Robin Williams’ recent demise was an all too common example of depression spiraling down to a tragic conclusion. Tim DeLaughter chose to spiral in the opposite direction.
Deeply depressed after the 1999 overdose death of good friend/Tripping Daisy bandmate Wes Berggren, DeLaughter emerged from his soul’s dark teatime to create The Polyphonic Spree, a psychedelic, orchestral Pop band diametrically opposed to the more straight-ahead Rock of Tripping Daisy. In tribute to the sunshine-sparkled Pop of the ’60s and Rock of the ’70s (The Beatles, The Association, The 5th Dimension, The Beach Boys, ELO, Wings), DeLaughter assembled Tripping Daisy’s rhythm section (Mark Pirro and Bryan Wakefield) and vocalist Julie Doyle, along with a small army of choral and Chamber Pop accompaniment, to craft an astonishingly bright and uplifting sound. Dressed in white robes like a coterie of harmonically gifted Hare Krishnas, the Spree made a visual impression nearly as startling as their Pop presentation.
The Spree was huge in its Dallas environs and its 10-track demo ultimately became the 2002 debut, The Beginning Stages of …, but the band’s small indie label dropped them when good reviews didn’t translate to sales.
Ironically, Volkswagen and Apple utilized the song “Light and Day/Reach for the Sun” in a joint ad campaign, which led to the Spree’s Hollywood Records contract and its 2004 sophomore album, Together We’re Heavy, which pushed the band’s profile into the stratosphere.
The Spree has survived a fair amount of subsequent backlash press and a steady membership turnover during the past dozen years — the band currently claims a membership of 21; ex-Polys number close to 50. For 2007’s The Fragile Army, the band disrobed in favor of military uniforms (reverting to robes for encores). The new style represented a darker political/cultural viewpoint in DeLaughter’s lyrics.
The Spree reverted to a colorful version of its Gospel choir look and released a holiday album and an unofficial recording of its take on the Rocky Horror soundtrack in 2012, followed by last year’s Yes, It’s True, largely viewed as a return to form, albeit one with slightly more mainstream aspirations.
In these mean and vulnerable times, a little light is a rare and welcomed event. The Polyphonic Spree is more than happy to break up the clouds and provide a few glorious patches of musical sunshine.
THE POLYPHONIC SPREE plays the Ballroom at the Taft Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 21. Tickets/more info here .