The Polyphonic Spree's Tim DeLaughter Talks Touring Challenges, Flaming Lips Comparisons

Jon Wiederhorn
·Writer

On Monday, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. PT/9 o.m. ET, Yahoo Live will live stream the Polyphonic Spree's concert from Brighton Music Hall, Boston. Tune in HERE to watch!

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When the Polyphonic Spree take the stage Aug. 25 at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston, they'll be performing for an audience that vastly exceeds their usual crowd, thanks to the Yahoo Live stream of the show. In the days leading up to the concert, frontman Tim DeLaughter is looking forward to the gig. "It's a way of getting the music out there to as many people as possible," he says. "I'm definitely in favor of using any type of technology to spread the word."

For those already familiar with the Polyphonic Spree's uplifting music, the concert will likely feature some of their most well-known songs, including "Popular By Design," "Two Thousand Places," and "Hanging Around the Day," as well as a cover or two such as Wings' "Live and Let Die" or the Monkees' "Porpoise Song." The performance will be exactly what fans have come to expect, featuring  17 singers and musicians in colorful robes all taking part in the band's joyous, positive musical expression. DeLaughter welcomes the initiated, of course, but what really excites him is seeing those who are taking in their first Polyphonic Spree concert.

"It's so cool, because first they look at it and try to figure it out, then midway through they're into it," DeLaughter says. "And by the end of the night, they're singing songs and dancing and moving around. Everyone leaves with a big smile on their face and the room has a positive atmosphere after everyone has left the building. It's surreal to me that we're able to be a part of that transformation in people that may come in with a heavy head, and they're able to leave on a different plane. That's heavy in its own right, and I find great enjoyment in that."

For DeLaughter, filling rooms with positive vibes has become a cult-like mission. Polyphonic Spree shows aren't concerts, they're spectacles of positivity and musical possibilities. Right now, the group is touring for its crowd-funded fifth album Yes, It's True, which came out in August 2013 and features some of the most focused and musically poignant songs in the band's 14-year career. And on Sept. 16, the Polyphonic Spree will release a remix album Psychphonic, which is composed of skillful, poppy remixes of all of the songs from Yes, It's True assembled by a variety of DJs and producers.

Yahoo talked to DeLaughter about the remix album, the financial challenge of taking the Polyphonic Spree on the road, and the endless comparisons the band has received to the Flaming Lips.


YAHOO MUSIC: What are the greatest challenges of touring with Polyphonic Spree?

TIM DELAUGHTER: It's financially exhausting. It doesn't make sense on paper. It never has. It's a labor of love that comes with a little price of madness because it is so expensive. But musically we're doing good work, and I'm proud of that.

How many people are you touring with?

Seventeen.

How many buses do you bring on the road with you?

There's a company out of Tennessee called Sports Star and they make buses for hockey teams. There are three of them in the country and that's the only bus we've ever used in 14 years. It sleeps everybody. Back when I had 28 people in the band, this bus sleeps 27 people and that's how we've been able to do it. Most touring buses will sleep 12 people, and we got lucky when someone came around and told us he makes buses for hockey teams.

Do you have to be very particular when you choose which musicians to take on the road, so that everyone has a complimentary personality? Or is friction sometimes a good ingredient for creative expression?

There's a value to ragged chemistry, but you have to have something that works personality-wise. The fact that there are so many of us diffuses any kind of weirdness. There's always a sub-group within our group. With so many different personalities, you can find someone in there to bond with. But if it's not working musically with someone, they won't even make it onto the bus and do tours. We've been really fortunate with that. We've had a lot of members come and go because they've  one off and done personal things or started other bands, but we've been super-fortunate on the music side.

What are some of the greatest challenges of having so many people on one bus, waiting in line for the restrooms?

There's one restroom on there and sometimes you have to wait, but it's not that big of a deal. It seems like it could be a nightmare and it really isn't. I was in four- and five-piece bands when I was younger and they were far more personality-dynamic than this band is. The only thing that's a beating on this is the finances. You get paid like a four-piece band, but you've got four bands in your band. That's the part that can be debilitating.

Psychphonic isn't a traditional remix album. It's more like full reinterpretations of the songs. If someone never heard Yes, It's True, they might think Psychphonic is a stripped-down pop album written by an entirely different band.

Exactly, and that was the beauty of it. Remixes are hit-or-miss. A lot of times bands will give someone their tracks, and they come back and they're horrific. We were lucky to find people who took these songs in directions that worked.

 What are your favorite remixes?

"Heart Talk" is my favorite, because it reminds me of a Cher song or something. It sounds like a big old massive hit. I love it. I like "Carefully Try" and "You're Golden." They're all really good and completely different which is hard to do without having something sound like a Frankenstein record. But you can hear the strength of each mixer in each one and I'm proud of it, even though I can't take any credit for it. I had no creative control over it whatsoever.

Well, you can take some credit, because they're your songs. But the interesting thing is someone who isn't a fan of the Polyphonic Spree could enjoy this record.

Completely, and that's what we're finding. It was an experiment and it worked out.

Yes, It's True sounds more direct than your past albums, and if nothing else, it transcends the notion anyone might have ever had that what you were doing was gimmicky or short-lived.

That's really satisfying for me. We're celebrating our 14th year of doing Polyphonic Spree. At the time I was flirting around with this idea, I never intended for it to be a band. It was an experiment, it was really self-indulgent, but I wanted to experience it. People were telling me, "Well, it's a great idea, but you know there's no way you can make this a band and tour with it." That rubbed me the wrong way. I'm a can-do kind of guy. We played a couple shows and I said, "Hell, we can do this." And here we are 14 years later and five albums later, and I think we started a genre that didn't exist at the time.

You have repeatedly been compared to the Flaming Lips. Do you find that flattering or frustrating?

They do a different thing entirely. [The Lips'] Wayne [Coyne] is on his own trip and I'm on mine. I find our shows completely different. I love the Lips, but it's frustrating to be compared to them because it's a lazy comparison and it's become a go-to for so many people for so long. Sure, everyone will get it, but I don't think it's accurate. Wayne's a friend of mine and I'm sure it frustrates him as well, because we're both on our own paths doing our own things. There are some similarities that exist that you could find in any band, but if you put on a Flaming Lips record and a Polyphonic Spree record, they don't sound anything alike.

In an era of diminished record sales, how have you been able to make the Polyphonic Spree profitable?

We have been really fortunate with TV, film, and commercials, and that's been a huge part of being able to keep this band going. You have to find other ways to subsidize your income, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to do that and then put all the money back into this band, because I believe so strongly in it. But we live and die by ticket sales and record sales.

Was Kickstarter a huge success for you for the Yes, It's True album?

It was difficult to take at the time. I couldn't get my head around it. But once I did, I saw the benefits of it. And I think it's great now. I have insight to my fanbase that I didn't really know about. Other than seeing them at your shows, you don't really have that connection with your fanbase. Kickstarter gives you an intimacy with your fans that you wouldn't normally have through a regular retail store. I find the whole social aspect of Kickstarter fascinating and positive, especially for people in music. I like it, and I'm glad it worked out for us.

How do you view the industry and your career today, compared to the way you did when you were in the rock band Tripping Daisy 20 years ago?

My God, everything's totally different. I was on a major label and they were blowing money left and right. I had tour support, which doesn't really exist anymore. I was on the radio and selling records and the label was a machine and was really supportive. Things were so much different then. It seems like a dream when I think back. We gave up a lot, but at the same time, the immediacy of the music machine was alive and well. Today, it's alive and well, it's just being reborn, and you're having to try to figure it out while you're trying to be an artist and find your place within this changing environment where people are downloading your music for free. Right now you just have to accept that, even though it sucks. But at the same time it's exciting, because there's a more positive landscape for artists because they have way more control than they ever had in the past. And it gives them a chance to have ownership of their own music, which was difficult to have back then. So there are a lot of positives to it, but as someone who has lived on both sides, I can't lie and say I haven't been confused and frustrated. But that just happens with growth and change, and you just have to go through it.

Are you happier today than in the heyday of Tripping Daisy, when you were showered with adulation and you were able to live out all your rock 'n' roll fantasies?

I'm much happier today. Back then it was fun, ridiculous, and crazy, but I was just talking to someone today and I said, "I'm in the best musical shape of my life." I understand my craft way more. The Polyphonic Spree is making much more sense to me. Before, it was such a new environment to have all these choices of instruments. Now, I've got 14 years of it under my belt and I'm surrounded by amazing musicians and it reflects in the music. I've gotten better. I feel like I'm at my best right now, which is very exciting. I think Yes, It's True is some of our best work — and it came five albums later. But I love each record. They're all completely different and have their own place with me.