About five years ago, he developed a class on electro-pop and taught for a semester at Case Western Reserve University.
“It was a lot of fun,” he recalls in a recent phone interview. The group, which also includes Susan Ottaviano, Jade Lee and Lauren Roselli, brings its 30th anniversary tour to House of Blues
at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. “Usually, courses break down into academic or hands on. This was a combo course. It talked about certain historical genres, and it went back to the experimental stuff. The students would become practitioners. It was lab-based one week and academic-based the other week. By the end of the course, they were able to utilize all the techniques we went over with a three-minute and 30-second final piece, the length of any perfect pop song.”
Ottaviano has a long history with “the perfect pop song.” Book of Love formed in the early ’80s in New York when “the post-punk thing was in full-fledged formation.”
“There were small, black box hole-in-the-wall clubs where bands were just forming,” Ottaviano says. “In a weird way, there’s a version of that in Bushwick and Williamsburg now. That era felt really desperate on some level. Some of them that were actually really influential were fighting for their lives. We were spawned out of that. We still consider ourselves an alternative band even though we had some success in the dance market. We get perceived as a dance pop act but we don’t see ourselves that way.”
One underground venue, the Pyramid Club, became the band’s “local watering hole.” A DJ there had played a demo of “Boy,” a tune that starts with simple keyboard riff and hushed vocals before distinctive "tubular bells" kick in. Sire Records’ Seymour Stein took notice and signed the band to a record deal. The group became a successful dance act but then broke up in 1993.
“It was weird,” says Ottaviano when asked about the break-up. “There was such a sea change in the early ‘90s. Electronic music had gotten more dance-oriented. Any electronic artist was more involved in house or techno and there had been a return to guitar-based acoustic driven music in the alternative world. We were left as a man without a country. We felt like there wasn’t a place for us at that point. We had been on the road since we started. We were kind of beat. I didn’t even know my own house. We just decided to take a break. After our fourth album, we sort of stopped.”
In the wake of the release of MMXVI – Book of Love – The 30th Anniversary Collection
, an album that features re-mastered versions of the band’s greatest hits and never-before released demos, the band played an anniversary show at the end of June in New York and did a few dates at the beginning of summer.
“We’re going into this fall with a consistent set of dates throughout the country and into next year,” says Ottaviano. “We’re hitting a lot of the markets that we haven’t hit for a long time. Our fans remain really loyal to us. They may not be the largest group, but they’re intense and really loyal. We know in every city there will be at least a decent group of people who have been waiting for us to come back.”
The popularity of electronic dance music means that bands such as Book of Love have become relevant again.
“Everybody makes records the way we always made them,” says Ottaviano. “It’s all about the technology, no matter how electronic or acoustic your tracks are. The only thing I get down on is that everyone starts identifying eras and times and places that they feel like they like the best. Because the technology is so interesting and so progressive, sometimes the writing takes a backseat to it. Technology-wise, there are some great things out there. I like the writing in earlier periods, even before our era. I think that’s why people sample so much of that music. I think on some level the attention is on the technology and not the penmanship and writing of them. Give me a great chord progression and I’m a happy camper.”
Book of Love, 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, House of Blues Cambridge Room, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $25-$50, houseofblues.com.
Ted Ottaviano, one of the art-students-turned- musician in the new wave electronic group Book of Love, has a strong connection to Cleveland.