Detholz! demo – “Death to the Traitor”

Welcome to Episode III of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog, and apologies for the late posting today!

Note: The song I had planned for this week was met with a good deal of controversy when presented to the band yesterday, so tune in next week for a 2-part episode as I post 2 different versions of that song: the original version + a “Detholz!-friendly” version. Prepare for the fur to fly!


Since this week’s song is still percolating in our magic hat, I’m posting the linchpin of the new record, “Death to the Traitor,” which is already in regular rotation in the Detholz! set.

1. SONG CONCEPT

“Death to the Traitor” is the song from whence the entire new Detholz! record springs, thematically and musically.

Thematically, it contains three images, all of which reoccur in every song:

1. Blood and/or Execution
2. Animals
3. Betrayal of self, or of others

Where “Cast Out Devils” was a record about a loss of faith, “Death to the Traitor” is about a return to faith– through some pretty murky, subterranean territory. These two albums are indelibly linked. Once “Traitor” is finished, they should be listened to back-to-back.

The scene depicted in the song is a familiar one: an unrepentant traitor is led to the scaffold in front of an angry mob. There are a few aberrations from the usual “guillotine” scenario, however:

a) The traitor is completely ambivalent about his/her fate, and b) the mob is faceless, demanding only brutal violence in the name of no particular god or creed. See complete lyrics below:

Eggs and bacon
A breakfast like any meal
Walk the hallway
Up the stairs to the steel
Apparatus
Hear the roar of the mob
Think about it
Think out loud as they shout:

“Death to the Traitor!
We’ll have him hung!
Show him no mercy!
Cut out his tongue!
White or black messiah
Please save us from
A lapse in commitment!
Let loose the hounds
To lap up the blood!”

Sold your brother out
And sold your sister out

Don’t tell your mother
She has the face of a queen
She won’t remember
Your name upon the marquee/marquis
You’re sick and tired
Of this damnable crowd
Don’t feel nothing
Yawn and stretch as they shout out:

“Death to the Traitor!
Death to his lies!
We find him guilty!
Pluck out his eyes!
Thank God in heaven
Or the gods below
At last we found him
At last we know!”

No, No

“Yes, Death to the Traitor!
Led us on for years!
Bring out a hot iron!
Burn out his ears!
Death to the Traitor!
Cut off his head!
God save the Traitor
The Traitor is dead!”

Death to the Traitor!
The Traitor is dead!

***

I wrote this during a period of intense self-loathing, so initially the violence in the song was self-directed. (No worries. I have no plans to guillotine myself anytime soon.) I didn’t realize when I set out to write it that it would become a panacea for the entire record, so as the song has matured, it’s come to mean something entirely different to me.

The “Traitor” figure represents the baser aspects of one’s nature. For those of you who hold the “Players with Christianity Club” card, he is the Pauline “Old Man” mentioned in the 3rd chapter of the book of Colossians:

“Lie not to one another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”
– Col. 3:10, King James Version (because the Bible just sounds better in Elizabethan English)

So, this record delves deep into the heart of the Old Man. There will be some grotesque scenery along the way.

ADDENDUM:

So I never have to say this again: NO, DAMN IT, DETHOLZ! IS NOT A CHRISTIAN ROCK BAND. Though I am “of the Body” myself, and subsequently often use religious/spiritual imagery in my songs, I hope that it’s self-evident that I have absolutely no interest in persuading you to believe in anything, one way or the other. Frankly, when I’m writing songs, the last thing I want to think about is what you may/may not believe. Sorry.

If you want to hear me play Christian music, come to the church where I work as a music director, not to a Detholz! show.

2. SONG COMPOSITION

This song– and basically the whole record– is a result of one comment made by our friend, Bobby Conn, after Halloween last year when we were on tour with him.

As many of you know, Detholz! does an all-cover show in Chicago every year on Halloween where we deconstruct and reassemble old pop songs. At the time, our rendition of “Conga” by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine was in rotation. Bobby complimented us on the arrangement, and suggested that we push some more Latin rhythms through the Detholz! strainer. I had been searching for a way out of the “New Wave Redux” corner we’d painted ourselves into, so I jumped on the idea. Thanks, Bobby!

A couple of random notes about constructing this song:

1. The drumbeat for “Death to the Traitor” had been a running joke in the band, as Karl Doerfer, our guitar player, can’t stand the sound of it. [In Chicago, you can step outside just about any door and hear it thumping away in the nearest tricked-out, spolier-clad Honda Civic.] So, of course, I had to use it.

2. This is the first occurrence of the “Traitor” motive (see previous post), the four-note pattern in the synth that enters after the guitar begins the song. It occurs again at the end.

3. As you’ll notice immediately, the vocal melody consists of one note throughout the song (with the exception of one teensy break in the middle). I found this to be an excellent limitation, as it forced me to concentrate almost entirely on the rhythmic arrangement. The vocal itself is simply a part of the rhythm section. (Nothing new, as hardcore and hip-hop groups have done this since time immemorial. I had never tried it, though.)

Where a vocal is melody-free, it becomes easier to focus on the lyrics, in my opinion. I wanted these lyrics driven home– especially the more unpleasant images.

4. There’s a surprise when the drums come in due to one of my favorite musical devices, Ye Olde Phase Shift! The guitar begins the song on beat 2, so for the first few measures, it’s difficult to tell where the downbeat is (“downbeat” = first beat in a measure of music, for any greenhorns). More on phase shifting next week…

5. The guitar break before the end is worth mentioning. This is an expansion of an idea used in the guitar break “Chapel of Love,” a song from our previous record “Cast Out Devils,” (download from our website or MySpace page, if you like) where the guitars/keyboards are playing in different 3-against-2 polyrhythmic patterns, so the downbeat (or the “1”) is lost in a shimmering, hypnotic haze.

I got this idea from Wilco when Detholz! opened for them on their “Ghost is Born” tour. I can’t say that I own any Wilco records but they are truly an astounding live band– and wonderful people– and played at least one song that utilized this technique that I thought was electrifying.

The idea solidified when I began listening obsessively to Fela Kuti shortly thereafter. His songs are vast expanses of polyrhythms, and he has no problem sitting on one layered, “downbeat-free” groove for 4 or 5 minutes at a stretch. Also, I’ve always been fascinated by minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, and have come to love so-called “phase music,” where passages repeat with very little change over long periods of time.

The guitar break is a small example of that kind of writing, where the main hook (played by the clavinet) is embellished by polyrhythmic patterns in the guitars.

***

“Death to the Traitor” is already in rotation, so it’s not up for a vote, but as always, your comments/criticisms, love and/or hate mail are welcome!

Apologies that this post is a little more fractured, but I had to write it in a hurry. The new song intended for this week was the matter of heated debate last night at rehearsal, so I’ll be posting two versions of it next week for your vote. And airing some of our dirty laundry, of course.

Expecting the call from Bill Kurtis any minute now.

Tune in next Wednesday for the continuing melodrama!

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24 Responses to “Detholz! demo – “Death to the Traitor””

  1. Jim Says:

    The first time I had heard this one, I had to laugh because of the drum beat. It works perfectly, but my bandmates and I always made fun of it because it’s in just about every other Rusted Root song, and then made it’s way into some of our own stuff for funsies. Hey, sometimes it’s the only thing that fits just right. The familiarity of the beat forces a smile onto my face every time. It is a little comical sounding in the simplicity of the rhythm, but damn, if it don’t just make ya wanna hop.

    Polyrhythms, one note melodies, catchy simple drum beats, yes, yes, yes.
    Rock on.

  2. detholz Says:

    Hey Jim:

    Oof, I hope we’re able to steer way clear of the Rusted Root Rainbow Connection!

    Another listener likened this one to Talking Heads “Remain in Light,” which is a comparison I’m much more comfortable with. Playing Rusted Root is a great way to get me to throw myself out of the nearest window, if you’re ever so inclined.

    Drum parts are my Achilles Heel and always have been. I was a drummer briefly in high school– and a bad one– so since then, I’ve been a fish out of water when writing for drums. Subsequently, you’ll hear a lot of hackneyed, stock drum parts in these demos.

    Thankfully Andrew is skilled enough to take the trashy parts I give him and spin them into gold.

    This one sounds pretty good live and always gets a rousing response.

  3. BP Says:

    Nice work, my friend. And I’ve officially decided that I like last week’s song (CZJ), after a week of not being able to get that bass line out of my head. Good stuff.

  4. detholz Says:

    Thanks, BP!

    Incidentally, “Catherine Zeta-Jones” passed muster and is nearly ready to be performed.

    We’re planning on unveiling her on Thursday, 9/6 @ Empty Bottle in Chicago.

  5. kebabdylan Says:

    just listened once through…

    I remember this one from the last show. Live, i recall that during the chorus, the interplay between your guitar part and Karl’s sounded really cool. almost unsettling.

    incidentally, once the song was done, my 4 year old boy was singing “death to the traitor…”

  6. detholz Says:

    Splendid!

    I have no children of my own and am therefore unable to “kid-test” my songs. If I had a child in my house, I’m afraid I’d be foisting my demos on him/her constantly.

    Kids are the best music critics on the planet because, unlike real music critics, they have no journalistic aspirations.

    Glad you appreciated those guitar parts. They were a real bitch to rehearse.

  7. kebabdylan Says:

    oh. two more things. Remain in light is a very apt comparison. especially with the dark subject matter. We’ve talked talking heads before. Remain in light is my all time super favorite album of theirs (or anyone else).

    is that a one-note chorus??? I guess you have reached your goal of the simplified chorus.

    i’ve understood why you wanted to get away from the “who are” era type songs. I sometimes miss the oddness of victory mansions (yes, I love that song!) or craziness of invisible man but this is a great example of where your strength of writing complex somewhat odd/challenging songs and the more direct songwriting really pays off into a great listen.

    also, both of my kids loved invisible man and army of mars (my daughter is a total sci-fi geek already at her young age)

  8. Jim Says:

    Sorry bout the Root comment. I can’t really listen to them anymore either. You guys (the holz) were the most freshest breath of fresh air while I was trying hard to dig myself out of the jam band scene. So there you go. Now you know where I’m coming from when I say “You guys are amazing!”
    Remain in Light: agreeably much better.

  9. detholz Says:

    Kebabs:

    Yes, indeed, this is the song that got me thinking long and hard about trimming down chorus melodies, and is the apex of my “less is more” approach. Your knob may go to 11, but mine goes to 1!

    “Victory Mansions?” Oh, dear Lord. I’m certainly happy you like it, but that one needs to remain dormant in it’s deep, dark cave. A music-school monstrosity penned in the Golden Age of Detholz! camp…

    Your comment is astute– I chose to post it 3rd since it successfully bridges elements of the first 2 mp3’s, the first of which is “new skoo’,” the second of which is “old skoo’.” I guess that makes this one “nude skoo’.”

  10. detholz Says:

    Jim:

    No need to apologize. “Blog” = “Tell It Like It Is”

    I’ve never been able to stomach jam bands and am not much of an improviser. Detholz! have always scripted our songs to the Nth degree. The other Detholz are all such skilled players, I thought it’d be an interesting experiment to veer into more repetition, simpler song structures, etc. as that’s completely foreign territory to us.

    When we’ve appropriated genres in the past, they’ve usually come out of the Detholz! processor sounding unique. Or at least unique to us.

    As Kebabs pointed out, our stuff in the past was a lot campier and goofier (believe it or not), each song stuffed to the gills with herky-jerky ideas. It’s very difficult to pull that sort of thing off convincingly unless you’re Sparks or, even better, The Cardiacs.

    Maybe I’ve just gotten older, but that stuff– great as it is– just gives me headaches now.

  11. Andrew Says:

    Sparks! I’ve been way into their recent albums (Lil Beethoven and Hello Young Lovers) recently and wondering if you and the other Detholz were inspired by them at all, especially the way they use spoken-word in their songs. In particular the long monologue in “Ugly Guys with Beautiful Girls” struck me as very Detholzish, musically if not lyrically.

    I’ve heard Traitor a couple times live already and it’s definitely a winner. I can’t wait to hear a recorded version with the whole band.

  12. Abraham Says:

    yes I think the sparks reference is very apt. I could see a full-band version that is very heavy with lots of guitar. I am struggling right now with my “traitorous” file cabinet, whose drawer refuses to slide back inside its cubby-hole, so this music is very appropriate… death to this file cabinet.

  13. Jim Says:

    I’d have to say that I don’t really hear much of a Talking Heads vibe as much as I do hear what sounds like something from King Crimson’s album, Discipline. Especially the gee-tar break down. Definitely got a Robert Fripp thing going on. And even their drummer, Bill Bruford, for that album at least, decided to limit himself by playing sans hi-hat. This forced him to keep the riding rhythm on other parts of the kit, giving everything that stompy sort of feel. Much like your “Root” beat.

    I forgot about that album. I’m gonna have to bust it out again.

  14. Phil Says:

    I must say, I really like these blog posts. They give great insight into the song writing/composition process. I never thought about the amount of planning/structure that can go into a 3 minute song. As someone who’s dabbled in music myself, the songs that I’ve written have just sort of been birthed without much thought put into the actual process. I hope to read more of these, they’re really neat-o!

  15. kebabdylan Says:

    do you listen to arvo part?

  16. tiny tron Says:

    Woo Hoo! Thank you Jim for your nod to King Crimson’s Discipline. In the last three months I’ve listened to Discipline a handful of times. “The fact is no matter how closely I study it, no matter how I take it apart, no matter how I break it down, it remains remains consistent.” AB I kinda *heart* that album.

    One reference that I think should be pointed out is Steve Wonder’s “Superstition”, not just the Clavinet sound, but in spirit too. And it’s no surprise, can you say The Incantations? Check it out

  17. detholz Says:

    Andrew: In all honesty, I didn’t hear Sparks until I began my junket into the Bobby Conn Universe about 3 years ago. They were never a direct influence, although after hearing them, I felt a modicum of self-justification… Like there was someone else out there that shared our aesthetic sensibilities, which I was starting to think were inherently cockeyed somehow. Sparks are still popular in Europe– and more power to them. They work a lot harder than we do.

    The narration in our past material comes from my years of obsessive listening to The Residents. When I began to outgrow hardcore music as an older teenager and was looking for other kinds of music to get my blood boiling, I discovered The Residents. They infuse anger into their music that’s much more subtle– even sinister– than the meat-headed, self-righteous, flag-waving anthems from hardcore’s days of yore. Their primary vocalist almost never sings, but delivers his phantasmagoric nightmare poems with growls and wails. Plenty have done that before and since The Residents, I just find the intentionality of his inflections to be more compelling than most of the other growlers and wailers staggering around the graveyard.

    Our entire approach to doing cover songs also stems from The Residents– specifically “The King and Eye.” It’s far from their best record, but it unalterably changed the way I thought about arranging songs.

    They’ve been a huge influence on me, personally, though I stopped following them after their “Wormwood” album.

    Glad you like the song– and yes, it sounds 10 times better with actual human beings playing it as opposed to my 10 robot buddies.

    Abraham: 1. Equip the double-sided battle axe. 2. Put your controller on a hard, flat surface. Use both of your forefingers to alternately tap the “action” button rapidly so the desk doesn’t have a chance to open it’s jaws. 3. SAVE GAME

    Jim: See Tiny Tron’s comment above– that’s the DH! bass player who, along with our drummer, has been a big King Crimson fan for years. I’ve always found King Crimson a little frustrating– with their “wank” knobs cranked to 11 and a little short on the songwriting side– but I could see why you’d make the comparison. Again, I’m no improviser and don’t naturally gravitate towards music that’s improvisatory in my own listening.

    Purely a taste thing.

    Phil: Thanks for tuning in!

    Sometimes, it pays not to be too cerebral about how you write a song. I wish I could just sit down and play freely without geeking out too much on the details, but… I’ll leave that to others whose talents lie in more improvisatory music. It’s something I’d like to be better at. With a vast criminal empire to run, however, I don’t have time to practice an instrument any more.

    Kebabs: Yes, I listen to and appreciate Arvo Part’s music very much. A piece for string ensemble, “Fratres,” got a lot of spin on my iPod last year.

    Tiny Tron: Say hello to Ben Miranda, everybody. He plays bass in our band, and was a big music influence on me in my days as a wide-eyed, drooling college freshman.

    He has some DH! songs HE’S written that will show up on this blog shortly. We’re planning on premiering one of Ben’s songs at the Empty Bottle on 9/6.

    Until then, check out some of his excellent compositions at http://www.tinytron.com!

  18. kebabdylan Says:

    frates: isn’t that part of the tabula rasa disc? That is probably my favorite of his though I do like some of this eastern liturgy stuff. He does a lot with repetitious patterns. that’s why I asked. arbos comes to mind.

  19. detholz Says:

    Kebabaz: The version I have is standalone.

    Part is grouped with the minimalists, like Reich and Riley. His works are heavily influenced by “early music,” chant and organum.

    Incidentally, if you’ve never listened to organum, check out the Hilliard Ensemble’s recording of Perotin’s “Viderunt omnes.” I first heard this record in music school, and return to it frequently.

    Also incidentally, Paul Hillier, the founder and leader of the group, is an early music specialist that wrote a biography of Arvo Part.

  20. kebabdylan Says:

    i recognize Hillier’s name. I don’t really listen to much “classical” music but Part and John Taverner have both appealed to me. Probably the minimalism and also the orthodox liturgy thing. You should check out tabula rasa. I can up it for you sometime. I have liked what I’ve heard of Reich as well.

  21. kebabdylan Says:

    can you recommend a residents album to start with? Last night just by chance I saw a concert clip on tv of “burn baby burn” and really really like it

  22. detholz Says:

    Kebabs: They did their best work in the 70’s and early 80’s, first with noisy music concrete records (“Third Reich ‘N Roll”), and then into really warped electronica (“Duck Stab,” “The Commercial Album”)

    I’d recommend beginning with “Duck Stab,” which is their best record, in my opinion. It also has the distinction of having one of the best album covers of all time.

    “The Commercial Album” is a concept album: each track is exactly 1 minute in length. If you play any track 3 times in a row, you get a 3-minute pop song. Highly recommended.

  23. kebabdylan Says:

    thanks. just grabbed it off emusic.

    back to the song… this is a damn good one! the break down at the end (poly-carbonate rythmic… thing) works much better in this song than Chapel (which I’ve always liked because it seemed so out of place and too long). I also like that the sold your sister out part is so short and it jump right back into the monotone singing and groove. really good…

  24. detholz Says:

    Yeah, the Chapel of Love break was entirely cut and paste, which is a throwback to our former mode of songwriting. Violent contrast is often an effective device– but one to be used sparingly.

    In this case, I’m glad you think the break feels more natural. That was the intent!

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