Photo by Lauren Logan
Naming a song “You Don’t Know Me” is a tricky thing. Taking a defensive or adversarial stance with your music can turn a lot of people off, but there’s no doubt that sometimes an artist just wants to set the record straight. In a recent interview, the Polyphonic Spree frontman and Dallas native Tim DeLaughter did just that. “You know, when you’re in The Polyphonic Spree you’re constantly met with doubt and skepticism,” he says. “It’s been like that since the beginning. It’s one of the reasons why I turned an experiment of a sound into a band with a sound. Even our attire seemed to provoke assumptions and misread accusations.”
That attire–choral robes, sometimes all-white and other times color–coordinated–certainly set the band apart when they debuted in the early 2000s, as did their 25-person lineup. But what truly stood out was their sound. At a time when rock radio was dominated by leftover grunge scraps from the previous decade, the Spree aimed for an orchestral sweet spot somewhere between the Beach Boys and Andrew Lloyd Weber. “Light And Day/Reach For The Sun” scored a Volkswagen/iPod commercial, and suddenly, the Spree were on the cutting edge. But critics chafed at their almost-militant cheeriness, labeling them a “cult” or a novelty act. Over the years, the shock value wore off, and what seemed like a breakout waiting to happen never came. Several of the Spree’s members–including Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent–have left the band to achieve success on their own terms.
But throughout the roller coaster years, DeLaughter has maintained his steadfast commitment to his own vision. Tripping Daisy–DeLaughter’s pre-Spree power-pop outfit–imploded after the overdose of guitarist Wes Berggren, and DeLaughter has continuously reinvented himself over the past few decades. The Spree have been accused of being naive, but they’re shrewd pop chameleons, producing an annual holiday concert in Dallas and several film soundtracks on top of their touring and albums. Just this year alone, the band has taken their own version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the road to Bonnaroo and teamed up with Moonbot Studios for Bullseye, an interactive app that shows off the Spree’s music. And on August 6 comes Yes, It’s True, the Spree’s fourth album and first in six years. For all its psychedelic choral overtones, first single “You Don’t Know Me” does sound defensive, but it doesn’t have to be. For many, the Polyphonic Spree have sounded perfect since the day they were born.