Recording - April 2016 - 28

Interview by Mike Metlay * Photos by Lauren Reynolds and Allison V. Smith

Mark Pirro first came to prominence in the 1990s as a member
of the band Tripping Daisy. He reunited with singer/songwriter
Tim DeLaughter in 2000 in order to launch the Polyphonic Spree,
a "psychedelic symphonic rock" band whose albums and live
performances feature 20 or more members at a time.
The challenges of recording and touring with such a band, or
even turning ideas into fleshed-out songs, are considerable, and
the history of the Spree reveals several different techniques used
to go from tunes to tracks. Mark was kind enough to walk us
through some of these processes.-MM
For someone who's never heard of the Polyphonic Spree,
how would you describe them?
Mark Pirro: I guess the genre we discovered is psychedelic symphonic rock. We have over 20 members with all different instruments covered-all your traditional rock and roll instruments, plus
symphonic instrumentation, strings and horns, we even have a harp
player and a girl choir. It's quite a sound!
The presentation is definitely unique. It's kind of like a
Sergeant Pepper's-era Beatles and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys
colliding into one giant band.
The very first time I ever saw the Spree, I was absolutely
stunned. It was so much fun!
That's the goal, so... mission accomplished! [laughs]
How do you contribute to the songwriting process in the
Polyphonic Spree, given that Tim is the main songwriter?
Tim and I have a really good chemistry in being in a band
together. Even though he is the main songwriter, he promotes and
relies on improvisation and so, as a member of the Spree, you
have to be able to improvise. There's a main song structure that
we're working from, but you have to be able to compose your own
part, so to speak, with a little bit of direction from him. And that's
what kind of makes it a quasi-collaborative effort in terms of creating the song, once Tim sets the framework.
When you guys decide that you're going to start a new project, how do you go from "hey, it's time to do another
record" to actually creating music?
It's been different on every record we've done, to be honest.
For the first record, Beginning Stages of..., Tim already had a
conglomeration of songs and he started building a band. The band
was working through the songs with him as we were forming, and
the first record was recorded and mixed in three days, after the
band had been together for a month.
Our second record is called Together We're Heavy. After
Beginning Stages Tim continued to write, but the band was already
touring. We were hashing out songs on the road and adding new
songs as we were touring, so-"Hey, we've got another eight to
ten songs, now let's get in the studio and record 'em."
And then came our third record, The Fragile Army. We worked
with a producer named John Congleton, who just won a Grammy
last year working with Annie Clark (St. Vincent)-she actually was
also in the Spree as well.
28

RECORDING April 2016

For that record, we did a lot of pre-production. We have a
project studio that Tim owns, and the core band got together
there: guitar, bass, piano, drums. We worked out the song structures and recorded those as a core band, and then other members were brought in, other sections were brought in at different
times at different studios-some of the sectionals and choir stuff
was done at Steve Albini's. That process was a little bit different,
a little bit more piecemeal if you will.
For our Wait EP, we worked with another producer, Jon
Brion-a very eclectic producer who does a lot of soundtracks.
He wanted to try to catch the band in a studio playing all the
way through with one take. That was a daunting task-I'm talking the full 24-piece ensemble in a studio, old-school style. People
would get gobo'd off, isolated or whatever, but we were all performing together, the full band. We did covers, Nirvana's
"Lithium", "Love My Way" by Psychedelic Furs...
We kept as much as we could, but it's very hard to get a perfect take with 24 people playing at one time. We were on a
schedule-you know, "we gotta get it done in two days." So we
kept what we could and went back and did overdubs. Jon was
the first producer that really tried to capture the entire band in
one shot, and you obviously get a different result in doing that.
By the way, our cover of "Lithium" appeared in the movie The
Big Short, with a video of the Spree performing during a time
lapse montage...
Congratulations!
So my face appears in a movie with Brad Pitt! [laughs]
Our latest record is Yes, It's True. That one was recorded locally here in Dallas at Valve Studios (valvestudios.net) and
Elmwood Recording (elmwoodrecording.com) with Eric Drew
Feldman. He's another producer we'd worked with on Together
We're Heavy, and on one of our records with Tripping Daisy
back in the day. He used to be in Pere Ubu, he worked with
Captain Beefheart for a while, he played in The Pixies for a little
bit, and he also produced some Frank Black records.
The record was done more piecemeal, with sectionals and stuff.
We're such a big band, and since we're all a little bit older and


http://www.valvestudios.net http://www.elmwoodrecording.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - April 2016

Contents
Recording - April 2016 - Intro
Recording - April 2016 - Cover1
Recording - April 2016 - Cover2
Recording - April 2016 - 1
Recording - April 2016 - 2
Recording - April 2016 - 3
Recording - April 2016 - 4
Recording - April 2016 - 5
Recording - April 2016 - Contents
Recording - April 2016 - 7
Recording - April 2016 - 8
Recording - April 2016 - 9
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Recording - April 2016 - 11
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Recording - April 2016 - Cover4
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