My Firsts: Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 9th, 2023  

My Firsts: Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree

Behind the Big Wheel

Nov 17, 2023 Web Exclusive
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My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree. He also threw in some answers to questions from our The End interview series on endings and death.

DeLaughter grew up in Dallas, Texas and his first major band was the neo-psychedelic group Tripping Daisy, who released four albums stretching from 1992’s Bill to 2000’s self-titled release. The band split up after the 1999 death of guitarist Wes Berggren due to a drug overdose and the following year The Polyphonic Spree was formed by DeLaughter. Their debut album, 2002’s The Beginning Stages of…, was a sensation. With The Polyphonic Spree featuring 20+ members, all glad in white robes, they were a sight to behold and possessed a truly enveloping sound influenced by classic groups such as The Association, The Beach Boys, The 5th Dimension, Wings, and Electric Light Orchestra. As their single “Light & Day” took off, appearing in various notable commericals, movies, and TV shows, the band went from opening for beloved indie acts like Bright Eyes, Grandaddy, and The Divine Comedy to joining music legend David Bowie on his Reality Tour. Various notable albums followed, including 2004’s Together We’re Heavy and 2007’s The Fragile Army.

Today sees the release of Salvage Enterprise, The Polyphonic Spree’s first album of original songs in nine years, since 2014’s Psychphonic (although in 2021 they released a covers album, Afflatus).

In a press release announcing the album, DeLaughter described Salvage Enterprise as a “rising-from-the-ashes record” and had this to say about the album’s sound: “There’s an acoustic current running through the whole body of work, and we tried to embrace it as a thread. It has a lot of space to contemplate what we’re going through. I was very specific on instrumentation. I knew I wanted a cross between a Percy Faith and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young record. With the ability of The Spree to have crescendos, peaks, valleys, we were able to add depth and texture to the classic harmonies and rich folk music.”

Of the album’s lyrics, DeLaughter said: “Across all of the music I’ve done, lyrically there’s a sense of desperation and a moment of convincing myself I’m going to make it through regardless of how the music dresses up. On this one, I struggled with the amount of vulnerability I was experiencing and was willing to share both musically and lyrically, but ultimately decided to let it play out. Now that it’s done, I’m happy with the dance between the two.”

Read on as DeLaughter, who was born in 1965, talks about a traumatic accident, the early music that inspired him, getting lucky at his first concert, and how his father entrusted him with responsibility at a young age.

First time you had to go to the hospital? And First broken bone?

I was seven years old, sitting on a Big Wheel (an exhilarating three-wheel plastic transportation for kids). I was riding in the parking lot of our apartment complex, stopped to look at this beautiful cardinal that landed in front of me.

Without a care in the world, or realizing I was sitting behind a running powder blue Grand Marquis.

I was backed over by the car, to which I was immediately knocked off the Big Wheel, and proceeded to be eaten by the car.

I was tumbling under the carriage of the vehicle as it was making its departure, between the concrete and the metal of the car I was pretty much destroyed (or I thought at the time).

I have a vivid memory. Once the car stopped I was upside down looking at my feet that were facing the opposite direction. The passenger door opened where a lady’s black patent leather strapped shoe hits the ground, she was larger than life, her foot was bursting out the sides of the straps, her angle high panty hose were rolled at the top, as she placed the other foot down, she leaned over to see what was under the car, her face matched her feet. She was a large woman, when her eyes met mine, she gave a gasp and a scream. She fainted right there in the parking lot.

I couldn’t move, so all I could see was the woman collapsed in front of me. The other door opens and I hear a man’s voice who sounded like an old man scared and panicked, I eventually felt his hand on my back as he pulled my shorts and shirt trying to get me out from under the car.

When he got me out, all I could think was that I was going to get in trouble, because my clothes were dirty and ripped, blood was everywhere, I tried to brush my clothes off and asked the old guy to let me go. I said, “I’m okay.” He let go of me and I fell to the ground, both legs were broke, and I was bleeding pretty bad. Just about that time I heard my mom screaming in the corridor of the apartment, the echo was deafening, she had just been told (by my friend) that I was run over by a car.

The old man was carrying me to her, someone called the police and an ambulance, but only the cops showed up, they decided to take me to the hospital because they were worried, they put me in the back seat with my mom and off to the hospital we went.

The cops saved this little cardinal watcher that day, along with the cracking team at Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff, Texas.

The old man took care of everything and continued to look out for my mom and I. He even taught me how to swim, which is something I use to this day! Oh the irony.

What song would you like to be performed at your funeral and who would you like to sing it?

No need to have it performed, just play the recording. The song will be “The Strong (ll Forte)” from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Morricone. It is beyond a doubt my favorite piece of music of all time. I’ve made SURE it will be played at my funeral.

What’s your favorite ending to a movie?

I have a few but the first one that comes to mind is the ending of The Shawshank Redemption. I do wish I could see a sequel of how Andy and Red lived the rest of their days fixing that boat and finding their way in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. I think I’ll write Stephen King to put a bug in his ear.

What’s your favorite last song on an album?

“Morning Sun/I Built the Stairs” off of Salvage Enterprise by The Polyphonic Spree. I’m not kidding. The journey and the payoff is epic, if I do say so my damn self.

First favorite band?

Well, this is tough. I guess it would have to be Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I heard the Trilogy album in the third grade and it changed my life the moment I heard it. I knew I wanted to make music after hearing it for the first time. Three years later it would be the band, YES.

First favorite song? (And the first song I bought.)

This is tough again. I loved so many songs but I guess I’d have to go with the first song I actually bought. This would be “Beach Baby” by The First Class. The song has a little bit of everything, sugary pop with group vocals, mixed with orchestral and rock instruments, delivered in a sunny day enthusiasm. Hmm, sounds familiar.

First actor or actress you had a crush on?

Janet Jones from the movie The Flamingo Kid with Matt Dillon. Something about this woman cast a spell on me, she’s not even my type, but for whatever reason she was when I was a teenager. Probably a lot of kids with cable from that era had a thing for Janet.

First concert you went to?

My first concert was Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker at the Sportatorium in Dallas Texas. I was in the second grade. I found a five-dollar bill on the ground in front of the concession stand. I never told anybody I found it. The next day I walked to the convenience store and bought five dollars worth of Wacky Packages sticker trading cards, I still have them to this day.

First time you got drunk?

I was in my bedroom, I had a bar in my bedroom. Actually, I lived in the game room, which was converted to my bedroom, but the bar stayed in there. I never thought anything about it until one night, one of my friends slept over and said, “You have a bar in your bedroom?” I said, “Yeah I guess I do.” He said, “Let’s drink something,” so we did, we drank some Vodka when we were in the seventh grade. I remember I kept playing the beginning of Van Halen’s 1984—it starts with this BOAM-WHAAH keyboard sound. I kept playing that part over and over hoping my dad would bust in there screaming, but he never did, but man it was funny waiting to see if he was. We both got sick.

First car you owned?

The first car I owned was a 1971 Chevy Luv pickup, it had a little camper top on it. My dad paid $750 for it. I remember driving it to my house and looking at my dad driving his truck. He took an exit and told me to keep going on home. About a mile down the road, the engine started to make a really loud knocking noise. Come to find out the oil pump went out and it burned the engine up, I never even made it home. All my dad said was, “Good, now you can learn how to fix it.”

I spent the next three months at junkyards and our driveway, learning how to rebuild an engine. At the time it was the biggest kick in the balls a kid could have. But to this day I work on everybody’s cars, I actually enjoy it. It’s weird how that stuff works out.

First job I had?

I ran my dad’s business called Salvage Enterprise. It was an unclaimed freight business. He would buy damage goods from trucking and railroad companies and resell it to the public at discounted prices.

It was kind of a thing in the ’70s. I was 12 years old. My dad believed in giving me a lot of responsibility at a young age. I think it helped me look at the world a lot differently than most kids my age, hence why I have a band with 20 plus people in it.

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