High-tech effects brought out the singer in Nick Zammuto

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Yes, there is such a thing as too much information.

Nick Zammuto, formerly of the Books and now fronting his own band, Zammuto, is a warm and genial guy who happens to share a few things with yours truly, including an ongoing battle with the mutant blackberry canes that threaten to swallow our respective houses. But did we need to know that the East Coast blueberry crop was so good this year that his three young sons were pooping black for a solid month?

Maybe not.

Still, it’s a clue to what Zammuto’s been up to since his earlier electro-collage project folded—and to why it’s a bit of a surprise.

Zammuto, his debut full-length, sounds shockingly visceral next to the Books, and that switch in direction is even more pronounced on the live tracks that have recently been posted on the band’s website: they’re full of dance-floor-filling beats and wildly extroverted Minimoog solos. It’s almost as if a decade of pent-up emotion has suddenly found release—and according to Zammuto himself, that’s exactly what’s happened.

“I’d built up all this angst over the last few years working in the Books, so when the floodgates finally opened, I had all this energy to burn off,” he explains, reached at his self-built eco-friendly home high in the mountains of rural Vermont. “I’m looking at my studio right now, and it’s hard for me to imagine how the record came out of this little tractor garage that I work in. I guess that’s what I had inside of me at that point, so it had to come out.”

Part of that is because while Zammuto began as a solo project, Zammuto wound up building a band. Joining the guitar- and synth-playing frontman are his brother Mike on bass, multi-instrumentalist Gene Back, and drummer Sean Dixon. Much of the credit for the group’s energetic nature can apparently be given to Dixon, who’s also the main reason why Zammuto sounds massively unlike anything its nominal leader has done before.

“The Books was a lot of fun, but after a while I started to feel like being on-stage was some kind of glorified karaoke, where we were playing along with the rhythms we’d made, electronic rhythms,” Zammuto explains. “So I really wanted to work with a drummer on this project, and luckily I found an amazing one in Sean.”

Zammuto now prefers to work with a human pulse, but he hasn’t entirely abandoned technology. One of the many fun things about Zammuto is the way he’s deliberately screwed up his singing, thanks to a little box called the TC-Helicon VoiceLive 2.

“Singing was never, ever on my radar,” he admits. “It’s not something I wanted to do in my life, but I ended up having to do it because nobody else was going to do it. When we started writing songs somebody had to sing them, and that was me.

“There’s something about this box where I can sing into it and something so radically different comes back to me that it ends up tricking me into giving more,” he adds. “So in terms of my own education and edification and experience-building, it’s been really useful to kind of creatively destroy myself—but it helped me find my voice again, in a new way. I don’t feel the next record is going to fall back on electronics so much, although, you know, I do love these man-machine vocals that crop up here and there.”

So there you have it: somewhere between the wild blueberries of Vermont and the digital future, a new sound is being born.

Zammuto plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Tuesday (November 6).

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