What do you do when you feel like you're surrounded by darkness and demons? Some pull up the covers and hide, but not The Polyphonic Spree. Their exciting new album, The Fragile Army, is an exuberant and passionate explosion that finds the Dallas-based symphonic rock group joyfully raging against the dying of the light with newfound zeal. "We were going in a high-energy direction, because that's the way we are in our live show," declares co-leader/songwriter Tim DeLaughter. "I think that this album is the one that best captures the Spree live experience." The band's other leader/songwriter, Julie Doyle, is equally excited about their third LP. "We really hit the nail on the head this time; this is the Spree at its finest."
"We wanted to capture a whole lotta light and a whole lotta dark on the same page," Doyle declares, and she couldn't have summed up these dozen songs better. The new tunes incorporate the trademark Spree sound - an extraordinary fusion of strings, brass, epic rock and, of course, the choir - while thematically exploring life, love, loss and the modern experience. "Running Away" is an instant classic, a soaring, jubilant declaration that pushes the choir to new heights, while "Mental Cabaret" is a jaunty bit of lunacy. The title track is like Ziggy Stardust hanging out with the Flaming Lips, a slow-building protest anthem that serves as a centerpiece and thematic maypole for the album to circle around.
The album title was conceived by director Mike Mills, while DeLaughter was in Berlin scoring Mills' highly regarded indie flick Thumbsucker. "He described us as the Fragile Army and it just fit perfectly," DeLaughter remembers. "It completely describes something we'd never really thought about," Doyle chimes in. "But it put the finger on the spot. That's what we are." In turn, the album's title track became a rallying point. "That's our battle cry," declares DeLaughter. The Fragile Army is like the blade of grass that persistently struggles and finds its way to the crack in layers of asphalt to survive and grow.
To go along with their new moniker, a new look was in order. Says DeLaughter, "We're wearing black military uniforms that have universal symbols of peace on them. One's a heart, one's a red cross, one's an image that radiates unity and finally there's a gold pin that has our name on it (and if its lost it'll cost you fifty bucks."
The follow-up to 2004's critically acclaimed Together We're Heavy, The Fragile Army finds The Polyphonic Spree on a creative high. The record was written by DeLaughter and Doyle at their home in Dallas. The rough songs were then taken to the studio, where the Spree's 16 instrumentalists and eight choir members were asked to react to music and work on arrangements with DeLaughter. Doyle remembers, "It was weird, because it seemed like they had heard the songs before because it came so easy to them, but then again that's part of the magic of The Polyphonic Spree... intuition"
The whole project was a real team effort, with everyone working long hours for little or no money to craft the album. The Fragile Army was co-produced by the Speekers (aka DeLaughter and Doyle) and John Congleton of the Dallas band the Paper Chase. "We've been fans of his for a long time," declares DeLaughter. "We were attracted to his spirit, which comes across in his live performances." Mixed by Jay Ruston (Morrissey, The Donnas) and the Speekers and mastered by Dave Cooley (Silversun Pickups, Z-Trip), The Fragile Army was recorded in studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, and Duncanville, Texas, as well as Steve Albini's Electrical Studio in Chicago and the Spree's own home studio in Dallas, The Triplex. DeLaughter even recruited David Bowie's legendary pianist Mike Garson after they toured together in 2004. "He was a fan of the band and kept in touch after the tour," states Doyle. "He had some time off and was obliged to participate with a couple days notice in order to become a part of the creative spirit on this album."
For DeLaughter and Doyle it was a chance to deepen their creative relationship. Doyle feels like the group has been their outlet to follow their bliss on their own terms. "We're not a part of any scene," she asserts. "To be a part of The Polyphonic Spree is the coolest thing, because there's so many of us that we're our own scene."
DeLaughter formed The Polyphonic Spree in 2000 in the wake the demise of his former band, Tripping Daisy, after guitarist (and close friend) Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose. It was a combination of trying to find a light in the darkness that followed, and childhood memories of psychedelic vocal groups like The Fifth Dimension, that formed the genesis of the Spree. DeLaughter and Doyle, along with Tripping Daisy bandmates Mark Pirro and Bryan Wakeland, built an early lineup of the band and recorded a 10-song demo in two days. Demand from fans at early performances around Dallas led them to release the demo as their debut album, "The Beginning Stages Of... The Polyphonic Spree," in 2001. From there, it was a whirlwind trip to international acclaim, tours of the World and a unique place in the popular consciousness.
For over half a decade now, The Polyphonic Spree have been cutting a singular swath through the pop culture landscape, spreading a positive energy that makes people scratch their heads and ask questions while presenting music thats colorful to the ears. The robes may be gone for now, but a purposeful and exhilirating experience is here to stay. Get ready to enlist in The Fragile Army.