Two years ago, at a time when The Strokes, The Hives and The Datsuns were hailed as the saviours of rock’n'roll, The Polyphonic Spree came along and offered something very different.
Their white robes and 25-strong band represented a cult-like gospel choir – not exactly your meat and two veg garage rock outfit.
Debut album, The Beginning Stages Of, missed out on very few end-of-year best album round-ups.
And now, two years on, the Spree have returned with their sophomore effort, Together We’re Heavy. musicOMH caught up with Tim Delaughter, the man behind The Polyphonic Spree, in a Soho pizza restaurant.
Tim Delaughter has done what only fervently ambitious choir masters could only ever dream of achieving – gathering together a reverent group of musicians and singers, dressing them in voluminous robes, standing them strong against any adversity and then launching them into a world full of people eager to be converted. How on earth did he do it?
“It was just an idea” he replies, “something I’d been thinking about for quite a long time whilst in my previous band Tripping Daisy. It started off as wishful thinking – in this part of the song rather than having a guitar playing I’d love to have a flute playing this line, something really subtle and sweet, and at this crescendo it would be great to have a harp going on.”
When Tripping Daisy disbanded, the time had come for his idea to burgeon into the momentous gathering of like-minded people and call them The Polyphonic Spree. “I went to close friends and some relatives and family members and told them what I wanted to do and I was able to get it together – it took me about two weeks to get this band together” explains Delaughter. “We played our first show opening for Grandaddy and Bright Eyes – that was it, I had thirteen people. After that show, I had everybody come up asking to be part of it.”
“I’d gone through a dark time – one of my best friends and guitar player of Tripping Daisy died through a drugs overdose.” For The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim Delaughter the band was literally a light at the end of a tunnel.
In an age where manufactured pop, nu metal and garage rock were ruling the airwaves, forming the Spree was surely one hell of a gamble, but simultaneously for Delaughter it was a vitally fresh new start: “I had really taken myself out of music, I’d gone through a dark time – one of my best friends and guitar player of Tripping Daisy died through a drugs overdose. I didn’t know what the hell was going on musically around me. When my child was born, it kind of brought in life again for me and I started seeing things a lot differently. That’s when I got the nerve to start The Polyphonic Spree – I knew that what we were doing was really good, it would find a place eventually.”
The Spree’s musical output is, of course, vastly different from the mainstream norm in its devotional happiness and rocky bite. It’s eclectic in the fullest sense of the world where, as Delaughter puts it, guitars are replaced by more traditional instruments. So where do his musical influences stem from?
“All my inspiration for this group is a lifetime of music that I’ve grown up with – I listen to the first records I ever bought as a kid and I’m hearing them in The Polyphonic Spree. At the time when I was growing up a lot of orchestral sunny pop was happening – Fifth Dimension, Beach Boys, Wings. That’s what the Polyphonic Spree is – it’s pretty sunny music, but it also has a rock side to it as well. I grew up going through Yes, through Pink Floyd, then I moved into metal where it was Judas Priest, UFO, Black Sabbath – Ozzy was an influence on me singing back when I had a heavy metal band.”
“All my inspiration for this group is a lifetime of music that I’ve grown up with.” Tim Delaughter has a whole gamut of musical influences from The Beach Boys to Black Sabbath.
When the Spree hit these shores back in 2002, they were welcomed with open arms – the response was more positive than they could ever have imagined. Their debut album was the subject of lavish praise and fans started turning up to their shows in robes. “It freaked me out, we had no idea. We’re doing something that’s really unorthodox, and I didn’t know who was going to like our band – I thought it was nice that David Bowie liked us and asked us to come out and play, but I didn’t know about the general public.”
The press in this country will always be hounds however, and gave a healthy slab of print space to The Spree’s ‘fall out’ with their UK record label, 679. It wasn’t an accurate depiction however, as Delaughter is keen to point out, explaining that the Spree signed with 679 after needing a major label to finance their first album, which was originally out on their own independent label Good Records.
For Together We’re Heavy however, 679 decided to break with the band, something that Delaughter entirely empathised with: “It’s expensive to operate this group – they looked at how much they spent on tour support and how many records they sold, and it wasn’t adding up. They’re just doing their book work.”
“They’re just doing their book work.” Tim Delaughter defends record label 679′s decision to break with the band after their debut album.
The Spree’s second album is out on their own label again, and marks a confident maturation of the band. “The first record was done by a band that was three months old, it was just a demo. We went in to make that record for promoters because we couldn’t get shows – people wouldn’t book us, they thought it was a logistical nightmare!
“The difference between the new record and that record is now you have a band that’s been together for four-and-a-half-years that’s realising what it’s all about. It’s much thicker, it’s a pretty broad record. It’s more theatrical, it’s kind of a musical, a rock opera- we’re feeling what we’re about.”
And their fans are feeling it too. It seems that the public love affair with the Spree is more intense than ever before. Delaughter says their recent gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire was one of the best they’ve ever done. “The electricity in the room was fantastic, all three stages of people were standing up and going to town – it was pretty amazing.” Judging by this reaction, the church of Tim Delaughter and The Polyphonic Spree will have many more infidels waiting to be converted.