October 01, 2001

An Interview with Tim DeLaughter

It didn't seem like it was going to be a good interview. On my trip to Fort Worth, I'd spent more time in a truck with no air conditioning that was safe, and my body was striking back. I was hot, stinky, and achy. I was surprised that I even made it from my hotel. At the sound check, Tim was busy; technical difficulties seemed to be the issue of the moment. Even though he had lots to do, Mr. Tim DeLaughter, late of Tripping Daisy, currently masterminding the Polyphonic Spree, was nothing short of living up to his reputation for being one of the nicest men in Dallas. In dealing with his musicians, he seemed less of a musical genius trying to hammer his artwork out, but more of a fatherly type, trying to teach his kids how to ride a bicycle.

Tim DeLaughter was the vocalist and one of the musical masterminds of Tripping Daisy, an alternative rock band that scored some air play in 1995 with "I Got a Girl" and "Piranha." Their debut album, Bill, was a regional smash, and spent much time in this writer's Walkman in those early, seemingly endless golden years of the alternative-rock revolution. It seemed as if Tripping Daisy were gonna make it after all.

It wouldn't last. Major labels have different interests than artists, and Tripping Daisy, whose commendable successes weren't successes in the minds of their label, suffered, with their label ignoring what many consider their best album,
Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb. The band was dropped and, sadly, came to an end in October 1998, when founding guitarist Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose.

The loss of best friend, label, and band would normally spell the end of the line for the careers of most artists. Instead of looking backwards to the past, DeLaughter looked forward, and with memories of the past in mind, decided to expand on ideas that might not have seen the light of day had life not been rough. Thus, the Polyphonic Spree was borne—a project that resembles nothing of the former Tripping Daisy, aside from Tim's distinctive singing. For those who have not experienced Polyphonic Spree, it is an orchestra of sound--literally--that focuses on the power of life. Whether or not the adversity that Tim suffered at the end of the decade and at the end of the millennium is the direct motivating factor is best left to speculation.

It wasn't looking to be a good interview. Tim was justifiably preoccupied with the show, of which he had every right, especially considering that the opening act was a wedding. Yes, a wedding--a very beautiful wedding. Even though at that time he probably had other things he should have been doing, he took the time to sit with me --hot, stinky, and barely alive me--and shoot the shit. DeLaughter is a humble man--one who seems to want to celebrate life. Whatever it is that motivates him, The Polyphonic Spree is, quite simply, the most beautiful, moving, striking projects these days. A band that, while musically complex, is very simple in its approach, message, and direction. Looking inward never seemed so beautiful; self-indulgence never seemed this essential. Seek out their debut album,
The Beginning Stages of The Polyphonic Spree at all costs--you will be uplifted.


So, I was driving into Dallas, and "My Umbrella" came on the radio.

Really? (Tim beams proudly) Wow.

I can still remember getting Bill on tape. When was that, ten years ago?

Yeah, it was. (Laugh)

Anyway, so as I was sitting in there, watching you in there, I wonder, did it ever come into your mind, then, that ten years later, you'd be at a theater leading a visual arts performance?

(Laughs) No, I had no idea...I was..ten years from then? At that particular time…my god! (Laughs) It was a different world, it wasn't quite as big as it is now. I didn't really know where. I was all about Tripping Daisy, and trying to get delay on my voice, and things like that and I was more like "God, if I can get my voice to sound like this" and that's pretty much what I was into at that time. (Laughs)

So, the Polyphonic Spree didn't come about from some sort of childhood vision or concept?

(Laughs) No, this didn't really come about until later on down the road, in a later chapter of Tripping Daisy, the post-adolescent stage, and I'd thought about it after listening to certain records and things like that and how nice it would be to have such a broad base of music.

One thing I've noticed about your history and looking at Good Records
[Tim's record store] and listening just now, one of 'em has to be Grandaddy, right?

Grandaddy? Hmm, well, you know, I didn't really get into Grandaddy until The Sophtware Slump. The way I've always found music, I've never really sought it out, but it's more like people turn me on to it, or I'll be like, "Wow! What is that?" But the Polyphonic Spree, it had already been discussed but did not have a home yet, wasn't even a band yet, and Chris [Penn, manager/robemaster/all around nice guy] got me this opportunity, because I'd told him what I had been wanting to do. It was after Wes' death [Wes Berggren, Tripping Daisy guitarist who died of a drug overdose in October 1999] I'd had a good year and a half off, I was still in a funk about it, still dealing with it all, and it was kind of a big deal. This was something I wanted to do, and i couldn't really make the commitment to it, though I had a name, and I had an idea of what I wanted to try to put together with a couple of people, but nothing really to kick my ass to make it happen. Then I went and saw a movie, that animated dinosaur movie by Walt Disney, which isn't a very good movie at all. (laugh) but, for some reason, I walked out of there saying "Yes! Okay, I'm gonna do it!" Cuz Chris offered me the slot to open for Grandaddy. I had to get it together. I had two weeks to put this band together. It was just an idea with some songs but, nothing put together!

I went to the store and said, "Chris, ok, I'll do the show." So he tells them, it's advertised "The Polyphonic Spree" but there is no band! (Laugh) So I had two weeks to put this thing together and make music. But I really did see it in my head of how it could feasibly happen, and that's why I really committed to it, even though I'm not familiar with the other world that I've encompassed myself with of this kind of music, the classical world. There's the symphonic side of this band...the terms and the theory, I'm really not that hip on, but I knew if I could find players who could improvise with me, then I knew we could communicate that way.

Getting back to that "funk" you mentioned, was Polyphonic Spree a reaction to that stuff, with Wes' death and the end of Tripping Daisy?

I think that, towards the end of Tripping Daisy, in those last few years, I was itching to try something different. I loved Tripping Daisy, and it was like the baby and something I'd grown up with and a part of my life, and I never could see myself doing two things at once. It was either going to be full-throttle Tripping Daisy or full-throttle something else. I can't split myself up, or I couldn't see splitting myself up; Tripping Daisy deserved all. But I really wanted to do that, but it wasn't going to happen with that band.

One thing I have noticed personally is that I couldn't envision you doing what you're doing with Polyphonic Spree, with Tripping Daisy, because of the whole image thing, this just doesn't seem like it was something that the Daisy could do.

Yeah, it couldn't. It wasn't gonna happen, it couldn't have happened. It went as far as it could possibly go. It could have gone further, I think. (Pauses) I don't know; I'm starting to admit to myself that, after some time has passed, Tripping Daisy was definitely coming to the end of the line, you know, and for some weird reason, Wes decided to go ahead and end it. There was an undercurrent there that it was time, that it wasn't there anymore. We were still doing it, we'd released our own record, and Atom Bomb, we were so proud of that record, we felt that record really captured us, even though we got dropped and no one ever really heard that record. That kind of surmised the whole career of Tripping Daisy. The best was yet to come, yet it never really came.

I was talking to Chris earlier, and I was telling him that I never really got into Tripping Daisy because the only thing I'd ever really heard after Bill was "I Got A Girl" and "Piranha" and not really sure if they were necessarily the best representation of what you were doing or who you were.

It was definitely the best representation. As far as our pop sensibilities in the mainstream world, that was the best it got. It was a snapshot, like all records, man. IT depends on what you want, because, really, you know every band wants to make it big, but yet it's the nemesis after it happens. It seems like you're trying to get away from it.

Like if you go play a gig, but your audience just really wants to hear those one or two hits.


Yeah, exactly! But you've always wanted to have that. Every band wants it, but once they've got it, they're like "Well what do we do with it?" That was our period to go through that, and we all wanted it. I wanted it more than anything. So we got it, and then it was like, "OK, there's just way too much focus on how this is the way that you are" but in actuality they were just watching a growth period, just on a lot bigger scale.

Yeah, because I know if you hear a song over and over and over, there's the tendency to think "they're the band that just do this song." I remember seeing reviews of Firecracker, and they all seemed to say "This is a good record, except for that one song!" (Laugh)

Right, I know, I read 'em! (Laughing) I remember thinking, "wow!" But that song, "I Got a Girl," whew, it made us some money, it took us all over the world, I mean, it did a lot of things, it was fun, and I had a great time.

But it must be like, you're proud of your child, but you do have other children! (Laugh)


Exactly! Cuz there's more... (Singing)"there's more to the picture than meets the eye." There was, but that's all that people had focused on. But there were also a few people who had been on from the very beginning and were just watching what was gonna happen. We had a loyal base there, a really solid base, both in our fan base and the critics. Then we had some people who just jumped on for certain records and then jumped off. It was a valid, valid band, man. (Pause) (Quietly reflective) I love that band, and I love all the records, I'm glad we were a part of the pop rock world, and we were, and I think we were truly significant.

If you look back now, you realize it could probably never happen again. I remember when I used to visit Dallas, right out of high school, it was a different world. Hell, when you turn on the radio now, it's not even the same.
Yeah, I know. It's weird. You know that you're getting older when you are able to reflect back on it. I mean, we're talking ten years ago when we started that, when that came out, when Bill came out. It was really weird, Tripping Daisy kind of had an agenda. That agenda was my agenda, of, like, "OK I really wanna take this to the next level," and get really big and huge and dominating.

And then just getting really weird on everyone around you?

Yeah, just like going for it! And this band, it's the complete opposite. It's kind of happened organically where it was an idea of a sound, to put this band together, and then to accomplish that sound. It wasn't really an idea of, "OK, well, we'll put this band together, and then we'll go to this level, then the next," at all. It wasn't like that at all. This band has clearly created its next step by what it creates behind it. You know, the sound, people are affected by it, so we have to do another show. For me it was just kind of a---I really wanted to get that sound across. Going back to that effect that I was talking to you about earlier, that was my main thing. I always wanted my voice to sound like ten people!
(Laugh) And I would always say that in the back of my head, "What if I had ten people singing my lyrics at the same time?" So I've kind of always done that part since the very beginning. My first effect was singing in a fan because I like the way it sounds, when it goes, EEENNNOOOOOWWWW, and it just comes back in slapbacks. That was when I really discovered I liked the thickness of vocals.

(Glimpses at Tim's Enon shirt) And then you had bands developing the same ideas at the same time like Brainiac--just being really really weird.

(Excited) Right! Yeah...Brainiac...oh man! But they... the controlled chaos with that band was just...

Beautiful?

Yeah! Unprecedented. Nobody's been able to do it. Hands down they were the freakin' BEST, man. They were clearly their own, man. Those records are just like living proof, there was nobody out there doing that or has ever accomplished it since...

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