By guest contributor Spencer Trent
(Note: This photo was not taken at the Zammuto Knoxville show reviewed in this piece)
The first thing to catch my attention about Nick Zammuto, former member of The Books and current member of the band Zammuto (confusing, I know), was his genuineness and sincerity during their recent show at Knoxville’s Pilot Light. The music world tends to glorify the brooding artist and the fashion icon, but Zammuto was decidedly open and down to earth: a glass half full kind of guy without a doubt. This became increasingly apparent as the night went on and issue after issue arose; no one had ever heard of the opening act, no sound man was to be found, and a broken guitar strap proved more difficult than seemed possible. As he waited to start the sound check, Zammuto shared some information with me on the new Books box set, details of his creative process, and future plans for the new band.
“Asheville’s already been picked over by the hipsters,” he remarked in reference to his constant search for found audio and video. Since his days with The Books, found media has played an integral role in Zammuto’s music. Later that night, just before he hit the stage, he showed me a thick stack of vinyl from Pilot Light-neighbor Hot Horse’s collection that we just might hear sampled on the next record. That’s right, Zammuto have already begun work on a follow up to their praised 2012 self-titled debut. However, Nick seemed a little uncertain about his future in music. He half-joked, half-warned on stage that if he doesn’t bring home enough cash from this tour, his wife might insist it be his last. Despite work on a new album having already begun, the future of Zammuto still seemed up in the air for the time being.
Nick also gave me the chance to look through the new vinyl box set that collects everything released by the Books in their short life span, as well as some surprises that were never before released. The albums feature a new mastering done by Nick himself along with fresh cover designs to match, and the set also includes a DVD, a coffee table book based on found golf videos, and a funky cassette-shaped flash drive containing MP3s. The box set is on sale now.
Finally the opening act, Touch People, arrived and performed a short, confused, and unimpressive set revolving around a Macbook and interesting but undeveloped textures. Zammuto took the stage next and quickly beckoned the audience to stand. “It’ll be more fun this way,” he explained. A somewhat reluctant crowd complied, but as the band dove into their set the skeptics were quickly swayed. Zammuto’s unique blend of experimental rock with an emphasis on nice, fat synthesizer leads flowed perfectly with the accompanying videos projected behind the band- a nice touch to the live show that harkens back to his days performing with the Books. The band also showcased their sense of humor in confessing that their album’s opening track, “Yay,” is about back pain; of course, a hilarious video complemented this revelation. The performance took on a somewhat more somber-though equally engaging- tone as slower tracks like “Harlequin” and “The Shape of Things to Come” came up on the set list, and finally exploded in an enormous, crescendoing rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic built around an autoharp sample that ended things with a bang.
In a sense, Nick is starting over. After receiving critical acclaim and playing both the Tennessee and Bijou Theaters as the Books, he still seems a little out of place in the dim, cramped Pilot Light. Nevertheless, Zammuto’s unwavering optimism and dedication to the art of the performance built my respect for the band and gave me hope that Zammuto will be a long lived project.