Detholz! demo – “Utopiathon”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Detholz! emerge briefly from hibernation to perform a set this Saturday at an all-ages show at Subterranean in Chicago (2011 W North) with our old friends and prog-lodytes, MAPS & ATLASES! And bring your strollers, ’cause it’s ALL-AGES! Buy tix at www.subt.net!

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode XIX!

March is a time of transformation, re-emergence and rejuvenation! Transmogrification! Bunnies vigorously mating!

(Well, at least if you live somewhere south of Chicago. )

Therefore, March on the Detholz! Mp3 Blog is the “MARCH OF DEMOS” where your every dream comes true!  Instead of posting demos of songs that were put to death before their time, this month we will examine demos of songs that actually lived to tell about it on our two full-lengths, “Who Are The Detholz!?” and “Cast Out Devils,” and compare, contrast, crystallize… and cruise, baby.

As one of my favorite pundits, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, once said: “The significance of the moth is change. Caterpillar into chrysalis or pyoo-pahh, from thence into beauty!”

So we begin with one of my personal favorites from our records, the demo for UTOPIATHON which, if you’re following in your Bibles, is track 6 from “Cast Out Devils” (2006).

Side note: if you got one of the early editions of “Cast Out Devils,” there is an error on the track listing on the back of the CD. “Utopiathon” and “Chapel of Love” are reversed! Viva la warts and clams!

1. SONG DEVELOPMENT

This song is almost never mentioned by fans or DH! denizens– not as immediately accessible as some of the other songs– but it’s always been one of my favorites. As some of you already know, I have had a day job in the piano industry for 10 years now, and “Utopiathon” was a song written on a piano late at night, when I had locked the doors, closed up the store, and it was just me and the silent, coffin-case rows of grand and upright pianos.

Since I am not a particularly gifted pianist, most of my keyboard parts involve some sort of repeating ostinato-like patterns, usually one clashing with the other. That is definitely the case here. The keyboard part provided the framework for the rest of the song.

Speaking of funerals, the album version is much more dirge-like and somber than the demo, which is at a much brisker tempo with a brighter, more whimsical arrangement. The percussion is purposely minimal, and the string and brass lines you hear on “Cast Out Devils” are totally absent. The keyboard ostinato is in a constant 3-against-2 polyrhythm: the bass/drums augmenting the 3/4 feel during the chorus, the guitars augmenting the 2 (or 6/8) feel. The polyrhythmic interplay is not emphasized so much on the album version, as we decided to take “Utopiathon” in a more creepy, less bouncy direction.

The brass and string parts on the album version came to me much later as I hummed along to the demo in the car. In fact, this demo was recorded in 2004 or so, so it wasn’t for another 2 years that I got to hear those lines fleshed out by warm-blooded humans playing real brass and string instruments during the “Cast Out Devils” sessions at Shape Shoppe in Chicago. Quite a thrill at the time, as I recall!

Originally, I thought “Utopiathon” would open “Cast Out Devils” as scene-setting exposition, but that was before “Silence Is Golden” (track 1 on COD) was born.

2. SONG CONCEPT

“Utopiathon” was written during the throes of a major crisis of faith in my 20’s, which I’ve spoken about at length in previous posts. Not an especially happy time in my life. The linchpin of the song is this:

You’re a little boy or a little girl
Born and raised in a beautiful world
There are no windows in this room
Inside it’s dark like an empty tomb

All of us are children, most of us born wide-eyed and idealistic. The image of a child abandoned in a dark room appealed to me as a metaphor for a loss of faith: “Christ is risen, but Christ is gone. And you have been left alone in his dark, empty tomb.”

Utopiathon = the fruitless attempt to grasp the unattainable; an endless, desperate marathon to Nowhere

Man, am I glad all of that is over!

3. LYRICS (album version)

You’ll notice a few little differences between the demo version and the album version. There’s some line about a “prenatal coil” that was, well, kind of ham-handed and gross, so I changed it.

UTOPIATHON

In the afternoon you stop and smell a flower by your shin
On your way somewhere the sun demands information from your skin
You’re going inside, you’re sitting inside the building
Indian style
There’s a wheel spinning clockwise on television
And in your mind, you smile

You’re a little boy or a little girl
Born and raised in a beautiful world
You sit by the window peeking out
Make it up or you won’t make it out

There’s an oriental rug laying on the floor where you walk
There’s some serious men standing at the door, who want to talk
Let them inside, they’re waiting inside the building with your files
Binding you up with cords of love
Injecting the drugs
You sigh and smile

You’re a little boy or a little girl
Born and raised in a beautiful world
There are no windows in this room
Inside it’s dark like an empty tomb

Smile!
(Don’t let me out without it)

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11 Responses to “Detholz! demo – “Utopiathon””

  1. dj Says:

    I’m a huge fan of this kind of ‘holz song. From Science of the Senses to Beyond Fashion this is always a great way to start shows. It lets the audience know that they’re about to see something interesting. Also, it was a great way to give everyone one of those puzzled looks.

  2. Amy Says:

    The metric modulation is more obvious in the demo than the album cut. I pulled out my bongos while listening to it and did a six versus four!

    Incidentally, a *lot* of your songs lend themselves well to afro-cuban polyrhythms. Is that intentional or inadvertant?

  3. Jim Says:

    one of my faves off that album.

  4. kebabdylan Says:

    i agree. this one turned out really really good on the album. one of my top 3. I initially wasn’t into the song that much due mostly to the spoken word element, but at some point it clicked. I ended up liking how the spoken word transitions into the singing at the end. very effective

    The music is fantastic. the guitar part is just perfect.

    I always thought this song as the “old detholz” track on the “new detholz” album.

  5. detholz Says:

    DJ: Ha, “Beyond Fashion.” I haven’t thought of that one in awhile.

    As you know, there was a long period where every DH! show had its own, campy theme, usually with a custom-built intro.

    Too bad there’s no extant recording of “Science of the Senses.” I lost that one years and years ago.

    Amy: In this case, it was definitely inadvertant. I didn’t begin digging into Fela and other African pop music until years after the songs for COD were written.

    You’ll hear a lot more Afro-Cuban-cum-Dorky-White-Man on the next record.

    Jim: Glad you think so.

    ‘Bab: Good point. In many ways, it is old DH! — down to the “Men in Black” imagery in the middle of the song. (Funny, people always think of those horrible Will Smith vehicles, but I always think of the Frank Black song from “Cult of Ray.”)

    The spoken word numbers are always a tougher sell. No one likes to listen to stories any more, I guess. We got slammed in a couple album reviews for narrated tracks like “Utopiathon” and “Silence is Golden” — even by reviewers who liked the record. I suppose it IS sort of Shatner-esque… Oh well.

    The people have spoken (word).

    Goes back to the Residents for me. I love their narrated tracks– in fact, I prefer them to tracks where they attempt to sing. Their music is cacophonous enough.

  6. kebabdylan Says:

    utopiathon worked really well as spoken word, i think, because the music was so compelling and the breaking into song at the end. silence is golden’s appeal was a little short lived for me. i wouldn’ “slam” you for it and I don’t dislike it, but i wouldn’t go seek it out like I would utopiathon.

  7. Jim Says:

    I have heard the Shatner remark from a small handful of people that I’ve tried showing DH off to. They can keep thier minds closed if they want to.

    Oh, and great show on Saturday, Cooper. With such a large crowd, I was hoping more people would start dancing. I hope my small crew and myself didn’t jar too many people around us too much. After the show, I did see and hear quite a few youngin’s that seemed to be very impressed with what I would assume was thier first DH show. Keep rockin’, dudes.

  8. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: Interesting perspective.

    Lyrically, “Silence” is perhaps my favorite COD track– the imagery is somewhat interesting and hangs together well, at least from my position in the captain’s chair.

    I realize it’s a little gimmicky musically, but it’s not a song so much as an intro — scene-setting exposition– and perhaps also falls in the category of “old DH! track on newer DH! record.”

    Jim: Thanks for coming to show!

    I was expecting a hostile audience, actually, given the bill. Black Ladies and Maps/Atlases appeal to a much different crowd than we’re used to (and are both GREAT bands, BTW). We got a better response than I thought we’d get.

    All-ages shows are funny– less dancing, and more 1000-yard stares. I was noticing a lot of kids standing completely immobile the whole night just drinking it all in, and remembered how it was for me as a teenager going to shows for the first time. A magical experience, no matter who you’re going to see!

    All-ages shows are always my favorite in this respect. The kids usually care about the music 500% more than the usual 20-30 something crowd getting drunk and shouting in each others’ ears while you play.

    Hell, at this point in my life, you have to literally drag me out to a show if I’m not playing/working. Why shout at my friends when I can talk to them calmly in my living room?

    The kids, though, have a lot more invested in what you’re doing if you’re in a band. I always get the sense that they’re taking mental notes on everything you’re doing, playing and saying for appropriation later into their own projects. That’s pretty thrilling, actually.

  9. Jim Says:

    The other two bands were also pretty good. Didn’t stick around for all of the last, but what I heard would’ve kept me there, if I didn’t rely on someone else for a ride home. The thousand yard stares would definitely leave me a bit disheartened if I were on the other side of the stage, but it was obvious from my perspective that they were taking it all in, and liking at least the majority of it. Good.

  10. dj Says:

    Sorry to have missed the show. Two kids and a 100 mile drive downtown have significantly reduced our ‘holz show attendance.

    And on the Shatner tip, did anyone hear a bit of ‘holz in “Common People” off his last album?

    Wonder if the reviewers gave him crap about being Detholz-esque?

    No, they were too busy calling him “strangely captivating”

  11. Jim Says:

    Hahaha! I totally dig Common People. It’s actually a pretty good song. Although I’d still say the Holz are far more strangely captivating.

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