Reach For the Sun With the Polyphonic Spree

Reach for the sun.  A band exploration of the Polyphonic Spree.

Tripping Daisy is back! This brings me such joy, as back in the 90s, I LOVED their music. There was a special something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but every time I heard “Piranha” or “I Got a Girl,” I just felt happy. After guitarist Wes Bergen died, the band disbanded. Out of tragedy, however, arose something amazing. Singer Tim DeLaughter had an idea – a choral rock group. This seemed like an impossible feat, but DeLaughter reached for the sun with his vision, and thus formed The Polyphonic Spree.

I remember the first time I saw The Polyphonic Spree on television. It was 2003 on Conan O’Brian. At least twenty musicians piled on stage and performed what can only be described as a wall of sounds – strings, percusion, keys, guitars, horns, a harpist, a flautist, and even a small choir! All playing their hearts out. Once more – The polyphonic Spree darbed themselves in white robes. Tim DeLaughter lead the band, acting like a human muppet as he jumped around stage! Balloons fell from the sky! It was quite a site!

The Polyphonic Spree really is special, so I invite you to take a trip through their catalog, and explore the band that dare reach for the sun.

It’s the Sun

The film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” features two tracks from The Polyphonic Spree’s debut album, “The Beginning Stages of…” The first track, “It’s the Sun” is as uplifting and simple as a Lucky Charms commercial. Still – in its cheery simplicity, “It’s the Sun gives us a solemn beauty. “It’s the Sun” emphasises the small pleasures of life, including a sunny day. Once more – the song talks about these small things to cheer on the listener with chants of “Soon You’ll be Ok!”

We have to wonder the backstory of “It’s the Sun.” Was it written for a specific person? I suspect so, as the line “Suicide is a Shame” presumes the listener is contemplating taking their own life. Regardless, “It’s the Sun” puts a smile on our faces, and our hearts.

Light and Day / Reach For the Sun

The second track featured on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and the song I heard The Polyphonic Spree play on Conan might be the most known Polyphonic Spree Song. “Light and Day / Reach for the Sun has been on several commercials, including a 2003 ad for the new Volkswagen Beetle. The Polyphonic Spree even did the song on an episode of Scrubs!

The song starts out with a soothing bass line, with a key melody joining in a few bars later. As the vocalists come in, we’re still grooving a mellow groove – and then we reach the chorus. All heaven storms from the skies as every single sound in this oversized band plays at once. Every singer, every horn, every other instrument – they all come at you full blast. You feel blown away after the song ends. Watch for yourself. This is the performance I saw that night in 2003.

Sooo many Balloons!

Hold Me Now

Really – if you listen to “Hold Me Now,” you’ll get a picture of someone trying to put their life in order by themselves, and failing miserably. “Hold Me Now” emphasises the fact that when we’re in these types of scenarios, we need to do the opposite. We need interdependence with other people or we’re not going to make it.

A side note – The Polyphonic Spree was rumored to be a cult, what with the sheer amount of people along with the robes they wore. This song deepened the rumor, with the line “Don’t ever think You’re the only one / When times are tough in your new age.” It was those last two words. Well – the Spree might be happier than anything this side of muppet conclave, but they’re not a cult. And the “New age” mentioned is a literal new age….a turning of a page in someone’s life into another page. Gosh, people are weird.

Again – a Muppet Conclave

Wait

In 2006, The Polyphonic Spree released an EP of cover songs called “Wait.” One song, “Sonic Boom,” was originally performed by the aforementioned Tripping Daisy. The song gives us such warm fuzzies, we’re reminded of Pebbles and Bam Bam singing “Let the Sunshine in.” This is a good thing (don’t click that link unless you want a major earworm). Seriously – the original song was mellow and warm – but the Polyphonic Spree’s “Sonic Boom?” Well what we’ve got here is the feeling you get when you snuggle up with a warm blanket.

Another cover The Polyphonic Spree does on Wait – Nirvana’s “Lithium.” This song seems like the antithesis of everything you might know about the Polyphonic Spree at this point, but it actually fits into their catalog quite nicely. After all, both “Lithium” and The Polyphonic are about two things – the human condition. Sure the song “Lithium” focuses on more the negative sides, and the Spree focuses more on more happy and joyful sides – but they’re both two sides of the same coin.

Running Away

2007’s “The Fragile Army” might be the best Spree album to date. Full of their signature high energy, almost every track makes you feel something unexplainable. The lead single, “Running Away,” fills us with elation, as the Spree describe what it feels like to be in love. “It’s like running away, with the wind on our faces, it’s like flying.” Wow. And the Spree go full to the wall with every sound again – but unlike “Reach for the Sun,” this time the Spree go at it from the beginning of the song. I seriously just want to explode with delight and excite as I hear “Running Away.”

We Crawl

The Polyphonic Spree really isn’t a full time band. Every member has some sort of day job, some sort of other responsibility. You’ve got music teachers, restaurant owners, studio musicians, stay at home moms, baristas, and who knows what else! This is why The Polyphonic Spree doesn’t tour that often, and this is why DeLaughter has time to bring back Tripping Daisy. Still – they come together, as people with different lives in different places – all for the purpose of making something greater than the individual. This might be the inspiration for “We Crawl.”

The video for “We Crawl” explains the song best. Every member was given a camera and told to show their own lives – a few frames here and there. You have the drummer getting goofy with his dog, you have Delaughter and his wife messing around with their kids. There’s the flautist brushing her teeth. This all sounds weird and random – but piece these scenes, and so many other together, and you have something beautiful. Something that makes you cry if you’re emotional like me.

Unfortunately, I am not able to embed the video, but watch it here! Seriously – you must see this video.

Hold Yourself Up

The last track to explore today, “Hold Yourself Up,” sounds less “wall of sound” and more indie pop. This doesn’t mean the band is scaling back – there’s still probably about twenty or so members (sheesh), but they use all that sound to produce something different than the normal choral rock orchestra. Honestly – I was somewhat disappointed when I first heard the track – were they ditching their signature sound? Eventually “Hold Yourself Up” grew on me, and I decided the Spree just evolved.

The indie pop sound of “Hold Yourself Up” really works well with the lyrics. The song focuses on a man falling in love, trying to decide to go all in or not. Of course – the Spree inspires the man to indeed go all in. Don’t hold back and chase love.

Regardless – if you really think about it soundwise, the Spree might have had an indie pop sound to from the get go. Look back at “Light and Day / Reach for the Sun.” That’s certainly an indie pop sound – albeit an exaggerated one.

The evolution is natural in other ways as well. Obviously a band that has 20+ members will have a bit of fluctuation in members, and over the years even a few key members left the band. A great example, Audrey the flautist, who was mentioned by name when the Spree appeared on Scrubs left the band. Of course – part of the human experience is evolution – change from what you were to what you are now.

Keep reaching for the Sun

The future of the Spree is unknown. Like I said before, they’re a part time band. Right now Delaughter seems focused on Tripping Daisy, and again – I’m really excited. At the same time I’m a little anxious to see what other songs and life lessons the Spree has to offer us. Who will join them, and who will leave.

Aside from that – if you’re feeling blue, down, and just need a pick me up – if you just need to reach for the sun, then listen to the Polyphonic Spree.

By the way – if you listened to my Playlist of Christmas Cheer (and other things), you might remember The Polyphonic Spree’s version of “Happy Christmas.” For yet another taste of the Spree’s overexhuberant insanity, watch them do this and other songs at an NPR Music Tiny Desk concert.

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