The Polyphonic Spree – You’re all individuals
July 31, 2008 § Leave a comment
Published: Sydney Morning Herald, Metro, July 25, 2008.
The Polyphonic Spree are neither a cult nor a novelty act. Dan Rule reports.
Nobody expected it to last. Wrangling 20-plus people into the one band was a dubious proposition at best. Creating some semblance of cohesive music from such a throng, it seemed, was even more improbable.
But for Tim Delaughter – the founder, chief songwriter and vocalist for 24-piece symphonic rock rabble the Polyphonic Spree – the idea was impossible to ignore.
“I didn’t even have a group in mind,” he says, speaking on the phone from his home in Dallas, Texas, on the eve of the group’s Australian tour. “It was just an experiment, like, this idea of mixing symphonic instruments with rock instruments and instead of having one person singing, having 10 people singing as one. Like, nobody had done that before.
“It was completely scoffed at from the beginning. No one supported it and it was really difficult to get gigs; I had friends and family telling me that it was an impossible idea. But before I knew it, the experiment turned into reality and the group became something much bigger than I had ever even thought about.”
Forming out of the ashes of Delaughter’s previous group, Tripping Daisy, which disbanded in 1999 after the drug-related death of guitarist Wes Berggren, the Polyphonic Spree have become one of the international music scene’s most recognisable groups.
Indeed, while their music has taken the form of stunningly layered, gospel-inflected rock – beautifully articulated on 2003 debut The Beginning Stages of …, 2004’s Together We’re Heavy and last year’s politically poignant The Fragile Army – it has been their flowing coloured robes (or more recently, all-black military fatigues) and cult-like stage presence that garnered much of the attention.
If the band’s collective image has been a source of continual curiosity, it has also proven something of a distraction. Many have taken the Polyphonic Spree as a novelty, which, according to Delaughter, couldn’t be further from reality.
“There’s so much care and thought that goes into what we do creatively, musically and lyrically,” he says. “I think a lot of people are quite reductive about what we do.
“I think we’re as urgent as any rock band. It’s just that we’re not part of the formulated musical environment – we’re our own thing – and when you do something like that it can be difficult all the way around. It’s just sad that sometimes people don’t take us seriously because we don’t fit into a certain bracket.”
For Delaughter, there’s a quality – a magic, even – to the Polyphonic Spree that rises beyond any such concerns.
“Doing the Polyphonic Spree seemed like a cool idea but once I actually got human beings involved, then it turned into something beautiful that I’d never imagined,” he says. “It became like this happening where we’d get together and the spirit that would transcend the mere creation of the music.
“I don’t know if it’s a ritual or just the addiction of the personalities that are in the group but it’s pretty phenomenal how well this many people get along.”