Whaddaya’ know….we’re back again with another Gotye collaborator interview! Huzzah!
This time we’re chin-wagging with Nick Zammuto, formerly of The Books and now jamming-on via Zammuto. He toured with Gotye, he’s crazy-talented and we’ve loved meeting him and falling in love with his tunes!
Photographs of Nick onstage are via our member Audra Napolitano. Check out her amazing work including Gotye onstage!
Photographs of the studio and Wally are care of Nick Zammuto.
You have a very scientific approach to music/sounds, even making your own instruments and gadgets. Do you have formal musical training, or have you been able to discover techniques without the bias of how music is “supposed” to sound?
I studied Chemistry in college and thought I would end up as a research scientist until an illness derailed my studies. When I returned to school after recovering, I had a very different perspective on how I wanted to spend my time, and moved into visual arts and eventually into music. I’m completely self- taught and still tend to use a scientific approach in music, especially in building instruments and musical systems (I think that’s something that Wally and I have in common). The fact is, I wanted to be a mad- scientist when I was studying chemistry, and it turns out the field is so specialized now it’s hard to experiment freely in chemistry. In music, the frontier is still very wide and I’ve found an outlet for my experimental side.
Describe your songwriting process. Are you usually inspired by a particular sound that you build a song around? What is the spark for you?
It’s that intangible feeling. It’s hard to explain but I know it when I feel it. I try to surround myself with a lot of energy and ideas and then quietly wait for the right combination of elements to come together. Working with words is sort of a love/hate thing. Words don’t do justice to most feelings, but they are all we have so I feel the need to try.
You appear to have a very organic holistic lifestyle. How do you integrate/balance business (money-making, touring) with your family life (growing your own food, building your own house, raising kids)?
My partner, Molly, is a tremendous force to be reckoned with! She’s got tremendous vision and energy and I’d be nowhere without her. Basically I just do what she tells me to. That includes building a house for her;) But in all seriousness, we share a certain fierce DIY ethos and we make space for each-others vision. We’ve realized that longer tours work better because it minimizes the coming and going, which are the hardest transitions. Then when I’m home, I’m HOME, and I can focus on the family and everything we’ve got going on here. Apart from growing a lot of our food, we recently began home-schooling our kids which has been a really satisfying adventure.
You toured North America with Gotye in 2012. (Several of our “nuts” enjoyed meeting you after shows). How did you first come to know Wally?
Tim Sheil brought Wally to a show of ours in San Francisco when they happened to be playing there the next night. He came up to our merch table after the show, congratulated us for a great set, bought a bunch of records and I shook his hand and thanked him, having no idea who he was. We kept talking and I realized Wally and Tim sort of looked like they were in a band, so I asked them ‘are you guys in a band’, and they said ‘yeah we’re Gotye’, and I said (like the moron I am) ‘Oh cool, I’ve never heard of you, I’ll check out your music’. I realized later that I was talking to the man with the world’s number one single. I felt so stupid. I really do live under a rock most of the time. But I think Wally thought it was kind of cute that I was so clueless. A few months later he offered us the chance to tour with him and we jumped at the opportunity.
Your new record Anchor is getting stellar reviews! Wally and Tim were so impressed with it that they created a record label (Spirit Level) specifically to facilitate an Australian release. How did this happen and what was your reaction to this show of support?
All I can say is Wow! I can’t thank them enough for the huge amount of support they’ve given us as we work to get this record out. Wally came to visit our place last November when I was in the early stages of working on Anchor. It was a great visit, and we all enjoyed spending time with him, relaxing and telling stories. He was really great with my kids, which says a lot about him. I sent him the record when it was done and he listened to it a lot, which was really gratifying. When he heard there was no plans for an Australian release he and Tim quickly organized a strategy for spreading the word about it in the form of their new label ‘Spirit Level’.
When The Books dissolved, you mentioned questioning whether you should
continue on a musical career path. Are you at a point now that you feel you’ve made the right decision?
Yes. I love what I do, and I’m honored to have the support of so many people in keeping this crazy thing going. I don’t make the kind of music that will ever be super popular, but my goals are very modest: Simply to survive making music I believe in, care for my family, and work with people I respect and admire.
After you wrap up the current tour, what’s next on your agenda?
I need to chop four cords of firewood. I just got my chainsaw fixed today.
How are Wally’s basketball skills? (laughs)
I am not the best arbiter of basketball skill, being only slightly taller than Paul Simon myself, but I can tell you he is way better than me. We are fairly evenly matched at Spot-it, though.
Thanks Nick-play on!