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By: Dennis Cook
There's no need to overly intellectualize the Polyphonic Spree. Sure, there's plenty to dissect in their effervescent rush – a bold cocktail of A Night At The Opera-era Queen, late Beatles, church music and ABBA brash pop - but it's so immediately enveloping, so willfully visceral, listeners are best served when they relax, open up their minds and float downstream. The music is hugely inviting on a lot of levels, and it sounds like making it is a total joy for the players involved.
The Polyphonic Spree
"It is. Believe me, it would have to be," says Julie Doyle, the band's co-leader and shared architect of the Spree's vision with husband-frontman Tim DeLaughter. "If it was just all about a sonic recording we couldn't bring it live. It would be a nightmare because God knows it's tough to get it out there and moving around. We're not a big mainstream band, and it takes a lot of money to tour 30 people. You gotta want to do it or you don't fit in. If you're not 100-percent and it's all you want to be doing then it just doesn't work. We don't have the luxury of being a four-piece that gets tour support and goes out there with a couple buses. On one night they act like they're into it and another they act like they don't want to be there. We can't afford that mentality in this group."
Formed in 2000 from the ashes of DeLaughter's old group, Tripping Daisy, The Polyphonic Spree emanates a shared sense of purpose that goes beyond being in a band.
The Polyphonic Spree :: 07.17.07 by Dave Vann
"It's a way of life. Once you join this group, and especially when it gets going, it is a way of life. It is a social experiment/experience. There's a couple of hours of music but in the rest of it you're faced with every single aspect of life. It's a constant learning experience. You need to have an open perspective and be ready to take a lot of things in. It's not just some band with a lot of people in it," explains Doyle.
Long identified by their Summer of Love style white robes and a certain flower power vibe, recently the group switched to black jumpsuits from the Chairman Mao Collection. Doyle explains that The Polyphonic Spree's costuming is no nostalgia trip.
"It's been the hippy thing, the cult thing. It's so nuts how limited people are and how anything outside the box can make such a ruckus. Initially, the white robes were something Tim wanted to have so people could focus on the music and the sound. The robes were there to shoot projections on, a visual experience while you listened. It's unbelievable all the things people have said, which in some ways is kinda fun but at some point, when you're serious about what you're doing musically and the bigger picture, it can become annoying."
The Polyphonic Spree :: 07.17.07 by Dave Vann
"We never said we'd always be married to the robes but one thing people can always expect from our group is the idea of unification," continues Doyle. "So, that's all the new outfits are about. It's not that literal to the 'Army' idea because they aren't army uniforms but they are militant. It's more about being non-descript, and then we place our own symbols of peace onto them. It sort of represents the fragile army of the human race, not specifically just our group or the soldiers in Iraq – it includes that – but it's about everybody here and the fragility of it all."
Darker Currents And Girl Choirs
The Spree's third full-length album, The Fragile Army (released June 19 on TVT Records) is the most fully realized example of their big vision yet, a taut, gravitationally compelling response to an increasingly belligerent world. There's darker currents floating around in their usual rainbow river this time, and the music is stronger for these subtle shifts in hue.
"What people pick up on is the energy, not just in the electrifying sense but also the approach," Doyle comments. "Except for a song or two, the band had not heard these songs. We really broke it down. We went to one studio and did basic tracks, almost like a four-piece band. The idea was to capture that and make it feel like if Tim put a solid melody and lyrics on top it would be an outstanding record and the songwriting would carry its weight, it wouldn't be just an idea wrapped up in The Polyphonic Spree wall of sound."
"After that, the choir came into a studio in Chicago, and it was very focused, nothing but choir for six days," says Doyle. The singers gathered in the B Room of Steve Albini's Electrical Audio Studios. "Our producer, John Congleton thought it would be perfect to capture the choir because it's super super wide sounding. The idea was to capture a new vibe with the all-girl choir and not rely on a lot of effects. It brought a great energy to the songs and it was one of the funnest parts of the recording process."
The Polyphonic Spree All Girls Choir
The listener likely picks up on the amped up feminine energy on a subliminal level but the effect is cumulative and powerful over the course of The Fragile Army.
"We definitely planned that. It sounds nuts but it was sort of the idea from the get-go [of The Polyphonic Spree]. There were some guys in the choir, and we gave it a fair shot to see how it felt and where it went. It was appropriate for a while. On Together We're Heavy there's a nice blend. But, when we broke everything down for a while, we decided it was time, six years later we were ready to make the record Tim and I were hearing in our heads. We consciously said this time around it was going to be 100-percent girl choir. And we're so glad we did it. You can feel it and it's a totally different vibe."
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