By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Given that this is a man who spends the bulk of his time singing about sunshine and the other glorious things in life, maybe it shouldn't be surprising to hear Tim DeLaughter in such a gleeful mood. Surely it's more than is to be expected from a man who, just over a year ago, saw his band's then-record label home, TVT Records, succumb to bankruptcy. Still, without a doubt, there's a chipper tone to his voice at the moment.
Mostly because, DeLaughter says, that label's crumbling was a blessing in disguise.
"We don't really fit on a bigger label," he says, having just returned from a one-off Polyphonic Spree gig in Boston as part of the Southern Comfort underCOVER concert series that will also see the band offer a free performance at the Palladium Ballroom on Thursday night. "You get some help with the finances, but, at some point, that stops and they don't know how to market the group. Before you know it, you're back in this formulaic idea of a label."
"Formulaic" tends not to be a term easily applied to a 24-piece psychedelic pop outfit.
So when TVT went under and the Spree's 2007 release The Fragile Army was purchased by digital music label The Orchard, DeLaughter and wife Julie decided to revert things back to before they went the major-label route. They bought back the rights to the record from The Orchard and placed it back in the catalog of their own label, Good Records Recordings, which, since the 2006 release of Phil Karnats' solo record, had been a largely stagnant entity. More important, the move back to Good offered the DeLaughters a clear path forward.
"It's just weird," DeLaughter says. "We got all liberated since we left the label."
Indeed they have. This summer, the freedom offered by returning to Good afforded DeLaughter an opportunity he'd yet to truly exploit in this heavily Internet-influenced age of music. Without a bigger label overseeing his work and his process, DeLaughter, who'd been writing profusely in preparation for an upcoming Polyphonic Spree album, decided to post to the band's blog a few of the demos he'd recorded—y'know, just to share and, maybe, to get some feedback.
"No matter how crude, sonically, a song might be, we just posted it," DeLaughter says. And how: Over the span of a week in July, he ended up posting nine tracks to the page (thefragilearmy.blogspot.com), and over the course of the entire summer, that number reached 11. Surprising to DeLaughter, though he didn't publicize the postings, news of their appearance quickly spread throughout the most popular taste-making blogs and Web sites, creating a sort of accidental hype in anticipation of the band's upcoming release. "I had no idea it was going to get the response that it did," he continues. "But I'd never have been able to do that if I was on another label. And that's the beauty of it. It's a great thing. And that's where we want to be. I've been doing this for a long time, and I don't want to say never, but, yeah, I don't think I'll ever go back to a major label." He pauses and laughs. "Not that there are any left."
But the switch back to Good did more than simply offer the Spree a newfound freedom; it's also sharply refocused DeLaughter's gaze on the label, something he admits he lost track of in recent years while trying to move forward with the Spree. Which makes this week's events quite exciting, actually. On Wednesday, the label hosted a CD release performance for its newest signee, Binary Sunrise, a local product with various influences ranging from The Cure to The Modern Lovers—and one that boasts a song (the eccentric, groovy "Five Minutes") that we've already described as being among of the best local songs this year. It's the same song that Julie DeLaughter asked the band to play twice at the birthday celebration for Good Records (the store) back in April, shortly after the band had signed to the label—and the one that helped convince the couple to get the label back on track.
"We just kept sitting with [the song] and sitting with it and listening to it all the time," DeLaughter says. "So we said, 'Let's help this guy [front man Kenneth Kemp] and put it out, 'cause, otherwise, it's just sitting here with us.'"
Today, though, the band's full-length, self-titled debut, which bears a strong resemblance to some of DeLaughter's own oddball pop as well, also boasts a Good Records Recording stamp and pressing—and so too will a few other records in the coming year or so. Eager to discuss the future of his label, DeLaughter reveals that it will soon offer up another release from beloved Texarkana indie rock act Pilotdrift, whose last full-length, 2005's Water Sphere, was also released by Good. The label will also be the home—without a doubt, DeLaughter says—to the next Spree album, as well as his first solo album, which may sprout from some of the songs he posted to his blog that just can't be fitted into full-on, 24-part Spree arrangements. "I've been wanting to do a solo record—a more stripped-down record—for some time," he says, sharing that the ambition has stuck with him since back in his breakout days with his psych-rock outfit, Tripping Daisy. With a new Spree record en route, though, as well as having to push these new discs from Binary Sunrise and Pilotdrift as part of his renewed Good initiative, he's not too eager to set a timeline on that front—not that he needs to.
A half-hour later and it's clear why DeLaughter's in such a good mood. He no longer has a whole chain of people above him to whom he has to answer. Now he can move at his own pace—and so, too, can his record label.
Says a clearly satisfied DeLaughter: "There's really not that pressure anymore."