June 15, 2018 Interview – Susan Ottaviano From Book of Love
Some memories from the 1980s are worth keeping. In fact, many of them are, and one of those which should not be forgot is the Synthpop band Book of Love. A unique act who allowed the influence of life in New York City penetrate into their music, Book of Love would go on to have a list of successful hits including “Boy,” “I Touch Roses,” and perhaps their most well known in the mainstream, “Pretty Boys And Pretty Girls.” Breaking into the Billboard 200 in 1988 with their sophomore album, Lullaby, Book of Love’s success was well warranted.
Now, 30 years since the release of Lullaby, the original band – Susan Ottaviano (lead vocals), Ted Ottaviano (songwriter/keyboards/vocals), Lauren Roselli (keyboards/vocals), and Jade Lee (keyboards/vocals) – come together to celebrate the album with a special anniversary show on June 21st in their homebase of New York City at Gramercy Theatre. A night not to be missed, Book of Love also have plenty of other shows lined up as they recapture the magic of their past while looking toward the future. Elate to be a part of it all, Susan Ottaviano recently took the time to talk about the band, her re-entry to it, their upcoming shows, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Unique and forward thinking, Book of Love certainly has left their mark on music. Coming together 35 years ago and attained a good deal of success with a list of chart-topping singles in the 1980s, briefly tell us, what has this journey been like for you?
Susan Ottaviano – I think, coming back, it’s been great to see what the band is known and appreciated for. You get a chance to look back and have a clear focus of what that is. Book of Love wasn’t the biggest band in the world, and we didn’t have the biggest hits, but we definitely struck a chord with some people, and the music has meant a lot to them. The things we spoke about were kind of head of their time in the ’80s – we talked about AIDS before anyone else did, we talked about gender, and a lot of issues. We weren’t really trying to be political at the time, we were just talking about the things going on in our lives.
That is what I have been thinking about lately, we are putting together this show for Lullaby in the next couple of weeks. We have been really looking at that album, looking at what it was, what our inspirations were, and what was going on in that time. We have always written from the heart and our experiences.
CrypticRock.com – It showed through in the music. As mentioned, the band’s lyrics approached topics many others did not talk about. Was there anything that inspired you to push the envelope?
Susan Ottaviano – I think living in New York in the ’80s, that was our life. There are not many bands that are from exactly that culture. We were all about the city, the things going on at the time, and the artists coming out of New York coming out visual as well as musical, all the arts. That is why I think those things were part of our lives.
We have songs about love, but we also have songs about pop culture and things were were experiencing at the time. It is a little snapshot of the time period and our life. We mixed Lullaby at Hansa Ton Studios which is at David Bowie’s in Berlin, and we had the opportunity to work there right before the wall was destroyed, around 6-9 months before. These were the things we were exposed to.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. In those early years, you spent a good deal of time on the road with Depeche Mode. Do you have fond memories of those experiences?
Susan Ottaviano – Totally! I am putting together photos for the NYC show and I have photos from Berlin, Munich, and Paris. We really got our education. We had never performed for than 200 people before “Boy” came out, it was a top 10 Dance single very quickly. Then Seymour Stein put us on this Depeche Mode tour when we were pretty ill prepared for that – we had probably done 10-15 shows before that. It was an education every night, but it was fantastic.
We were very young and we traveled the world. We learned so much from them, they were fantastic, but who knew they would be the superstar of that era as well. It was very exciting for us. We did that for 2 tours – Some Great Reward and Black Celebration. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger, hopefully we were getting better and better along the way. The first few shows were a little rough.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that had to be nerve-wracking. You were really rather green for such a massive tour.
Susan Ottaviano – It was totally nerve-wracking. When we were in Paris, a lot of the shows were festival seating, which meant it was first come first serve. People had been waiting at least overnight to get in, so if you think they wanted to see an opening band they never heard of, you got another thing coming. It was a tough crowd to win over, but you certainly learned a lot as a performer. It was a great opportunity, and we did very well. We don’t have any bad stories, but we did have a lot of band meetings between the tour. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a wonderful experience overall. Over the years, a good deal of Book of Love’s music has appeared in several big films and television series. Do you find the more casual listener out there coming to realize they know your music based on association with certain films?
Susan Ottaviano – Yes, that was a great opportunity that we had. It is one of the only opportunities artists have today to make money, to have a song featured in a film, TV show, or commercial, since they are not selling albums. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles turned out to be a Thanksgiving/Christmas movie, that is on every year, and that’s nice. I think people remember the power of that advertising is great.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it is something that is etched in stone forever in cinema. As you said, 1987’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, the song “Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes)” is featured in one of the most emotional scenes in the film.
Susan Ottaviano – Yea, and we had no idea at the time it would become an annual movie.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great thing. The band parted ways in the mid ’90s, but you have reunited a few times through the years. Speaking of which, you have a special reunion show with all 4 original members coming up on June 21st in NYC. This show is 30 years to the day of the release of your second album, Lullaby. What was it like planning all of this?
Susan Ottaviano – I think it just all comes around. At first, when we reunited, for us, it was kind of all about the first album. Over time, we have also learned from a lot of people that Lullaby is their favorite album. For us, I would say it’s our most ambitious album to date. The late ’80s was a really great time for the music business – CDs were selling, the money was flowing, and we had the opportunity to do a lot of great things that I don’t know if you could do today. We worked with Flood, who worked before many great artists, he worked with Depeche Mode, he had done The Joshua Tree (1987) album at the time. He was willing and able to do anything with us. We recorded in a church chapel, we just got to do a lot of great things and got to experience. There is a little bit of a sophomore slump about the album, but we had very good intentions and big dreams. When I listen to that album I can tell that. The “Tubular Bells” and “Pretty Boys And Pretty Girls” epic masterpiece is very ambitious.
CrypticRock.com – Lullaby certainly made an impression at the time, spending 10 weeks in the Billboard 200. That is very impressive.
Susan Ottaviano – Yea, it did. “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” was our highest chart position of all time. We never had a song that broke for us, but what it has given us today, which is very interesting, is we have more of a cult following. We have more of a devoted group of people who aren’t just, “I heard that one song at a wedding.” The music has really meant something to our followers and that’s really the best part for me today. It’s comes full circle of the reasons why you do it at 18 and the reasons why you are doing it 30 years later. I think that’s an important thing and that is what I think when I look back at this album. I think when you are young, you feel like you can change the world, and I think that’s a great thing that people continue to do that today, that’s the way it should be. I can look at that album and kind of smile and say, we were just trying to do that album one song at a time in our own way.
CrypticRock.com – It is something to look back on positively. You recently released a The Sire Years 1983-1994 back in January and this is a wonderful compilation of the band’s material re-mastered and repacked with some special additions. It is sort of like finding a chest of goodies in the attic and dusting them off. What was it like for you to put this collection together?
Susan Ottaviano – Two years ago, we did a 30th anniversary album where we put it all together, remastered it, and we were really involved in all that. Rhino released it, but they didn’t release a CD hard copy of it, and people were really disappointed they couldn’t buy it. When this label, Notefornote Music, which partnered with Rhino, came to us to say they wanted to put together their own collection, we were happy because the fans really wanted a hard copy of the work.
The 30th anniversary edition was the one we were more involved in coming up with the songs we wanted to put on and the order. We had some demos on there and a few rare mixes. There are a few different mixes on The Sire Years 1983-1984 compilation as well, but it’s the only one you can buy on a CD.
CrypticRock.com – Still very cool and exciting for fans. It is unfortunate that in a way CDS are obsolete. There is nothing like physical format, it is part of the whole presentation of the music. It seems like it is a lost art.
Susan Ottaviano – It is! It’s just like magazines, it’s a lost art. As you know, when you were growing up, you look at the album covers, read the lyrics, and try and figure out what the artist was trying to say. I still do it all the time, when I read a book. I still look at the cover all the time, it’s just part of it for me. That has gone the way for something else, I guess. Caught between two worlds, because visually all those things are still really important to me. That just shows my age. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Agreed 100%. It is very unfortunate because it is all part of the music. It also seems nowadays, many people do not even listen to full records.
Susan Ottaviano – Yea, it’s different. You are kind of sold for parts now. I guess it has to be affecting the songwriting, because when we listened to an album from start to finish, it was going on a journey, an artist would make a piece. You were talking about the cover, the mood, and the vision of this piece of work. In a lot of ways it doesn’t exist, the world is kind of a sound byte and I guess the artistry moves to that direction where that’s the focus.
CrypticRock.com – Hopefully there will be a happy medium at some point. The band will continue to tour throughout 2018 and 2019 in support of the new release.
Susan Ottaviano – Ted and I have been touring for the about the last year and half. We are going to continue to do that through 2019.
CrypticRock.com – That is all good news! That said, you have partaken in other projects through the years, but has there ever been thoughts of some new Book of Love material?
Susan Ottaviano – We put “All Girl Band,” one of our new songs, on our 30th anniversary CD. That’s available now and we sell that at our concerts. We are also working on new remixes of “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” and “Tubular Bells,” so we will probably do some sort of product with some new things for a tribute for Lullaby. I have to say, honestly, it’s tough right now to think about doing a full album, it’s kind of a question mark time.
CrypticRock.com – That is completely understandable.
Susan Ottaviano – We make new videos for our live shows, since that has become our new medium. Because making records is not, we are going deeper to doing videos for songs, original pieces, and instrumentals to make our show more interesting. I have to say, it’s hard to want to go into the studio to make an album that no one is going to listen to. I hate to say it like that, but there is a little bit of that, it’s tough.
CrypticRock.com – It is the sad truth. It is really a tough time to put out a record. That is why many artists are opting to release EPs instead.
Susan Ottaviano – Yea, but I think we are going to probably have another EP we make available in the next 6 months as we wrap up this. We have considered doing a live album, we recorded a few of our reunion shows, and that’s still on the table. It’s hard because of what’s going on right now to do that. With the streaming thing, the artists get nothing. Are they going to eventually have to do something? I listen to a lot of music that I don’t pay for. Everybody’s music budget, when they used to spend thousands of dollars a year, is down to one hundred dollars.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you are right. Last question. We also cover Horror and Sci-Fi films on CrypticRock. If you are a fan of either or both genres, what are some of your favorites and why?
Susan Ottaviano – Totally! The song “Tubular Bells” was in The Exorcist (1973) and it inspired the version we have of it. I am definitely a big Horror movie fan. I am a big Thriller fan as well. Things such as Alfred Hitchcock movies.
CrypticRock.com – Hitchcock was brilliant. Nowadays, it seems the best Horror/Sci-Fi genre related material is coming from television series.
Susan Ottaviano – Yea! I am actually a big Science Fiction fan. Stranger Things was great, I actually binge watched in 1 night! It was the first time I did that. That was just wonderful and the music is so well done, it’s great.