HOOKED ON POLYPHONICS
Tim DeLaughter is the cheerful mastermind behind THE POLYPHONIC SPREE, the world’s best happiest symphonic pop band. Ornate on record and staggering live, the grand tradition of Texas psychedelia has never sounded so ecstatic—or tasted so sweet. Text by Gabe Soria. Illustration by Paul Pope.
Originally published in Arthur No. 3 (March, 2003)
“This is going to be fun,” says the impish man with the curly black hair. He’s dressed in a flowing white robe, and he chuckles. The crowd titters in agreement. Then, like the thunderclap before a sudden and wonderful summer rainstorm, a firecracker burst of a drum roll breaks the anticipatory silence and the band behind and besides the man kicks in, and the choir behind them starts boogeying and the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up because for all intents and purposes you feel like you’re rocketing down the first drop of the world’s best wooden roller coaster, full of terror and elation, brimming with the beauty and potential of life, coupled with a stirring acknowledgment of its sadness and inevitable mortality.
“This is gonna be fun,” said the man in the white robe, and he wasn’t telling tales out of school. The band—the French horn player, the trombonist, the harpist, the flautist, the drummer, the ten person choir, and so on—are, like the singer, dressed in matching white robes, and although they’re only two songs into their set at the second anniversary of Dallas’ Good Records store, you can hear that they’re already working up an ecstatic sweat. The audience is besides themselves with excitement. And then the defiant simplicity of the song’s main refrain, almost like a school yard chant, comes in:
“You gotta be good!
“You gotta be strong!
“You gotta be two thousand places at once!”
And by the time the song winds down, the entire audience will be chanting along, singing with the band, hands in the air, beaming, beatific smiles on their faces. And the only people enjoying it more than the folks watching are the band themselves, all two dozen of them looking like they’re fit to burst from elation. That is what watching the Polyphonic Spree live is like. It’s the type of thing that makes you raise your hands up and say “Yeah!” while joyous tears of hope and fear brim at your eyes.
“So… how was your day?” I ask.
“Today was… wow,” laughs Polyphonic Spree ringmaster Tim DeLaughter, 37, over the phone from Dallas. He excuses himself from his dinner companions – he explains that the maelstrom of noise and chatter in the background is simply the sound of what seems to be his hometown’s busiest Tex-Mex restaurant – and walks outside to continue our conversation in relative silence. And this isn’t the first time he’s going to say that word, that “wow”. It peppers his speech liberally, and the way he wraps his soda-pop sweet Texas accent (it splits the difference aw-shucks good-ol’ boy and cosmic space cowboy) around it, it’s given its due as the English language’s best shorthand for awe and amazement. This fella (and his band) have got a lot of time for the wonder and the glory in this terrible and grim world and he wears it on his sleeve.Continue reading