The Books at Outland

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When I call Nick Zammuto, his wife answers. The playful squeak of toddlers seeps into the background.

"May I ask who's calling?"

I explain I'm an interviewer seeking my scheduled chat with her husband. She runs the phone out to Zammuto's studio, where he's lost inside his headphones, crafting music for a new project he won't tell me about.

Mystery also used to define The Books, Zammuto's partnership with Paul de Jong. The duo emerged with 2002's"Thought for Food," a collage of archival samples and adventurous, emotionally resonant acoustic music. Theirs was a widescreen world of miniature wonders - the sound I imagine lovelorn household appliances might make when they come alive at night.

A decade later, The Books are about as transparent as bands get. Even as social media has demystified rock stars, not many artists invite listeners (or journalists) into their lives as freely as Zammuto does. When I call most musicians, their publicists answer, not their spouses.

On The Books' blog, Zammuto posts photos of his Vermont mountain home and answers questions about guitar tunings he's used. He plans to publish detailed notes about the first three Books albums, each remastered and reissued with new artwork this year.

"I figure I'm just going to write it down because if people are interested and it can help their process, that's a good thing, " Zammuto says. "Spoiler alert: If it's going to ruin the music for you, you probably shouldn't read it."

Those elaborately packaged reissues continue The Books' obsession with detail. Their music is intensively constructed. They lend even more "anal" attention to video collages that accompany performances like the one scheduled for Saturday at Outland.

Though Zammuto, de Jong and collaborator Gene Back play instruments live, they cede attention to the movies. It's "halfway between watching a film and seeing a concert," Zammuto explains.

"Our interest was to make the video kind of like the lead singer of the band because neither Paul nor I was about to get up there and jump around on stage. So we wanted something that could carry the character of the music," he says.

The Books' more open approach accompanied a move to open spaces. Last year they released "The Way Out," their first album in five years. In the interim they started families and moved out of New York City.

"Those early records especially were headphone projects," Zammuto recalls. "Working in an apartment, it's hard to work up to volume at any time of day."

Now Zammuto can get as loud as he wants whenever he wants in his home studio. Thus "The Way Out" is friskier and more hyperactive than any previous Books release.

"That may be the influence of my sons, too," Zammuto says, laughing. "I think you can apply the same adjectives to them."

The Books

7 p.m. Saturday, April 2

Outland Live

95 E. Liberty St.