Detholz! demo – “Suburbanite”

NOTE: Detholz! play THIS FRIDAY, 5/9 @ Empty Bottle in Chicago with SINGER — a bill not to be missed! Jonny from Detholz! claims they’re one of the best acts in town. And, hey, we’ll be there, too, playing many songs from this very blogosphere.

Read Jim DeRogatis’s writeup here

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode XXXVI!

This week, the track is appropriately hot off the press, like a steamy Hot Pocket:


Over the next few weeks, I’m going to hunker down and do a music-geek marathon to finish off the writing process for the next Detholz! album, currently titled “Death to the Traitor” (see previous posts)

Last week might have been a failure, but this week’s track has a little more of that special je nais sais quois…


I’m limited this time on what I can say in a public forum. Suffice it to say it was inspired by a lot of time spent in the suburbs of Chicago– parts of the suburbs one might classify as “dark underbellies.”

Yick. Suburban underbellies are far worse than urban ones.


Initially, I had planned on writing a song in 6/8, based on the ostinato you hear at the beginning of the song. I had planned a little number in the spirit of John Barry’s soundtrack to “The Black Hole” (hence the reference in the lyrics — love that movie!), which uses large, sweeping ostinatos and big brass melodies.

Instead, well… this came out: a mangled oddity that alternates between 6/4 and 4/4.

The process I used here was very similar to “Ghost of Christmas Palsy” (see previous post). Once the bass line had been established, the rest of the song was pinned up around it. The bass line is basically the same through the song, except that I alternate octaves/registers for color this time. In the end, I think this distracts from the repetitive nature of the song– you’re hearing the same notes, but in different registers, which is a handy little songwriting trick if you’re dealing with long, repetitive passages.

Constructing an interesting melody around material that is so harmonically static is like scaling a large wall. Of late, I’ve been enjoying the challenge– sometimes I go down in flames (like last week’s song), but generally, I’m pretty pleased with this week’s tune.

The “Death to the Traitor” motive (see previous posts) is back, too, in the lead-in to the choruses. This indulged my OCD drive to make every DH! album high-concept. Eek.

I also borrowed a trick from Baby Teeth (DH! sister band — Abraham’s lovely songwriting blog is here) and made the second verse bass and drums only.

A word about the chorus: one of my favorite musical games is to see how much you can get harmonically out of one note. For example, how many chords can you fit around a given G in the bass? This is an excellent exercise if you’re stumped on how to proceed in a particular song. The chorus of this song was written that way– I hit a snag after devising a verse I was happy with. After an hour or so of fruitless frippery, I just played a bunch of chords in which G plays a major part and decided on Eb – F – G minor – E minor. Together with the bass line, they sounded interesting to me.

Incidentally, a lot of the chordal leaps in earlier Detholz! material was mostly the result of this compositional technique.

Anyway, before we get so heady we float away, I’ll leave you here. What do you think? Include on the album? Play live? Or, like last week, off with it’s head?

Tune in next week for another new demo!



Beast on the sofa
Pushing that needle

I took a harder look and
A mountain of body parts

I called his girlfriend but she’s not around
She took the early train
I called the cops but then they faded away
Under a donut sun

Unwrap a processed pie
And say whatever’s convenient:

I’m half alive and
Suburban, suburban!
You’re convenience

Blood in the kitchen
Boiling like Ramen

I took a softer look and
Pushing that needle

You call your friends but they are not allowed
To answer from the hole
You call your friends but they have faded away
Under a plastic clock

Wrap up your rubber tie
And say whatever’s convenient:

I know I’ve tried but
Suburban, suburban!
You’re convenience

I’m never gonna die ’cause
Don’t leave me outside
Suburban, suburban!
You’re convenience


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15 Responses to “Detholz! demo – “Suburbanite””

  1. kebabdylan Says:

    that one bit right before the chorus is great. If that is the DTTT motif its not nearly as obvious as some of the other implementations of it which makes it more effective. I also like the opening keyboard part and when it comes back in later.

    I am on the fence with the song as a whole (after only two listens). I would def like to hear the band’s take on it though. I think it has potential.

    as for the working in many chords around a single note. I must have ripped you off on that one as well. not sure. maybe not intentional but I have used that technique a fair bit.

  2. dj Says:

    This song seems a lot like a previous blog post – Tammy. I think that one had a lot more life and layers in it even though at first it didn’t grab me. Going back after listening to this song I gotta say I prefer Tammy. This one seems a bit short. Almost like it’s just 2/3rds of a song.

  3. Jim Says:

    This recording’s friendly on the ears and would sound pretty good to hear live too, I’m sure. Pretty straight forward and dance-able rock, like most of the other tunes coming out lately.

  4. Jim Says:

    …and I have to shout out a “hell’s yeah” for the Tammy support.

    I’d have to say that dj’s 2/3rds comment comes closer to what I meant by a few songs being pretty straight forward lately. Now please understand, Jim, that I know there’s nothing wrong with going for a more popular sound as far as taking out most of the confusing, music nerd-dom, but there seems to be less and less risks in the writing as of late, perhaps out of over thinking how songy a song should be. I’d hate to see DH lose ALL of it’s classic campiness in pursuit of writing easier to digest by the masses-type music. Don’t fret, this is still love mail, not hate mail – just my own notion.

    The tracks you’ve been turning out are all still super sweet, and I’m not even suggesting that this one needs a crazy bridge or anything weird like that. Dj’s “part of a song” comment just made me feel like voicing an opinion nobody really asked for. woops.

    Seriously, love mail.

  5. kebabdylan Says:

    i will also through my hat in with tammy. that it was one of the first demos to hit with all its poppy luster may have been off putting at first. But that song has maybe the best hooks you have written so far.

    I can’t see the detholz doing tammy, but it is still a perfect pop song.

    I also agree with Jim on his assessment of the newer output. There does seem to be “something” missing from the songs. Risk is a good term. Maybe just something “identifying” or unique. a couple, you have hit out of the park. traitor, napoleon tex (which I like more with every listen), piggly man. I would add Palsy to the list as well as a very good conventional song. DJ and I should be there tomorrow night. It will be good to hear some of these as a band. Part of it might be just that they are demos and are not fully realized as “detholz” songs yet.

    and, by the way, you have very picky and opinionated blog readers.

  6. bp Says:

    I really, REALLY like this one. In my opinion, it’s definitely album material. I don’t agree with the “something’s missing/less risky” comments of the earlier posters for this song. The arrangement/songwriting is really tight, trim, and well-packaged, here. (Although, I do agree with the comments regarding “Tammy”. To this day, that’s still one that I find myself humming.) Compositionally, I can see this one really fleshing out nicely with the whole band as well. Go for it!

  7. bp Says:

    By the way, I’m a sucker for a homophonic play on words in a song lyric, so the “You’re/Your convenience” particularly tickles my fancy.

  8. Jim Says:

    To give some much deserved credit, Zeta, Death to the Traitor, Stasiland, Piggly, Tex, and Palsy, to only name a few, all possess “it”. There are some songs I’ve heard live that haven’t been posted here that also possess “it”. I don’t want to sound like I’ve lost the faith.

  9. detholz Says:

    DJ: I agree that “Tammy” is perhaps a more successful pop song. I approached “Suburbanite” as more of a dance number, though, so there’s less harmonic motion and a lot more repetition. It’s a song to vacuum or floss to, unlike “Tammy,” which I think demands more of the listener.

    As to form, well, I tend to keep these demos abbreviated. Crank the idea out, badda-bip, badda-boop, move on. In MANY cases, we end up extending existing parts or adding new ones in full rehearsal. That happened on DTTT, Zeta, and a lot of others from the blog.

    Jim: Not to worry– comments like yours are comments I crave. If everyone were gushing with enthusiasm unanimously, it’d make me trust you a little less.

    I have to strongly disagree with you, though, in terms of risk and challenge in more recent Detholz! songs. It’s actually far easier to sit down and write a crazy, campy tune where there are no holds barred and one can flex every musical muscle at one’s disposal. Much of the older Detholz! material was written that way– cram as many ideas into one bloated, overfed song as possible.

    I’ve discovered it’s incredibly challenging — especially for a bona fide music geek like me with admittedly arcane tastes — to sit down and write something that is more “straight ahead.” It takes a great deal of restraint and requires much tighter control of compositional elements.

    It’s funny– a writeup of “Cast Out Devils” on iTunes begins by saying “I bought this record thinking it would sound like a snotty inside joke but was pleasantly surprised” (or something to that effect). That says it all right there, man! The general populace has little patience for the sort of immature, over-complex musical wankery that we churned out in our early years. And at this point in my life, so do I!

    (With the exception of “Sunburned in the Sun,” which still holds its title in the band as the favorite Detholz! song.)

    My experience in Baby Teeth has been instructive in this regard. I originally joined Baby Teeth 4 years ago as my “sell-out” band– a band I thought would have a lot of instant bubblegum appeal. What we’ve discovered over the years of touring and playing countless shows is that, by and large, Baby Teeth is viewed as another “weird” band. Even when we’re making a conscious effort to avoid it!

    For those of you whose ears have been “opened” to the wacky world of experimental or “avant-garde” music, bear in mind that what sounds straightforward to you sounds like gobbledygook to the average music fan. Also, by and large, most people could give a rat’s ass about indie rock. Touring with Wilco definitely burned that onto my brain.

    Having playing “Xmas Palsy” a few times live, it gets the best response of any song in the current set. Also, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play a 4-on-the-floor, shakey-shake sort of tune like that– a hell of lot more fun than, say, a song like “Army of Mars” was to play. We were all on pins and needles trying to stay on top of the ridiculous number of chord changes!

    ‘Bab: Good point. Always remember that these demos are just that: demonstration recordings. They’re intended as a guide for the band. Sometimes we pretty much stick to what’s recorded here, other times not. But the song ALWAYS sounds different with 5 red-blooded humans playing rather than me and my band of robots.

    As to the supposed lack of risk, see above. I’m taking HUGE musical risks in these songs — just in the opposite direction!

    As to picky readers, I would expect no less from Detholz! fans. Whether you’re talking about the old or new stuff, the music’s all pretty Prussian.

    BP: Thanks, brother! I’m glad at least one of our hoarier fans “gets” this one. As to word plays, I’m most proud of “liquor/lick her” on Xmas Palsy. (slurp, glug)

    Jim: My guess is if you spend more time with this song, as with Xmas Palsy, you’ll discover something in there. Perhaps not, but my spidey sense is telling me that this one will go over similarly to Xmas Palsy.

    Speaking intuitively, again, I can sort of tell which songs will take and which won’t. To paraphrase Han Solo: “I have a [good] feeling about this…”

  10. kebabdylan Says:

    that is a good point about “risk”.

    And for the record. I do NOT want you to revert to the sci-fi nerdom of WRTD. I remember telling DJ years ago -before COD – that as much as I liked it, for the band to keep going you would have to move away from the novelty nature of that first ablum.

    For me I guess that its a matter of how far on the pendulum you swing. Some of the songs that swing to far over to convention leave me wanting something a little more dorky and inventive. But the ones that hit somewhere in the middle are by far my favorite detholz material to date.

    See ya tonight! Looking forward to hearing some of the new songs. which ones are you going to be playing?

  11. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: Tonight, we’re playing a lot of songs from the blog:

    Piggly Man
    Water on the Brain

    and more!

    We’re also enthused to have Karl back with us from the Faraway Land of Med School Prerequisites!

    Tonight’s bill will be completely odd and awesome. Hope y’all can make it.

  12. kebabdylan Says:

    Palsy – maybe my favorite of the night. I think because 1. it is SO NOT what I expect from the detholz and 2. It works so so well, Kinda alternate universe like and most of all 3. Jim’s ziggy2000 impersonation on the floor (all you needed was a glossy Donald Trump 8X10).

    Stasiland – another good one. I think I could do without the midi “ohs” live. and I think the other’s should join in on the german vocal parts. Andrew’s non-human drumming sounded really great.

    DTTT – really well done!

    Piggly Man – another one of my live favorites. Have you thought of having carl try to sing that one keyboard part (more oh’s, I like them too). It occurred to me that that might really sound cool.

    Water on the Brain – no demo of this one yet. reminds me everytime of grace under pressure era rush (which is not an insult). This is another one that is a real real favorite of mine. The little keyboard part in the chorus is so so so infectious. i am repeating words lots lots lots

    Zeta – I do like this one, but interestingly enough, even though it seems to be the most “throw-back” to earlier holz, its actually lower on my list of favorite new songs.

    Oslo – i will have to admit, after slagging it a bit earlier, i really enjoyed this one last night. There was an energy in it that I don’t normally feel.

  13. Jim Says:

    Saturday popped my live Stasiland cherry. Damn! That one’s is sweet. I hope it sticks around for the album.

    Water on the Brain; is that the one with the hushed bridge that Carl falsettos over before building back into a dancin’ frenzy? I’ve always wondered what that one was called ’cause I can never make out the lyrics. I’d really have to say that it’s probably been my most favorite one since first hearing it in it’s early stages. I really, REALLY hope this one makes it to the album. And I’m pretty sure that falsettos is a verb.

  14. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: Of course, it was great to see you and Deej at the show. Thanks for the song-by-song responses, too. Those are a big help.

    Also, thanks for the reference to the “Donald Trump Splash Feast,” which only old-timey fans would remember.

    Funny you should mention an aversion to the backing tracks on Stasiland. Karl is arguing that we dispense with the the backing tracks on the new record and perform everything live. I think he might be on to something. I also miss the German bgv’s, which we haven’t taken the time to work out in rehearsal.

    Water on the Brain seems to be a song a lot of listeners are gravitating toward. I hope we can inject some of the gravitas of the live performance into the recording.

    Jim: No question Water on the Brain is an album-worthy track. Funny story: when we were on tour with Bobby Conn a year ago, both he and his wife earmarked that song as the best of the set.

    Bobby suggested a more “Bowie-eque” delivery– more croon, less Devo. We’ll see what happens in the studio.

    Stasiland has been a surprise to me. I thought that was a B-side, at best, but even my fiance singles that one out as a keeper. I feel ambivalent about it live, honestly. It’s a tough song to play– especially for Ben with all of those runs in the bass– but it gets consistently good reviews from the congregation.

    “Falsettos” is definitely a verb.

  15. dj Says:

    I’ll give a second on Water on the Brain. The first time I heard that, I was wondering if this was a new direction for the band. It seems a bit more spontaneous than the typical, by-number approach to other Detholz live songs. Definitely a fave of mine.

    Will a demo be posted one of these days?

    Again, thanks for the show. It was good to hear the rest of the songs in full-band mode.

    I gotta give the nod to Palsy, Death to the Traitor and Catherine Zeta-Jones (ultra-catchy and ultra-kitschy). Stasiland is such a complicated song and it’s growing on me.


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