Spinning Platters Interview: Susan Ottaviano of Book Of Love

by Joel Edelman on February 13, 2017

Spinning Platters sat down with Book of Love vocalist Susan Ottaviano, and they discussed the band’s favorite city (spoiler alert: it’s San Francisco), fan remixes of their songs, and advice for the next generation of female fronted bands.

Book Of Love are playing DNA Lounge on Sunday, February 19th. Tickets can be purchased here!

What is it that prompted you guys to get the original four piece back together?

I think it’s pretty obvious: That was the main band. We wanted to have all of us represented for at least a couple of shows for this reunion.

You’ve already come around San Francisco twice before, as Book of Love reunited. Why weren’t you able to get everybody in the beginning?

Ted and I are doing all the … the band is really just Ted and I now. And we were just able to get the girls to do a few shows with us. So, if it’s confusing, I’m sorry. But we’re calling it the 30th anniversary tour, and we’re calling the shows with all four of us the reunion shows. Ted and I are on a 30th anniversary tour, and we’ve been doing that for the last nine months.

Ok, so you and Ted have been touring for a while. How many shows total are you doing as the original four piece?

Three.

Excellent. What made you pick San Francisco?

Because it’s our favorite city! We’ve always loved it, we definitely wanted to do San Francisco, and Jade said she would only do San Francisco.

That’s hysterical. Well, what is it about San Francisco that makes it so special to you?

You know, it’s a great city for me. I love it; I always have. I’ve always fantasized about it being another place I’d like to live, and you know, we’ve had great audiences there. We’ve had a great time. It’s just a great city, I think.

There are a lot of guerrilla remixes floating around of your stuff. Have you found any of these yet, and have they been something you’ve enjoyed, or were they painful?

Yes, there’s this Irene Rockstar mix that’s really good, and there’s this video that this guy did of Boy. It’s like, a cover? I don’t know who he is—he might even be from San Francisco. Ted knows, so I could find out. It’s gorgeous; it’s really beautiful. So those two … I don’t love remixes, so, when they do something interesting, kind of beautiful, a little different, I respond to it.

You said you don’t love remixes—I don’t want you to say something mean about an actual remixer, but can you think of one that was really painful?

Of ours?

Yeah, something somebody else did, where it was like, “Dear god, what did you do to our song?”

Um, the Lullaby remix I don’t think is that great. I heard it recently. I mean, it’s a different format. It’s for the dance floor; it’s a different thing. Like I said, I come from a more pop-punk sensibility, so I like when they screw with it, but I like it when it’s a little bit more irreverent.

OK, like when they’re not quite so kind?

Just meaning, like this one that I like, what they did with the voices, they rerecorded—it was like an opera, it was really beautiful—and they took it to another level. I like when things get taken to another place.

Like a new dimension of it?

Yeah.

Tell us more about the All Girl Band project.

The song in general, the 12-inch we have coming out?

Yeah, are you going to continue making more All Girl Band releases, or is this just kind of a one-off?

Well, basically, All Girl Band is a song that’s on our new compilation, the one that came out six months ago. It’s really a song about our roots and how we started out in the post-punk scene, going to clubs, seeing bands, seeing a lot of, you know, artists-turned-musicians that got up there and made music. We were really inspired by them, and we were also extremely inspired by a lot of the bands that were all girls at that time, like the Go-Gos and the Slits. We did a cover of one of their songs and that kind of spirit of DIY that we came out of.

So for us, this song is sort of a tribute to that time, and for anybody starting a band with that kind of sensibility. But the piece that we have coming out, we have a number of people that did remixes of that song, and also this song, called Something Good that’s on our compilation, is on this set that we’re releasing.

I tend to hate these questions, but I keep seeing these coming up, and it kind of relates to the All Girl Band thing. The lead singer of Bleached compiled a zine that she’s putting out of interviews she’s done with other female musicians, about the obsession with journalists talking about female musicians being female, and it reminded me of another zine that Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney put out like 20 years ago, about sound guys belittling female musicians, thinking that they don’t know what they’re doing because they’re a female musician. I know this is a bit of word spewage, but what was your experience like coming up, in terms of people’s expectation of what you can and can’t do?

Well, there were no women in music. So when we went on the Depeche Mode tour, there were, like, 25 guys—and us. And we were like 21 years old, so, it wasn’t that easy, and it wasn’t respected. In the studio? Yeah. So our role models—you know, there was Stevie Nicks when I was growing up, and things like that—there were not girls in bands, so it was new.

And, you know, it continues to be a struggle in its own way. I mean, I like how, sometimes, people that are younger, it’s great that they don’t want to bring attention to that, but at that time—it wasn’t that easy in the ‘80s, you know? And I’m sure that, before us, it was even more difficult. We weren’t very represented, and we had to deal with some of that hazing, but we had the opportunity to be on Depeche Mode tours, which was great, but there was a little bit of that in there.

So if you encountered a 19-year-old who told you that she was about to get in a van with the rest of her band—and go on their first road trip, playing shows on tour—what advice would you have for her as far as dealing with sexist venue owners and sound people?

Well I would hope that things are a little bit different now—and that it would be easier—but just … you gotta persevere, you know? It’s not an easy road. It’s wonderful. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s a mixed bag, I think, so that’s what I would say. I would want to inspire them to give it their all, and go out there, be the best you. That kind of thing.

We need to just keep going, especially now, when it’s a really disappointing—you know, with the election and everything—time for women, we need to, even though I don’t always feel it right now, we need to fight back. Not that … I don’t always feel it. I feel discouraged, but I think it’s important that we have a voice, and Book of Love, there’s not a lot of bands that have our makeup. I think we—we’re not the biggest band in the world—but we definitely made our own contribution.

You’ve been on the road during this, kind of, dark period. What’s it like, being a synth band that’s female fronted—and predominately female—that has a very queer friendly fan base? How’s it feel to play red states right now?

We were actually … we were playing Atlanta, the weekend after the election, and I was really reticent. I was like, “What are we doing?” Going out there and shaking our can-can and just: What’s the point here?

I was really discouraged, you know, and a friend of mine said to me, “People need you now, and you have to sort of go out there and keep reinforcing your message,” and I think that’s what’s really important. And, of course, we’re preaching to the choir a little bit, and that’s one of the problems that we all see, from the election.

Like, people who come to Book of Love shows are not Republicans, okay? So when I say whatever I say, I’m preaching to a bunch of people that agree with me, but there’s still the importance of solidarity, so I don’t think that that’s wrong, but, you know, that’s why we’re all so shocked that this happened.

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