The Old-School New Wave of Brooklyn's Book of Love

Vocalist Susan Ottaviano and keyboardist Ted Ottaviano, cofounders of Book of Love.
Vocalist Susan Ottaviano and keyboardist Ted Ottaviano, cofounders of Book of Love. Photo by Aaron Cobbett
It is widely accepted that older is better when it comes to synthesizers. Keyboardist Ted Ottaviano, for instance, swears by the vintage synths he and his bandmates have used since the mid-'80s.

"We still have a number of them that have stayed up and running, and it is a little bit like a museum," he says of the collection. "Even with all the digital stuff they make now, all the software that emulates those vintage synths, it really doesn't have the same resonance. The old synths have a power to them that you can't really duplicate."

Ottaviano plays keyboards for Book of Love, a classic electronic/synth-pop band out of Brooklyn he cofounded with vocalist Susan Ottaviano (they share the same last name but aren't married or otherwise related). The band is perhaps best known for the mid-to-late-'80s singles "Sunny Day," "Boy," and "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls," as well as Susan's signature deadpan vocal delivery.

Ted Ottaviano spoke with New Times from his home in Brooklyn as Book of Love prepares to release a new anthology album, The Sire Years, 1985-1993, out January 19. The band is also gearing up for a tour across North America, including a show this Saturday, January 13, at Churchill's Pub in Miami.

Reflecting on the fast times of the band's early days, Ottaviano says tours with Depeche Mode in 1985 and 1986 exposed Book of Love to wide swaths of synth-pop and New Wave fans.

"Prior to those two tours, we had pretty much just played locally in New York's downtown clubs for our friends," he says. "In a matter of a few months, we were on this major tour and playing arenas by the time we finished the tour. It was a sink-or-swim sort of experience."

“Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls" was Book of Love's highest-charting single. While working on that song, Ottaviano noticed the dark, minor-key bass line synced up with “Tubular Bells,” a 1973 instrumental by Mike Oldfield used as the spooky theme music for the horror classic The Exorcist, and programmed the two together.

"The two songs don't mean anything to each other, but the process made them kind of hold hands,” he says. “It's not obvious why they are put together other than they share a sort of musical language."

The band has another curious connection to horror movies: A segment of the 1991 single "Sunny Day" was featured in The Silence of the Lambs during a scene where Lauren Roselli, a member of Book of Love, appeared alongside the film's protagonist, played by Jodi Foster. "The film is so legendary, but we had no idea it was going to become Silence of the Lambs," Ottaviano says. "It was a nice surprise to be part of something that became a piece of pop-culture history."

Book of Love now occupies a similar space for fans of classic synth-pop. Ottaviano says he never expected the band to have any sort of staying power or be exposed to new generations of electronic music lovers.

"We were coming off the legendary album-rock of the '60s and '70s, and the synth-pop we were making was considered very disposable," he says. "We never expected our music to hang in there and last, because we were told it wasn't going to. But our era of music ended up carving its own niche, and people are so loyal to it." 

Book of Love. With Astari Nite. 9 p.m. Saturday, January 13, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; Tickets cost $20 to $50 via
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Howard Hardee is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. Originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, he has a BA in journalism and writes stories about music, outdoor adventures, politics, and the environment for alt-weeklies across the country. He is an aficionado of fine noises and has a theremin in his living room.

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