Inteview: Dismemberment Planâ€™s Travis Morrison on new live album, Pitchfork and letting go
In 2002, I was helping to promote my college’s concerts, at Northwestern University; that May, the Dismemberment Plan was on our annual music festival bill. I was beside myself: “Emergency & I” had been on constant rotation ever since I’d heard “You Are Invited” on one of those CMJ Monthly CDs. “Change” – which later was revealed to be their swan song -- had dropped the previous fall.
It was one of those shows that gave you temporary vertigo. The set had been moved indoors from out due to typical Chicago weather instabilities, and the collective equilibrium of students and stragglers was swimming in excessive levels of merciless bass. I remember drummer Joe Easley’s hair doing its own dance on tracks like “Ok Jokes Over” and breathless “Gyroscope.” Jason Caddell worked his guitar around the elbows and knees of odd time signatures.
Frontman Travis Morrison – taking advantage of the band’s few stable instrumental breaks – would oscillate between articulate banter and what could be described as fissures of reality. During one of these, he closed his eyes and, in his falsetto, urged “I’m a cheerleader” in a feverous chant, while running his fingers up the sides of his own ribs and “cupping” what I suppose was this cheerleader’s imaginary bustier. Perhaps it was on “Bra.” The show was silly, and mostly magnificent.
About a year later, the Plan split. Morrison released his solo debut “Travistan” in 2004, and “All Y’all” in 2007 under the name Travis Morrison Hellfighters. His bandmates formed new projects, like Eric Axelson’s group with former Promise Ring members, Maritime. But the band couldn’t stay away from each other for too long: they reconvened for two “one-offs” in 2007, and they embarked on a proper tour this past January to promo the vinyl reissue of “Emergency & I." The stint took them all the way to Tokyo, where they recorded 23-track “Live in Japan 2011,” D-Plan’s very first live set. It will be out internationally tomorrow (June 1), and available digitally.
“Our live show was so much a part of our rep, so it’s nice to have a statement that presents and explains that,” Morrison tells me, before going into self-deprecation mode. “But it’s like Chris Rock said in an interview once: ‘It can’t always be the “Purple Rain” tour.’”
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Fast forward from 2002: Travis and I became friends with the common bonds of sarcasm, pop cultural references and mutual friends, after he made his move from Washington D.C. to Brooklyn three years ago. It was more than a minor thrill to see he and The Plan take the stage once again this winter at one of many consecutively sold-out shows, to witness that trademark stage chatter to crowd capacities larger than those from the band’s heyday.
“It was really fun and really special telling people, ‘I cant come into work tomorrow because I have to be on "Jimmy Fallon,"'” says Morrison, 38, on the shift from touring indie rocker to his current act, as a tech director at Huffington Post. “Unfortunately, getting any kind of music success creates the stressful, unartistic dialogue about your career path and what your next steps are, and what success is. “
Travis’ larger “rock career,” he’s told me, is over, but that hasn’t kept him from writing and gigging in other capacities. He sings in the choir at Trinity Church downtown on Sundays, for instance, and has picked through some songs with former Forms drummer Matt Walsh. He helped with a recent tribute night to Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets.”
Below is an abridged Q&A we did in anticipation of the live release, on the future of the Plan and pocketing money from Pitchfork.
What did you personally get out of these reunion shows? Were you worried once you got started that old, bad feelings would come back?
I think we played great, it was great to be with the guys again. And playing to multiples of people that ever saw the Plan to begin with. It brought me back in contact with all kinds of freakazoids that were part of the Plan family. I’d say 90 percent of the songs didn’t embarrass me to sing again, with a nice cluster of, like, “Godd***, these are good songs.” I mean, it wasn’t the David Bowie catalog, but it was nice to know that I wasn’t fakin’ the bacon. I was still able to tap into those emotions, and we could still be funny and right-on. Some of them definitely, though, felt like they were written by a much younger person.
I was gonna say -- “Emergency & I” is such a personal record, and now it’s a dozen years later.
A lot of my songs had this sort of skepticism or remove, and that gave them a protective shell when they entered into the whole vacuum of time. There’s some stuff that is just embarrassingly overwrought.
Which ones embarrass you?