Interview: The Polyphonic Spree
Published on October 23rd, 2012 | Anthony Barrett, Ewa Skonecka and Jonny Abrams
It’s just over a week until The Polyphonic Spree celebrate Halloween by performing songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the HMV Forum in Kentish Town, north London, just a stone’s throw from Rocksucker HQ. However, that delightful (if only for us) logistical quirk is merely the tip of a pretty awesome iceberg: this December marks the tenth anniversary of their customary Holiday Extravaganza lives shows, and to celebrate the Spree are bringing out Holidaydream, their first volume of seasonal songs…
…and…AND…they are working towards 2013 releases of a live album, a concert documentary and a new, full-length studio album, all of which you can help them fund right here on Kickstarter. Hearts aflutter with this wave of Polyphonic activity (Polyphonictivity?), Rocksucker fired some questions over to the group’s earthly mouthpieces Tim DeLaughter and Julie Doyle; suffice it to say, we are thrilled and honoured to reproduce their responses for you below…
One of the ‘briefs’ of The Polyphonic Spree looks like it’s to explore many different projects, not to just box itself in to tour/album/tour syndrome. This is one of the best things about the band in my opinion; it challenges the audience and makes people involved feel closer to them. How are the different projects decided upon?
It’s a very similar mentality to the initial idea of the group. There would never be one set rule to follow. That’s how we created the group…everything outside of the box. It’s when we start getting settled “in” the box that things go awry.
For example, what was the motivation behind doing the Rocky Horror-themed show which is imminent in London, and also the continuation of an inclination towards seasonal songs which has culminated in a stand-alone Christmas album?
Well, Xmas-wise, it’s our tenth anniversary of the Spree Holiday Extravaganza, an all get-out event if you will. Now finally complete with a holiday album release and taking it on the road. Rocky Horror, on the other hand, represents the challenge of our more theatrical side not born by the Spree originally. Though we truly enjoy covering many different styles of music/songs, this has been the funnest yet. It’s definitely made us exercise all sorts of options!
Apart from the band, how many crew and others travel with the entourage and what do they do? I was particularly wondering if any specialist sound technicians, catering staff or even therapists were full time coach members, and if so, what special needs such a large band have over smaller ones to keep everything rolling smoothly, especially on foreign tours.
There are around 20-25 all in these days. Specialists? Um, not sure about that…we are all in house!
I’m assuming you would listen to other people’s music on long journeys on the coach. How democratic is your system for who gets what played and what gets played the most?
Whoever is first to the sound system!
Do you ask for riders at shows, and if so, is there anything in them we shouldn’t know about?
Pretty uninteresting stuff… Long gone are the days of diapers and wipes!
The Spree are one of the most positive forces I think I’ve ever been close to at a public event, but obviously the records and rehearsals are conducted behind closed doors. I’d like to think the band were as we see them in public 24/7, but this would be fairly impractical, so just how much of the ‘live vibe’ is able to be carried over purely into both these processes?
I would say that when we all get together, it’s an event. We have to be very sufficient so that’s sorta the beauty. All the energy in the room is relative to what we bring to the stage. That’s why we’re there.
If it’s to a large degree, in this case, what motivates the band to be like this as a whole and personally, and how is it applied? Basically, what makes you feel as collectively good as I feel when I see and hear you, to be able to produce the music you do?
True sense of synergy. If it’s not there, we don’t do it.
What was the process used to recruit members when Tim had the initial vision of the band? Did most people know each other already or were people brought together from lots of completely different places, but who basically were like-minded and in tune with this brilliantly ambitious plan?
Many folks we knew in some fashion from different periods of our lives that would trust the idea of it.
How many of the original line-up are still with the band now, and if people have left for pastures new, what would the main reason be?
Many are still with the band. Ones who have come and gone are for all sorts of reasons. New careers, having babies, lack of vision, etc… All over the map
The costumes have always been a really interesting and vital part of how the band present themselves and it’s always a buzz to see what style and colours are coming next. How are new ‘looks’ decided on and are the outfits made by band members themselves or do you go to a special place to get them done? If so, give them a shout-out, they’ve done a great job!
Our mother does much of the work as well as a guy named Joe and a woman named Jesse May Clark. The new is basically the originals finally evolved into hearts. Hence, you plus me! We are all in this together.
It’s been pretty well documented – and even mentioned on stage if I’m not mistaken – what a help using The Polyphonic Spree’s music on the Sainsbury’s advert was with facilitating finances to get the band around more, and the 2013 campaign is currently being geared up with fan help on Kickstarter. As it seems to be a fact of life that many bands now have to go to outside sources for help these days, how interested are The Polyphonic Spree in being completely independent, and would it be possible and practical with such a unique line-up?
Yes. No doubt licensing monies have been huge and helped the Spree not only buy its way out of all its record contracts worldwide in 2008 but also helpful in continuing ideas as a group. Kickstarter would’ve always been the perfect platform for a group like us: a peoples’ band and DIY mentality.
Some purists (who almost certainly wouldn’t have the same logistics to navigate) get pretty militant about using advertising revenue: how easy a decision was it to let the music be used? Were there any reservations on your part or was it purely survival instincts kicking in, and was there any negative response from unexpected places?
Dinosaur’s mentality, but with that being said…”yes” we have turned down numerous licensing deals based on personal decisions and beliefs.
Given that your sound is so distinctive, is there then a typical genesis for a Polyphonic Spree song?
It’s a secret.
On average, per year, as you’re such a welcoming bunch, how many people send you serious requests on how they can become a member of The Polyphonic Spree?
A few or so…
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming bands that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Yes…our pianist, Jesse Hester, aka Sweet Lee Morrow. He was in the Spree choir as a teenager, then pianist, went off to do his own thing and now playing and and singing with us meanwhile. He is an incredible singer/songwriter. He’s actually on our own label: www.goodrecordsrecordings.com
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, with just the entire back catalogues of five different musical artists for company, whose would you choose?
Ahhhhhhhhhh. Percy Faith for starters…
The Polyphonic Spree, thank you.
The Polyphonic Spree will perform songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show at London’s HMV Forum on Wednesday 31st October – click here to book tickets.
Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One is out now on Kirkland Records – click here to buy it from their website.
The group will play the following US dates for the tenth anniversary of their annual Holiday Extravaganza series of shows:
12/06 – Los Angeles – Fonda Theater
12/08 – San Francisco – Slim’s
12/11 – Chicago – Logan Square Auditorium
12/14 – Philadelphia – Trocadero Theatre
12/15 – New York – Webster Hall
12/22 – Dallas – Lakewood Theater
You can help fund The Polyphonic Spree’s 2013 activity – including a live album, a concert documentary and a brand new full-length studio album – by pledging on their Kickstarter page.
For more information, please visit thepolyphonicspree.com