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Wildly psychedelic, stylishly dressed, always uplifting in spirit (so much that some considered them just another wayward Texas cult), The Polyphonic Spree has kept a relatively low profile lately. The band has been holed up in leader Tim DeLaughter's home studio jamming the night away — but the pop-psych veterans also simply have been trying to figure out how to viably survive.
Since The Fragile Army was released six years ago, DeLaughter formed another band, Preteen Zenith, had another child, released a Christmas album with the Spree, and begged for money to keep going — that is, turned to Kickstarter to finance the recently released Yes, It's True.
"There were just different things happening, and it just prolonged us from releasing a record," DeLaughter says by phone from Salt Lake City. "There was no pressure to go out there and make a record because we're on our own label — which was good. It gave us time to regroup and jam together — serious nightly all-night jams, just airing it out and reorganizing."
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The long break also gave DeLaughter an opportunity to write songs and stockpile them. Having been written over a prolonged period, Yes, It's True has more ebb and flow than previous outings. There are heavy moments where electronica breaks to the surface, while other tracks are more restrained and pared down. The heavenly chorus and psychedelic effects remain, but the variety of styles makes this a different Polyphonic Spree.
"The previous records were written almost as concept records. I'd sit down and write a body of work for that particular record, so it would have that same sonic feel throughout. It was a conscious effort. There was a certain initiative to do the record that way," he says. "What's good about this one is I got to write songs about where I was at that particular place and time and bring them all together. The hardest part is putting that much variety on a record and making it sound cohesive."
The changes work well. The cool-down moments feel nice coming from a band known for its constant high-energy output, contagious smiles, and matching white tunics. In fact, this wondrous energy (rumored to come from a certain flavor of Kool-Aid served backstage) led to the speculation that the Dallas band was a cult. Even granting that the Branch Davidians formed just down the road in Waco, it was still a reach.
"I didn't really know how people were going to take it; they ran with it a lot of different ways. Some thought we were a cult — we had a lot of fun with that," he said with a laugh. "And those . . . [saying we had] this Up with People vibe — it was kind of annoying. That part was kind of surprising, because I never thought this band was remotely similar to any of those things. At the same time, people pretty much liked the music and flipped out on it."
Yet for many The Polyphonic Spree is a religious experience — cult or not — simply because, like the driving gospel music of the Edwin Hawkins Singers, it's impossible not to be moved by the musical spirit. The unbelieving go from arms-crossed to arm-waving zealots in the course of a concert. DeLaughter himself is moved by it all.
"It's a feeling I get that I'm pretty addicted to. I've been in bands with five dudes and you have those golden moments where you're rocking out on stage, but there's really something different with The Polyphonic Spree, with this amount of people. The spirit that comes across and all the different instruments and the way it hits you sonically . . ." He pauses, as if lost on stage. "It's just real fulfilling."