The Polyphonic Spree is a self-described "choral symphonic rock" group from the Dallas, Texas area. The band generally consists of a 10-person choir, a pair of keyboardists, as well as a percussionist, drummer, bassist, guitarist, flautist, trumpeter, trombonist, violinist/violist, harpist, French horn player, a pedal steel player, theremin player, and an electronic effects person. Individual members and the number of musicians vary because of the flexibility necessary in travelling with such a large band. Tim DeLaughter is musical director and contributes lead vocals, as well as keyboards, guitar, and percussion.
The group was founded by Tim DeLaughter and has included 13 to 27 other members. It currently consists of 23 members ranging from vocals to organ to tubular bells. The three original members, DeLaughter, Mark Pirro and Bryan Wakeland were members of the band Tripping Daisy before their guitarist Wes Berggren died in 1999. After the tragic end of Tripping Daisy, DeLaughter temporarily gave up music to run Good Records, a record shop in Dallas, Texas.
In 2000, DeLaughter, Pirro and Wakeland were asked to create a 30-minute set in support of the band Grandaddy. Rather than reforming Tripping Daisy, the three decided to explore a concept DeLaughter had of creating a modern symphonic rock band. He wanted a symphonic sound including a live choir. Inspired by sunny, experimental rock bands of the seventies such as Electric Light Orchestra that he loved as a child and the choir at Dallas' St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, DeLaughter sent the call out for a wide array of musicians. Gradually, the band and the new music took shape through various contacts. A half-hour of music was written and rehearsed by the 13 original members of what became The Polyphonic Spree, who began performing live.
The reaction to the fledgling band was overwhelmingly positive. The band then grew to its present size (23 members) as it found a growing following of fans energized by the band's powerful stage presence. A collection of the songs from the first Spree show, along with a tenth piece entitled "A Long Day" (fully formed from 11-year-old samples of the voice of Tim DeLaughter) was recorded and, titled The Beginning Stages Of..., distributed to skeptical venues that were reluctant to host the enormous band. The band also sold home-made copies with hand-drawn artwork in Good Records. Eventually, demand for the Spree's music on CD became so great that the album saw commercial release.
From their inception, The Polyphonic Spree wore white robes at their live shows, giving the image of purity, hope, and happiness ??? an image, which, combined with the nature of their music, gave many the impression that the band was a religious cult. The original idea came when DeLaughter thought that a 13 member band wearing street clothes would be too distracting. He thought of many ideas and finally took his idea of the white robes to his mother-in-law. Together they created the first robe. On recent tours promoting their second album, Together We're Heavy, they sported multicoloured robes.
The band initially became successful in the United Kingdom. They were invited by David Bowie to support The Divine Comedy at the Royal Festival Hall in London for the 2002 Meltdown Festival.
In early 2003, they were dropped by their record label, 679 Recordings, citing "lack of record sales." Ironically, it was about this time that the band had only just begun to break into the pop-cultural scene. The song "Light and Day / Reach For the Sun" was used in a joint Volkswagen Beetle/iPod tie-in advertising campaign, appearing on nationwide television commercials. The same song was used in a tribute to Bill Walsh during an NFL football preseason special. It was also used in a community made YouTube Video. Also during this time the band were invited to be an opening act for David Bowie on his "Reality Tour" and performed at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
2004 was a big year for the band. They found a new deal at Hollywood Records and released their second album, Together We're Heavy in Japan on June 30, Europe on July 12, and North America on July 13 2004. The Polyphonic Spree was featured on the American television program Scrubs on April 20, 2004, in the episode "My Choosiest Choice of All" (3-19); and on the television program Las Vegas on November 29, 2004, in the episode "Silver Star" (2-10). The Polyphonic Spree was also featured on the soundtrack of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (the DVD features a film clip music video for "Light and Day").
Though reception for the band is generally positive and large crowds continue to buy tickets to see the band live, the Spree has drawn some critical derision from those who accuse the band of being "fake" and "artificially happy." Most notably, Entertainment Weekly listed Together We're Heavy as the second-worst album of 2004, behind American Idol star William Hung's album, Inspiration.
Nevertheless, the band's popularity continues to grow. In December 2004, The Polyphonic Spree performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, honoring Wangari Maathai before a worldwide television audience.
2005 saw the release of Thumbsucker, a feature film by Mike Mills, with a score composed by Tim DeLaughter and performed by The Polyphonic Spree. The song "Light and Day / Reach for the Sun" can also be found in Murderball, a documentary about the U.S. wheelchair rugby team.
The Band released their third complete album The Fragile Army on June 19 2007, produced by John Congleton. The Polyphonic Spree dropped their robes for their 2007 tours, and opted for black army outfits, while continuing to don the classic white robes during encores. Recently (July 2007) the song "Running Away" is being featured on the Sci-Fi network in commercials promoting their line up of shows for the season.
Also in autumn of 2007, Adidas commissioned a few artists to write theme songs for MLS teams as part of a campaign called "MLS Represent". The Polyphonic Spree was commissioned to write a song for FC Dallas. The result was the song "H-O-O-P-S Yes!"
In September 2007, The Polyphonic Spree performed three songs, "Light and Day / Reach for the Sun", "Soldier Girl", and "Light to Follow", at Oscar de la Renta's Spring 2008 Fashion Show for New York Fashion Week. They recorded the opening track to the Showtime series Weeds, and also contributed to the Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Nightmare Before Christmas tribute CDs.
Sky Sports are currently using "Running Away" to advertise their spring and summer Cricket coverage.
UK supermarket Sainsbury's continues to use "Light and Day / Reach For the Sun" for its advertising, and DeLaughter has cited this as an important source of income.
In 2009, the band wrote and performed the opening sequence to Showtime's new show The United States of Tara, which stars Toni Collette as a woman with multiple personality disorder.