By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Or maybe ever. The Polyphonic Spree is ultimately a live experience, "somewhere in the middle of a theatrical production, with a soundtrack to the theatrical production, if you will, like a Les Mis or whatever and a rock band," Ferris says. Even though the band's video for "Light and Day"--a clip of the band in the full throes of a gig--is in heavy rotation on MTV2, it doesn't capture the range of emotion at a Polyphonic Spree show. Perhaps nothing does.
"Somehow playing in this band and doing what we're doing, you overwhelm yourself. You can kind of feel the sting in your eyes," says bassist Mark Pirro, who also played with DeLaughter in Tripping Daisy, along with Spree drummer Bryan Wakeland. "Almost like you're gonna cry, and you don't know why, but it feels good. I see that happen to people in the audience. They're trying to hide behind their girlfriend's shoulder. And then you see them with tears streaming down. It's crazy."
It's difficult to convey this through the rigid constraints of a television screen or a stereo speaker. So Hollywood hopes that the live show will drive sales of the album and spins on the radio, instead of the other way around. It's working so far: The band has sold about 75,000 copies of The Beginning Stages of... since signing with Hollywood (about 100,000 overall), all without a real hit, even though the label is doing its best.
"Radio is so niche-oriented right now that it's been difficult to get some of these guys to believe that it could work for them," says Geordie Gillespie, vice president of promotion at Hollywood. The label has instead focused on alternative means of promotion: the Apple/VW ad, late-night talk show appearances (they made their first, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, last April), film soundtracks ("Light and Day" will figure prominently in the latest Jim Carrey vehicle, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Whatever, whenever.
One day in the near future, the thinking goes, so many people will know about The Polyphonic Spree that radio stations will have no choice. They'll have to play them. It was already heading in that direction before the contracts were finalized. The Polyphonic Spree was playing sold-out shows, running out of records as fast as it could press new ones. With the right muscle, the right moves, who knows where it could go from there?
"A few times in your life, you see something so extraordinary that the world will change to accommodate it, and that's the feeling I had," Weiss says. "And I'm 41, I'm cynical, I've been doing this for a long time, so I'm not naïve enough to believe that, you know, you can break the rules at will. I just saw hundreds of people trying to get into this show by this band that had basically never been on the radio, TV--and the record was hardly available at all.
"I think this band could be important to the culture in a way that few bands are."
"It's cool to have them around," Pirro says. "Except at 8:30 in the morning."
"They bring sanity to it all," says manager Chris Penn.
More important than that, the presence of Stella, Oscar and Julius in DeLaughter's life has more than a little to do with the childlike quality of his songs, The Polyphonic Spree almost could be considered the house band for a day-care program. On The Beginning Stages of... , at any rate.
As Together We're Heavy unfurls on the car stereo, it becomes clear it's a much moodier effort, the "Light and Day" of the first album beginning to give way to a darker night. It's a grandiose, sprawling album, Fantasia compared with the first disc's crude Mickey Mouse shorts. Or, to put it another way: "It's like the earth giving birth, and it's more epic than Death Valley," DeLaughter says.
If The Beginning Stages of... got them noticed, Together We're Heavy could indeed make them important. The band has the ambition to go beyond even that. DeLaughter hints that the next step in the band's evolution will be staging a full-blown musical. "It's kinda headed that direction," he says.
Pirro talks about The Polyphonic Spree becoming a cultural event, descending on one city after the next, something along the lines of Blue Man Group or Cirque du Soleil. It might happen. The band is scheduled to tour with David Bowie later this year, but the plan for its next solo tour is a series of residencies, going to a new city and playing a week's worth of shows there, maybe more.
"Logistically, it's the easiest thing for us to do with a band this size," DeLaughter says, "rather than doing a traditional rock-band tour, playing these little towns along the way. Those will kill us financially. The residency will make it a lot more possible and positive on all fronts."