Most knew it only as the weird music inbetwixt bands, others said it was a doorway to another dimension, and a few, well they just called it the Spreadalittlelove Sound System.
Playing to an unsuspecting, captive audience afforded them a marvellous opportunity to serve up whatever they liked – usually a heady brew of psychedelicrainbowsunshinepop, with the occasional drop of Disney poured into the mix for good measure.
Let’s start at the beginning well actually The Beginning Stages of…
Once upon a time…
The year 1990, and a neo-psychedelic pop rock band emerged from Dallas, Texas. And they called themselves Tripping Daisy.
At the helm was lead singer and guitarist Tim DeLaughter, he was joined by Jeff Bouck on percussion, Wes Berggren on guitar, and Mark Pirro on bass.
When playing live the band made use of a light show similar to the infamous Joshua Light Show used in the 1960’s and 70’s at the Fillmore East. It used hand made slide shows with multi layered projections along with oil wheels. This visual layering was present in their very first show and was the beginning of many multimedia attractions to come.
After a brief but highly acclaimed few years Tripping Daisy came to a tragic end. In 1999 guitarist Wes Berggren passed away much too soon and the band split.
But hey this isn’t a post about Trippy Daisy, no, it’s a post about what happened next…
In the year 2000…
There is an interview in Rolling Stone magazine from 2002 where Tim explains the beginning of the band.
I think it started when I was a little kid. I had my first band in third grade, and I’ve always been drawn to sunny pop music. The first record I ever bought was a 45, Beach Baby by First Class. I’m thirty-six years old now, I spent twelve years in a pop band and I’m at a point in my life where I thought I could do my be careful what you wish for band.
The Polyphonic Spree’s music fulfills everything that I need: It’s very sunny, it’s positive, there’s a lot of melody all over it and the texture of the different instruments is layered — from the smaller sound of the flute to the broader sound of the trombone, to the tympanis to the chimes. And then, of course, the ten-to-twelve-person choir.
Actually — and people in the band would scream if they knew this — I’m adding a tuba and a classical harp player. Once I get those two I think I’ll be completely satisfied.
So Tim DeLaughter brought together 12 musicians and set about giving birth to the sound he heard in his head.
Tim’s wife Julie Doyle remembers being in their bedroom…
we have a pretty small house so you can hear pretty easily, lying on my back with the baby and hearing Tim in the living room with a couple string players and a harpist laying down these real basic chords on the acoustic guitar. He was telling them, “Don’t worry about the sheet music, just improv with your ear.” I was thinking, Oh my god, this is gonna be outstanding! So we started calling more friends over
The full interview can be read at rollingstone.com
So began an exploration of the orchestral palette with included a pop sensibility. Within a couple of weeks, The Polyphonic Spree created a 30-minute opus, they then donned their signature white robes and greeted the world.
Michael Turner from the choir explains the robes
It’s really just to unify the band visually so that you’re not distracted. Some people would say that’s kind of contradictory: “What do you mean it’s not distracting . . . all those robes?” But it’s an initial thing: When the music starts, you quit paying attention to them. You’re not thinking, “That guy’s got a cool belt on” … or “I hate that shirt!”
In another interview from The Guardian in 2002 Tim also addresses the robe and cult issue, let’s face it, seeing 24 people in white robes is reminiscence of Father Yod’s Source Family spiritual commune/cult based in the Hollywood Hills in the early seventies. I love the fact Tim is obviously being playful but soon realises it can be taken out of context.
Alexis Petridis – This sort of talk brings us to the religious cult issue. DeLaughter says the robes are simply “a fitting uniform” and that it would be too confusing if 24 people came onstage wearing normal clothes.
I swear to God, I didn’t think about it as a religious thing or a cult thing. Now, I go back to England and everybody’s talking about it as being a cult. There again, 10 years from now, you may find out that we are a fuckin’ cult! Everyone may be dead, I may have poisoned them all
There’s a pause, Tim adds, concerned;
That’s definitely not on the cards. I’m not planning on that
Well that was 17 years ago and the Spree didn’t end up like some Sunshine Pop version of Jonestown.
So the back to the first gig, The Polyphonic Spree began July 15, 2000 with an opening slot for Grandaddy and Bright Eyes in Dallas, TX.
And shortly after this show the band added more musicians.
Then, they set about recording something.
The initial recording contained nine sections which and been performed at their first show plus one more; Section 10 – Long Day. This promo CD was only intended to serve as a demo recording to help get the band live bookings but things started to move quickly.
The Beginning Stages of…
The promo disc was entitled The Beginning Stages of…
Originally released as a CDr under the bands own name. It was then released again on Good Records Recordings. The record label formed by Tim DeLaughter and Chris ‘CeePee’ Penn, the label named after the record store they owned and ran in downtown Dallas, Texas.
Good Records was then a small struggling record shop but is now much more.
Tim recently said in an interview with Diffuser.FM
Chris Penn was the heart and soul of Good Records. He’s the one that’s made it what it is. We’ve had some amazing in-store performances at our place, and some unforgettable moments. Just awesome times. It’s great. It’s totally Chris Penn who has made Good Records what it is
The promotional CD, numbered at 100, was given out at the original shows.
It was engineered and recorded by Andy Baker at the Dallas Sound Lab. Mixed at Last Beat Studios with the assistance of Paul Williams. Mastered by George Geurin at DES.
The twenty piece choral symphonic pop band featured;
Todd Berridge – viola
Jeff Bouck – percussion, car tailpipes, tablas, timpani drums, gong
Chris Curiel – trumpet
Tim DeLaughter – vocals, guitar, arm waving
Audrey Easley – flute, piccolo
Carlos Jackson – farrista, bells, tambourine
Maria Jeffers – cello
Mark McKeever – keyboard, piano, moog, trumpet
Mark Pirro – Bass
Andrew Tinker – french horn
Bryan Wakeland – trap set
And the choir:
Jessica Berridge, Austen Brown, Julie Doyle, Toby Halbrooks, Jesse Hester, Roy Ivy, Jennifer Jobe, Jennie Kelley, Kelly Repka, Christy Stewart
The Beginning Stages is a 3 day (Oct 29, 30, 31, 2000) documentation of a sound that is to come.
In 2002 the band was invited to play the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. They had actually been turned down the year before. On March 14, 2002 the band kicked off the event by opening for the keynote speech by Robbie Robertson.
The band performed 5 shows in 3 days at a time when that was not the norm. The band also did an in-store performance at Waterloo Records.
Interest was beginning to peek and the band sold a lot of CDS during SXSW, the only artist who sold more was a then unknown Norah Jones.
At Stubb’s Bar-B-Q on Saturday March 16th they played the following set;
- Two Thousand Places
- Hanging Around the Day
- Soldier Girl
- It’s Alright
- The Best Part
- Have a Day/Celebratory
- It’s the Sun
- La La
- A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed
- When the Fool Becomes a King
- It’s the Sun
The band began to receive a lot more attention from both press and industry.
David Bowie invited the band to perform at the Meltdown Festival he was curating, and so The Polyphonic Spree made their first trip over the ocean and on Monday, June 17, 2002 they opened for The Divine Comedy at the Royal Festival Hall.
The Spree played a cover of Bowie’s Five Years. Momentum had started to build.
Now for a word from our sponsors…
Jumping forward to 2003 for a just moment Light and Day / Reach For the Sun had been used in a joint Volkswagen Beetle / Apple iPod advertising campaign.
The band also had a cameo in an episode of the TV series Scrubs.
They also had music played in a NFL football preseason special to Bill Walsh. Music also appeared in Murderball, a documentary about the U.S. wheelchair rugby team. And the BBC Radio 7 sci-fi comedy Undone.
And Light and Day / Reach For the Sun was adapted and used in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
A little later in 2005 Light and Day started to be used in a series of UK television adverts for the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.
Let’s head back to 2003…
The band was then invited to be the opening act on theUS leg of his 2003 David Bowie’s Reality Tour.
Chris Penn was tour manager and co-manager of the band he was over the moon, The Polyphonic Spree were to open for an icon for a whole month on an arena tour.
Penn’s favorite moment happened backstage.
I went to retrieve Tim for some press or something and walked into Tim and David conversing about artists and how they release albums that fly under the radar and/or experimental albums that they know will alienate a good chunk of their audience. Neil Young came up and Tim told David Bowie he should talk to me because ‘he loves Neil Young.’ So for a brief moment I got to talk to David Bowie about our mutual admiration for Neil Young and his do-what-you-want attitude
Together We’re Heavy…
The band continued to tour the globe with tours in Japan, Australia, and Europe.
And in 2004 back in Dallas the band found time to record a second album Together We’re Heavy.
They used producer Eric Drew Feldman who had previously worked on Tripping Daisy’s – Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb.
Hang on a minute, we did jump the gun. Let’s go back to October 2002 and The Polyphonic Spree were now touring the UK and had arrived, with much anticipation, at the Roadmenders in Northampton.
Now I had been playing support for a lot of bands at the Roadmenders. Playing records before bands was my thing and I had a pretty regularly Wednesday night slot where I met and played for a lot of great and not so great up and coming bands that you’d read about in the Melody Maker or NME.
I was booked to play for The Polyphonic Spree on October 25th but due to the complicated nature of managing a 24 piece band things got well and truly cocked up and I was at the gig that night but only as another fan.
I was blown away and vowed to get a support slot next time they played.
I didn’t have to wait that long…
July 10 2003…
So it’s July the start of the Summer in the UK and the Spree are touring again. And this time I get the support slot. Yay! for me.
I invited my long standing brother in record arms Dixy to play back to back, one deck each, battle mode is what we called it, this made us push each other as far as we could musically and we used to have a ball.
We were billed as Blackcatfound a name we were using at the time around our hometown. Although Blackcatfound was a three piece at the time it was only myself and Dixy who played. This would become a huge problem and eventually caused the trio Blackcatfound, consisting of Gay Roger, Dixy and pH to implode and I left the trio. This was all very sad but we all lived.
So the dynamic duo played a set of favourite feel good and sunshine pop records, with a smile on our faces. The sun was out that day and shone down on Northampton illuminating the Roadmenders in all it’s tatty glory.
Sitting on a step at the back of the venue was one Tim DeLaughter, enjoying the sunshine and having a rest before going on stage. His ears pricked up by the joyful sounds coming from inside the venue. The crowd were buoyant and singing along to the music that was being played. But by whom he thought to himself. He went inside to investigate.
Our vinyl boxes were over flowing and the set could have contained any of the following that night:
- Mr Blue Sky – ELO
- Age of Aquarius & Let The Sun Shine In – Fifth Dimesion
- Les Fleur – Minnie Riperton
- Tomorrow – Strawberry Alarm Clock
- The Strong – Ennio Morricone
- Buzzsaw – Turtles
- Lollipop – The Chordettes
- Florida Fantasy – John Barry
- For What Its Worth – Sergio Mendes Brasil 66
- Crossroads Of The Stepping Stones – Elephants Memory
- Along Comes Mary – The Association
- Coconut – Nilsson
- Sunshine Girl – The Parade
- Maypole – Paul Giovanni
- The Town (narration) – Nilsson
- Lightening Strikes – Lou Christie
- The World Is A Circle – Diana Lee, Bobby Van & Chorus
- Groovin ‘ – The Young Rascals
- Little April Shower – Bambi Soundtrack
- I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun – Rotary Connection
- Sunshine Lollipops And Rainbows – Lesley Gore
- Kites Are Fun – The Free Design
- Conversation Off Floral Street – The Zombies
- I Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye – Sandy Salisbury
- That’s The Way It’s Gonna Be – Curt Boettcher
- Love At Last – Millenium
- Punky’s Dilemma – Don Costa
- Peaceful – Kenny Rankin
- Barefoot In Baltimore – Strawberry Alarm Clock
- The Yellow Balloon – The Yellow Balloon
- Time Of The Season – The Zombies
Tim pushed his way through the sold out crowd and arrived at two very happy and slightly wobbly DJ’s. He didn’t say much at first he looked over with a Cheshire smile and bear hugged us one at a time.
And like a happy principal telling off some naughty school kids he told us to see him after the show.
And our journey had began.
We spoke to the tour manager, Chris Penn after the show and he told us we were going on tour with them. And that was that. Our next gig was supporting them at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange on 24th August to a 3000 sold out crowd.
We needed a new name, a special name just for the gigs with The Polyphonic Spree. We were to become their sound system, and our role was to spread a little love.
So the newly christened Spreadalittlelove Sound System flew to Edinburgh on Easy Jet and before the gig we got drunk on cheap Cava, and searched the local record shops for vinyl, all in the blazing sunshine and tingling with anticipation at the night ahead.
The whole night went wonderfully, except the bit when the support band from Liverpool, can’t remember their name, started having a go at the headliners that night. The sold out crowd were there for the Spree and booed the support band off stage. It really did get nasty at one point and we thought Tim was going to get physically and kick the support band off stage himself.
We built up the crowd again with sunshine and the Spree came on and stole the show.
After the gig everyone was still excited and we got pushed into a minibus and driven to a bar somewhere in Edinburgh, the resident DJ was asked to go home early and myself and Dixy were plopped behind the decks, and played until 4am on a bag of records only picked for a 1 hour support set, it was madness but somehow we pulled it off.
So here are the dates we became The Polyphonic Spree’s Tour DJ’s.
As mentioned already after the initial gig as Blackcatfound we called ourselves the Spreadalittlelove Sound System.
Then after a backlash from the NME about hippies and sixties throwbacks we got asked to change the name, so we came up with The Celestial Peepshow. Me and Dixy had also started DJing as Blackcandy so we were billed as that a few times.
Eventually Dixy left for the bright lights of New York City and I became the UK tour DJ for the band all on my own.
- July 10 Northampton Roadmenders UK (as Blackcatfound)
- August 24 Edinburgh Corn Exchange UK
- August 28 Staffordshire University UK
- November 14 Warwick University UK
- November 16 Coventry Coliseum UK
- December 19 Lakewood Theatre Dallas USA
- December 20 Lakewood Theatre Dallas USA
And so, in the winter of 2003 our journey took us to Fort Worth airport on the outskirts of Dallas.
Our party of five Northamptonians had arrived for the Annual Holiday Extravaganza at the Lakewood Theatre. We were booked to play a support set for both of the nights.
We were joined on both nights by a small zoo, a surreal ventriloquist, and the lovely Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players.
A possible highlight amongst many was Dixy dressed up in a full Rudolph the Reindeer costume dancing with Tim on stage. I have no photos of this unfortunately. It was back when you didn’t carry a mobile phone everywhere, taking photos of everything, we were just lost in the moment.
- July 4 Monarch Barfly Camden UK
- July 5 Shepherds Bush Empire London UK
- October 30 Liverpool University UK
- October 31 Sheffield Leadmill UK
- November 2 Birmingham Carling Academy UK (pH solo)
- November 6 London Astoria UK
- August 15 KoKo London UK (as The Celestial Peepshow)
- August 16 Manchester Academy UK (as The Celestial Peepshow)
- October 31 Forum London UK (as The Celestial Creepshow)
- August 6 Village Underground London UK (as Blackcandy)
- June 6 Clapham Grand London UK (as Blackcandy)
This was the last gig as a duo. Dixy left for New York and for all following gigs I was on my own. I think I may have been billed as pH Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadours
- June 7 Manchester Academy UK
- June 8 Lunar Festival UK
- September 3 Camden Electric Ballroom UK
- September 4 The Concorde 2 Brighton UK
- September 5 02 Oxford UK
- September 9 Manchester Academy UK
Myself and Dixy gave an interview in 2004 for the local BBC Weekender program, you can hear us in the clip below…
After the gigs in 2015 I put together a mix for Mixcloud from the vinyl I had in my box for those gigs…
The old website is long gone but here are some screen grabs…
It was a lot of fun. We met some lovely people on our journey. The ever lovely Chris Penn kept us safe and gave us hugs.
People who always made us feel part of the Polyphonic Spree family; Ricky Rasura, Rick Nelson, Big Joseph Butcher, James Reimer, Bryan Wakeland, and Julie Doyle.
We played some great places too. I will never forget the sight of Har Mar Superstar walking down the stairs backstage at one of my favourite venues the Shepherds Bush Empire, he was wearing nothing but yellow Speedo’s and a beautiful woman on each arm.
Good times x
One of the many stage names myself and Dixy used was Uncle Seltzers Kosmik Surgery. Here Tim poses with a poster…
And what about The Polyphonic Spree?
Over the course of touring The Polyphonic Spree played pretty much every major festival going; Bonnaroo, Coachella, Austin City Limits Festival, SXSW, Glastonbury, Reading, the list goes on.
The band also graced the small screen via the MTV Video Music Awards, Nobel Peace Prize Concert, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, Craig Kilborn, Austin City Limits, Las Vegas, et. al.
Tim scored music for film, including Thumbsucker (2005), and Visioneers (2008), and the Emmy nominated theme song to the Showtime series United States of Tara (2009).
In 2007 the third studio album was recorded, The Fragile Army. They recorded in Cannon Falls, MN and Chicago, IL with John Congleton producing. The record was rockier than the sunshine of previous albums and the band switched from the trademark unifying robes to a black military style uniform.
Unfortunately the record company TVT who released The Fragile Army filed for bankruptcy not long after its release.
Tim DeLaughter put the band on a hiatus while writing and demoing new songs.
The live Christmas album Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays, Vol. One was released in 2012 by Good Records with distribution taken by Kirtland (North America) and Cherry Red (Europe)
The fourth studio album, Yes, It’s True, was released in 2013 again by Good Records with distribution taken by Kirtland (North America) and Cherry Red (Europe)
A 10 track remix album on Good Records Recordings appeared in 2014 called Psychphonic.
Logistics and the financial implications of moving a large band on the road meant that Tim and his merry pranksters didn’t come back to the UK very often.
As of writing this post the Spree have 2 shows lined up for 2019.
17 Feb 2019 at the Granada Theater, Dallas. Tim Delaughter presents the Woodrowphonic Spree, Tim performing The Polyphonic Spree’s greatest hits backed by the Woodrow Wilson High School Symphonic Wildcat Band.
And the Annual Holiday Extravaganza is taking place at Majestic Theatre, Dallas on Dec 14th.
The Polyphonic Spree moves forward on its path…
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