The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison talks about reuniting, debuting new songs, and playing the Virgin Mobile FreeFest this weekend
Published: October 3, 2012
The Washington, D.C. quartet the Dismemberment Plan broke up in 2003 after a decade of building a local and national fanbase which had some of its strongest roots in nearby Baltimore. The band built an early following at mid-’90s Baltimore County all-ages space the Small Intestine and toured with Baltimore acts like Cex, who remixed their “Academy Award,” and Lake Trout, who helped inspire the Plan’s song “The Other Side.” This weekend, the reunited Dismemberment Plan returns to Baltimore for a headlining show at Rams Head Live on Friday, followed by a set at Saturday’s Virgin Mobile FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.
This week’s shows mark a swift return to Maryland after an intimate Metro Gallery show in August which included the debut of eight songs, the first new Dismemberment Plan songs in a decade. Last year’s initial run of reunion shows—which were occasioned by the reissue of the band’s most popular album, 1999’s Emergency & I—were all about revisiting the past, but now it appears they are stepping forward with a new chapter. We spoke with frontman Travis Morrison, now a New Yorker, about the new songs and the Plan’s long history with Baltimore.
City Paper: So now you’re going to have played three shows in Baltimore and Maryland in the space of a few weeks. Is that a way of playing on home turf without doing a proper D.C. show yet?
Travis Morrison: You know what, it’s not ideal, I’ll be frank with you. But it was an opportunity that came up to play some more shows in the area and we said, “Why not?” And so the road is 30 miles long from home, y’know, so good enough.
CP: So you mean it’s not ideal in the sense of playing several shows in this market without a D.C. show?
TM: Yeah. It’s tough for us, because we only have so much time, so this weekend was it. This weekend was good. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Baltimore. I’m intimidated now because, like, everyone’s a rock star in Baltimore, so it’s awesome. Y’know, back in the day, we didn’t play Baltimore much at all. So I guess when it rains it pours, because I got no problem comin’ on up. It’s a really interesting town.
CP: It felt to me, at the time, like you played Baltimore pretty often, considering that you were also playing D.C. all the time.
TM: Yeah, you’re right. Baltimore, it wasn’t quite a home away from home—it was like an exotic outpost. Let’s say that.
CP: I’m sure it’s true to an extent with a lot of D.C. bands, but it seemed more true of you guys than others.
TM: Oh, really? That’s interesting. D.C. bands don’t come up to Baltimore as much?
CP: I wouldn’t say that, many of them did or do come up a lot. But things the Plan had, like the early following at the Small Intestine and the kinship with people like Cex and Lake Trout, I don’t necessarily think other D.C. bands had something like that in Baltimore.
TM: Oh, OK, you make a really good point. I never really thought of it that way, but you’re right. We have close friendships with Rjyan Kidwell and of course Lake Trout. I guess in Kidwell we had connections to quite a different array of Baltimore artists.
CP: How did playing at the Metro Gallery come up?
TM: That was actually the very first show we played this year. We wanted to play a small room. You tell yourself that, somehow, fewer people, smaller room [means] less anxiety about playing. And it was a great place.
CP: When did you guys decide to start writing new material and not just playing the old stuff?
TM: About a year ago. At our rehearsals for the shows in 2011, we would jam, and as far as I know, that’s the real temperature of a band, whether or not there’s constant collective creation. Any band I know, they get together, they come up with ideas, any band that’s in a great place. We really still enjoy each other’s friendship, which is really not the case for a lot of older bands. Even if they don’t hate each other or sue each other, they’re just different, they feel like those are buddies from high school they can’t really hang with anymore. But basically we still like each other.
CP: It seemed like when you broke up it was amicable and possibly more about just getting out of that grind of touring for months and months. I guess now that you’ve all got other lives outside the band you can just balance it with other things.
TM: Y’know, everyone has an amount of time to give. It reminds me: That’s how we last were when we wrote any of the songs anyone cares about. As soon as we quit our day jobs, we never wrote a classic Plan song again, literally.
CP: I remember, toward the end, the band was playing new songs. And then the breakup announcement came and you left those songs out of the farewell tour and put them aside for your solo record. But otherwise, for the overwhelming majority of the band’s history, you were constantly performing new material and previewing the next record. How much did you record them before you quit?
TM: Not [much] really. We tracked one song, it was very strange, it wasn’t good. The wheels were comin’ off a little bit.
CP: As a band or just creatively?
TM: Yeah, as a band we were out of gas.
CP: It seemed like you took your knocks for the solo records and then you raised a lot of eyebrows by referring to yourself as “retired” online after that. Did you just say that to just take the idea off the table for a while that you were going to make music again?
TM: Yeah. I mean it got a lot more press than the record I’d released a couple months earlier [laughs]. It gets people’s attention. People like art. But what they’re really interested in is a story. And you can call it sensationalism or you can call it voyeurism, but I get it.
CP: Have you gone into planning this record as far as producers or labels yet?
TM: We don’t know where we’re gonna go right now, which I really enjoy.
CP: The music business has changed pretty hugely just since the last time the band was together.
TM: I feel like there’s not really a business anymore. It’s a culture, not a business, which is kinda cool actually. It’ll be interesting to see.
CP: Did songs just come pouring out once the band started writing together, or did you have a lot of ideas just stockpiled?
TM: Any Plan record is a balance between me being a singer/songwriter and the guys locking into the song and half a jam and then I write lyrics to it. And I’d say that’s no different now. That was about the ratio on Emergency & I, pretty much all the records we made with Joe, the last three.
CP: How long will you get to play at the Virgin Mobile FreeFest?
TM: Oh, five, 10, 15 minutes [laugh]. I don’t know. I’m just the singer, man, I don’t know. I would imagine it’s probably like a half an hour or 45 minutes, something like that.
CP: I guess it’s nice to do a club show and play whatever you want before going to a festival and focusing on the hits.
TM: Yeah, I think so. I think that’ll probably be how it goes.
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