Detholz! demo – “Stasiland”

Note: Detholz! play tomorrow night (Thursday, 9/6) at Empty Bottle in Chicago w/Numbers from CA & Trin Tran. Show starts at 9. Y’all come!

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog Episode VII, and apologies for the late posting today. I was negotiating with the Russians.

Speaking of which, in this installment, we take a short jaunt back in time– and return to familiar Detholz! waters– with the song, “Stasiland.”

I. SONG CONCEPT

This song was directly inspired by 2 films, both of which I’d recommend highly:

1. Florian Henckel von Donnerskmark’s film, “The Lives of Others,” a fascinating– if sentimental– depiction of an officer of the Stasi, the secret police of the East German communist state, and,

2. Volker Schlöndorff’s “The Legend of Rita,” a fictional composite of events surrounding the activities of the Red Army Faction, a militant left-wing organization active in West Germany from 1970 – 1998 (and is also a little overwrought, but worth watching).

These two films were some of the first attempts to depict life in the East German state, a society where 1 in 6 people were either in the direct employ of, or volunteers for, the Stasi. Literally everyone was spying on one another. Each citizen had a Stasi file, all of which were made public after the reunification of Germany in 1989.*

*Incidentally, if you’re interested in the history of East German culture, you must read the story of Dean Reed, an failed American country musician who defected to the GDR and became a superstar as “Red Elvis.”

Can you imagine what it must have been like to exist in a nation that cultivated that degree of personal paranoia? If you live in the USA at the moment, I’ll bet you can! Though I try to steer clear of political subjects in Detholz! songs as a general rule, “Stasiland” could be considered a bona fide jab…. Can you say “Larry Craig?” Or “Patriot Act?” Those of you with a wide stance, beware!

These lyrics are throw-away as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not especially thrilled with them. Still, they serve the purpose of the song. Essentially, I wanted to write a bouncy, party song about a brutal Stasi interrogation. The disparity appealed to me.

The “Traitor” motifs– betrayal, blood, and animal imagery– are all present, as everything about the Stasi and East Germany encouraged betrayal in its varied forms: betrayal of family, betrayal of friends, betrayal of self– all for the benefit of the State which, ultimately, betrayed itself and its own people.

II. SONG COMPOSITION

“Death to the Traitor” (working title for the next record) thus far is rife with bleak, medium-tempo numbers, so Karl Doerfer (DH! guitarist) made the point that we needed some up-tempo songs to balance out the album.

“Stasiland” is essentially Detholz! meets “Beach Blanket Bingo”– an inside joke with myself, musically speaking, pretty much from start to finish.

The composition process began with the decidedly flatulent bass line, which is a MIDI contrabassoon (doubled with a few other things). It started as a bass synth line, but these days, I’ll substitute a sound I know sounds ridiculous just to keep things interesting.

The second element was the guitar. An old Detholz! trick is to stack two guitar parts– one playing quartal harmony, either in or out of the song’s key, and the other playing an ostinato that may also go outside the song’s tonality. In plain English, it sounds like there are “wrong” notes. This is a taste thing for me– but a little dissonance always puts some extra spring in my step. For a lesson in how to properly use dissonance without going completely atonal, listen to the chamber works of Stravinsky or, of course, any Bartok string quartet.

The 4-note “Traitor” motive occurs next as a centerpiece of the song, given all of the layers of betrayal referred to in the lyrics, and is hammered home by– my lands– a horn section! (Incidentally, it also reoccurs in the horns at the very end of the song in retrograde.)

This is the song that began the “to horn or not to horn” controversy in the band with respect to horn parts, as the horn break after the drum/vocal breakdown is admittedly out of place and absurd. It SOUNDS absurd since the horns are playing an (almost!) pentatonic line a major seventh apart in– again– a decidedly flatulent fashion.

This one was an adventure in orchestration. Choirs, bassoons, Chinese-sounding horn lines… my apologies to our die-hard fans. I was DEEP in the Zone on this one.

Even so, I’ve played this for a few people, and the reaction is always the same: a laugh, a smirk, or a slight shake of the head and a smile. Surprisingly, this has been by far the most popular demo of all of the new tunes with objective ears outside of the band. My girlfriend contends this is the sauciest tune yet. Go figure.

The jury’s still out as far as DH! go. We began working on this in rehearsal last week, and my deficiencies as a drummer were showing a little more than usual. Andrew has almost pronounced my drum part “unplayable.”

So, America, should this song be herded into an unmarked car by a group of shadowy men and mysteriously disappear? Or should it be left unharmed?

We’ll be watching.

III. LYRICS

One watching six
And six watching one

Wir brauchen Ihnen
Wir brauchen das Gefuhl
Genau

[We need you
We need the feeling
Exactly]

Someone is telling
On everyone

Wir beobachten
Wir haben das Gefuhl
Genau

[We are watching
We have the feeling
Exactly]

Knock, Knock
Open up
Oh my God
Shake it off
Makes no difference
So make it up
Friends are coming
To set you up

YOU WANT IT AND YOU NEED IT

Ha, ha, oh yeah
We got the feeling
Ha, ha, oh yeah
We got the feeling now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
Come with us now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
You want to come with us now

Komm jetzt mit uns
Komm jetzt mit uns
Genau

[Come with us
Come with us
Exactly]

Over the Wall and under the Wall and
Inside the Wall and outside the Wall and
Slammed up against the Wall and
Behind the Wall and behind the Wall and…

Small room
Hotline
Headphones
All the time
Watching me
Committing crimes
With bird’s eyes
Bird’s eyes!

Seize me
Bind me
Blind me
Shock me
Slice me
Sock me
Make me
Please make me

I WANT IT AND I NEED IT

Ha, ha, oh yeah
I got the feeling
Ha, ha, oh yeah
I got the feeling now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
I really got it now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
I’m gonna go with you now

I’m gonna go with you now

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21 Responses to “Detholz! demo – “Stasiland””

  1. kebabdylan Says:

    ok. i am up late tonight and won’t listen till tomorrow, but i read through this post and am laughing….

    “Andrew has almost pronounced my drum part ‘unplayable.'” that is hilarious!

    “These lyrics are throw-away as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not especially thrilled with them.” — i was going to post a song tomorrow and say the exact same thing! So, I say “cheers to throw away lyrics!”.

    “For a lesson in how to properly use dissonance without going completely atonal, listen to the chamber works of Stravinsky or, of course, any Bartok string quartet” — that is so rock ‘n roll! I think I remember the guitarist from def leopard saying the same thing about that one guitar lick in pour some sugar on me

    by the way, I am heading into town tomorrow evening to catch the show. see you then!

  2. db Says:

    This is a keeper! So fun.

  3. Jim Says:

    Good up-tempo groove. It’s always good to make sure you’ve got a good handful of that stuff, and Karl makes a good point. It was time to throw some more in there.
    I haven’t been too crazy about the horns that have been used in some of the latest material. It seems to cheeez it up unnecessarily, mostly because of the quality of the specific horn patch chosen. It’s hard for me to get past a horn part that doesn’t really sound like horns are playing it. I can’t call it ‘a horn part’. It seems it would be less cheesey even using a whacky sounding synth patch. But I have yet to hear that stuff out in the field, or on a finished, polished, final album cut. So that would probably change everything for me.
    Did Andrew almost pronounce it ‘unplayable’. Or did he pronounce it ‘almost unplayable’. ‘Because I don’t see it. I can see how the double-timey beat on the drums that comes in at about one minute could be called unplayable, due to the fast, mechanical sound it has, but perhaps it’s just that any initial ideas of how to pull that part off well would seem uncomfortable to me at first.
    I usually only mention what I would change personally without ever going into what I like about the song. That’s because “I know what I like. But I don’t know why.” Even as this song lays now, I say three cheers for this classic DH style Cooper composition, regardless of what I’ve said. You know what? Forget I said anything.
    Can’t wait to see you guys rock out tonight.

  4. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: Well, you know, my mission in life is to channel Def Leppard.

    db: Thanks! As my old friend Wesley Willis used to say, “Quality is Job 1.”

    Jim: Thanks for weighing in! Been awhile!

    Interesting that your initial reaction to the horns is exactly the same as Jonny’s and Ben’s was.

    On “Minnesota Nice,” I took their/your advice changed the horn line to a synth– and then they both said they missed the horns! A lot. I strongly suspect if I were to do the same thing with this song, you might react similarly.

    Remember that these are demos— sketches, really– and far from finished products. Many of these new demos include woodwind, string and brass parts which, of course, I can’t record in my home studio as I don’t store a full orchestra in my closet.

    Subsequently, I am reliant upon General MIDI– a silly-sounding companion, to be sure– for my fakey brass sounds. A suspension of disbelief is required– you gotta listen through it, and imagine what the demo will sound like when played by actual humans. It’s a given that a MIDI trumpet “ain’t nothing like the real thing.”

    One nice thing about the General, incidentally, is that he spits out sheet music of my “horn parts,” transmogrifying them from “horn parts” into… well…horn parts (sans quotation marks). You’re hearing the actual notes the acoustic instruments will play.

    Andrew is close to pronouncing the drum part “unplayable.” All this means is that we will have to adjust some things. We’re already slowed the tempo, and likely will transfer a lot of the kick drum parts to the floor tom, which, when Andrew bashes it as only Andrew can, is almost as good as a kick drum, anyway.

    This song is branching out a little for us, I know, and will likely alienate a few of our die-hard fans from the distant past.

    Thing is, I’m growing weary of making music for musicians, which to this point, is largely what we’ve done with DH!. “Cast Out Devils” was a step in the other direction, where we simplified song structures and wrote lyrics that were a little more accessible to the average joe, turning down the “prog” knob considerably.

    This song is a further step in that direction, and from the reactions I’ve gotten from our non-musical friends, it’s their favorite of the lot thus far. Personally, I’m not surprised. The average musician’s hunk of cheese is a regular guy’s pot of gold.

    Don’t get me wrong. One shouldn’t try to second-guess how an audience will receive a song– I strongly believe one shouldn’t consider the audience at all when writing. Speaking for myself, it’s artistically more interesting to write a simpler song with more conventional sounds, as I’ve already spent years of my life writing crazy, campy prog-rock. At this point in my musical development, I would rather write a song that draws people in rather than alienate them with a bunch of musical frippery.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful comments! See you all tonight!

  5. kebabdylan Says:

    ok after a couple of listens

    LOVE the children’s like melody that starts it off. Immediately grabbed me. Nice use of german! you should have thrown in a “I was listening to david hasselhoff the other day and…”

    hall & oats –> milli vanilli –> glass tiger –> def leopard –> david hasselhol. Now that is progress!

    the bridge does bring back some old detholz memories.

    by the end you are sounding like elvis. is that intentional? My only criticism is to loose the horns. Sounds like a great straightforward pop song and I don’t think the horns add a lot to it. I agree with previous post about maybe it would sound better if they were actually horns, but it kind of takes away for what I like about this song.

    yes keep this one. it will be your hit.

  6. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: I hope to sound more like RED ELVIS as a general rule.

    If I made as much money doing music as David Hasselhoff does, I could retire a happy man tomorrow.

    Though I appreciate the criticism, ‘Bab, I guarantee you if this song goes to press with a full brass compliment, you will need to change your trousers.

    Remember your reaction to “Spectacula” after we added the trumpets? Case in point.

    Trust me, baby. I haven’t totally lost my marbles. Yet.

  7. kebabdylan Says:

    i actually totally loved the trumpets in spectacula from the get go!!!

  8. detholz Says:

    ‘Babs: As I said, case in point.

  9. Elaine Says:

    The girlfriend maintains her opinion that this IS a very saucy tune; she especially enjoys the robotic German lines. This is, of course, from the perspective of a strict layperson, someone who has never darkened the hallowed halls of the Wheaton Conservatory.

    And someone who fantasizes about German robots.

    [insert technical music reference here]

  10. WOTSAC Says:

    I believe you’ll find that 2 watches 6 and 6 watches 2. Anybody who claims to know who or what 1 is, or what 1 does is either lying or deluded.

  11. BP Says:

    I have to say I really like this one. For me, the monotone BGVs in German are what make this tune so unique. And I affirm the need to have some uptempo tracks on the disc. Even though the arrangement is quite complex, it’s very accessible, rewarding both music-geek and non-geek alike. There’s definitely some ‘classic’ Detholz! flavor in it as well–the “Ha! Ha!” part, for instance. All the contrasting musical interludes are just Detholz! beauty, too.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. detholz Says:

    Elaine: Kraftwerk is waiting on the changer, and I dug out my Eastern Bloc Robot Cowboy outfit. Come over NOW.

    WOTSAC: Six of one, half dozen or the other!

    BP: Glad you like it! Your comments reflect my current composition goals: “to reward both geek and non-geek alike!” Perhaps in doing so, I will decrease my own personal geekiness and finally get that job at the Gap I had been hoping for.

  13. Jim Says:

    Well Hell! I always just figured the horns would remain synthesized. Transcribing it for real horns would kick ass. I didn’t realize you were planning on doing that for some dumb reason. Duh! It puts a lot of my past horn qualms to rest. I haven’t been giving you enough credit. And I spoke with Andrew regarding the drum part. He cleared that up for me as well. I guess you really could’ve forgotten what I had to say. Don’t fret. I have been currently working on a little project that I call “Jim gets his head out of his ass”.

    Awsome show at the Bottle. And thanks for the small, red, women’s tee. It fits snuggly and makes me look super-hawt!

  14. kebabdylan Says:

    i am coming around on the horns part on this one. especially if they end up being an actual horn section. The actual melody is quite nice. I think i was mostly put off by the “fake” horn sound. not the actual part.

    as you know, I am a long time holz fan and am with you 100% on the trying to bridge the “music for musicians” and “music for the masses” gap in a single song. I sometimes miss the craziness of the old songs but the ones that have succeeded in embracing both (ie behold the man and death to the traitor and the other non-demoed songs that you are playing live) are far and away the best detholz songs of any era.

    i also realized the the melody of the opening lines reminds me of “nanny-nanny-boo-boo”

  15. WOTSAC Says:

    Also – this came to me last night in a freeway rest stop near Springfield:

    My Boss is General Midi.

  16. Jim Says:

    Midi horns or not, this track gets better every day.
    Rock ‘n roll!

  17. Jim Says:

    I guess I should say that I really do like the horns now as well.
    Rock ‘n roll…again!

  18. detholz Says:

    Jim: Glad you are slowly being converted… it’s all part of the plan.

    ‘Bab: Ditto.

    WOTSAC: General MIDI resides in the basement of a certain fixer-upper I know of in Quincy.

  19. kebabdylan Says:

    can’t let you off the hook that easily.

    so…. here is my “new” critical eye feedback. I actually like most the lyrics. I really like the melody of the first part (especially with crazy drums and distorted falsetto) as well as the “Knock, Knock Open up…” but you kind of loose me with the “ha ha oh yeah i got the feelin” tourettes part. its the only thing in the song that sounds like filler. i am probably just being greedy. the song is full of a lot of musical goodness to keep a listener busy.

  20. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: But I DIDN’T lose you with the German muppets singing on the chorus, did I?

    To have overlaid a more complex melody in the lead vocal on TOP of the German muppets would have been an “over-arrangement,” in my opinion. I opted instead for a throwaway melody with a decidedly pop-cliche lyric that is, in fact, a sort of filler.

    I think that part is catchy precisely because it IS cliche– if I do say so myself. In this admittedly silly context, it provides the listener with a lifeline…aka the proverbial “hook.”

  21. detholz Says:

    Also, to the rest of you out there in TV Land, feel free to weigh in!

    I can see your stats all the way from here– I know you’re out there. Don’t be scared off by all of the music geeks.

    This is a forum that is open to all, and if there are questions/comments on any other aspect of the band or these songs, please feel free to throw your hat in the ring!

    No one here is a biter (at least as far as I know). And, because we’re on the Interweb, you can opt to remain blissfully anonymous!

    Hope to talk soon…

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