Q&A w/ Zammuto
Southern Vermont’s Zammuto is one of the newest groups with the illustrious Temporary Residence and is a band that has risen out of the ashes of the acclaimed two piece The Books. Headed by Nick Zammuto, this new band of Nick’s is more organic, more harmonically adventurous and down right more beautiful than his previous efforts. The group has expanded a great deal in the last year and because of this expansion, Zammuto will be headed out in June for live shows in the States with Explosions In The Sky. As their second tour with the group, Zammuto’s live sow reputation has grown considerably large, something we love to feel a buzz about in any band, especially after experiencing its power first hand. Zammuto are undoubtedly a live band not to be missed and their self titled debut full length is one of the best of the year.
Friday May 18th, 2012 9:50 AM.
I just made myself breakfast and plowed through my morning cigarette. I am sitting next to the telephone, waiting for it to become 10 am so I can call Nick. I think about what his voice will sound like… Will it sound like he sings? And if that’s the case, maybe he could sing instead of talk because my questions begin to seem stupid. But as the time continues to pass, as my contemplations sink into the backdrop of my mind, I find myself startlingly calm. Maybe it is Nick’s DIY home that’s far away from the city. Maybe it unconsciously brought me peace.
Xavier Vilaplana: I am very exited about your project, it’s totally something on its own.
Nick Zammuto: Thanks, yeah, it’s been a blast to kind of have a real band.
XV: How has it been to work with a four-piece band with heavy rhythmic percussion?
NZ: It’s taken me a while to figure out how it’s going to work out, well, I still don’t know how it works because it’s always changing, but the guys I am working with, like my brother Mikey, obviously I’ve known him my whole life, he’s a great bass player so he was a natural choice. He also toured with The Books, so I know he’s road worthy. Gene Back who also played keyboards and guitar for The Books was really into starting something new. His first instrument is the violin, but he plays keyboards and guitar for [Zammuto's] live section but whenever I need a string arrangement, I send the chord progression down to him and he flushes it out. He makes these beautiful clouds of string sounds just layered over each other and then sends it back to me. Gene actually introduced me to Sean Dixon (drummer). Sean has really opened my eyes to what drumming can be. I think it’s easy to get down on drumming because it’s so ubiquitous, because it’s usually just about keeping that heart beat most of the time, but Sean’s real passion is polyrhythmic playing, sort of African influence which is also my interest. What I like about rhythm is having two tempos going on at once, but not in a confusing way. In a way that makes sense with each other.
XV: The drumming definitely has an African feel; it has this kraut sort of bounce to it with a duality of timing. But it’s strange because it doesn’t seem to end.
NZ: Right exactly, for me it moves backwards and forwards at the same time. That is something I have been interested in for a long time.
XV: All of The Books records to me seem rhythmic. The guitar work with the samples create these sort of polyrhythmic drum patterns I feel are now being applied to an actual drum set with a different motivation.
NZ: Right. I got really lucky in finding Sean because he can take what I give him and he can really expand upon it. And live, he just blows it out of the water; he’s kind of the star of the show.
XV: Are the live shows faithful to the recordings or do you go out a little bit?
NZ: Structurally they are pretty faithful. But since it’s live it’s a lot louder and more visceral. We add a lot of energy to it. And there is a very visual component to what we do. I don’t know if you saw The Books play but the videos were like another member of the band. But with [Zammuto] it’s not to the same extent because we don’t want to wash over the performances. The videos come in hopefully just in the right moments to push the performance over the top.
XV: Do you do all of the videos?
NZ: Yeah, I learned it through the Books. It’s really just a natural extension to sampling, I did audio for a long time but, well man, there’s all these awesome videos to be sampled as well. Especially given that these VHS tapes are outdated and are being landfilled at such a rapid rate. So I started to make a collection of these samples. But I’ve been more interested right now in making my own videos so there is sort of a natural evolution going on there.
XV: When I hear Zammuto it feels like a breath of fresh air, something similar to when I heard The Books. How does that correlate with what you’re doing now. Not the composition or structure, but how one process leads to another.
NZ: It was a really natural progression. You know, the end of The Books was a really sad thing for me, it wasn’t supposed to end. For a while I thought I couldn’t start over at this point and make a livelihood. I’ve got three kids, you know, I can’t afford to follow this dream if it’s not going to produce a livelihood. But my wife kind of forced me- she said, you know you’re not going to be happy unless you make a record right away and get past this point. So I just re-mortgaged my house and went back into the studio and made the record. It’s going really well, I feel like the show we have right now is the centerpiece of the project in a way that it wasn’t for The Books. I always wanted to do that. I’m still trying to figure out how it’s going to work but it’s coming together nicely and feels like it’s going to be all right. But I guess a more spiritual answer to your question is- well, I wrote all of the material over the past ten years. So I went back to see what the inspiration was all of those years ago and it really is no different than the inspiration now. I am just trying to find those moments that really speak for themselves and frame them in a way that people can hear them the way I did.
XV: It seems like organic chemistry has stuck with your musical and thought process in a very interesting way. I feel like it stuck with you a lot more than other things because of the way you express yourself, just like the idea of LCD’s- a liquid with solid properties, so a contradiction in itself. I feel like it plays a large part in what you do, is this true?
NZ: Yeah, totally. I’ve always loved how science and chemistry was the one thing that allowed me to unify the intellectual world with the actual physical world. The science of it is so complicated and interesting. And the applications are so broad. All the lab work depends on the formulas that you know that work, but then again you are trying to always push the boundaries of what’s new and what’s going on. They are real molecules you know, not just dreams. It’s something that is grounded, something real and there is the sense of grittiness in real things. You can find that almost in any recordings, that moment where it just sounds real and genuine. But the only intention is of course to recognize those moments and try to name them.
XV: Exactly. I was talking with a friend the other day. I asked why she does music. She said she did it to give a moment and I tried to have her explain that to me. It had to be captured first before giving it.
NZ: Yeah, because I don’t think you can own them. They are so much bigger than us, it sounds cheesy, but that perfect sample, that perfect sound just explodes and happens on its own. You have to be able to step out of its way. I think I have to agree with you. You know, a lot of great artists just are trying to be genuine and honest, and the idea of giving comes from heart.
XV: The lyrics come off as playfully angry but always something unavoidable. Something that you just had to accept. There are a lot of vocal effects going on and I wonder if you were trying to capture the duality of human beings and the break up of The Books.
NZ: Oh, absolutely. I was and kind of still am in a pretty dark place because of what happened. The record isn’t pointed at anyone in particular but becoming an adult is an extremely frustrating process. And you’re right, it is a dualism, and a lot of timeless music takes advantage of it. If you frame a dark sentiment within a joyful sound it creates this beautiful tension. And acceptance is part of it. It was a great thing while it lasted but it’s not there anymore. But the joy comes in doing it. There is no purpose to it, no end to it. Dualism is a great word. It has become a great concept for me over the years and is something I will write about more when the time comes. But dualisms exist because they have to, but the real world, capital R Real, doesn’t have that. It’s totally outside of anything we can understand.
XV: Isn’t there a human necessity to understand?
NZ: I disagree with that. Some people choose to live in the middle of the island or some live on the shore, but I need that unknown place to create and have the freedom to do what I want to do.
XV: So you don’t search for it, you respect it?
NZ: Yeah, Well, it’s… it’s what gives me the greatest satisfaction, besides my family. I live up here in the mountains and it gets really dark up here. Sometimes you walk out and the sky is totally clear. And the Milky Way is right there and you feel like you are in it. I feel bad for people in the city who don’t have this experience. It’s an extreme thing to understand how vast it all is. Of course, there is an element of fear- oh my god, I’m going to die some day- but the fear really doesn’t compare to the richness of it all.
XV: I agree.
NZ: But I mean, who knows, if we could get outside of this moment we are stuck in, who knows.
XV: When you play music does it feel like you are outside of the moment, like when you say, “inside of the Milky Way”?
NZ: Yeah, yeah, in a sense it’s definitely a microcosm of that feeling, but- for the record I’m just a straight edge and so is my band. So we aren’t trying to escape at all. What interests us the most is the group of people who show up at our shows, they create the show, not us. So it’s really interesting to see that. Music has no purpose, it’s not food, it’s not water, but people don’t choose to live without it.
XV: For me it’s always about connections, not escaping, no matter how long the connection lasts.
NZ: Yeah. Sometimes the connections at shows last beyond the shows and sometimes it can start really interesting relationships.
XV: Does this seem to be happening with Zammuto more just because of its real live presence?
NZ: I hope so; I mean we’re in the early phases now. But I’ve felt much better on stage with this show than with The Books show primarily because we are all playing on time with each other dynamically and there isn’t electronic backtracking.
XV: What’s your relationship with technology and music?
NZ: That’s a good question. It’s absolutely essential. I couldn’t imagine myself just sitting down with an acoustic guitar only. I could make music but it wouldn’t be as interesting. The explosion of technology has produced a lot of new frontiers. For a person like me who wants to go in those new places, technology gives a lot of unexplored territory. Once you have the technology there is no going back, it’s like, once the Genie is out of the bottle, it’s done. I think that’s what The Books were about, an overflow of information that I really disagreed with and put it in a form that I could live with and give back to the world. Taking noise and making it something more resonant and helpful. There is an element in that with the new music, but [Zammuto] is more about being in the moment.
XV: Is what you are doing with Zammuto similar to having a family and raising your children?
NZ: My livelihood at making music is absolutely intimately connected with having a family. I don’t separate the yard work from the studio work. There is a chemical change that happens when you have kids. It’s universal. It’s so deep seeded that I can’t even remember what it’s like to not have kids, it’s a complete transformation. And it’s not about me anymore, it’s about us. We’ve got to protect this thing.
XV: What music do you listen to that is going on now?
NZ: To be honest when I’m working on music I don’t listen to much music because my brain is already full on that regard. But we just went out on tour with Explosions in the Sky and it was really inspiring. Now I listen to their records and it means something totally different to me. I also listen to what my kids like, and they mostly like dance music. My oldest, he’s stiff like me and when he spasms he just spasms in a strange, funny kind of way. But my youngest moves so fluid, like my wife, he just kind of floats through the room. It’s really fun to watch him. He was whipping out these moves, it’s like he was built for it. One of my friends over in London gave me a huge amount of African music and it’s awesome. It’s a beautiful counterpoint to how we look at music over here.
Zammuto will be headed back on tour with Explosions In The Sky, below are the following dates and cities.
06/17 Sun Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
06/18 Mon Mobile, AL @ Soul Kitchen
06/19 Tue Tampa, FL @ The Ritz Ybor
06/20 Wed Miami, FL @ Grand Central
06/21 Thu Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre
06/22 Fri Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theater
06/24 Sun Baltimore, MD @ The Ottobar (Headline Show, Full Set!)
06/25 Mon Morgantown, WV @ 123 Pleasant Street
06/26 Tue Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theatre
06/27 Wed Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
06/29 Fri Hudson, NY @ Club Helsinki (Headline Show, Full Set!)
— Fall shows:
09/07 FRI Raleigh, NC @ Hopscotch Music Festival
11/10 Minneapolis MN @ Walker Art Center (with Eluvium)
More dates SOON!
From Zammuto on this recording:
This is a recording from our first ever show… It was also the first time anyone had heard ‘Shape of Things to Come’ outside of my studio. The performance took place at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams MA, on February 3rd, exactly two months before the record was released. It was recorded as a multitrack from the monitor board, then mixed by yours truly at home. We were all a bit nervous and shakey, since it was our first time on stage together, but it has that ‘New Band’ smell. We’ve grown a lot tighter since.
Thanks to EVERYONE at Mass Moca (our hometown venue) for an amazing night…Can’t thank you all enough for helping us kick off the new band, in the place we love the best.