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Choral rock gets pared down on The Polyphonic Spree's new album


When you write for a living, writer's block can be a nightmare.

TIM DELAUGHTER: I just couldn't write a song to save my life. And that's kind of not a good place to be in.

RASCOE: Musician Tim DeLaughter is the frontman of The Polyphonic Spree, a choral symphonic rock band. Their sound has drawn comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and they've been featured in movie soundtracks such as "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" and "The Big Short." But writing a new album wasn't easy this time.

DELAUGHTER: I have a guitar that's kind of by my bed. And I wake up, and I look at it like, do I want to play today or just - I'm not going to play today. So then I, like, go over and just - I'll strum a chord, you know, at some other time. And if that chord promotes to go to another chord - and then I kind of start singing, making stuff up. Then it's like I'm in it. It's almost like finding the muse. It's either there, or it isn't there.


THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) Love plays. Somehow, the game changed into amusing.

RASCOE: During the pandemic, Tim DeLaughter used his time to experiment with a recording software called Logic. Oddly enough, Polyphonic Spree's new album came about because of that software. The album's called "Salvage Enterprise."

DELAUGHTER: In the process of learning this, you know, I had to play something to record to, you know, figure this whole thing out. And while I was doing it, it just started to happen. I started to write a song. It's like, this is the first time in, like, years that something was really coming out that was tangible and actually writing.


THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) Give me everything that I need to survive.

RASCOE: Well, I mean, Polyphonic Spree is sometimes called, like, a choral rock group. And I don't think most people think of, like, choral and rock together. So how did they end up in the same band?

DELAUGHTER: Well, it kind of started from the beginning 'cause I come from a rock background. And then I wanted the elements of kind of rock instruments mixed with symphonic. We have these kind of epic journey songs that that people on for a ride. And some of them can be four minutes. Some could be nine minutes. And all the instrumentation in the band really helps tell the stories musically.

RASCOE: So you funded this album through Kickstarter. Like, why did you go that route? And what was the experience like?

DELAUGHTER: The landscape has changed. I've been doing this for a long time. I had a band called "Tripping Daisy" back in the day. And we were on different major labels. And The Spree's been on quite a few different labels itself going through the years. We've been a band for 23 years. And, you know, you find new ways of going about it. And when Kickstarter first came out, it was like, we have a really amazing fan base that's been with us from the very beginning. They're so dialed in. They're with us. It became, man, this could be a possibility. The fans could actually, you know, fund this. And it keeps the fans and the band kind of on their own terms.


DELAUGHTER: And so it worked out, like, amazingly well the first time. And then we did it again. We used a different format this time, but we did it on our own again. And it worked as well the second time. And it's like, we do these prizes or, you know, different - I'm going fishing with somebody for one of the prizes (laughter) that you get. It just seems to work with our fan base. They're open to it. And it works for us all the way around.

RASCOE: So talk to me about your song "Wishful, Brave, And True."


THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) Gotta believe your will is strong. Weaker when we're building a wall. Gotta believe in standing tall. The wind is there to break your fall. Gotta believe so much inside. The whispers come around once again.

RASCOE: What are you critiquing here?

DELAUGHTER: Yeah. It's - the whole record is about overcoming, and it's the process of doing that. Humans want to be happy. We want to have what we need to to get there. And we ultimately can. It can seem like such a daunting task to make it through those situations that are keeping us down. And if we just listen to ourselves, we can find it. Finding the muse is actually what brought me out of it, which was myself bringing myself out of it. And it's documented on the record, which is kind of crazy. It saved me, in a sense. So - which is ultimately myself.


THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) Gotta believe your will is strong...

RASCOE: It seems like many of the songs on "Salvage Enterprise" are about loving nature.


THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) In the morning sun, the trees are singing. Humming their sound, talking to clouds.

DELAUGHTER: Well, I love nature. I actually find a lot of my spiritual alignment in it. You know, I often say this about, you know, the grass that grows in the street where cars are just driving over it daily, but seems like in the middle of this concrete, this blade of grass is growing and flourishing and is alive in the worst circumstances. Or, you know, you're driving by a park, and there's a tree that basically absorbed the chain-link fence that it was planted by. And it doesn't even notice these things. It just continues to live and be vibrant and do what it has to do. I identify with that. Things - the struggles that we go through as human beings - they're things that you just kind of absorb and keep moving forward and keep growing. And those little reminders are all over the place outside.

RASCOE: Did nature kind of inspire, like, a more pared down approach on this album? Because this album is a bit more acoustic than your other records, right?

DELAUGHTER: Yeah, that's right. There's an actual theme that you'll kind of notice from the start of a lone acoustic guitar that basically will thread throughout the whole album. You have a lot of peaks and valleys. It's a very dynamic record. It's the most dynamic record I think we've made, where you have the quietness of maybe just a single vocal and an acoustic guitar mixed with, you know, a full-blown orchestra and choir. It kind of goes through a lot of different landscapes, but it all tells the story. It's the ebb and flow of life, basically, of what I was going through. And it visit all sorts of different places.


THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) The breakthrough often follows the storms. Open face. Let the storm have its grace in the sea.

RASCOE: Tim DeLaughter is the frontman of the choral symphonic rock band The Polyphonic Spree. Their latest album, "Salvage Enterprise," is out now. Thank you so much for joining us.

DELAUGHTER: Thank you very much.


THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) ...In the morning, so we fall on down, the masses finding how to release... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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