Even though The Polyphonic Spree hadn’t released a full-length album of new material in a decade, according to the group’s mastermind, Tim DeLaughter, the unique choral project never went away.
Meeting with me in person in Los Angeles’ picturesque Marina Del Rey on a weekday afternoon, DeLaughter points out that The Spree, as he calls them, has always taken a long time between albums. So, to DeLaughter, the decade it took for the group’s stunning new collection, Salvage Enterprise, is not unusual.
But now that the ensemble does have new music to share, he is incredibly proud and excited for the world to hear the masterful record. So much so that prior to the record’s release this past Friday (November 17), he drove in a van from his home base of Dallas to San Francisco, stopping to play the record in its entirety for fans in random locations.
That’s how important it is to DeLaughter that Salvage Enterprise be heard as it was intended, from start to finish. I spoke with DeLaughter about the new record, the tour they were supposed to do with Nick Cave that was sadly missed due to COVID, songwriting and more.
Steve Baltin: You are based in Dallas now, correct?
Tim DeLaughter: Yeah. With Spree out of Dallas, I had a band prior to that called Tripping Daisy that I did. And then] 23 years we’ve been doing the Spree. I can’t believe I’m saying that, 23.
Baltin: Was there a song that jumpstarted the idea of bringing Spree back?
DeLaughter: The Spree never left. We played one-offs and we put out this covers record not too long ago. But there’s always been time between each record. I have four kids, so family’s important to me. And when the Spree first came out, it exploded in the UK and Europe. So, we spent four years over there before we even messed around over here. So when we did come over here, we spent a little bit of time, and then this back cover, then in between records, had some kids and then took a little time off. And still played shows and still got together. But each record, there’s been years. I take a long time before I make a record. So, it’s not like, “The year’s gone by. It’s time to make another record.” We don’t really do it like that, the Spree. It’s like I dip my toe in the muse and hope that it’s there for me. And if it is, then hopefully I’ll grab some songs and move on and grab a little bit more and then it’s enough to make a record. This one came together rather quickly once it started though.
Baltin: What do you take from these songs?
DeLaughter: I find that The Spree lyrics are always reaching for something. Some form of like, “I can make it through this, I can get beyond this.” And that tends come out in the songs. There is some stuff that’s relevant as far as the subject matter that has to do with the moment. But as far as promoting that opportunity to do that, I don’t know when it comes.
Baltin: It’s interesting that you say you’re reaching for something. Nick Cave explained it best to me. He’s such a genius.
DeLaughter: We were going on tour with him. We were going to be his choir and his band for Ghosteen.
Baltin: What happened?
DeLaughter: COVID. We were leaving a week later to go to London to rehearse for three weeks for the tour and COVID hit the week before and we had to cancel the tour. Devastated.
Baltin: Tell me about the listening experiences you did.
DeLaughter: So, I did these listening experiences where I got in a sprinter van and had a sound system. I would travel to do these pop-up experiences all over the country, went to different spots, made it all the way up to San Francisco. But I’d pull up to spots, tweet, “I’m going to be here at this time.” I’d have these speakers set up in the round with moving blankets, people would come out and listen to the record from start to finish under the stars. So, I did about 25 different spots from Dallas all the way to San Francisco and back, even at Bedrock outside of the Grand Canyon where the Flintstones RV Park was. Whoever showed up, showed up and it was pretty great. I did them on beaches and parks and side of the road and things like that. Now, the next phase of that is doing planetarium experiences where we’re taking the record and getting different animators mixed with live action that are building short films per song, threaded together as a whole to watch in a planetarium while you’re listening to the record. That’s coming out in February. It’s something we’ve been working towards for the last six months and finally it’s happening. So that’s another way of unveiling the record and conditioning people to hear it from start to finish. That’s what’s been really important to me, more so than any record I’ve ever put out. I want people to hear it from start to finish, [it’s] rooted in concept. So, that’s the goal. I’m also in the upcoming film El Tonto Por Cristo by Josh Jordan. Again, it’s my second film I did. Well, he did another film called This World Won’t Break, and this is the second film. And I played Gabriel, the angel, in this film. It was black and white, beautifully shot film.
Baltin: Was there a moment in the making of this record that you realized that it was cohesive and it became important to you that people heard it as a whole work?
DeLaughter: Very good question. That’s something that evolved obviously when you start putting the songs together. Like I told you earlier, I would dip my toe in to find out if I was going to be able to write a song or write today. And if my phone was recording, I had that and I kept that little socked away, that moment. I had a bunch of these different moments in my phone through the years up and to the point of when I started writing those three that I came out with outside of COVID. When I went back, I was like, “Man, I have enough songs to make a record here. Let’s go back and piece these together.” My wife, Julie, went through. And I would say, “These are the ones I think that are pretty good, that ironically are in this same world lyrically speaking.” I kept gravitating in this certain area and she picked the ones she liked and we gravitated, found nine songs and started to go for it. Then when we started looking at it, and I started recording them and refining the lyrics and refining what I was going to say, make the arrangements, they started to take a shape, at that point, of nine collective songs that were basically telling a story. Ironically, one of the songs, the one that’s at the end, was basically like the triumphant moment of making it, getting there. You had these introspective parts of times where you could describe where you are at in that particular moment with “Give me Everything.” And then you had bits and pockets of like “Galloping Seas,” which is the opening track. That just says, “Here we go. We all have this thing going on. We’re all in these kinds of times. We can get through this.” And it carries you through that particular adventure in that song. All of them started to have this feel, like this is a concept record. It started taking shape and really revealing itself as a concept record. So, that’s where it happened, was when it was putting it together. Then, once we started listening to it, it was real apparent that it had that feeling. Then I was like. “I need people to hear this as a whole to really get this record.” That spawned the planetarium thing like, “Wow, if you could visually tell this story as well with the music, give something visual to it, that would be just f**king icing on the cake.” So, started thinking of it like that, and then thinking about the sequence and order to how it would evolve visually. It became something we always thought of as a whole rather than just, “This is a really good song,” and, “That song is cool.” It was more like, “No, this whole thing is a body of work.”
Baltin: Is there one song that encapsulates the message of this record?
DeLaughter: I would have to say “Galloping Seas.” If I’d borrow a word, it would be a synopsis of the whole record. It’s what starts it. But what finishes it is this grand epic like, “Yes,” and this kind of [Ennio] Morricone part at the end where Jennifer comes in with this operatic voice at the end. It’s triumph. I know the first song that I thought that, when I was doing them by myself, was “Give Me Everything.” When I first heard that, I was like, “God, this kind of reminds me of something that George Michael did.” It didn’t sound anything like it, but it gave me the feeling of a George Michael song. I appreciate those songs. It’s not like I’m a George Michael’s fan. But, for whatever reason, it gave me that feeling like one of his ballad songs, which I thought was really weird because I’ve never done anything remotely close to that. That was the only thing I thought was kind of strange, but I don’t know, for whatever that’s worth. [laughter]
Baltin: What George Michael song would you say it is? I got to interview him once. Such a cool dude.
DeLaughter: I met him at an AIDS event The Spree played in Dallas. He lived there for a little bit. We played his event. I briefly met him. Very nice guy. It’s like “One More Try.” It was kind of in that world, in the delivery of it. I’d never really sang a song like that before. A lot of these songs that I’m singing, I’ve never really delivered a melody like that before. They’re different than anything I’ve ever done before. And I think it was that moment that I discovered this is different. This isn’t like the typical go-to stuff that I had done in the past where I feel that was in my toolkit. This was something different and new to me, which made it even more special because it’s new. But yeah, it was weird that he came to mind on one song.