The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim DeLaughter Chats About ‘Psychphonic,’ Vinyl + More
In the last year, the Polyphonic Spree have released two distinctly different albums, but with very, very similar tracklists. In 2013, the band celebrated the release of 'Yes, It's True,' their fourth full-length record in 14 years, and just a few weeks ago, they gave fans 'Psychphonic,' an LP that features those same tracks reimagined and remixed by different DJs across the country.
Chatting with Diffuser before a gig in North Carolina, Polyphonic Spree frontman and founder, Tim DeLaughter, discusses the process of going from 'Yes, It's True' to 'Psychphonic' in one year and what it was like opening himself up to other artists' visions of his music. The inimitable singer also chats about what it's like running a record store (Good Records in Dallas, Texas) while also traveling the country with his band. Check out our exclusive interview below:
Once you wrapped up and released 'Yes, It's True,' how quickly did you decide to do the remix album, 'Psychphonic'?
You know, the record had kind of an electronic feel to it on a few songs already. We started sending some songs to get people to make videos, and one of them was a DJ. He asked if he could do a remix and we said go for it. It grew from that. We've always kind of had this following in the EDM industry and in the DJ world. People have been sampling our music for years and using different parts of it, so it kind of made sense. Usually, though, you just do one or two. This one turned into 10 different DJs all over the country. We got them all back and it was so great, it was such a great listen. It really has nothing to do with ‘Yes, It’s True,’ they’re completely different records, you know? It was fascinating to have those same songs and same tracks, but completely reimagined. We decided to go for it and put it out.
You're right, they're really two distinct records.
Was the whole band involved in picking the DJs?
It was kind of my wife that started it. It just fell into place. Once it got out there, they were all connected. All of these people knew each other so it just unfolded and worked itself out. My wife, Julie, took it on.
Was this the first time you ever did a remix album?
Were you nervous about opening yourself up to other people's interpretations?
I just got over it, you know? It’s always touchy when you’re giving someone your track and saying, “Go for it.” But it’s also fascinating to see what they come back with. I was so pleasantly surprised when they came back and they were just awesome. I didn’t have any reservations. At this point in my career, I just said, hell, let’s go for it.
Looking at the album cover for 'Yes, It's True,' it's completely different from 'Psychphonic.' 'Yes It's True' has a mesmerizing, if not trippy, feel to it. Who did the artwork?
Me! I created it. I do collages. I’ve been doing them forever. I incorporated them through the years in my other band, Tripping Daisy. I just do them as personal art, too. I’ve had a couple of shows over the years, but I just decided to do it for this record.
This is the first time your art has been on an album cover?
This was the first time for a Polyphonic Spree record, yeah.
And the cover for 'Psychphonic' is much simpler.
Yeah, well, the cover of 'Psychphonic' is basic, it’s just silkscreened, the cover. The jacket it comes in is just stock for Good Records releases. That’s what that was.
With 'Yes, It's True,' you also released a bootleg vinyl edition.
Did we do a bootleg of that?
You did! I was in Dallas when it was released and actually picked it up at Good Records.
What is it exactly? Is it a show?
It was actually the album, but pressed on pink vinyl and housed in a white sleeve with a stamp on it.
Oh yeah, right, right, right. I remember that!
That bootleg is just one of a million reasons why vinyl is obviously important to you. Why do you dig the format so much?
I’m a ’70s kid. That’s how I listened to my music when I was younger. It’s nostalgic. But really, the records just sound so much better and it’s so much more romantic playing music on a record player than just pressing a button on a digital player. I don’t know, I just love holding it, I love the artwork, I love the warmth of a record. There are just so many more bonuses for me.
We're big fans of vinyl at Diffuser. I was excited when I walked by your merch booth at your New York show and saw all of your records spread out on the table.
Yeah, it’s so cool to see it. My record store in Dallas that you went to, when we started, I put half of my vinyl in there to sell to open that store up, so did Chris [Penn]. It was CDs then, that was what was happening. The record sales weren’t there, but we really wanted to push the vinyl. Now, today, 70%, sometimes 75% of our sales are records. We moved the CDs upstairs and the vinyl downstairs. It’s amazing that it’s finally taken off and people are taking notice of it and younger people are getting involved, which is just fantastic. I’m just glad it’s making a resurgence.
That resurgence really seemed to kick in during the last seven years or so. And especially this year, the scene is just exploding. Why do you think the 20-somethings are getting into it?
If you have an option of playing a CD or a digital download of a record, and then you have a vinyl record, to me, it’s just a lot more exciting to go through the effort of playing a record. I think they’re falling in love with the idea of doing that. It’s like, hey, come over and check it out. Let’s dust the needle off, let’s put the record on. I just think it’s an obvious choice. I’m glad they’re gravitating to it. There’s really nothing better than a record in my opinion. It’s just awesome.
To me, and I'm sure a lot of your fans, you're living the dream. You're a rock star and you run a really cool record shop.
Well, I’m a rock star? I’ve never thought of myself as that, but that’s kind of cool. [Laughs] It’s great man. There’s so much music out there, that’s what it’s shown me. There are so many great bands out there. That’s what I take from it. Every time I go into Good Records, something else is coming out. You look across the wall at your listening stations and it’s just like, “My God, there is so much music.” But it’s been really fascinating for me to watch that place grow. We started Good Records when we started the Polyphonic Spree, basically the same time. We both celebrated 14 years this year, Good Records and the Spree. It was a weird time to open a record store because CD sales were kind of falling off the map because of the internet. It was a scary time, but we made it through. And now, the irony is that vinyl is saving our ass. Who would’ve thought that?
Well, Good Records is huge, it's much more than just a small shop.
Yeah, it is. I can’t take credit for it. I do the aesthetics of Good Records, but Chris Penn is 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.
You mentioned the Spree and Good Records celebrating 14 years. When I caught you in New York, it was my first time seeing the Spree live. I was blown away by a multitude of things, but mainly the energy onstage and the energy from the crowd. It seemed like most of the audience weren't newbies like me. What do you think it is about the Spree that has had this lasting impact for the last 14 years?
You know, if you would’ve told me 14 years ago that I’d be doing this 14 years later, I would’ve thought you were crazy, man. I can’t believe it’s lasted as long as it has. It was an experiment in the very beginning. I had no intentions of making it a band, but something came out of it that I wasn’t expecting and it just totally took over. I’ve seen people come in, watch them during the show and you just see them open up right before your eyes. They come in with their arms crossed and by the end of the night they’re singing songs that they’ve never sung before and they’ve got a big smile on their face. I don’t know, I think if you haven’t experienced it at a show, you want to come back and see it again because it’s yours. You’ve shared a part of yourself that you normally don’t share, and that transcends into something else. You’re in at that point. Thank God this band produces that type of behavior because that’s why I’m still able to do it.
I looked at the crowd and got this vision of people having bad days and they come to the show and let loose, and things get better. It's a cliche, but you definitely have a spiritual effect on your fans.
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, man. Every Spree show is completely different, but they’re always special by the end of the night. We have a real connection with the audience and everyone in the crowd contributes. Before you know it, you’re swinging this energy around and it’s freaking infectious, you know? It’s something that was born right before our eyes. We had no idea this was going to happen, man. It was totally an experiment with music that took off. I think the social aspect with the band was something that was born through these songs. There’s nothing like the Polyphonic Spree. There’s nothing like it.
And there’s no concert experience like it.
Yeah, and I know that’s coming from me, and I know that may be hard for some people to hear. I’ve been going to shows forever, man, and I’ve never been affected like I am by what this band does. It’s just different, man.
I've been to a lot of shows, but I've never been to one where a wedding took place, the band played the same song twice because it was that good, and the frontman jumped into the crowd and made everyone sit down for the final song ... and everyone actually sat down!
[Laughs] It’s a trip, man. Like I said, you never know what’s going to happen at a Polyphonic Spree show. To me, it’s the greatest band to be a part of. Musically, I can go anywhere I want to go with this group. If I want to play a song that I liked as a kid, hell, we can bust it out. If I want to make an electronic record, we make an electronic record. If I want to make a ‘70s soundscape record, I can do that. If I want to make orchestral pop, I can do that. It’s all the way around. I’m happy. Obviously, I wish we had more fans, we’re still just a DIY band. It’s extremely expensive for us to do what we do. We’re not a huge band, we don’t sell a lot of records. We’re not on the radio, we’ve never been on the radio. It’s always been kind of tough for us to continue to do this, but I really wouldn’t be doing anything else. It’s just me.
So as you look ahead to your 15th anniversary as a band, what's next? Are you thinking about the next album?
Yeah, we're already thinking about the next record. When we get home we’ll start heading down that road. It’s probably going to be a nice little psychedelic journey, for sure. I’m thinking about doing a concept record. It may make people turn their heads.
Do you think fans can expect that in 2015?
That’s what I’m expecting, but you never know! You always go in with this idea, and then you get in there and it takes a left turn it’s something completely different, which is a nice surprise. I’m really leaning toward this psychedelic journey record.
Nothing is ever black and white.
Nothing. Nothing. Not in this band. [Laughs]
Get details on the Polyphonic Spree's 'Yes, It's True' and 'Psychphoni' -- as well as their current tour schedule -- at their official website here.
Watch the Polyphonic Spree's Official Music Video for 'You Don't Know Me'