The Books have taken a style of music that could be fit only a niche audience and made it accessible to listeners across genres. By mixing the absurd and disturbing with charming and hilarious, the band creates a truly unique sound. Pulling samples from what has become a veritable database, the band’s two members, Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto, create music around found audio recordings.
“The sample library has grown really hugely, cream rises to the surface with it,” Zammuto said. “The best samples are so extraordinary that they become touch points for the record, and then I work to find a way of connecting them all.”
With a classically trained background, de Jong plays the cello as the self-taught Zammuto accompanies with vocals and acoustic guitar. Just from their most recent release, The Way Out songs include hypnotherapy samples, crazy kids using Talk Boxes, answering machines and Gandhi.
“I knew that all that stuff needed to be on the record and I just started throwing instrumental elements at that,” Zammuto said. “It’s a matter of just trying everything and I think the pieces kind of evolve more than they’re written. I can’t take full responsibility, there’s a lot of chaos involved. It’s a matter of getting in the studio and spending many, many hours every day.”
De Jong and Zammuto focus on creating a sound that is centered on accessibility. Self-producing and self-recording all of their albums, allows the band the freedom to feel comfortable in their space. Due to the expensive fees of recording in the studio, doing everything themselves grants the time to spend hours experimenting with sounds and samples to get to what finally sounds right.
“Of course we never really had resources in terms of a lot of money to buy fancy instruments [so we] record what we have around us, what we find laying around,” Zammuto said.
The experimentation didn’t necessarily translate perfectly into a live show. It took some time and some technology to catch up, but they now have an extra member of the band who also serves to trigger the samples, rather than playing to a timed track.
The Books will be playing at the Vic Theatre during their time in Chicago as part of the of the Third Coast Conference this October. The Books and Third Coast Festival collaborated with a project called Book Odds, for which they made audio samples from their then-upcoming album available to the public to insert into their own audio art pieces or stories to be judged by both Third Coast and The Books.
But in reality, The Books’ live show has somewhat of a birth related to Third Coast. They were asked to compose a soundtrack for the BBC’s The Loneliest Road by a friend, Greg Whitehead, before they had ever considered playing live.
“We had made one or two records at that time and we loved being in the studio, but didn’t know how to bring this to the stage,” Zammuto said. “[Whitehead] forced us to play this Third Coast gig in Chicago, which was the impetus for development of our live show.”
The first show was not the polished and well-organized performance that an audience would find today.
“It was pretty raw, we also really did see from there that there was a chance that it might work, and we started playing live,” de Jong said.
The show has since evolved to incorporate backing video, which are the source of many of the sampled sounds. And despite being a music group, de Jong says that what happens on the screen is “50 percent of the show.”
Concert-goers can get the full sensory experience of The Books’ live show on Friday, Oct. 29 at the Vic Theatre. They will be joined by The Black Heart Procession.