Arts & EntertainmentStage

Never-Ending Story

An interview with Book of Love's Susan Ottaviano.

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Susan Ottaviano

Talk about a love story! Dedicated fans of Book of Love can’t get enough of the ’80s synth-pop band. Founding members Susan Ottaviano and Ted Ottaviano (no relation) have been on an extended 30th-anniversary coast-to-coast tour for the last couple of years. Perhaps their fans’ devotion stems from the fact that since the group’s early years they have been making some of the most irresistible dance music ever to pour out of the speakers at your favorite club. Songs such as “Boy,” “I Touch Roses,” “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes),” and “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” helped define what has come to be Book of Love’s trademark sound. 

The tour continues throughout the spring and summer of 2019, including a stop at White Oak Music Hall in Houston on June 14. I spoke with Susan in April about the band, Houston, and Book of Love’s LGBTQ following.

Gregg Shapiro: Susan, you and your longtime Book of Love bandmate Ted Ottaviano grew up together and later were art-school students in Philadelphia. What was the focus of your studies at that time?
Susan Ottaviano: I went to school for painting. Ted went to school for photography. Ted and [Book of Love bandmate] Lauren Roselli Johnson went to the School of Visual Arts. I went to an art school with bandmate Jade Lee.

Are you still painting these days?
I am! I’m actually doing a lot of painting and illustration now. [Laughs]

Some people are probably going to ask, so would you kindly say a few words about the fact that you and Ted share a last name but aren’t, in fact, related?
We come from a suburb in Connecticut where a lot of families from this small village in southern Italy immigrated in the early 20th century.

The synth-pop style that Book of Love became famous for was something of a new genre at the time the band first formed. With that in mind, what kinds of music did you listen to during your formative years?
We were a post-punk band. We came about right after punk, before the words “new wave” were heard. We were listening to bands like The Cure, New Order, Joy Division, and Depeche Mode a little later. All those bands were coming up. We were big music fans, and we went to clubs in the early ’80s and saw these bands live. There were great music scenes in both New York City and Philadelphia where we were living.

Right from the start, Book of Love was fortunate to have a hit single with “Boy,” as well as “Modigliana (Lost in Your Eyes)” from the self-titled first album. Do you recall what that felt like for you?
We were signed, and then “Boy” came out and we had a big dance hit. Then, within a couple of months, we were on the road with Depeche Mode. It was exciting and we were quite young. It was fun.

I’m glad you mentioned Depeche Mode, because Book of Love had the distinction of being the opening act for Depeche Mode on its Some Great Reward tour. Can you tell me what that was like?
We were on the Some Great Reward tour in the U.S., and then we were on the Black Celebration tour in the U.S. and Europe. We spent a lot of time on the road with them, and kind of cut our teeth. Those were some of our first shows. We were a little ill-prepared to be on the road with such a big band, but we tried to do our best to catch up. [Laughs] 

Were these arena shows?
Yes. They were big. And I don’t think we’d ever played for more than 200 people. It was a little trial by fire.

Speaking of touring, Houston was one of the places where Book of Love performed in the mid-1980s. You’ve said that the band owes much of its success to its LGBTQ fan base in Houston.
Yes! When I was putting together this particular show, I felt like we were sort of a mainstream success in Texas. We had regional mainstream success in a few different places. The Houston area embraced this genre of music. In a way, I felt like we never reached out to that audience. But we were playing at Numbers on Westheimer, which was a gay club at the time. I want to make sure to reach out this time.

In terms of Book of Love’s LGBTQ following in general, when did your group first become aware of it?
I would say on day one! [Laughs] For us, music has a different role than it did 30 years ago. There were people all over the country feeling different, feeling “other.” Music was their only outlet for that. We continue to meet fans for whom the music meant so much during that time [when they were] feeling different and coming out—LGBTQ people, and also people who felt different in the small towns in which they grew up. Those people have always had a special feeling about Book of Love. That’s great with me, because that’s what music did for me. It’s great to pay it forward.

As a band known for writing and recording its own original songs, why did Book of Love choose to cover the Mike Oldfield tune “Tubular Bells” (also known as the theme to The Exorcist) on 1988’s Lullaby album?
It’s a song that Ted always loved, and we are also fans of The Exorcist and Mike Oldfield. He created this epic [musical] battle that has “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” and “Tubular Bells” as the centerpiece of our second album. It’s one of our mainstays.

Speaking of covers, has Book of Love ever considered covering The Magnetic Fields song “The Book of Love”?
No, but I’m definitely a fan of the band.

Is there any chance that a new Book of Love album is forthcoming?
I think that after this tour ends (which is going to happen very soon, at the end of the summer), we’re going to go on hiatus for a while. We’re going to work on a new project and a new way to come back out again. I don’t know if it’s going to be a full album. Right now, people aren’t buying records or CDs. The live show is very important to what we have to say. I think it will be a combination of both.

Finally, what has the experience of your extended 30th-anniversary tour been like for you?
Our extended 30th-anniversary tour has been almost as long as our 30th birthday celebrations, which has been several years. [Laughs] It’s been wonderful for us to go back out again. We had another album of reissues that Warner Brothers put out about a year ago, called The Sire Years. The most rewarding part is meeting our fans and knowing that the music has meant something to them. That’s wonderful to go back to.

What: Book of Love in concert
When: June 14
Where: White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main St.
Info: tinyurl.com/y6c45ssu

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Gregg Shapiro

Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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