24 smiling white-robed musicians belting sunny verses and playing instruments like guitars and French horns. It may sound like a gospel choir with orchestral accompaniment, but the Texas-based band is a worldwide secular sensation. The Polyphonic Spree got a song on the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack and recently toured with David Bowie. And now the release of their second album, Together We're Heavy, gives vocalist Jennie Kelley one more thing to sing about.
Street: How does the new album differ from the old one?
Jennie Kelley: The first album, The Beginning Stages of..., was a demo. It was just to give a sampling of our music to people who couldn't see us. This new album is more evolved sonically, on the production level and in its lyrics.
Your music has been called "symphonic pop." What kind of sound are you going for?
I think what Tim is trying to achieve is not actually a physically larger sound, but get-all- the-sounds-that-you-want-to-hear big. Why does it just have to be on one song, you have a harp? Why can't you have a harp throughout every song?
So what kind of instruments are involved?
We have guitar, bass, drums, keyboards. We also have an organist, a harp player, we have French horn, trumpet and trombone. We have a flutist. We have tubular bells, vibe and glockenspiel. The lead choir vocalist [Jennifer Jobe] is actually a trained operatic singer. Something really cool that we have is a theremin. It's kind of a box with an antenna. The frequencies that the antenna has are manipulated by your hand. So you never actually touch the instrument. It's in "Good Vibrations," the Beach Boys song. You know at the beginning, wooooooooooo?
When you watch Toby [Halbrooks] play it, he plays it with a passion that a drummer plays the drums with. But he's just moving his hands around.
How did Tim get all these people together?
He was in a band beforehand called Tripping Daisy, which was prominent in Texas. That band folded [in 1999, after guitarist Wes Berggren died]. A lot who joined his new band were friends, like myself. And then word-of-mouth spread, and someone would be like, "Hey, if you guys need a trombone player, let me know." There wasn't a Polyphonic Spree audition. No one really knew that the band was going to grow like it has.
Why the white robes?
When I first saw the robes I wasn't thinking, "This is going to look like a church choir," or even a religious cult. It's just to unify us. And now we're touring with Technicolor robes.
What's it like to be a part of all this?
I had a job at a production agency doing photo shoots, and Tim and his friends were just like, "Do you want to sing with our band?" And I was like, "Sure!" For a 20-piece band that was never supposed to leave Dallas it's toured most of the world. Polyphonic Spree is an inspirational project.