Lost and sound

The Books turn the page and embark on their first-ever tour

Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong, in a rare moment sans instruments, are all smiles.

Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong, in a rare moment sans instruments, are all smiles.

7 p.m. Monday, May 16; with Hella; free. UC Davis Memorial Union Coffee House, www.thebooksmusic.com.

Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto of the Books are a bit lost as they rehearse for their upcoming concert dates. “We’re pretty much out of touch,” a candid Zammuto confessed between practice sessions. An equally frank de Jong concurred: “We’ve been so focused on our own music for the past month-and-a-half, we have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Although incomprehension does not bode well for a Q-and-A session, it is good news that the Books quietly have been honing their “glorified-karaoke style” live show while tucked away in northwestern Massachusetts. “We’re constantly playing our instruments. It’s like regular music-theory school,” revealed de Jong, a multitalented musician and classically trained cellist.

The Books will stop at UC Davis this Monday, May 16, in support of their April 2005 release, Lost and Safe. “It’s difficult to translate what we do in the studio to something onstage,” acknowledged Zammuto, referring to the plethora of effects and live-audio samples that embellish all three Books releases. Their style, a synthesis of everyday speech and folk-pop compositions, is anything but conventional.

In the spirit of Marcel Duchamp, the Books use random or “found” samples to achieve their inimitable sound. “We usually have these spontaneous and modular structures. You start in the middle and find a beginning and end in there somewhere,” said Zammuto of his songwriting approach. De Jong confided that it isn’t as complicated as it sounds, admitting, “In a collaboration, it’s hard to get stuck.”

On Lost and Safe, Zammuto and de Jong unleash their usual barrage of instruments—cello, guitar, banjo, clavinet, fiddle, viola and bass—to bestow life upon their found samples. As with previous releases Thought for Food and The Lemon of Pink, their latest also employs hallmarks of their self-described “country-eastern” style. Perhaps Zammuto best explained their unique sound with a deconstructionist-minded aside: “You think you’re listening to something, you know, Beethoven’s symphony, but really you’re just listening to magnets and plastic.” Sure, but how do these one-off beats and sounds translate into a live show?

To alleviate the switch from studio to live performances, the duo introduced several new musical elements, the most obvious being vocals. “Even still, singing in front of people makes me feel uncomfortable,” a humble Zammuto said. With a background in chemistry and the visual arts, Zammuto will admit that he is not a musician. “I was petrified,” he confessed about his transition to vocalist. It’s difficult to believe, considering how effortlessly his voice weaves its way through almost all the tracks on Lost and Safe.

“Nick’s voice is the solidifying factor in it,” said de Jong of the new album. “It becomes one single narrative.” The duo’s relaxed attitude might explain the free-flowing yet evolving nature of their songs. “We do work from concepts … and we know how to deviate from a concept before we get caught up in it. Things are always fairly flexible,” remarked a lighthearted, confident de Jong of their in-studio ideology.

“You look at a jellyfish, and you’re like, ‘How the hell can it possibly exist?’” said Zammuto in a moment of abstract reflection. “Well, the answer is that it has evolved over millions of years, and that’s the only way it could possibly look. I think our tracks go through a similar process, though nothing as grand, obviously.”

Will the Books feel like fish out of water while on tour? “We actually feel pretty optimistic,” affirmed de Jong, though Zammuto hinted less favorably at the prospect of touring, noting that “you sort of give up a lot of control in a live show.” In spite of their apprehensions, and de Jong’s assertion that “there is a limit to what your ears can handle,” the Books seem poised to write many more engaging chapters in their aleatoric version of the Choose Your Own Adventure novel.