The Polyphonic Spree members walk everywhere among us. Most are unrecognizable at a glance, but one could sense a jubilant energy just waiting to jump out. They're behind you in the checkout line, teaching yoga class, inventing new technology in a Dallas garage, writing your favorite fashion blog or operating the local bar.
That captivating countenance comes, in part, from participating in a club formed 20 years ago by a young musician emerging from darkness when Tripping Daisy’s Tim DeLaughter lost bandmate and friend Wes Berggren to a drug overdose. In his mourning, DeLaughter dreamed up a different sort of group, one that would deliver euphoria and change lives.
The group grew along with its concept and never stopped growing, which makes an accurate recounting of each Polyphonic Spree member, past and present, a particularly tricky task.
Julie Doyle, the group’s co-manager and one of several vocalists, supports the notion that members absorbed a unique enlightenment via the Spree experience.
“We started with about 15 players because it was an attempt to present the music and instrumentation Tim desired in a live setting," Doyle says. "Looking back, it only hinted at the broad scope of what the Polyphonic Spree would become.”
Doyle says they didn’t even think about the number of members until it made general costs multiply.
“At least not until we started adding robes, hotel rooms, buses, salaries, sleeping double in a single bunk, literally,” she lists.
Doyle estimates that the Spree counts some 70 band members who have passed throughout the years, with as many as 32 having taken the stage at once. Sandy Toby Kay, Doyle’s mother, quips that it’s more like thousands. The latter frequently tackled the hemming and sewing of the band members’ signature robes (dress that no doubt inspired such headlines as “The Polyphonic Spree is No Cult. Probably,” “The Polyphonic Spree: Maybe a Cult” and “They Are a Cult”).
Things have evolved for some members, but the Spree soul — rooted in artistic expression — subsists. Paramount to the sounds, lyrics, scale of membership, psychedelic aesthetics, commercial contracts and TV appearances — stuff that tends to shift with time’s passage — is a “very spiritual thing,” Doyle says. Even she can’t keep tabs on two decades worth of rotating musicians’ whereabouts, but here are the highlights of what we've gathered on your favorite members.
These days she goes by St. Vincent. Much like DeLaughter, Clark embodies punk-chic magnetism, and the well-earned confidence reserved for radicals. Post-Spree, Clark shot to the upper echelons of modern music-makers and became an indie/fashion/feminist icon — and a symbol of hope for a cultured and rational humanity — gathering awards, TV appearances (Such as Portlandia) and monumental collaborations (With David Byrne and Andrew Bird, to name a few) in the process. Just before joining the Spree, Clark had dropped out of college, tried and failed to make it in New York City, and moved home to Dallas. Within a few days she was auditioning for DeLaughter, who hired her on the spot to tour Europe with his 30-member ensemble.
The Spree violinist produced an early St. Vincent album and did an INXS cover with Clark for Beck's Record Club series. As a composer, Hart has arranged many a movie and TV-show score, and is the go-to composer for film director David Lowery (Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story). (Hart’s band) Dark Rooms' “I Get Overwhelmed,” the latter’s theme song, is required listening, as his ethereal voice rises along with an affecting violin. Last year Hart scored The Old Man and the Gun, featuring Robert Redford in his (reportedly) final acting gig. Hart also composed the score for the Ira Glass-produced S-Town podcast as well as the music for the audio version of David Sedaris’ last book. Hart lives in Los Angeles.
After several years with the Spree, Halbrooks started dabbling in TV and film production and became a producer on some of the most acclaimed films in the last decade. Like his erstwhile bandmate Hart, Halbrooks too began a fruitful collaboration with Lowery, with whom he co-wrote Pete’s Dragon.
The cellist joined the Polyphonic Spree in 2007 and still shows up for group performances. After collaborating with the symphony-sized Spree, touring with the cast and crew of Hamilton, the hip-hop historical musical theater phenomenon that just wrapped its Dallas run, should be a snap. These days, Jacobs performs below stages rather than on them, along with the musical's 10-piece orchestra.
Bass guitarist Pirro also came from Tripping Daisy. Early in his Spree days he began tinkering with sound, dissatisfied with available mic choices, and set out to achieve a retro, “telephone” vibe. Pirro used vintage communication parts, a filtering device and polished copper housings to invent Copperphone, a product that became popular with fellow musicians. Pirro produced a small batch of copperphones, which was scooped up by the likes of Jack White and Norah Jones. Today he has his own sound equipment business, Placid Audio, and spends ample hours tooling around in his garage, ever advancing, in his own words, “industry-standard nostalgic effect microphones.”
Here’s how Spree vocalist, and now owner of Frank’s Underground restaurant described her approach to life to online blog Voyage Dallas. “Nothing sets me apart from anyone else except for the desire to live life to the fullest no matter what. Take risks. Jump in the deep end. Drown a bit. Come back up for air. Repeat.” If you were a dedicated MasterChef viewer back in 2011, you will recognize Kelley as a contestant through its ninth episode, when a catfish platter gone awry got her booted. Her brainchild, Frank’s, is a non-restaurant, as stressed by Kelley via her website, and more of a dinner party series on an invitation-only basis. Seven years and counting, Frank’s is still ranked as one of Dallas’ top restaurants on Yelp.
The backup vocalist today owns and teaches at Super Yoga Palace, a studio in the same Garland Road shopping strip as Doyle’s Here Lounge, as well as DeLaughter's partly-owned businesses Good Records and Good Pagoda. Jordan holds courses covering essential oils and and sells a line of aromatic alternative-healing products.
After percussing for the Spree, Teasley went to work as a concert promoter and three years ago he opened his own venue in Birmingham, the space-themed Saturn and Satellite, which includes a coffee house and bar as well as a 450-seat concert hall with an HVAC decorated to resemble a rocket ship.
Jenny Esping Kirtland
The Spree vocalist manages a record company she founded with husband John Kirtland, maintains a fashion website, and often is dubbed “best dressed” at philanthropic events she attends as the vice president of the Esping Family Foundation. The charity focuses on expanding the KIPP charter school in Oak Cliff, a two-year project for which it's raised one million dollars so far.
Lead vocalist, guitarist and piano player — as well as the man who started it all — DeLaughter is into all sorts of stuff today, like reuniting Tripping Daisy, supporting progressive political candidates, planning benefits for refugees and selling his Lakewood home ($1.1 million, if you’re interested).
In addition to lending vocals, Doyle is arguably the gargantuan glee club’s guardian. She and DeLaughter have long co-owned Good Records and, later, The Good Pagoda boutique. But the mother, musician and all-around maven most recently opened Here Lounge on Garland Road, another work of art and impeccable taste.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The band’s latest recruit has been with the colossal crew his whole life. At 19, after recording his own solo project, Tim DeLaughter and Julie Doyle's son officially signed on to the family business. Like many current members, he has his side gigs, and his mom wants to remind everyone that he will open for Black Joe Lewis at the Statler on May 17 "at 8 p.m. sharp.”
Here's the most comprehensive list we could pull together of the group throughout the years:
Oscar DeLaughter, Tim DeLaughter. Mark Pirro, Jessica Jordan, Buffi Jacobs, Jenny Kirtland, Kristin Hardin, Elizabeth Evans, Julie Doyle, Natalie Young, Jason Garner, Bach Norwood, Rachel Woolf, Allen Halas, Evan Weiss, Paul Deemer, Mike St.Clair, Heather Test, Sean Redman, Kelly Test, Victoria Arellano, Nick Earl, Darin Hieb, Ryan Fitzgerald.
Cory Helms, Chris Curiel, Jay Jennings, Tamara Brown, Elizabeth Brown, Apotsala Wilson, Jennie Kelley, Paul Hillery, Stephen Dix, Rick G. Nelson,Audrey Easley, Nick Groesch, Keith Hendricks, Evan Hisey, Japhy Ryder, Dylan Silvers, Annie Clark, Regina Chellew, Daniel Hart, John Lamonica, Stuart "Peebs" Peebles, Marcus Lopez, Matt Bricker, Taylor Young, Joe Butcher, Evan Jacobs, Todd Berridge, Edwin Mendoza, Joseph Singleton, Timothy Blowers, Anthony Richards, Louis Schwadron, Andrew Tinker, Nick Wlodarczyk, Paul Gaughran, Brian Teasley, Corn Mo,James Reimer, Davey "Crabsticks" Trotter, Toby Halbrooks, Jason Rees, Merritt Lota, Frank Benjaminsen, Mark Beardsworth Stephanie Dolph Jennifer Jobe Isabelo Cruz Mike Elio Kelly Repka Jason Rees Jeneffa Soldatic Michael Turner, Michael Musick, Melissa Crutchfield, Sandra Powers Giasson, Daniel Huffman, Bryan Wakeland, Josh David Jordan, Jared Pechonis, Jenelle Valencia, Roy Thomas, Ivy Jamey Welch, Hayley McCarthy, Christine Bolon, Dave Dusters, Billy Mills-Curran, Logan Keese, Ricky Rasura, Paul Jones, Gary Jones and Theodore Cruz.