An Interview with Travis Morrison of
The Dismemberment Plan
Ask any record store geek or indie rock kid, The Dismemberment Plan is the Weezer of his or her world: quirky, unusual, creative, and loved by all. These underground radio and media darlings are hard to categorize, with styles from all over the musical spectrum and a bona-fide booty shakin• live show, something hard to find in the indie rock underground of black framed glasses and peculiar rock stars. Their debut album,!, is raw, straight-out rock, while the second album, The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified, throws some hip-hop into the mix. Emergency & I was the big breakthrough album, as these things go, and their recent album Change shows that even more musical ground can be covered with the same emotional kookiness as before, but — dare I say it? — with a more “mature” sound. The Plan consists of Joe Easley (drums), Eric Axelson (bass and keyboards), Jason Caddell (guitar and keyboards), and Travis Morrison, singer, guitarist, and “creative administrator,” as he referred to himself. “The guys are always coming up with different parts, and in the end, I fine tune the arrangement so it makes sense. It goes back and forth between like us being a jam band and like a democracy and me using the years I•ve put into studying the history of songwriting,” Morrison explained.
Their unusual approach to music slowly built up a fanbase from post-Nirvana, suspicious kids. The Plan•s live shows are dynamic and encourage fans to stop just staring at the band and become a part of creating an atmosphere. “In the beginning, we kind of had to be jackasses about it, and it made us look like freaks for years. Then we started attracting one by one people who wanted to engage or give off the vibe that they don•t want to eat Ovaltine and fall over. Generally the community is afraid of having someone leap up and jump past everyone else and say •come on everybody, let•s go this way,• and people feel threatened,” Morrison said.
I asked Morrison about how the band got started, its musical influences, and its fans. Funny and knowledgeable, Morrison seems to just love making music and doesn•t care about being pretentious or a rock star. Not the most glamorous attitude, but definitely a refreshing one.
How did you come up with the name The Dismemberment Plan?
It•s from the movie Groundhog Day. There•s a guy who chases after Bill Murray and tries to keep selling him different types of insurance and “the dismemberment plan” was one of them. It just stuck.
How did the band get started?
I went to high school with Eric and he went [to] college with Jason. We recorded for two years ,our first record with another old friend who didn•t want to be in the touring band. We recruited Joe, who was in a local band who just broke up, and it•s been that way for six years.
How would you explain your style to someone who•s never even remotely heard of your band before?
Well, if it•s my mother•s friend I would say it•s rock and leave it at that. Someone who is in between my mother and a hipster who would understand every little subgenre, I would just say Radiohead and The Beastie Boys, or Prince and Rage Against the Machine. Something that combines hip-hop and R&B with rock and roll, or maybe the Talking Heads.
Who are your immediate influences?
Pretty much whoever I•m listening to these days. The rest of the band and I have been interested in this new thread of music that•s a combination of crazy IDM electronic stuff and old school hip-hop. Like a guy named Goldchange from California, Kid 606 kind of plays with that stuff, and there•s this guy from England who calls himself The Street who is unbelievable. I•m always digging through old stuff, and I•ve been listening to The Band lately.
If you suddenly lost your voice, who would you pick to sing for you?
Damon Albarn from Blur.
Why do you do what you do?
I have no idea. I really don•t. Everyday I wake up and enjoy doing it. What pushed me in this direction? No one, not even my family or friends, has any clue why I ended up a musician. I•ll never master music, not even the greats do. Dizzy Gillespie said it the best, “I know one percent of what•s to know about music.” He•d already invented one genre of music, bop, and he said, “It•s killing me, I just got started and now I got to die.”
What•s the weirdest thing you•ve ever seen at a show?
Somebody showed up in a cow outfit. I don•t know what the story was with that. The funny thing about it was that after he got off stage, he went running through the crowd. I said, “Yeah we•re being sponsored by Dell now,” and the bartender screamed out, “It•s Gateway!” Having the bartender correct me on computer marketing efforts was probably weirder than the cow suit.
What do you think people think of you?
People think we•re a dance party push, and that was part of how we addressed the issue later on, but what•s important to me is people come wanting to bring more creativity. There•s punk shows in the basement where everyone•s groggy and the band plays like they don•t want to and the people watch like they don•t want to be there. You don•t have to provide us with something to stare at blankly, but create an environment for us. Punk rock performers often fail at that. I didn•t want to go that route.
How was touring with Pearl Jam?
We toured with them for a couple weeks in Europe. Eddie Vedder is like a god! He could talk to 50,000 people like he was talking to one. He could be a dictator. Was he entertainment? Not really, there was definitely a weird interplay between him and the crowd. I almost respected him more because he was talking to 50,000 people. After seeing that it definitely showed me how to beat the weird ice that glazes over at rock shows.
How much money would it take for you to sell out?
I don•t know how to sell out! I don•t know how people sell out because you either do what you want or you don•t. Doing things you don•t want to do to make a buck is selling out and I couldn•t do that. I•m not prescribing myself as some kind of saint, but it seems easier to go through life with some sort of integrity.
Does The Dismemberment Plan want to fight anybody?
Nah, not really, we•re a positive group, we lead by example.
Why should anyone listen to your band?
Because they like it! I could never think of a reason why someone should. I like our songs. Why should someone try to listen to my band? Because people who don•t try new things are dry. If they don•t like it, there are millions of records to listen to out there.
Who•s your favorite pop artist?
The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, I think Madonna is genius, Bob Marley, The Clash, The Police… I could go on and on. There are so many great artists. Marvin Gaye.
Do you like using the word “scene”?
You can•t let other people hijack words for you. People who define it in terms of “this is the scene and this isn•t,” or “I am and I am not,” are usually full of shit. We can use the word “scene” to connote a group of people loosely connected by something. Once people start creating a binary sense — the 1•s, us, the 0•s, them… I•m 29 now, and once you start getting towards 30, all that stuff about “the scene” is just a bunch of people with some records.
Which one of your albums is your favorite?
Right now I•m really feeling our second one, Terrified. I•m really proud of it in retrospect, because when we got to the second record there really was an awareness of what we want to do. We said “let•s make something that will reflect all the hip-hop we love and all the punk stuff we like.” People thought it was the weirdest thing they•d ever heard and it bombed. At the time people were still getting out of the shadow of Nirvana and underground was still recovering from the idea that any punk band could make money. The people were like, “what is this, rap?” And now people know we really will do anything. We definitely had it together at an early age.
What are you working on next?
We•re done with the tour for a little bit, and we•re working on a video right now and material for the next record, which I•d really like to come out soon. Yeah. Just taking it… well, I never take it easy.