The Polyphonic Spree will take the torch from The Passion this summer in the Year of the Robe, as the twenty-five-piece choral pop ensemble releases its second album, Together We're Heavy (nearly as uplifting, with none of the guilt), on July 13th. In addition to a new record, the unlikely buzz band has a cluttered docket for 2004 that includes a tour with David Bowie (launching next week), a new DVD, television appearances and the task of sharing glad tidings.
"I'm really excited because the Polyphonic Spree is working and it's found its legs and there's no stopping it," says robed ringleader Tim DeLaughter, who started the group three years ago with some of his Tripping Daisy bandmates after their guitarist Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose during sessions for their fourth album. "It's not like in the beginning where it's like, 'Well, is this gonna work or not?' I know for a fact that it's become a contributor to music today, and it will be. And when it's not anymore, I'll bow out gracefully. But at this point I feel extremely confident that it's a contributing force, and that's exciting to me."
The Spree's success sprung from a quiet 2000 release, The Beginning Stages of the Polyphonic Spree, recorded as a demo and released with little fanfare on DeLaughter's Good Records. The band's cheerful and spiritual performances and a few well-placed songs in television commercials and film trailers helped the record sell almost 100,000 copies and the group landed a deal with Hollywood Records.
DeLaughter and his troops had more time and money to make Heavy, which teems with vibrant vocals married to crashing symphonic pop instrumentation. "It's a broader record," DeLaughter says. "There's high drama in areas. A good friend of ours described it as sounding like 'the earth giving birth' and 'more epic than Death Valley.' If there's just a hint of that, I'd be really pleased. The whole thing reminds me of Technicolor."
To that end, at the group's recent appearance at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, the Spree chucked their white robes for a new vibrant Technicolor set of threads.
Heavy boasts three songs that clock in at over eight minutes, including the Flaming Lips-meets-drama-rock opener "We Sound Amazed," and the album's crescendo, "When the Fool Becomes the King," which runs almost eleven minutes. "That's the one where you're gonna reap the rewards of listening to the record," DeLaughter says. "It's almost like introducing the Polyphonic Spree as an opera."
And while DeLaughter is eager to get Heavy out to listeners, The Beginning Stages continues to build momentum. The album's "Light and Day" has a new video courtesy of director Michael Gondrey ("He's just an amazing guy," DeLaughter says, "I can watch his stuff for hours"), who also included the track in his new film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Spree will also sing the tune on an April 20th appearance on the NBC sitcom Scrubs, in which a member of the group is treated at the show's fictional Sacred Heart hospital. "We loved the image of the myriad band members filling into a tiny hospital room to visit and perform with one of their post-operative, bed-ridden members," supervising producer Neil Goldman said. "The shoot was fantastic and when they performed, the band's exuberance was truly infectious. Lots of crew members said the music just made them 'feel happy.'"
The Spree will spread that happiness on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on April 21st, and the group is also planning to release a DVD next month. Packaged with a live EP, the DVD will cull odds-and-ends Spree footage, with videos and live clips as well as film of DeLaughter's four-year-old son, who has a penchant for dressing up like and mimicking Charlie Chaplin. "It's just a bunch of different stuff that we thought people might be interested in," he says. "Just to give them something while they wait for the new record, which I'm totally ready for. I'm champing at the bit."
Together We're Heavy track list:
Section 11 (A Long Day Continues/We Sounds Amazed)
Section 12 (Hold Me Now)
Section 13 (Diamonds/Mild Devotion to Majesty)
Section 14 (Two Thousand Places)
Section 15 (Ensure Your Reservation)
Section 16 (One Man Show)
Section 17 (Suitcase Calling)
Section 18 (Everything Starts at the Seam)
Section 19 (When the Fool Becomes a King)
Section 20 (Together We're Heavy)
Polyphonic Spree tour dates (with David Bowie):
3/29: Philadelphia, Wachovia Center
3/30: Boston, FleetCenter
3/31: New York, Angel Orensanz Center (no Bowie)
4/1: Toronto, Air Canada Center
4/2: Ottawa, Corel Center
4/4: Quebec City, Pepsi Coliseum
4/7: Winnipeg, MB, Winnipeg Arena
4/9: Edmonton, AB, Rexall Center
4/11: Kelowna, BC, Skyreach
4/13: Portland, OR, Rose Garden
4/14: Seattle, Key Arena
4/16-17: Berkeley, Community Theater
4/19: Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Bowl
4/22: Los Angeles, Greek Theater
4/23: Anaheim, The Pond
4/25: Denver, Budweiser Events Center
4/27: Austin, The Backyard
4/29: Houston, The Woodlands
4/30: New Orleans, Saenger Theater