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Whatever Happened To: The Polyphonic Spree

The history and happenings of everyone's favorite 1000-member band (okay, not quite that many)

The Polyphonic Spree
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    We’re reviving our Whatever Happened To series after a decade-long break. To kick things off, we’re going on a search to find The Polyphonic Spree, a choral rock band from Dallas formed by Tim DeLaughter in 2000.


    Nirvana changed music in the early ’90s with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and their landmark 1991 album Nevermind. Dozens of unlikely underground bands (Butthole Surfers, anyone?) leapt into the mainstream as grunge and punk became the dominant rock ‘n’ roll trends. After the death of frontman Kurt Cobain, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl hunkered down and formed a solo project he dubbed Foo Fighters. A quarter-century or so later, the Foos are now the biggest (and most consistently awesome) rock band in the world, thanks to a catalog overflowing with radio hits.

    However, Nirvana wasn’t the only popular ’90s rock band to spawn a long-running, fan-pleasing project. The quirky Dallas pop-rock group Tripping Daisy, led by vocalist Tim DeLaughter, had a top 10 alternative radio hit with 1995’s “I Got a Girl” and two other modest hits with the soaring “My Umbrella” and buzzsawing “Piranha.” Sadly, the band broke up in late 1999 in the wake of the drug overdose death of guitarist Wes Berggren.

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    A grieving DeLaughter and several of his Tripping Daisy bandmates turned around and formed The Polyphonic Spree, a self-proclaimed “choral symphonic pop rock band” that was a far cry from anything else going on in music circa Y2K. More than 20 musicians were in the troupe, for starters — including, at one point early on, Annie Clark, aka the future St. Vincent — and the group wore matching white robes onstage.

    Musically, The Polyphonic Spree was also relentlessly positive, drawing on the lilting sunshine pop movement of the 1960s (i.e., the harmony-heavy music of the Association or the Fifth Dimension), ELO’s layered orchestral arrangements, and the Beach Boys’ lush, summery melodies.

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    Onstage, DeLaughter’s demeanor was a cross between a passionate preacher and a giddy choir conductor. Cynics might look askance at his earnestness and wonder if it — or he — was for real. However, it’s always been clear that DeLaughter found healing solace in first forming and then guiding The Polyphonic Spree.

    “I had really taken myself out of music, I’d gone through a dark time,” DeLaughter told musicOMH in 2005, referencing Berggren’s death. “I didn’t know what the hell was going on musically around me. When my child was born, it kind of brought in life again for me and I started seeing things a lot differently. That’s when I got the nerve to start The Polyphonic Spree — I knew that what we were doing was really good, it would find a place eventually.”

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    Buzz around The Polyphonic Spree grew immediately, in no small part due to a full-length collection of songs released in 2002 called The Beginning Stages of…. The full-length included what became the band’s signature song: the surging, optimistic “Light and Day.” The single was later heard in TV ads for the iPod and UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s; the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and documentary Murderball; and the TV shows Scrubs and Chuck.

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