The 1980s were full of synthpop bands vying for our attention, but Book of Love stood above the fray. Combining punk rock attitude with pop hooks and a whole lot of style, the quartet – comprised of singer Susan Ottaviano, and keyboardists Ted Ottaviano, Lauren Roselli Johnson and Jade Lee – hit with a series of club tours, opening spots (Depeche Mode,General Public, OMD) and a slew of non-stop dance hits including: “Boy”, “I Touch Roses,” “Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes),” “Pretty Boys & Pretty Girls” and a memorable cover of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells.”
2013 sees the band returning to the road for a series of West Coast dates and rumors of a new studio album. West Coast Bureau chief sat down with Susan Ottaviano to discuss the band’s return, the mystery of a shared last name and what the future holds for Book of Love.
Rocker: Can I clear something up at the start? You and Ted share the same last name, Ottaviano, but you are not related?
Susan: I know, right? It’s kind of crazy. I was looking at him the other day and thinking the same thing. It’s such a crazy coincidence. We’re from the same hometown and went to high school together. We’re probably cousins.
Rocker: Was your last name popular in the area you grew up in?
Susan: It’s not that popular. That’s what is so funny. We think it’s a strange thing, like, fate. Back in the early days when we toured they used to give us double rooms and everything. We were too stupid to do anything about it or say anything. Ted and I were talking about being at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in the 1980s and I said, “I think once we shared a bed.” We were so green we didn’t know to say anything and get an upgrade.
Rocker: Is the shared name what drew you two together?
Susan: We were in second grade together, went through all the classes and years… I always say we weren’t friends until high school because we had the next thirty years to be together., so, yeah, we took the first few off. We sort of started talking in high school because we were both part of the art department. We both went off to different art schools after college. Ted and Lauren went to School of Visual Arts while Jade and I went to Philadelphia College of Art. It became that kind of “art students form a band” thing.
Rocker: Early on, Ted was the primary songwriter, and he had a keen way of writing from the female perspective. Where did that come from?
Susan: It’s amazing, right? It’s so great when everybody said about “Boy” “You are responsible for one of the most feminist songs.” I’m like, “Yeah and it was written by Ted!” It’s kind of great the way that things go sometimes. I think he’s such a great songwriter, and that was a song that solidified the band in general. When he wrote it, it was then we kind of knew we were on to something.
Rocker: What triggered this reunion?
Susan: Basically, our manager Michael got us a show in Texas in the spring, then another show. We enjoyed it. I feel like the timing is right. We did a “Best Of” tour in 2001 and it just didn’t feel right. Maybe it was too early on the 80s thing? I think you have to feel what you’re doing is relevant. You have to be going forward no matter what that means. It’s like an artist, you may not like something, “Oh that’s not Matisse’s best period,” but as an artist you really need to go on and keep pursuing your vision. I think now that we’ve decided to write and perform again and things are starting to snowball. We’re still in that starting to snowball stage.
Rocker: Musically with the rise of EDM do you feel like synthpop has come back into fashion?
Susan: I think things totally go in cycles. It’s a cyclical kind of thing. At the end of the eighties, into the nineties, our music was a little lost. We were also a little lost as a band when it came to working together. The music that came out in 1994 was not the kind of melodic music you wanted to hear. When I talk about losing your way, I don’t think the work that I did at that point was that strong and leaving wasn’t the right decision. There wasn’t much of a place for us in the nineties. To address the other thing, the whole “Synthpop” thing, that was part the genre we were part of, but I feel we were more “Pop” and “New Wave” and that synths were just our medium. We were writing songs and I think songwriting has come back into fashion. A lot of artists are doing that right now and there is a lot of great new music out now.
Rocker: What did you guys do in the time apart?
Susan: Ted has been writing and producing and working on some projects including The Myrmidons with Lauren. I’m actually a food stylist. I do food for magazines and TV. Jade is a graphic designer. So away from the music we kind of got more involved in the arts.
Rocker: Is Jade still in the band?
Susan: She’s still involved in the band but she doesn’t want to do the live shows.
Rocker: Will she be involved with the new recordings?
Susan: I think so. Yeah.
Rocker: Are you working on songs or will it be a full album?
Susan: I think we might be. As I said, everything is sort of snowballing as we go along. The good part is when we’ve been writing, I feel more creative than I have in a really long time. Everything is lining up very well. And that’s the way it should be. I feel like I have things to say. If we keep going in that direction, and everything keeps moving as it has, I think we’ll have an album. But we’ll see. We’ll see what everybody thinks.
Rocker: How has touring changed for you?
Susan: Well I’m a little older. (Laughs) It was a great experience being twenty-two years old and going all over Europe, but now you’re in a different phase of your life. Then I didn’t want to go home. I wasn’t missing anything. Now? It’s not that way now. But I think any artist would say that now. It’s hard and it wasn’t back then. I think every hotel I stayed in was nicer than the apartment I lived in at the time.
Rocker: As a band with three strong female members were there any obsessive male fans?
Susan: There was a girl hiding in Ted’s room once. I also think that it was much harder in the early days being the only girls there with a big male crew. It was more difficult to be a woman. I don’t feel that way now. Maybe it’s because as you get older the respect is a little different? Then we were women, and we were also very young. Like on the first Depeche Mode tour, there were 40 people and only three of us were female.
Rocker: You always have roses on stage for the song “I Touch Roses.” Have there been any thorn related injuries?
Susan: That’s funny. I think we probably have done that a few times. The roses used to be something we had to do for shows, buy roses. I still have dreams about the crazy anxiety about forgetting to buy the roses.
Rocker: Are you glad to be in Book Of Love in 2013?
Susan: It has been fun and exciting to do it again, to tour and to write. It feels like it’s a good time for it. Moving forward is good because you don’t want to live in the past. It’s great that people remember it, and the songs are tied to their moments and memories. But if we have to go backwards, no thanks. When someone says there hasn’t been any good music since 1985 I don’t think that’s true. That’s why new music is so important.