Detholz! demo – “Piggly Man”

THIS FRIDAY, 11/30
DETHOLZ! play their last show of 2007
@ Hideout
1354 W Wabansia
Chicago, IL, USA
w/THE CASSETTES & BRILLIANT PEBBLES
www.hideoutchicago.com

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode XVII!

This Friday marks Detholz!’s last show of 2007 – the conclusion of our 11th year together as a band. This is a bill we are anticipating greatly, with two other bands breaking ground of their own with respect to music and performance. Forget Detholz! — we’ve been around 4 eva’!– instead come experience the nightmare club ritual of BRILLIANT PEBBLES and the hurdy-gurdy magic of THE CASSETTES!

To mark this event, we’re giving one away today that I thought I’d keep under wraps until “Death to the Traitor” (Detholz! forthcoming record) is released next year. In many ways, this is my favorite track developed for “Death to the Traitor” thus far, and wraps the blood, animal and betrayal imagery in human (feral?) flesh:

PIGGLY MAN

1. SONG CONCEPT

This song is near and dear to my heart as it’s about a former co-worker of mine who was debilitated by a number of massive strokes earlier this year. The effects on his brain– esp. on his centers of speech– were devastating, and his situation is nothing if not tragic for him and his family.

Here’s the rub: the man

a. is a pathological liar,

b. has a speaking voice that closely resembles that of Mickey Mouse,

c. is morbidly obese and has no compunction about loudly breaking wind in the workplace (at one point, I had to look over at him and yell, “Hey– were you raised in @#$%in’ barn?”),

d. is consumed with greed– down to falsifying company records in order to qualify for sales prizes– and ruined countless potential sales for his colleagues by meddling with customers in order to qualify for pieces of commission,

e. earned the nickname “Bologna Loaf” among his peers, and

f. is generally one of the most unpleasant people it’s been my misfortune to meet.

Get the picture? He is Homer Simpson come to life and moving among us.

Which is why, of course, he deserved a song. On one hand, he almost TRIES to make himself hateful to others. On the other hand, his humanity is so painfully transparent– especially in light of his staggering health problems. Many of us at my company developed a strange affection for this man, which I found to be a curious phenomenon. His unpleasantness was SO over the top that, well… you couldn’t help but like the guy.

On that note, a strange episode occurred one morning as I arrived for work, took my place at my desk and started setting up for the day. My desk was across the room from the Loafer’s, but he couldn’t hear very well so he didn’t hear me come in. On this particular morning, I sat and watched him for awhile. He would scratch nonsensical, pseudo-motivational catchphrases to himself on a large, yellow pad, which he was doing that morning. Suddenly, he stopped, straightened up in his chair and began loudly cawing like a crow. He punctuated each “caw!” by banging his meaty palm on his desk:

“CAW! CAW! CAW!”

I jumped in my seat. To this day, I have no idea what prompted him to do this. It will, I fear, remain a mystery.

Now that he can’t work, he calls in sometimes, just to say “hi” (at least, I think that’s what he saying– after his strokes, he’s very difficult to understand). Many of my current co-workers will not answer the phone when they see his number flashing on the caller ID. “I don’t want to talk to him,” one man said, almost visibly shuddering. I also find this to be a curious phenomenon.

The Loaf was man who betrayed himself at every turn: by his selfishness and greed, etc. Ultimately, though, he was betrayed by something beyond any of our control: his own mortality. People don’t want to talk to him– not because he’s a jerk (which he is), but because he serves as a reminder of human frailty. He is a walking warning sign that reads: “THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.”

After he left, I took his staff picture home. It now adorns my wall, in a frame, above my home studio space. I take a weird sort of comfort in the baldness of the Loaf’s humanity– both in his consuming greed and his failing health. He’s no different than you or I, really.  He just isn’t as skilled at glossing over his baser nature. Subsequently, this song is not meant AT ALL as a slight– it was written out of love for the man.

I hope that comes through.

2. SONG COMPOSITION

This was one in a series of home demos for “Death to the Traitor” where I left the guitars out altogether. This was at Karl’s (Detholz! guitarist) suggestion: that I not limit myself to the “band” instruments in recording demos. He thought it would be interesting to reassign parts to regular “band” instruments in rehearsal. As it turned out– at least with this song– he was right.

As with most of the newer material, the song’s axis revolves around the repeated organ figure — intervallically, a tritone to major third, back to a tritone, then to a perfect fifth. In that musical “cell,” there is plenty of tension and release, except the tonal center remains very strong. I found it to be a challenging “drone” to write around. As it turned out, this figure was also adaptable to some interesting harmonic motion in the chorus.

You’ll notice the “Traitor motive” (see previous post, “Death to the Traitor”) hinted at in the second half of the chorus– in the flutes! The flute is my least favorite orchestral instrument, which is why I felt compelled to use it here, of course. It’s a principle an old art professor taught me in school: if you hate a piece of art, immerse yourself in it. Find out if you’re harboring irrational prejudices; see if there’s anything you can use creatively. At the time, he forced me to sit in front of an Agnes Martin painting for 3 hours, then write an essay on what I got out of the experience. Generally, I can’t stand Agnes Martin’s work– it’s that annoying brand of minimalism that seems completely theory-driven, with little to no substance to the actual pieces. Still, after sitting in front of that blank, cloudy canvas for 3 hours, I managed to extract some things out of the work.

Same idea here. Flute is not my favorite, but it provides an interesting texture in this context (if I do say so myself). I liked it so much, in fact, that it shows up on other new songs as well!

The centerpiece of the song is the “piggly” bridge, of course, with samples of real pigs. This section was expanded in rehearsal, and now sounds much different live than on the demo. Jonny added a brilliant, layered line which is built upon additively by Karl and I on the guitars. Very spooky, even “Castlevania”-esque!

Also, as with many of the newer songs, the bass line is largely the same throughout the song. It is an exceptional challenge to write a song with contrasting sections while the bass line remains the same–at least I think so. More often than not, I fail using this approach. In the case of “Piggly Man,” however, I was pleased with the result.

Comments/questions/criticisms welcome! Hope to see you all on Friday before the long, dark night of the soul for Detholz!…

3 . LYRICS

Rosy cheeks and
Tight buttons
Packing the pounds

Chew slowly
Chew slowly
A Midwestern mound

High in a cloudy brain
A lumpy mountain range
Makes all the speaking strangely…?

I’m waiting again
For you, my lonely friend
Open your mouth
Pick it on up
Chew it on up
A man is a pig
When a pig is a man

Quiet morning
Can’t hear it
Write on a pad

Scratch yourself some
Motivation
Like Carnegie said

But when the pressure builds
Forget to take your pills
Hot when the coffee spills, you…?

Now I’m watching again
The birds are not your friends
Open your mouth
Caw like a crow
Caw like a crow
Death is a bird
When a pig is a man

The piano
Is confusing
Head on the keys

Little mermaids
Swimming through you
Sing “Under the Sea”

Now you are seeing spots
Now on a mountaintop
Now you are jumping off, don’t you…?

You’re seated again
On sacks of pickled skin
Open your mouth
Shove it on in
Shove it on in

A man is a pig
When a pig is a man

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6 Responses to “Detholz! demo – “Piggly Man””

  1. Jim Says:

    One of my faves from the new set, for sure. It is done much justice in the live show.

  2. kebabdylan Says:

    “Castlevania-esque!” yeah, vampires…

    Maybe an alternate album title?

    I like this song a lot. Interesting to hear the demo after becoming a little familiar with it in the live setting. Sorry I can’t make it tonight.

  3. Jim Says:

    It has a very different feel without the guitars. It’s kinda cool. Not as edgy, but maybe a little quirkier sounding. Not in a bad way. I also have to ask – was there some kind of compressor or something being picked up by an open mic?

  4. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: Perhaps I should have said “Castlevania II”-esque.

    Jim: Bear in mind that the guitars are back in when we play it live. The band lends an entirely different feel to the song– much grittier. Perhaps even “grottier.”

    I don’t quite understand your question. I usually compress the bejeezus out of the vocal tracks, overdrive ’em a bit and then gate them hard. As I recall, that’s what I did here.

    Are you hearing some sort of ambience? I think I might have slapped on some light delay to the stereo track. Or could just be my living room, where I record all of this stuff (under the smiling visage of Piggly Man himself).

  5. Jim Says:

    Oh yeah, I know the guitars are in now. The demo just gives an obviously different feel that I probably didn’t need to note. duh.

    But at the beginning of the track (just keys), what I’m hearing isn’t popped in yet. But once the vocals kick in, it sounds like there is an air compressor or some kind of rumbling, gas powered generator buzzing away in the background. Not an audio level compressor. I should have specified.

  6. detholz Says:

    Yes, yes, I know. I missed the Detholz! blog last week. Forgive me– I was suffering in a blizzard on the East Coast with Baby Teeth.

    Tune in this Wed. for the latest installment of the DH! Mp3 Blog!

    Jim: Hm. I’ll have to listen again more closely. Perhaps I forgot to include a noise gate on the vocals. Viva la radiator!

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