Singled Out: The Disparrows Tell Story Behind 'Detroit City'
Greetings everyone: As with most our songs, "Detroit City" was written from a personal level – more subjective to the band hanging out and talking about places we've been, lived, and about cities that are home to music we like. Doc Loosvelt is from Detroit and the conversation was about how Detroit is getting such a bad rap these days. The city used to be such an industrial power and at one point the center of music with Motown; now, it has sunk into an economic abyss.
The next day, Grant emailed us a few YouTube videos that Detroit independent filmmakers had made about the economic plight of the city, really pointing out that as industry and the economy had gone down, art and inspiration in the city had been going up.
It was Daniel's idea to do the song. He showed up in the room a few days later – very excited, I must say – and said, "I'm writing a song about Detroit." It was initially inspired by videos – I think. Grant popped in a few "must have" references and personal adventures, and cleared up a few things Daniel remembered. The lyrics came pretty quick; I think over the course of two or three days. The only changes came after the music was complete with a few words and harmonies to match the final arrangement.
The music was originated by Daniel as well. If I remember correctly, he was on fire with songs for a few weeks in pre-production...every day, something cool. "Detroit City" really stood out with the full band harmonized intro, pulling back into a rockin' bluesy verse with the guitar solo, and the downbeat rocking chorus.
Grant and I went back and forth matching the piano to the bass line on the verse riff – I think that took the longest to work out. We were trying to work a bluesy riff in G adding the Bb fifth note every other pass, with Daniel adding the guitar harmony on the up-beat, and then walking back to the G from the same Bb.
We tried to stay true to a sound that would come from our genre in Detroit. Kid Rock popped up a lot, White Stripes, John Lee Hooker (I am a huge fan) – I kept telling Daniel listen to him – "We gotta have some guitar work from him!" Bob Seger was another that popped up a lot.
We kept the guitar solos in between the verse but had the song's main solo on the B3; Grant is from Detroit – very fitting that his solo climax the song. We really pushed Grant on this solo too – I remember taking it again and again at Ian London Studios. Frustration set in, so we took a break and listened back to the previous takes, talked about what we liked and didn't like. Ken (Wallace) is great at getting you to relax and let yourself go musically. Grant sat down and nailed it – one of those moments that when it was happening, in the control room, we knew it was the one. Just that energy of it loud and live and knowing – you know that feeling as a frustrated musician or artist, or just with work in general, when you can't skip it and it cannot suck, and the right take finally happens – this solo was one of those moments.
The end rant was a last-minute idea from Daniel – it didn't come until after the final pre-production studio sessions were done, and I never even heard it until we started into the final mixes. Story is that the more he heard about Detroit in the news and listened to the pre-production of the song, there came a sense of energy – I don't remember his word, frustration or anger maybe – that needed to be in there. The idea came to him on the flight from India to New York to track vocals. He had Ken run the session, he got on the mic and let the lyrics go – listened back, cleaned up the words, did one more take and it was done. Kind of a last minute "in-the-moment" thing.