someone with spiders on the ends of his arms just running up and down the keyboard. It really blew my mind."
When his parents bought the work on album he listened to it every day when he got home from school.
He was studying chemistry and visual arts in college when he heard his friends listening to Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and electronic music coming from England.
"I was like, 'Wow, I could do that!' It sounded like Legos being put together. So I just started gathering sounds around and used the computer to collage it together."
That's still the way he works to some extent.
The name of the new band does not indicate a solo project, he says. Since both he and Mikey are in the group, their last name made sense. The sound retains The Books' adventurousness and electronic sampling. Having a real drummer in the group certainly changes the flavor.
"Sean just does stuff that I never heard anyone do. I think that's sort of the holy grail now to get the electronic stuff and the acoustic stuff to work together in a more seamless way. And Sean is the kind of guy who, even if he's playing with a click track, his playing really breathes. He can lag behind and catch up at will. He just makes it live. I have technical tricks up his sleeve and he's the one who allows it to translate in a really smooth way."
Nick composes the music for the albums on his own because he lives so far away that it doesn't make sense to collaborate during that phase of the work. The group gets together to perform the pieces, but, at that point, they have no idea what the final sound will be.
"I get really great performances from these guys, but they never see the whole picture until the track is done."
He says that's a good thing because it keeps the other musicians from worrying too much about the outcome of the piece.
"I just want them to really deliver these things that work in the moment. Then I can go back and cut them up and arrange them in a way that really satisfies me. But when we come back together we come with the starting point of the track itself and then everybody adds so much to their parts that the live thing becomes much more spectacular. I hope so anyway!"
When: September 09, 2012 | 10 p.m.
Where: Pilot Light - Knoxville, TN
Price: $10 | Ages: 18+
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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