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Another Spree begins

September 03, 2006|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

SPIRITUAL exhaustion is never a pretty thing -- especially when suffered by the frontman of a 24-piece symphonic pop group known for lyrically jubilant, orchestrally sweeping songs as well as for dressing in flowing multicolored robes. The group in question, the Polyphonic Spree, went through a very public breakdown of sorts live on stage at Hollywood's Henry Fonda Theater in the summer of 2004.

"After three songs, I sat down on the monitor and said, 'You know, it's come to a time where we need to take a break,' " recalls bandleader Tim DeLaughter with a slight laugh. "It sounded like I was saying the band was finished. But more or less, we were exhausted. We needed to take ourselves out."

The Dallas group did just that: After a nearly five-year span in which it put out two well-regarded albums, provided the film soundtrack to the indie dramedy "Thumbsucker" and cultivated a devoted fan base as they vigorously toured the world, members went their separate ways.

Now, the Spree returns with "Wait," a five song EP that includes covers of the Psychedelic Furs' '80s chestnut "Love My Way" and an ecstatic-sounding cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" produced by Jon Brion (who is behind hits for Fiona Apple and Kanye West).

And all two-dozen members will pull in to the scene of the group's earlier breakdown, the Fonda, on Sept. 10 -- part of a two-week U.S. tour -- with a new perspective.

"Things most definitely have changed," DeLaughter says. "It's evolved into this community property. Before, it was more about my personal space. Now it's more about a community of ideas."

He also seizes the opportunity to correct a common misperception about the Polyphonic Spree: "A lot has been misconstrued about us: that we have this happy, clappy situation where everyone is in a constant state of zeal," DeLaughter says. "Not true. There are major dynamics in a five-piece band. Can you imagine the issues when you have five of those bands as one?"

On top of that, the Spree recently ended its deal with Hollywood Records, which put out its second album, "Together We're Heavy." Labelless -- and, according to the bandleader, "not looking" -- the group will handle the physical release of "Wait" through its own label, Good Records, which is also the name of a Dallas-area record store several members co-own. (Hollywood maintains the rights to distribute the EP electronically through iTunes.)

As if mounting a tour and releasing new music weren't enough, the Spree has remained busy for the last year recording a highly politicized, more "rock-oriented" album, "The Fragile Army," which it will release next spring. Also, DeLaughter and his wife and bandmate Julie Doyle are expecting their fourth child in December.

"We're used to overwhelming ourselves," DeLaughter says in his lazy, Texan drawl. "Hence, the four kids, label, record store and 24-piece band."

**

It takes a tough country singer

ATTENTION Dwight Yoakam fans: Now is your chance to appreciate your favorite country crooner-actor with your stomachs.

Some corporate entity calling itself the International Shopping Network recently launched a TV and Internet ad campaign to get the word out about Yoakam's signature line of poultry.

According to the press release: "Once you taste the succulent flavor of Dwight Yoakam's Bakersfield Brand Chicken Lickin's there's no turning back -- you've crossed a line -- you'll be so excited that you won't be able to stop yourself from eating it!"

Sounds, um, delicious.

**

BT's mad, mad binary world

TRANCE music supremo, electronica producer and film soundtrack composer BT can come off something like a mad scientist when he gets talking about what it took to put together "This Binary Universe," a seven-track CD that comes with a companion piece -- a DVD containing seven animated films that he commissioned.

"We spent two years, 800,000 lines of computer code and had to prototype a new drum machine capable of realizing asymmetrical beats in order to record it," BT says of the CD released last week. It "has insane micro-rhythms."

Which may explain its breathy, ethereal quality. Recorded in 5.1-channel surround sound, the songs are like sonic dreamscapes that also stray into glitch-hop, jazz and even classic orchestral compositions. Hired to compose and conduct the score for the action flick "Stealth" in 2005, BT commandeered the 110-piece orchestra brought in by Sony and put them to work fleshing out three tracks that appear on the CD.

When recording was done, he got serious about setting his music to animation.

BT commissioned one film per song, each varying from the next in content and style, encompassing cartoon robots, abstract futuristic color grids and footage of the producer's newborn daughter.

"I started talking to friends -- I know quite a few gifted artists and directors," he says. "Then I was posting on Craigslist, putting up notices at universities, looking for animators and filmmakers. Everybody told me it would cost a million dollars. I made it for a fraction of that."

"This Binary Universe" recently completed a national screening tour -- BT traveled with the films -- and he will perform the music at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 21, as the opening act for Video Games Live, a laser lightshow/concert featuring the music from (you guessed it) popular video games.

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