“Most of my songs are written out of improvisation,” said Tim DeLaughter, headmaster of the Polyphonic Spree, the 24-piece choral group that’s largely remained out of the spotlight this year. “I’m usually visualizing the song’s situation, and the pictures going on in my head are the song, so to speak.”
This cinematic approach to songwriting has helped the Spree assist filmmakers in need of music to grease their movies’ scenes and transitions. Earlier this year, the group rescued first-time feature-length director Mike Mills by scoring the music for “Thumbsucker” after the original composer, indie icon Elliott Smith, died (see “Elliott Smith, Polyphonics Bring Balance To ’Thumbsucker’ Soundtrack” ). The experience was so effortless that DeLaughter is eager to return to the world of moving pictures.
“The [’Thumbsucker’] experience was amazing,” he said, adding that much of the score was written on tour and on-the-fly. “I have a group right now where I can explore the sonics of every realm of music, and that’s kind of by design in hopes of doing more film music in the future.”
The group already has some film music in the can thanks to a collaboration with in-demand producer Jon Brion (see “Kanye’s Co-Pilot, Jon Brion, Talks About The Making Of Late Registration“ ). Earlier this year, Polyphonic Spree went into the studio with Brion — who regularly joins the members when they perform in his native Los Angeles — to record a cluster of covers for what was originally intended to be an EP. The group recorded the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” Nirvana’s “Lithium,” ’60s British bubblegum group Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
With the EP plans now scrapped, DeLaughter said the songs will find their way onto various soundtracks in the future, but he’s not at liberty to say which ones yet. But additional movie work is definitely in the cards. “I have a couple of scripts I’m looking at right now. I just want to be able to give it the right amount of energy and focus, so hopefully the schedules will all work out,” he said.
The Spree are also involved in another semi-secretive, loose collaborative project with Brion called, appropriately enough, Collab. “The idea is, [Brion] collaborates with different people and it’s a really kind of unspoken situation,” DeLaughter said. “You go in and create a song together with different artists that he’s a fan of or has a relationship with, and then put out a record of it.”
“It’s neither me solo, producing, nor is it artists doing what they normally do,” Brion said coyly in a separate interview.
Meanwhile, Polyphonic Spree are looking ahead to their third record, a possible concept album. DeLaughter, however, wouldn’t reveal what that concept is. “It’s gonna have a sense of urgency to it and it’s going to be electric in a lot more ways than one,” he said of the LP, which he hopes to record before the end of the year and release in the spring. “I’m super excited about it; it’s definitely gonna have more rock than we’ve had in the past and a specific narrative to accompany it. No one’s heard us do anything like this.”
More closely on the horizon, the Polyphonic Spree are gearing up for an ambitious Christmas production called “The Polyphonic Spree Christmas Carol,” which they hope to take on tour to major North American cities.
“I play Ebenezer Scrooge, but it’s all based around [this story where] I’m sick of the band,” DeLaughter explained. “The music and performance have always lent itself to a theatrical experience and now we’re incorporating both. That’s inevitable for us — we’re obviously gonna be heading that way in the future.”