When ex-Tripping Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter and his troupe of Dallas-based wackos, The Polyphonic Spree, began work on their debut album The Beginning Stages Of… in 2001, the group had no real expectations beyond committing their warped choral odes to tape and cramming as many players as possible on tiny stages across the land.
A short three years later, The Polyphonic Spree is appearing on The Tonight Show, having their music used in car commercials and playing to increasingly swelled crowds in both North America and the UK. They recently opened for David Bowie at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, and were pleased as punch to be warming up crowds for one of rock and roll's most revered performers.
"It's been really great—definitely the biggest indoor venues we've ever played," says keyboardist Evan Hisey by phone from Quebec City. "It hasn't really been that intimidating, but it's kinda strange because we're playing to a completely new audience. A small fraction of the crowds even know who we are beforehand. We get a lot of different reactions, but by the end of the show, we definitely win people over every time."
With a stage show featuring 24 players decked out matching white robes, The Spree have become as known for their cream-soda-cum-Jonestown image as they have for their music. Yet with the release of their sophomore effort Together We're Heavy, due July 13, the band is hoping to prolong their bizarre trip a while yet. "[Together We're Heavy] is definitely going to take things up to a higher level," says Hisey "We're still touring in support of The Beginning Stages Of… and that was never even meant to be anything more than a demo. Once people hear what we're capable of in a proper studio setting, I think a lot of heads are going to be turned."
Whereas their first album was recorded AND mixed in a mere three days, Together is a far more cohesive effort. Building on the sunny sonic sheen of its predecessor, Hisey promises the latest Spree effort will be a fuller exploration of the band's skewed vision. "We did this one in shifts. There would be a few times where we'd get together and play together but, for the most part, we did it in sections. It was pretty organized—as organized as it could be, I guess."
To support the discs released, the band has agreed to take part in this year's Lollapalooza tour alongside such odd bedfellows as Sonic Youth, Morrissey and the String Cheese Incident. A strange mix of the sublime and the ridiculous but, then again, there probably aren't too many bands who could match this band's capricious performances. With the equally theatrical Flaming Lips also signed up for the tour, Hisey looks forward to the challenge of playing on such a disparate bill. "When we did The NME package tour a couple of years ago in the UK, it was a strange mix of bands, style-wise. There was Interpol, The Datsuns, The Thrills and us, and each night we'd all be trying to outdo the other. It was a good healthy competition and a good time, to be sure." The band also has a full schedule of European festival dates in line for the summer, and a probable North American headlining tour by year's end.
In the meantime, Hisey and his bandmates are simply enjoying the bonus elbowroom the Bowie tour allows them and looking forward to branching out beyond the cloth. "I think there's really no bad place for our music. It's definitely a stage production—it's built for that. It's almost intimidating that we're so spread apart now since we're so used to playing the smaller stages."
For more information about The Polyphonic Spree, please visit www.polyphonicspree.com
Writer: Cameron Gordon