Ted Ottaviano talks about "MMXVI – Book of Love – The 30th Anniversary Collection" and the return of Book of Love
By Bob Gourley | Published on May 22, 2016
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of their self-titled debut album, electronic/synthpop band Book of Love released “MMXVI – Book of Love – The 30th Anniversary Collection” on July 1, 2016. It features re-mastered versions of their greatest hits, never-before released demos and two new tracks. Formed by art-students-turned-musicians Ted Ottaviano, Susan Ottaviano, Jade Lee and Lauren Roselli, Book of Love was initially active between 1986 and 1993. They returned in 2001 to tour in support of a previous “best of” album (“I Touch Roses”) and have recently been actively performing again. Though they now generally perform as a duo of Ted and Susan, the entire quartet has been doing some special reunion shows. In a phone interview, Ted discussed the return of Book of Love.
What made you decide to put out another collection now?
“I’m kind of a music geek myself, so it’s no shock that I go in and archive our music the way I go in an archive all of my favorite music. I’m always interested in making sure the catalog is still available to people and that it is available in all different formats. About a year ago, when we saw that our anniversary was coming up and coupled with the fact that I’ve become sort of infatuated with vinyl again, I was really interested in seeing if we could do vinyl reissues of our albums. It started a whole series of enquiries, because there are a lot of steps to make that happen, especially since Warner Bros owns our catalog. That also started another dialog about putting out a digital collection where we could re-master our most well-known songs, as well as a couple of new songs. Every format has its own sort of audience, and there is a whole new streaming audience—people who are learning about us for the first time. This is kind of a way to also address that. We just went ahead and decided to get the ball rolling with the 30th anniversary of our first album and use that as a launch point. There is no clear idea as to when vinyl might happen, but that’s still in the works as well. The first thing up and running is the digital collection, which will be a re-mastered set of our most well-known songs. A couple were omitted from our ‘best of’ collection in 2001, but now they have risen to the top. For example ‘Witchcraft’ has become one of our more liked songs so we’re including that and re-mastering it. We also polished a couple of the original demos of ‘Boy’ and ‘I Touch Roses,’ which have never been available digitally. And then there are the two new songs.”
Why did you want to re-master your music?
“Mastering goes through its own version of phases and styles and aesthetics like anything else. Over the years, our stuff has always been really well mastered, but it needed to have the same kind of sheen and power to have it consistently sit next to other music. Right now, a song like ‘Book of Love’ has never been included on anything other than the first album, and it’s going to be included in this album. The original mastering was from 1986, whereas other songs were mastered more recently. You can hear it in the eq and overall loudness of the song. I always laugh and think of something like Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ because I have so many downloads of it, and with every new incarnate remastering, it gets a new level of detail and fidelity to it, just because the technology keeps getting better. So we’re hoping we can put a spit-and-polish on everything and make it uniform so that it sounds good as a collection.”
You mentioned the streaming audience; what are your thoughts on streaming and people discovering you that way?
“I feel like on some level, I’ve almost waved the white flag. Since I’ve been in the business so long, many formats have come along and so many hurdles have been jumped that I thought would never be jumped. It really has affected our royalty stream. But I’ve almost become a survivalist in the fact that I’ve just accept that this thing is a growing organism and you can’t stop it. I see the positives of someone being able to go on a streaming site and just listen and test out our music, having the freedom to get into ‘Book of Love’ without having the limited channels like with radio or having to go out and purchase it to be able to reference it. I see that as a good thing, but at the same time, there are a lot of negatives. I feel that I have an acceptance of it because it’s yet another new development that I had never expected when I first started in 1985.”
Since reuniting, have you considered doing a full new album?
“What was really important to me was to go back and honor our music and our catalog. I had no problem writing new songs for it, but that [going back] was the goal. When the possibility of writing a new album surfaced, I had the mindset that we would write a new album when we felt like it. In a weird way, our first album was a collection of singles and then they were put together with four or five new songs. I like working in spurts like that. There’s no label or record deal that is being held over our heads where we almost have to, for better or worse, answer to any kind of boundary or timeline on anything. So we just go as we please.”
What was it like creating new Book of Love music?
“First, I feel so much support from the other band members, which is really so helpful. We’ve seen pretty much every artist in this genre have a go with more music, and we’ve seen how, on some level, the fans really appreciate this kind of love. But, there is no way around the fact that the special moment the fans hold in their hearts is really that initial catalog. My band members and I say to each other, “Let’s go out and just make something that we really love.” That’s our way of saying that we’re hoping the fans like it, but it’s kind of in a weird way saying that it’s unrealistic to think you can recreate a certain kind of magic that was from a certain time.
“We’re really in tune with ‘Book of Love’ and what it is. It’s a certain type of recipe, and we pull from certain influences. It’s been funny—I was just in the studio for the last two days. I love this little witches’ brew that we do in terms of the way we write and layer keyboards and melodies. We’re doing it with a combination of vintage technology and new technology. It’s really exciting; it’s kind of become our new normal. Even a lot of newer groups are merging both digital and analog technology to create their own new sound. Of course, the original stuff was mostly analog with some new digital gadgets, but now we’re using straight digital software. Yesterday, I mixed through an analog board, but it was all from my Logic and ProTools sessions. So we’re doing our version of the amalgam. I feel like on some level, I see old Book of Love there, and I hear some new elements that we’ve never really had before.”
Are there any old tracks that you feel have taken on new life, perhaps due to changes in musical technology?
“The song ‘Book of Love’—it was the b-side to ‘Boy.’ For some reason, for our friends and our partners who didn’t really know the music previously, that song really popped out to them. I don’t know why. So that one has a new relevance for us. I’m a purist, and I actually don’t really like it when an artist fully revamps the essence of a song for the live performance. I don’t see it like that. To me, the instrumentation and the arrangements are as important as the singer on the song. I spend a lot of time going back to our original database of samples and sounds, but I basically put them through a lot of new processing. What that might mean is that our original technology, because it was the 80s and digital stuff had just started, it was a little tinnier and didn’t have the same warmth to it. So I re-processed our older sounds with new technology so it sounds bigger and warmer. The snare sound on ‘Boy’ is as important as the lyrics. It’s one of the reasons why people wanted to play it on the dance floor. I still think there is a celebration to that sound.”
Though you’ve done some reunion shows with the full lineup, generally it’s just been you and Susan lately. Was there any hesitation in performing as a duo?
“There was total hesitation. We’d gotten down to the trio years ago, as Jade had let us know that she wasn’t interested in going on the road anymore. So we always knew that, but we just had a photo session last week, and Jade was there. She’s present on the new tracks. She’s always been part of this group, but when Lauren’s personal life got to the point where it was too complicated for her to break away and go on the road, we weren’t sure if we wanted to proceed. What ended up happening was an Erasure show. We were being managed by the same guy who does Erasure, Michael Pagnotta, and he offered us this show. It seemed like it was too perfect not to do it. So we tried it, and it worked out. On some level, it’s about the material and the fans, and Susan is out there singing better than ever. I was the primary songwriter, so it’s kind of the important elements of Book of Love, but at the same time, there’s always going to be a soft spot in my heart for the fact that we were a very quirky, cool four-piece, and people like that kind of thing better. We’re doing our best.”
What else have you been doing since the time Book of Love was originally active?
“It’s really varied. There was a period where I actually stopped doing my own music and I was teaching music technology. That was probably for six or seven years. I was also working on another indie project called ‘The Myrmidons,’ which was a little love child of mine. It was something that answered all of the itches I wasn’t able to scratch in any other thing that I’ve worked on. It was really 60s inspired. It was very sample-driven and the beats were more of an alt-indie sort of sound. I loved it, and the tracks still resonate with me. I spent a few years on that, and then over the past couple of years, once we took a turn back into the Book of Love world, I’ve been basically focusing on Book of Love. This year, we have a pretty detailed summer and fall lined up, so I’m just going to be doing that. But afterward, I’m hoping to get back into some of the other stuff that I’m interested in doing. My goal is to do sound design and scoring; I’ve done a few tiny things but nothing that I feel has hit it on the head yet. So that’s a place that I’m still aiming to get to.”
Are you planning on doing any shows outside of the US?
“We did South America for the first time a few months ago; that was really fun. Once again, we’re open to it, but probably the only realistic thing that’s going to make that happen is to see how much interest this re-issue ignites. It’s really a budget crunch to go out on the road, especially when you’ve got a lot of technology that you’re bringing. We would love to do more of it, but it remains to be seen if that’s going to be even plausible until we get through this.”