The world is a bleak, bleary place. We're under daily siege by despairing news and crippling angst as war, floods, drought, disease, famine and tragic violence bombard our collective consciousness. Ignore it all you want, but we live in troubling times, and it's during such times that we look to artists to somehow capture and name the restlessness and growing unease of the general populace.
Bands might make social comments through rage-filled anthems, sardonic sing-alongs or tearful ballads, but few truly attempt to turn that frown upside down with such unabashedly positive aplomb as The Polyphonic Spree.
The Lone Star State's symphonic pop outfit is releasing its third full-length, The Fragile Army, presumably to combat the current malaise with life-affirming sonic wails of orchestral splendor. The 24-plus-member troupe of peaceful zealots arrives back on the scene not a moment too soon. Speaking with the band's leader/shaman Tim DeLaughter a day after the horrific Virginia Tech massacre, it's easy to see why the world needs a dose of the Spree.
When asked how current events are affecting his state of mind, he responds, "I'd like to have everybody on somewhat of the same page where we are all living in peace and harmony, in ideal utopia for the human race. It's a goal I think we all have deep down. Every now and then a glimpse comes along, and we wonder why we can't do it. ... In general, people really do want to come together and celebrate as a whole. In a time where we've looked toward someone to bring this country and its people together, the plan has faltered to where it's actually segregated people.
"I'm referring to 9/11 — because there was an opportunity there for some real communal synergy, and it did for a moment, where everyone felt the remorse for all [who] had died. There was a time for a leader to come in and say, 'Let's get together and change the way we look at each other.' Ultimately what happened was the polar opposite ... This festered into where we were really separating ourselves from not just the rest of the world but amongst people in our own country."
Some Say He's a Dreamer
Within a music scene given to condescending eye-rolling, many may dismiss DeLaughter as a certifiable dreamer — one who feels there's still a chance at a great society where we crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea. But why does it seem so implausible? Even for a brief respite, music has the power to permeate the soul and lift the spirit. Armed with this testament, DeLaughter has set out to do his small part to cast a much-needed ray of hope.
"What's interesting now is people are starting to come together on their own without any sort of formal leadership; it's a natural evolution process,” he says. "I'm referring to people here in America, mainly because this is my stomping ground. ... I'm noticing a sense of unity that is being born because people are tired of the way things are transpiring. It certainly
wasn't something I noticed two years ago when I started on this record; it's something I felt only recently.”
"For me, after being so barraged by the current political climate, it became undeniable; this had to be the subject matter for these new songs. Never have I delved point-blank into political songs before. It had always been more about the spirit of life and trying to sustain somewhat of a forward motion for myself.
"Look, it's hard to live life in general, but it's always been about having hope and persevering. I love life in all of its ups and downs, but it's still a struggle. I just had my fourth kid and it's even more of a struggle, but it's even more awesome and inspiring at the same time. This is what I transferred into a more global view of our current events and this is where The Fragile Army was born. After watching Bush's State Of The Union, I just got livid, and that's when I wrote the title track, literally that day in the studio. I improvised those lyrics off the top of my head, which felt just wonderful. From that moment on it was like, ‘wow, OK, this is where we are going.' To me this is the genesis of the record. It's still going to relate to life in general and trying to move forward, but yet acknowledge there is a cloud here to be dealt with.”"
...But He's Not the Only One
In discussing the album's other songs, DeLaughter acknowledges that music is his drug of choice. He also agrees that some drugs are better for certain times than others: Sometimes you need a little Coltrane, sometimes a dab of Nick Drake or a dose of Hendrix. However, while he sees his music as a mood-altering substance with which to complement, change or incite an emotional purge, he also sees it as a form of medicine to promote healing. It should then come as no surprise that The Polyphonic Spree has mothballed its iconic rainbow robes to don matching, black, military-style uniforms, emblazoned with red crosses and other universal symbols of peace in an effort to "streamline for the future and gear up for the revolution."
While a number of people think of the Spree as communing on this seemingly unattainable level of bliss, under its lyrical skin much of the band's music is borne out of frustration and impatience. “People are ready for a big change,” DeLaughter says, "I've got to be picking up on something because I feel it — I really feel it. Something is happening where people are resonating for a time of change; at least that's what my antennae are picking up. It's got to happen, that's a fact and this is the time for people to take advantage of the opportunity for change. Give them some encouragement. Musically, The Fragile Army is my contribution.
“The Polyphonic Spree has always captured that sense of spirited energy and urgency where it's like, ‘Come on, man! Can you feel this? You know what I'm talking about!' It's almost like you are pulling it out of people while you're delivering it at the same time, and at the end of the night everyone walks out thinking, ‘We can do anything.'”