The Polyphonic Spree still seems like an idea that just fundamentally shouldn't work. A lineup of over 20 musicians, playing symphonic-style indie rock and clad in choir robes—it seems like a concept doomed to either collapse under its own unwieldy lineup or fall victim to its own novelty. But the Spree has been flourishing since 2000, having recorded three albums, toured the world and scored films like Thumbsucker. Although it's been five years since the Spree's last album, The Fragile Army, the band released the new tune "Bullseye" as an interactive app for iDevices last summer. They've also been staying busy working on more new material (including a holiday album) and keeping their famously spirited live show on the road. As the Spree approaches its latest Detroit date, we talked with Spree frontman, founder and mastermind Tim DeLaughter about Christmas tunes, the church of music and the band's Detroit ties.
The Spree is working on a holiday album this year. What is that going to sound like? Will you guys be doing traditional Christmas songs, or original work?
Yes, we are. In August. Not sure how it will sound yet. Depends how it's feeling when we get together on it. Right now we're focusing on touring and new original material in the studio. Kind of going for something somewhat classic though. Who knows? There might be a few original Christmas tracks on there.
You recently released "Bullseye" as an interactive app, and you've said you're planning to do another similar release. What appeals to you about that format for your music?
I am mostly a visual writer, lyrically as well. So this works for me.
There's a religious (or at least spiritual) feel to the Spree, both visually and in the music. How would you describe your own spirituality, and how has that influenced the band?
Music has always been my church. And I guess there's always been a thread within my work which has an uplifting feel. It's never been an agenda for me. It's just there, I'm realizing.
The Spree is well-known for its energetic live show. Do you do anything to help build up that energy before you go onstage, especially when you're in the midst of a busy touring schedule?
It just comes. There have been times I've had a tough time getting my head around entering the stage show and wondered where I'd find the energy, but somehow, it arrives. I don't have a ritual.
What is the writing process like for the group? Do you individually score out each instrument's part, or is it more jam-oriented at first?
I write. Many times I specify parts, depending on the instrument, player and approach. It's almost like directing a cast sometimes.
The Spree has been active for over a decade now. How do you feel your music has changed over that time?
I'm still moving through it. I am quite a ways from summing it up.
Since you guys are on your way to us here in Detroit soon, is there anything you'd like to share about Detroit? What have your past experiences been like, or do you have any specific stories about being here that you'd like to share?
Yes. My bass player, Mark Pirro, is from Detroit. His first song ever as a child was a rap song titled "Detroit City." It's entertaining! | RDW
The Polyphonic Spree • 5/17, 7 p.m. • Saint Andrew's Hall • 431 E. Congress, Detroit • 313.961.8961 • saintandrewsdetroit.com • $20