Beginner's Luck

Free to do what he wants, Tim DeLaughter leads his new band on The Polyphonic Spree

During October, in just three days, the band recorded a 10-track demo with Andy Baker, who traveled from London to engineer the recording; DeLaughter had worked with Baker previously on Tripping Daisy albums. The Polyphonic Spree may release this initial album on Good Records, a label co-owned by DeLaughter's wife Julie Doyle and close friends Chris Penn and Erik Courson. (Good Records is also the eclectic music shop DeLaughter and company opened this year outside of Deep Ellum.) However, he emphasizes that this is merely a steppingstone for a near-future full-length project with Andy Baker and Eric Drew Feldman.

Titled simply The Beginning Stages, the demo is divided into 10 untitled "sections" rather than songs. From the stately opening chord, it is clear that DeLaughter's new project is a considerable departure from Tripping Daisy. Section one gives the first taste of flute intertwining with horns with bells with cello and a full-fledged chorus intoning, "Holiday, celebrate, soon you'll find the answer." This song, like the rest, is DeLaughter's answer to his creative thirst for something outside the realm of guitar-bass-drums, but also just that: a celebration. The entire demo has a celebratory sound, as if DeLaughter were proclaiming good news from the rooftops. If the word "inspirational" weren't so cringe-worthy, one might describe it as such. "Days like this keep me warm...and love like this means more," DeLaughter and choir harmonize on section three. Audrey Easley plays the enchanting flute that guides this soft and fuzzy lullaby, making it the most beautiful of the collection. Still, the following track--a cathartic, vibrant romp led by robust horns and a chorus of la-la-la's--demonstrates that DeLaughter and his fine instrumentalists can still rock.

Explaining the concept behind the assembly of a choir, DeLaughter says, "I've always enjoyed thick vocals, doubled up. Why would you have one voice when you could have 10 voices singing the same line? It's kind of like harnessing this vocal...it's like a fiber-optic cable. You have all these wires representing something, but it's this one sound. It was a lot more of a sensitive idea musically. I didn't want guitars and stuff like that. I was more interested in taking what those instruments did and incorporating other instruments, more on a symphonic level, which I had never done but I had always wanted to do."

“Sometimes I have to leave the room,” says The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim DeLaughter, eighth from the right, “because I’m literally crying.”
“Sometimes I have to leave the room,” says The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim DeLaughter, eighth from the right, “because I’m literally crying.”

DeLaughter hopes that The Polyphonic Spree will find a venue to complement its unconventional personality.

"Playing in the clubs really doesn't work for me," he says. "Ultimately I'd like to have a building that facilitates that. It would become a show with performance art, whatever the music spawns. You would actually build the show around a piece of music."

Despite the fact that the tracks are unnamed, each section is a real song--meaning no noodling, 20-minute snooze-alongs. The only feat of strength is the final section, 35 minutes of fluctuating, mutating, electronically treated vocals. A project of this scope and size has potential for disaster. The very word experimental scares many a pop-music listener, but DeLaughter's grand ambition is tempered by a keen sense of melody and sing-along vocals. Instead of being an experimental misfire or some test of improv endurance, the Polyphonic sound is structured, bright, and melodic. In light of this, the band's name is rather appropriate.

"We were trying to describe the climax of the sound once you have all the elements together and it's reaching that climax where you're hearing everything running on all eight cylinders," the bandleader explains. "And I was like, What is the name of that sound? What is that feeling? It just described everything that music does--a spree of melody and harmony."

Despite the ease with which the band plays together, the challenge of assembling such a group was by no means lost on DeLaughter.

"It was hard to imagine translating music to a different form and pulling people together that were invisible, that were nonexistent, that weren't from our world. We didn't know them, but when it happened, Julie was like, 'You did it!'" DeLaughter recalls with delight. "I don't want to steal any thunder from these people, because this would not be what it is without them. Hands down. They're the guys that are making it happen."

As it turns out, the talent of Polyphonic's members shines through, giving evidence of DeLaughter's claim. This is music best experienced live: 20 people, clothed in white robes, playing French horn, viola, trumpet, flute, cello, and being conducted by the animated DeLaughter is a true, wholehearted performance. Such a diverse palette could lead to a messy canvas, but DeLaughter has anchored his players around the simple harmony of voice (in this case many) and guitar (just one, played by DeLaughter). Juxtaposing the simplicity of pop harmony and the refined dynamics of some of Dallas' brightest classically trained musicians, The Polyphonic Spree is breaking the mold with sweet success.

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