Archive for the ‘baby teeth’ Category

Travelers of Tyme present: “DC Metro” a new single for $1

January 25, 2011
  • This single that is a tribute to the Washington D.C. metro supports the efforts of the Travelers to create a full-length and go boldly where no band has gone before. Available in most elite formats from $1→WhatYouChooseToGive! 

    Originally entered into the Washington Post Metro-Music contest. The B-side got 2nd place and attributed oddly to John Yaya! ( Keeping the mystery alive in 2011!

    DOWNLOAD CONTAINS: Desktop backgrounds of cover art to adorn your computational device!

Picture it: a lonesome subterranean train platform. A balding man in a rumpled black suit stands, waiting, anxiously checking his watch, too often. He rocks on his heels. His train is late, so very late. And what is his final destination? Not one of us can answer that with any certainty, can we? So we might as well be patient. (Just don’t tell that to the Waiting Man. Our secret…) 

An empty train arrives – but it’s not the Waiting Man’s train. As the doors open, they unfold in slow motion as a beautiful brunette in a crisp pant suit emerges like a swan from a swirling gray mist. She seems not to walk but to hover, gliding across the platform, a gorgeous spectre existing beyond Tyme and space. With a wink and a slight smile to the Waiting Man, she mounts the escalator and is carried into an unknown fog above. What is her final destination? Who can say? Perhaps she has already arrived!

As for the Waiting Man, his train is still running late. And it always will be.


▲ ▲ ▲

The Travelers of Tyme present “Misty Businesswoman” b/w “Last Train to Limbo,” 2 songs constructed using sound samples of the Washington DC Metrorail. Whether you are waiting, in transit, or have already arrived at your destination, this music is specially designed to enhance your travel experience.

Thank you for spending six minutes and fifty-five seconds with us. We hope that you enjoy the rest of your Tyme in this Universe. It is a pleasant one.


Professor John Yaya and Doctor Klem
The Travelers of Tyme


Detholz! live recording – “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

December 12, 2007

A DETHOLZ! Live DVD is in the works — ETA Spring 2008!
Preview “You the Power of You” from Detholz! 8th Annual “Jukebox of the Dead” Halloween show here:

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode XVIII!

Apologies that I was AWOL last week. On an East Coast Baby Teeth tour, dubbed “Lush Life ’07,” for reasons I won’t go into. There was the requisite pain and suffering, including driving in a blizzard and getting hopelessly lost in mid-town Manhattan. Anyway… no time to type!

In the spirit of giving, for the duration of December I’ll be posting a special blend of holiday music– so grease up your shopping cart! This week, the Detholz! interpretation of:



Santa Claus is coming!


An exhaustive exegesis of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” seems silly, somehow. Let’s not rob this little gem of its holiday magic, shall we? Just sit back, relax, and douse yourself in eggnog.

Merry Christmas, everyone! [Or, for those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa!]

Tune in next week for another sparkling holiday snowflake…

Jukebox of the Dead Countdown III – “Faith” (live) & “Something About You”

October 24, 2007

Greetings, ye greased goblins & gorgeous ghost hosts! Welcome to Episode (Lucky) XIII of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog, the third in our countdown to the 8th Annual Jukebox of the Dead Halloween Spectacular!

In this spirit of this season of giving (and taking), another two-fer today of previously unreleased Detholz! covers. A trick and a treat.

1. TRICK: “Faith” by George Michael (live version)

A number of versions of this cover have been recorded over the years, though there was never a proper demo for the completed arrangement. Jonny (Detholz! keyboardist – visit his songwriting blog at!) originally tackled arranging “Faith,” and elements of his original arrangement can still be heard here. After he submitted it, we took his initial idea and ran with it as a group. Of all the covers, this one really went through the Detholz! ringer. The finished product sounds much different than the initial versions.

This version was recorded live for a radio broadcast 2 or 3 years ago, and was a regular part of the Detholz! diet at that time. We played this at most of the shows we did with Wilco on their “Ghost is Born” tour in 2005 to some accolades… and more than a few Bronx cheers. It ain’t exactly easy listening.

At the time we recorded “Cast Out Devils,” we considered including “Faith,” and a complete studio version was tracked. After some “mass debating,”however, we decided against including it for various reasons– the primary reason was that it seemed a little heavy-handed in the context of the other material. It subsequently remains in the VORTECS Corporation vaults to this day, and has never been properly mixed.

2. TREAT: “Something About You” by Level 42

Originally intended for Jukebox of the Dead VII last year, this is a home demo I recorded last summer. I hoped to kill 2 birds with one stone: write another Jukebox of the Dead cover for 2006 & complete a submission for a wedding compilation released by Lujo Records, Baby Teeth‘s DC-based label. (Baby Teeth is my “other” band– click the link for the BT Mp3 blog). The compilation was released to celebrate the wedding of our friends, Erik and Jocelyn (Lujo Records owners), so this arrangement is appropriately luvvie-duvvie. Interestingly enough, Erik and Joce decided to include “Invisible Touch” instead. (see last week’s post)

When Halloween came around last year, the band worked on this cover during a rehearsal and decided it was simply too tame. It was subsequently shelved, and will probably never see the light of day.

This is a rare case in Jukebox-land where I really *love* the source material; “Something About You” is a good, old-fashioned Eurovision-worthy song for that lonely junior higher at the roller rink.

Oh, and for you Detholz! ueber-geeks, there’s yet another narcissistic self-reference. Can you spot it? Where’s Waldo?

Ueber-geek or no, tune in next week for the “Final Countdown” to Halloween and Jukebox of the Dead VIII!

For those of you in Indiana and DeKalb… beware. Detholz! draweth nigh…THIS WEEK:


Friday, October 26
Zanies Too
Indianapolis IN
w/Creepin’ Charley & the Boneyard Orchestra

Saturday, October 27
The House
Dekalb IL

Wednesday, October 31 HALLOWEEN
Ye Aulde Empty Bottle
Chicago, IL
w/ the Mucca Pazza Marching Band & the amazing Lord of the Yum-Yum

Surrounded by Monarchs – “In a Consumer Haze” from “Paradise!”

September 26, 2007

Welcome to Episode X of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog!

In another two weeks, you’ll have enough tracks to build your own “Detholz! ‘n Friends” album! For now, the mp3’s all read “Detholz! Mp3 Blog,” but that’s so blase. What do YOU think this record should be called? “Abraham Lincoln and his Lincoln’s Logs?” “Tiny Loopholes for Huge Americans?” “The Adventures of Subway Sandwich on her Submarine, the U.S.S. Fat Jared?” Hmm… Hit us back with a comment, suggest a title and we’ll take a vote!

Today’s cut, “In a Consumer Haze” is near and dear to me, the product of a collaboration with one of the most colorful characters I know, Mr. James “Jamesie” Mitchell (aka Mister M from the DH! days of yore). He named the project “Surrounded by Monarchs.”

James, along with Karl, is one of the founding members of Detholz!. Back in the early days, James designed all of our posters– collages of anarcho-fascist rallies and images from “Today’s Christian Woman,” etc.– and took a very active role in making each Detholz! show unique. (We were in college at the time, and could afford to make every show “high concept.”)

In 2001 (right, James?), James experienced a minor meltdown and disappeared. After a few weeks of scratching our heads, James called me from somewhere in the Yukon Territory and announced that he was driving to the North Pole– or as close as he could get in his Buick LeSabre. While we feared for his safety, after a few more weeks, James returned home and wrote a collection of… poems? Lyrics? Vignettes? I don’t know what to call them. They’re a series of texts about his journey to the North Pole and back again entitled, “Paradise!.”

Eventually, James and I decided to collaborate on this project. I would set his text to music, and it would culminate in a solo performance by Jamesie @ Hungry Brain in Chicago. As I recall, I badgered him to be involved until he agreed. The resulting piece is 45 minutes long– the longest piece of music I’ve written to date– and James and I worked closely together on the project for about 3 months before it was finished. Surrounded by Monarchs remains one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever participated in.

In the moments after James finished his performance, Dan, the doughty Hungry Brain bartender, said: “OK, we are now officially the weirdest bar in Chicago!”

Though “Paradise!” is far from perfect musically, I think James is a brilliant writer and an unusually resourceful artist. (Incidentally, James writes his own music– painstakingly– using a shareware sequencing program. Perhaps with his permission, he’ll allow us to post some in the future.) He manages to save the piece from drowning in its own pretension with his quirky stories.

Being able to work with James on this piece, I got a rare glimpse inside of his head during a confusing time in his life. Examining those demons together was a rare privilege. I have often returned to this piece during dark spells in my own life.

Because the process of constructing this was so long and difficult, I never fully mixed and mastered the original recordings. I’ve started to do so this year and will post more of “Paradise!” as I complete the remixes. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to post the piece in its entirety, as it was intended to be heard.


I will have to defer to James on the back story. He’ll post something shortly.


This is the second piece of programmatic electronic music I’ve written. Almost all of the sound sources are “found sounds,” heisted from the web, movie soundtracks, other songs, etc. The sampling is “dirty,” meaning I didn’t do a whole lot to clean up imperfections, looped them in awkward places, etc. The samples are noisy, raw, and mostly went direct to tape. The technique comes, again, from my fascination with the music of the Residents, who were among the first to use sampling technology on their album entitled “The Tunes of Two Cities,” which is part of a trilogy about the migration of moles.

Specifically, many sounds were lifted from the soundtrack of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” as I saw a lot of parallels between James and Charlie– an innocent soul plunges into a bizarre dimension and climbs out again. (The candy-coated surrealism doesn’t hurt, either, if you know James.) I lifted and manipulated a lot of bell and glockenspiel passages from the score– which is excellent, btw. Bells make “magical” sounds– they’re the first and last instrument you hear in “Paradise!,” a reminder that you are entering/exiting an alternate universe. A alternate universe of JAMES.

The music in “Paradise!” is all motivic, just like “Death to the Traitor.” There is a “wanderer motive” that occurs in the B or “bridge” section of this movement, and though it doesn’t show up in every section of “Paradise!,” a lot of the melodic material (as melodic as one can be when working with found sounds) springs from it. I’ll post it once it’s remixed.

The big challenge here was to service the words. In retrospect, “Paradise!” is far too complicated musically. I think it distracts from Jamesie’s words at times, though in “Consumer Haze,” the balance is better. If I were to do this piece over again, I would impose more severe musical limits, focusing on creating atmosphere rather than through-composing movements with discernible sections and phrases. In plain English, it would be more “free form” and improvisatory.

There are later movements where I took that approach, and they’re MUCH more effective. When James performed this back in 2004, it was easy to see when the audience was responding… and when they got lost. It’s demanding to ask someone to sit through a 45-minute long electronic epic which, for the most part, isn’t easy to listen to. James performed this in front of 2 different audiences, and in both cases, they gravitated towards the “freer” sections.

“Consumer Haze” is intentionally dense, claustrophobic, and over-arranged with layers of crowd noise, pitches going in and out of phase, Ian MacKaye’s looped shout, etc. All of us have been trapped in a Best Buy at one point or other…

So. Your comments are welcome. I realize this will never play on commercial radio, but I hope you enjoy it. “Paradise!” remains a piece I’m very proud to have been a part of.

Jon Steinmeier demo – “Our Universe”

August 29, 2007

Greetings, aficionados, and welcome to the Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode VI!

Continuing our junket deeper into Detholz! terrain, today’s installment comes from Detholz! keyboardist, Jon Steinmeier.

Jonny joined the band in 2001, replacing original Detholz! keyboardist, Rick Franklin. He was brought to my attention originally by a mutual friend, and after attending his senior composition recital, where Jonny conducted his own music and played piano, drums, and many other instruments all flawlessly and with mind-blowing precision, I knew he was the only choice. He’s one of those sickos that can play any instrument he happens to pick up– and play it well.

Since that time, he’s been an asset in Detholz!, as one of the band’s three drummers (both Andrew and Ben are also drummers by trade). The rhythmic precision and virtuosity of his playing, as well as his vast understanding of writing/arranging, have had a huge impact on the band.  (Not to mention his “signature sound,” otherwise known as “Das Papiertone.”)

Detholz! is Communist in nature- each of us plays an equal role. Still, if any member of the band deserves the MVP Award, it’s Jonny.

Since joining Detholz!, Jonny’s now in high demand in Chicago, and has played with a wild assortment of characters, from Mavis Staples, the international soul star, to Mucca Pazza, a 30-piece maniacal marching band. He has his own songwriting blog,, and for many months has posted an original “Song of the Week” at Jonny also teaches drums, voice and piano (in no particular order), so for any of you aspiring Chicago rawk folk, here’s your chance to study with one of the greats!

Over to you, Jon…

our universe

welcome back kids! today’s Song of The Week is about OUTER SPACE and LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS! what fun! it’s called “our universe,” appropriately named after the National Geographic Picture Atlas by Roy A. Gallant published in 1980. i grew up with this book, and i got REALLY excited when i saw it at a church yard sale in Bedford, Massachusetts a few weeks ago and bought it for a dollar fifty or so.

on page 44, Mr. Gallant takes us on an “imaginary safari to real places faithfully described” to see what crazy creatures there “never were.” this section was always a favorite of mine as a kid, with artistic renderings of alien life on other planets. If you have this book handy, i recommend looking through this section to “understand” the lyrics of this weeks Jon Steinmeier Song of the Week, a Detholz Blog Exclusive, appropriate called ” our universe.”


ok, i feel like i should make sense of these lyrics for you, although part of me would rather hear what people get out of them first (as usual), these are convoluted enough that i’ll go ahead and dig in. each verse of this song describes a different planets lifeform(s) through the imagination of Roy Gallant. verse one is Jupiter, verse two is Pluto, the B section is Titan, verse three is Mars, and the second B section is Venus. THEN…i whistle. that’s really it. i generally find lyrics that don’t make “sense” to be quite entertaining and potentially funny, especially when presented in an otherwise serious sounding context (see my blog for more on that), and “our universe” is ultimately about some combination of imagery and this strange, country character. i imagine it to be a song written by Roy Gallant, that he sings to his star gazing kids on clear nights, hoping to one day be able to see if this theories on alien life were accurate.

here are the lyrics:







i HIGHLY recommend looking at the pictures from said book as you listen. they’re far more interesting than this song.


i had a conversation with mom recently, about the song of the week project, and how ideas can sometimes run thin, and she recommended a goal of writing a really “simple” melody and just keeping it simple. not over-arranging, but really just going for good melodic material. i loved this suggestion, and sat on my back porch with guitar, coffee, cigarettes, and paper and pen while the carpet guys cleaned our weekly basement flooding. i wrote the melody down in solfege syllables and rhythms to remember it as i went, and eventually played around with chordal ideas later. i tried to keep this song pretty straight ahead melodically and harmonically, and really just thought about,

A. satisfying movement in the melody, and

B. character.

i ended up with a melody i’m pretty happy with, and a character that just didn’t ask for much arrangement. simple works best in this case i think. after the verses, i went ahead through the form one more time with two part whistles, and tried to vibrate my whistles a bit to sound like theramins. that, with a spaghetti western level of reverb, helped to bridge the character combo for me.

old west star gazer meets star.

thanks for listening.

if you wanna here this one live, swing down to millennium park tomorrow afternoon at 2pm for a kids show jeff thomas and i are doing. i’m interested to see what the kids think. i have a feeling they’ll just sit and stare.

(ed. note – Keep those comments coming, and see you next week!)

Detholz! demos – “Minnesota Nice” I/II

August 15, 2007

Welcome to Episode IV of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog – a 2-parter this week.

I originally intended this song to be posted last week, but it was met with such controversy from other band members that I decided to rustle up an alternate, “Detholz!-friendly” arrangement.

So, here are both versions:

“Minnesota Nice” – new, DH!-friendly version
For those who aren’t interested in music geekery, this is the one to download.

“Minnesota Nice” – original version

Today’s song necessitates an apology to any Minnesotan listeners: I have nothing against the great state of Minnesota, or any of its residents. You all had the good sense to elect Jesse “The Mind” a few years back, and that cannot be overlooked. He’s the source of my favorite summation from any political figure, in reference to MN ice-fishing restrictions in early Spring: “You can’t legislate stupidity.”

Also: “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

So, on with the show!


Unlike the previous 2 posts, today’s ditty, “Minnesota Nice,” came totally out of left field. Also unlike the previous two posts, I really didn’t know what this song was about until more than a week after I’d written it.

Unless you’ve been away skinning rabbits in a cave, you know there was a terrible accident in Minneapolis 2 weeks ago where a bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in the teeth of the rush hour, causing dozens of cars to plummet into the water. Six people were killed and many more went missing. This is a stretch of road I’ve traveled over many times on tour, and when I heard the story on the radio and saw the pictures on the news, I was saddened and a little creeped out.

I guess these lyrics are collections of images stemming from the bridge accident and from recent conversations with an old friend that’s had a hard time in Minnesota, mostly owing to circumstances beyond her control. Subsequently, “Minnesota” serves as a metaphor for death, stagnation or fate.

[Again, angry Minnesotans: it could have just as easily been Ohio or New Jersey… pick a state. Yours happens to have a pleasant sequence of phonemes.]

The plastic smiles of death and/or fate inexorably turn to all of us, regardless of what we wish for. So perhaps this song is about the fear of fate and the loss of control. In that spirit, I’ll leave the final determination up to you:

“I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to float with the dead
I don’t want to go to your funeral
Minnesota Nice up ahead”

[complete lyrics below this post]


(It was hard for me to discuss this one without lapsing into some music theory. If you have questions about any of these ideas or the terminology, don’t hesitate to ask. For the record, I’m going to try and avoid forced rides on Music School Bus as much as possible on this thing…)

Despite the grisly subject matter, this song was a barrel of fun to construct! It’s an experiment in phase-shifting– one of my favorite musical devices– based on the 4-note fuzz bass line that doesn’t change much throughout the song. In other words, the downbeat shifts. (Downbeat = 1st beat of a musical measure, for any greenhorns out there)

The bass line occupies 4 eighth notes. During the choruses, the downbeat is on the first note of the pattern (imagine me crooning at you here): “BOM-bom-bom-bom.”

During the verse, the downbeat shifts to the THIRD note in the pattern: “bom-bom-BOM-bom.”

I recorded bass first, then drums, then vocals. The downbeat shift between chorus and verse was initially too difficult for my poor pea brain to sing, so I had to mute the drum part to record the vocals. Once I un-muted the drum part, presto! A dramatic change in feel between verse and chorus! Whether it’s effective or not, I’ll leave up to you, but I think it will have interesting possibilities if the band can pull it off live.

I decided to add horn parts next, which I knew would be controversial within the band. And man, oh man, were they ever! There’s a growing debate in Detholz! as to whether or not horns fit within our particular… mileu. After my years of servitude in Baby Teeth and Bobby Conn’s band, I’ve become enamored with a more organic sound, and am attempting to steer the new DH! record in THAT direction. Sorry, folks, but I think it’s time to veer away from the paper-thin synths of our dorkalicious past. There’s some major disagreement on that topic in Kamp Detholz.

Here’s what a few other Holz had to say about the original version of this song:

Jonny: “The bridge is compositionally pretty cool…minus the bird noises. 🙂 I think that’s what cheezes it for me. Also, i’m still not used to the idea of a ‘sax section’ in the detholz. it still doesn’t make sense to my ear.”

(BTW, don’t miss Jonny’s own songwriting blog,

Ben: “I’m with Jon on the horns and crow sounds. What I dislike with the horns is replacing crazy synth parts for crazy horn parts. It’s good to get out of “New Wave” land, but to jump into ‘Ska-ish/Radiohead with Horns’ land might be worse. I don’t object to using horns, but I would like to see them be soulful, noisy and dare I say smooth. I think these motives would do better with the plastic touch of the synth.”

(And Ben’s delightfully weird music can be heard at

Thing is, I didn’t include horns for their own sake, or to make a point. I think they genuinely serve the purpose of this song. It freely borrows structurally from Fela Kuti, whose music I’ve obsessed over for a while now. The horns are an important part of the rhythm section in this arrangement. They add a blanket of polyrhythms to the drum part that turns it from a standard “Wurlitzer-home-organ samba” into something more convoluted and interesting, at least to me. It’s often difficult to place where the downbeat falls in Fela’s music, as he plays around constantly with phase shifting and polyrhythmic patterns, most of which repeat over long periods of time. While this is nothing new, that’s territory that we’ve never explored before in Detholz! and we’re having some success at it in rehearsal.

In any case, I took Ben’s and Jonny’s recommendations to heart in the DH!-friendly version and substituted the horns with a distorted synth clav. Here’s what Jonny said about the 2nd version:

“This tune is growing on me a lot. I think part of thing with this new arrangement is that i found myself focusing more on the composition than on the sounds, which is a good thing. The writing is really cool. I DID end up liking the horns over the clav i think though. I know, I’m eating my words here. but I missed ’em.”

Jonny brings up an excellent rule of thumb: the orchestration/arrangement of a song should NEVER distract from the song itself. In this world of gadgetry and innumerable options, I have a major blind spot with respect to “over-arranging.” I really wrestled with that this time. Esp. given the weighty subject matter– this was no occasion to be riding the “Gimmick Train.”

Which leads us to the most difficult part of this composition– and one I agonized for hours over– the bridge. Originally, I opted for the standard “Jim Cooper Bridge” = meandering harmonic changes, no strong melody, plenty of room for either goofy narration or a novelty sound effect (cf. “Heather via JC” on Baby Teeth’s “For the Heathers” EP, “Jukebox of the Dead” theme song from the post-college camp era– click links for free downloads on both) Though I attempted to paint a picture of the aftermath of the bridge accident, I’m not sure I succeeded in doing much more than pasting part of a bad Danny Elfman movie score in the middle of a song that, as DH!/Baby Teeth producer Blue Hawaii would say, is “pretty OK” (meaning “pretty bad”)

In the DH!-friendly version, the bridge accomplishes its compositional function between the A and B sections more effectively, and introduces a flute line that reoccurs near the end of the song. It also reduces the “goof” factor quite a bit. The guitar effect is heisted from the end of the Shuggie Otis song, “Strawberry Letter 23,” from his album, “Inspiration Information” which is forever burned in my brain as the death-song of one of the characters from HBO’s Six Feet Under. While the original bridge with the prominent crow samples was a valiant attempt to conjure images of a death-laden ravine, I’m afraid it lapsed into pure frippery.

The chorus, as you’ll notice from the start of the song, consists of 4 notes in keeping with my “less-is-more” approach to chorus melodies (see the “Tammy” post below for more on that subject). In keeping with themes of fate and tragedy, the rhythm is unrelenting and the background vocals more primal: “Minnesota…ahhh, ahhh!”

The verse vocal is not improvised– mainly because I’m a terrible improviser– but the melody purposely darts in and around a strong tonal center, giving it an improvisatory flavor. The harmony is mostly static, and the changes are simple to leave room for all of the rhythmic interplay between the groups of instruments.

Lyrically, the song contains two of the three images I’m trying to include in every song on the new record: blood, animals, and betrayal. The “betrayal” element is missing this time, so I left the “Traitor” motive out (see the “Catherine Zeta-Jones” post below). However, the flute parts use the same descending intervals as the “Traitor” motive, so it’s referenced indirectly. A great device to unify a number of songs or movements, incidentally, is use of the same intervallic material.

So, doughty readers, which version do YOU prefer?

I think the newer version is cleaner, though I miss the horns and the dulcimer (the stringy sounding instrument) from the original. The horns also strike me as more chaotic-sounding, which I prefer.

For some reason, the dulcimer evokes images of the snowy Northern reaches of Minnesota, where the ghosts of Scandinavian ancestors roam the countryside, hooting spookily in their native tongues.

Thanks for reading, friendly ghosts… and, as always, thanks for listening!


I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to talk to the dead
I don’t want to drown in the water
Minnesota Nice up ahead

Brutalized by the 3rd degree
Stuck in traffic, in the heat of the heat
I saw you smile
Before you were exploded
Your guts spilling over my feet
The sight of your blood–
I really thought I could, but–

I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to talk to the dead
I don’t want to drown in the water
Minnesota Nice up ahead

Minnesota, ah!

Don’t forget your water wings
on the Overpass over watery things
A stream full of eyes
They’re sinking ever deeper
Their bloated bodies doing nothing
You’re crossing a bridge
A bridge that won’t hold you
And then it’s over
Over Minnesota
Drowning in the heart of town

I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to float with the dead
I don’t want to go to your funeral
Minnesota Nice up ahead

I don’t want to die like a monkey
I don’t want to die in your stead
I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to talk to the dead

Minnesota, ah!

I don’t want to talk to the dead

Detholz! demo – “Death to the Traitor”

August 8, 2007

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.


“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
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.


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.


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!

Detholz! demo – “Catherine Zeta-Jones”

August 1, 2007

Welcome to the Detholz! mp3 blog’s second installment! All of these blog postings are in two parts:

1. Song Concept for “lyrics” people, and
2. Song Composition for “music” people.

Feel free to skip around!


This week, a Detholz! demo presented in earnest for the next record: “Catherine Zeta-Jones” (I seem to be mired in Hollywood these days… well, who isn’t?)

In this case, ol’ Cath is incidental to the subject matter. As I mentioned last week, all of the songs on the new record deal with different aspects of betrayal. This song is about the sad case of American traitor, Robert Hanssen, an FBI employee who sold secrets to the Soviets for over 15 years. He holds the distinction of being the worst (the best?) spy in American history.

My interest in his story was piqued initially by Billy Ray’s recent film “Breach,” which I watched in the back of the Baby Teeth tour van a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I don’t think the film does justice to the real Hanssen, as it presents him as a frustrated “super-spy” (though Chris Cooper’s performance in the role is exceptional). The truth is, Hanssen was a mediocre FBI agent that rose in the ranks primarily because the Bureau didn’t really know what to do with him. He was a textbook headcase, which is unusual for an FBI employee given their rigorous screening process.

Hanssen had undeniable technical skill and a superior memory. Unfortunately, these talents were overshadowed by a seeming inability to deal with people. He wore black suits daily, never smiled, and was referred to by his subordinates at the FBI as “Dr. Death.” At one point, he physically manhandled a female FBI support employee who refused to stay in a meeting and he was simply “brushed under the rug.” The Bureau didn’t fire him, they simply took him out of a supervisory role and transferred him to a solitary technical job. (Heh, sounds like a naughty priest. Ironic since Hanssen was a fanatic Catholic and a member of Opus Dei…)

[Sorry for the history lesson. I mean, hey, this is a music blog, right? To read the full account of Hanssen’s fascinating 20+ -year career in the FBI– incl. his espionage activities– the Dept. of Justice has posted an unclassified synopsis here. The USA Today article published at the time of his arrest is also available online here.]

History lessons aside, what struck me after reading this stuff was how Hanssen’s fantasy life consumed — and ultimately destroyed — him. THAT’S what this song is about: betrayal of self by fantasy. In Hanssen’s case, LAYERS upon LAYERS of fantasy.

Lyrically, this plays out a couple of ways:

1. Hanssen was obsessed with porn, and had an unhealthy fixation on Catherine Zeta-Jones. Evidently he’d carry around copies of Zeta-Jones movies in his briefcase (“Entrapment,” ironically). He would also regularly post sexual fantasies in graphic detail on the web– even using his wife’s real name. Additionally, he would secretly videotape he and his wife having sex, and then watch the tapes with a childhood friend. *shudder*

2. He was a fanatic Catholic, would attend Mass at least once a day, and was a supernumerary member of the ultra-conservative Opus Dei sect– mostly at his wife’s prompting. She caught him writing a letter to one of his Soviet contacts in the early 80’s, and insisted that he confess immediately to a priest. (!!)

These points are borne out in the second verse:

“I ate a bitter scroll
[a reference to Revelation 10:10, where the apostle John ingests the prophetic word of God, which is “bitter in his stomach”]
Inside my spider’s hole
I had my wife, the Blessed Virgin,
[an image that combines his wife with his Catholicism]

And whispered lies to her in Russian

And she’s on the screen
For the world to see
And now she’s Catherine Zeta-Jones
and I’m Catherine Zeta-Jones
[The idea that once his wife is on a TV screen, she transforms into his fantasy woman, and he likewise transforms into a fantasy of himself.]

And I bait the Bear
With locks of her hair”
[His fantasy of himself as “moral beyond morality” enables him to “bait the Bear,” the Bear doubling as a symbol for the Soviet regime and his imminent capture.]

The lyrical linchpin of the song, of course, is the repetition of “Touch me like that / Don’t touch me like that,” which refers to the dichotomy between fantasy and reality: “I WANT this thing / I cannot HAVE this thing.” Or, more rightly, “I WANT this thing / This thing does not EXIST.”

A quote from one of Hanssen’s last letters to his Soviet handlers sums this up well. When asked why he was betraying his country, he answers:

“Conclusion: One might propose that I am either insanely brave or quite insane. I’d answer neither. I’d say, insanely loyal. Take your pick. There is insanity in all the answers.”

The “insanely loyal” Hanssen is now serving a life sentence in a supermax federal penitentiary in Colorado and spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.


Musically, the arrangement started with the opening bass line. [Well, I say “bass line,” but I’ve purposely NOT used a bass in recording recent demos as a personal challenge. Bass is the instrument on which I’m most comfortable, so it’s easy for me to fall in a creative rut if I overuse it. I think it’s important in songwriting to be uncomfortable sometimes, at least for me! What you’re hearing here is a guitar with fuzz and an octave effect using Native Instruments excellent “Guitar Rig” plugin.]

Second, the drum part! I wanted to keep the groove interesting– it would have perhaps been easier just to do a “4 on the floor” kind of part, but I wanted this song to have a jerky, fractured feel since it’s about a man splitting in half. The bass line bounces up and down off of an open G, and the drum part emphasizes the beats where said bass line hits those G’s, all on off-beats:

one-AND-two- AND-three-four-AND / one-two-AND-three-four

Though the bass line changes in the verse, this rhythmic pattern does not.

Thirdly, that ridiculous descending saxophone/guitar line which, as Jonny astutely pointed out in rehearsal, is in Dorian mode. Lately, just to keep things interesting for myself, I’ve been including at least one element that makes me laugh. The sax part is that element. You may notice that the pitch is horribly flat– when I tuned it up, it didn’t sound as good. Sometimes, for color, it works to leave instruments out of tune. Listen to some of those old Velvet Underground recordings and you’ll see what I mean.

The verse is antiphonal– call and response, i.e. bit of melody, answered by “Ze-Ze…Zeta-Jones!” This is a verse form I use ALL of the time (cf. verse of “IMA Believer,” “Club Oslo,” and others from “Cast Out Devils” – songs available for $0.89 download at or on our MySpace page). I was reminded of the effectiveness of this songwriting device while listening to the The Angels’ song, “My Boyfriend’s Back” on oldies radio. What a great, catchy song! I directly attempted to copy that technique here.

The chorus continues my experimentation with “4-notes-or-less” chorus, and just as in “Tammy” (from last week), the chorus melody consist of just two notes, a perfect fifth apart.

The final element I’ll call attention to occurs during the break before the “out chorus.” There is a 4-note melody (in theoretical terms, a musical “motive”) in the synth that comes from “Death to the Traitor”– a song that is the centerpiece of the new record– and that “Traitor” motive occurs in almost every new song we’re doing. It is a sort of “cantus firmus” that holds this entire album together (though for you music nerds, it doesn’t technically function as a cantus firmus). I love albums that tell stories, and this spooky little “Traitor motive” is included as a reminder that someone, somewhere in the song, is being betrayed.

Listen for it again at the tail end of the song!

So-called “motivic composition”– esp. in larger pieces– is near and dear to my heart. I’ve done it before, most notably in a 45-minute electronic work I did in collaboration with big James (aka “Mister M”) in our side project, “Surrounded by Monarchs.” Look for movements from that piece on this blog in the near future.

As always, your comments and criticisms are welcome! We’ve started rehearsing this, but the jury’s still out. Should Catherine stay…or GO?

Tune in next Wednesday for the 3rd installment of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog… collect them all!

Thanks for tuning in!

Your pals,
Jim C. & Detholz!

Welcome, weary traveler…

July 24, 2007

…to the Detholz! Mp3 Blog!

Detholz! is a Chicago-based musical ensemble that has encompassed more than just its music– an entire community of musicians and artists can be traced back to Detholz! over its 11-year history, and the now-famous (infamous?) house where the band still rehearses and resides, MAPLEWOOD, in the North Center neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side.

This blog is a repository for the music and art of the Detholz! and Maplewood community. Here, you will find not only new projects, brainchildren, and side projects of Detholz!, but of their colleagues and associates as well, UPDATED EVERY WEDNESDAY! Tune in every week for free music and/or art with commentary by the musician/artist. Please comment, vote and review what you hear and see– this blog will serve to help Detholz! construct their next record!

Thank you for visiting, and let us know of your love, hate, admiration, disdain or any other appropriate adjective. We’d love to hear from you!

Your pals,