Between the Lines: The City Lines use a mix of Americana, power-pop, and punk to explore emotional 'Memories' on second album
The City Lines’ vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter Pat Deneau links personal stories as a father, husband, firefighter, and tribal member into a perceptive collection of songs on his band’s latest album, Analog Memories.
“Particularly, I like the idea that every song—kind of like city lines—butts up to each other … and continues some sort of throughline,” said Deneau, who is a firefighter with the Ann Arbor Fire Department and a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
“I like how the first tune ‘Different This Year’ opens up with this thought like, ‘OK, a fresh start,’ and I reference [our first album] Waiting on a Win in the second line. It’s this idea of ‘I’m tired of waiting on wins; I just gotta go out and get one.’
“That feeling is carried through to the end of the record on the final song [‘Finding a Way’] where I’m singing to my daughter. The notion there is I have to be better for her and how do you get there? You just have to find a way.”
While wrestling with existential ideas on Analog Memories’ seven tracks, Deneau finds his way forward through spirited choruses, propulsive power-pop-punk instrumentation, and a touch of classic Americana twang.
“There’s a line from ‘Far Enough’ that says ‘Looking back far enough / So I can move forward,’” said Bob Zammit, The City Lines’ drummer. “If you’re going to grab a lyric and be like, ‘Here’s the creative brief for what we’re doing here after the fact,’ I think it’s that.”
The City Lines will bring their Analog Memories tracks to life on June 21 outside the Downtown Library for Make Music Day, a free musical celebration with concerts by musicians across the city on the summer solstice.
Bandmates Skott Schoonover (bass), Jason Rhoades (lead guitar), and Megan Marcoux (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), will join Deneau and Zammit for the performance.
We recently spoke to Deneau and Zammit about their backgrounds, the band’s formation, the creative process for Analog Memories, select tracks from the album, their Make Music Day performance, and upcoming plans.
Q: What was your childhood like and where did you grow up?
Pat Deneau (PD): I grew up in Petoskey, and my mom is from Sault Ste. Marie and my dad grew up in Detroit. They landed on Petoskey as a good middle ground between both sides of the family. We moved to the Northville area right before I started the ninth grade. I was big into outdoor sports and things like that up north, but I’d never really seen a guitar in person. It wasn’t until I got to Metro Detroit and heard about other kids in school that were playing music in their basements. I was like, “I gotta get involved with that somehow.”
Bob Zammit (BZ): I was born in Ann Arbor to a couple of University of Michigan grad students, so I was that kid. I lived in southern Michigan through junior high and then moved out west. I lived in Reno, Nevada for 10 years, and then we just started moving around a lot. I lived in northern California, and I lived in New Zealand … and things got adventurous.
Q: How did your musical journey start and evolve?
PD: It started with Offspring covers with some kids at a talent show, and I played in bands in high school. You can hear it in Analog Memories and our first record, mostly punk-influenced stuff … a lot of that is because of the simplicity of it and my interest in action sports, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Also, growing up on Green Day and groups like that.
I started my career as a firefighter after college, and I stepped away from writing music and playing for fun. Around the end of 2019, I reached a point where I was like, “I need some sort of outlet outside of just being a fireman.” I picked the guitar back up and watched YouTube videos on how to write a song and reconnected with some old high school buddies, and that’s how I started The City Lines.
BZ: I started in the sixth grade as a band kid … a percussion kid. I played drums with my hands for seven years before I ever played with my feet. I was a classical kid, and I was a marching band kid. I was a music nerd, and I loved it, and I did it through high school.
I studied music as an undergraduate, and I was a music major. I played around a whole bunch everywhere I lived, and I just came to the story stuff late. But when I moved here in 2021 with a family, it was pre-omicron or mid-pandemic. This isolation has reminded us what it cost to live 3,000 miles away from our relatives.
Q: How did you form The City Lines in 2019?
PD: The project started with an opportunity to play a spring fest in Novi, and I had just started picking up my guitar and relearning cover songs. I recruited some friends that could also play some cover songs, and we got in the room and played some Gin Blossoms, Third Eye Blind, and other stuff that we knew. And so that was my first time back out on stage in probably 10 or 15 years, and I billed it as The City Lines. It was just the band name that I came up with for this gig, and it was a city function.
Q: How does your band name reflect your music and creative vision?
PD: Ultimately, it’s based on my experience studying maps for work. As a firefighter and first responder, you begin to hone in on district lines in the area that you’re serving. I’ve always found it so strange that cities aren’t perfect squares … but most cities have weird, jagged lines and little bump-outs, and I’ve always been curious about that.
I also think about it in terms of how I grew up north in Petoskey, and I’m Native American through my mom’s side of the family … they’re from Sugar Island outside of Sault Ste. Marie. There’s no city on Sugar Island; it’s just one large island where indigenous people have been for a very long time. There are property lines nowadays delineating real estate, but when you’re on Sugar Island it just feels like one big piece of shared land.
PD: [The title] Analog Memories came along after most of the songs were written. And the key there was that my grandfather was a photographer for The Detroit News. He shot for The Detroit News through the ‘50s and ‘60s and then got into television work with channel 7 (WXYZ-TV).
Growing up around the house, we always had old black-and-white imagery from Detroit. My grandpa [photographed] Martin Luther King Jr., [President] John F. Kennedy, Stanley Cups, and the World Series. I spent a lot of time over the years going through old shoeboxes full of his negatives and prints and just hanging out with him. And so, I liked the idea that an “Analog Memory” is maybe something warm, something tangible, and something more ingrained.
Q: “Different This Year” explores dealing with uncertainty, grappling with faith, and rolling with life’s punches. How does this song address adapting to life’s changes and adopting a flexible attitude toward life in general?
PD: I was trying to write from somebody else’s perspective other than my own, even though I’ve interjected myself into the story. The character I created was some person who’s driving an old beat-up car, and they’re down on their luck, but they’re pushing forward. That person is singing to an air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, and that air freshener is a faded Virgin Mary from a gas station. It’s this intimate conversation this person is having like, “Dang it! Can I pray to you, or who do I pray to? You’re sitting here watching me every day as I go about my business. Somebody show me something somewhere.”
The song has some spiritual elements to it, and I remember sharing it with Bob early on with the writing of this. There is a tie between—at least in Sault Ste. Marie—a lot of Native American folks and the Catholic Church. I remember going into my grandma’s house to visit in the Soo, and there was religious stuff everywhere: floor-to-ceiling crosses, Virgin Marys, rosaries, and all that stuff. And I remember being confused by that as a youngster, like “Don’t Indians have their own kinda thing? What is all this?” I derived the thought there about religious imagery, faith, heaven, and spirituality from some of those mental images.
BZ: The “time heals all wounds” thing has wisdom to it, but it can also be self-defeating. The song asks “Why?” If you haven’t changed, grown, learned, or been self-critical, then why do you think it’s gonna change? It’s the same formula; it’s just hope, and that’s where it gets into this mystical, faith-based place of “Is someone gonna deliver me?” And to me, the frustration of that character is so compelling … because I’m cheering for this character to realize he or she is going to have some really hard questions to make some changes or else things won’t change.
By all means, this record does not ask you to skip the mourning period … like be sad about what you’ve lost, what’s happened to you, and what your ancestors have been through in some cases. Then the question is “What are we gonna do next?” We don’t want to give more power to our traumas and our sadness than is necessary. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen; that’s not looking back far enough. Going forward means we’ve gotta take some agency even though we don’t deserve what happened to us, but it happened.
Q: “Seasons Won’t Stay” chronicles the evolution of a relationship over time and reveals the growth and compromise that comes with it. How did past relationships inspire this track for you? What was it like to work with Twin Deer’s Megan Marcoux and Bill Kahler on it?
PD: I wanted to write a fun, little, basic pop-rock song, and somebody had told me that it sounded like Americana Grease. On the first record, we did a duet song that I liked, and I enjoy singing with a female voice and harmonizing. As I was writing that tune, I thought, “I think there are two different voices here.” I was originally singing them all myself.
We demoed it and sent it to Megan [Marcoux of Twin Deer]. We both started our groups at the same time, came out of the pandemic together, and connected almost instantly. Something that Megan and I say via text together pretty frequently … is “A rising tide lifts all boats.” What’s good for Twin Deer might be good for us, and what’s good for us is good for Twin Deer. This goes back to the punk-rock ethos and sticking together and finding a way in our little scene. The way that they came in on this song and helped us promote it … lending their musical abilities gave me a “pinch-me” moment.
Q: “Erased (AM Remaster)” addresses the country’s origins and the displacement and dismantling of native and indigenous people’s cultures. How has your heritage and being a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians inspired this track?
PD: I was driving home from work one morning, and there was a news report on CBC Radio about these unmarked graves on the residential school grounds being discovered. There are a lot of indigenous children that went missing and were killed at the hands of the Catholic Church. It got me thinking a little bit about my family and the loss of culture through my mom’s side of the family and the Soo tribe in northern Michigan. I don’t know anybody who was personally taken from their home. … My mom doesn’t know anyone personally who was forcibly removed and sent off to this place.
Oddly enough, my mom did go to Catholic schools in the city of Sault Ste. Marie. It’s not the same situation as what happened in northern Canada, but there was still colonization happening. The Indian kids from Sault Ste. Marie and Sugar Island … had a place downtown at the Catholic school to sort of get the “proper education.” Because of that, some things were lost and not passed down in terms of indigenous culture and tradition.
And I just thought, “Well, I’ve got to write about this. I don’t know how to write about it. I don’t even know if I’m the right person to write about the way this feels.” I started jotting down some notes, and I put together a quick demo that was aggressive and punk-rock sounding.
BZ: It was the last song written and the first song recorded. Pat and I sat two feet apart in my basement and went line by line. It was never to change the story; it was just like, “How do we do this?” Let’s just set aside how hard this [song] hits, and let’s do what we did with “Different This Year” … let’s just talk about the best storytelling possible.
Shout-out to Pat’s mom who became one of the most important stakeholders in the writing of “Erased.” She saw early drafts and heard early demos because Pat’s story is real; the cultural loss is real. Pat has had a lot of indigenous-influenced experiences but then lost other ones. We wanted to know about his mom, but we didn’t want to hurt her either. Her positive reaction to that process pretty much put it over the edge … it seemed like it brought her some peace.
BZ: We recorded this entire record at home first. We spent late summer and fall of last year doing all that writing and recording and just iterating on it. We went in December [to Big Sky Recording] and spent a day where we just tracked all drums for the record over to get that beautiful Big Sky sound. And then we captured some key vocals and acoustic guitars—stuff that you want the room to play a part in.
Geoff was also involved in mastering throughout the process. Pat’s collaborator from the first record, Brandon Benson, mixed it and did an incredible job. It was nice to have the eras blur together though with Brandon mixing it, and when he played bass and helped produce Waiting on a Win, it added some continuity and support.
PD: Bryan Robert joined us for the writing and recording of Analog Memories. We found Bryan Robert online through a Facebook Musicians Wanted group. He’s a super cool guy and fun to play with.
PD: Jon Root is with Blind Liars, and we played a show with them at The Lexington in Detroit. I had sent an early-ish demo of “Different This Year” to Jon, and he was like, “Oh man, this is a great song,” and I said, “Hey, if you want to try laying down some guitar on it, maybe a solo, take a crack at it.” He has a home recording setup and laid down a few tracks, and we liked one of the takes and ended up using it.
Kaitlin is a collaborator of Bryan Robert [Kraan], and she’s in Vancouver. She’s a solo singer-songwriter, and she gave “Better n’ Worse” those cool high-country harmonies that make it sound a little twangy. We just sent files back and forth, and she knew the vibe we were after and tracked it at her home studio.
Q: What do you have planned for your June 21 Make Music Day set at AADL?
PD: We’re playing as a five-piece. I’m going to give my best Bruce Springsteen impression because we’re playing a 45-minute set, which is the longest that we’ve played thus far. I would say it’s almost half Waiting on a Win and half Analog Memories at this point. We enjoy stringing songs together, butting one song right up to the next one … and then talking about the stories involved with those songs or setting up the next couple of songs.
We’ve had a lot of fun finding the flow of the set. I think one of the more exciting parts about being a live performer is just woodshedding through the set, playing, and going like, “Does that work? Does that not work? How come that song doesn’t hit as hard there? I wonder if we move it up in the set if it will land a little bit better.”
Q: You’re playing July 14 at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti and August 5 at Detroit’s Lager House with Twin Deer and Blind Liars. What’s up next for The City Lines after that?
PD: I’ve put in for a couple of summer festivals that we’re waiting to hear back on. Dally in the Alley is one that we’d like to play in Midtown [Detroit] and then there’s maybe one or two more. Outside of the Lager House on August 5, I’m ready to start workshopping new songs and starting diving in on the next set, and then hopefully get back in the studio maybe in December or January and fire it up.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.