BYT Interviews: Travis Morrison of Dismemberment Plan
Colin Wilhelm | Oct 3, 2012 | 12:30PM |

All photos: Farrah Skeiky, via their Metro Gallery gig last August

Recently The Dismemberment Plan surprised their fans in Baltimore and Fredericksburg by playing a relative abundance of new material. With shows coming up this Friday (again in Baltimore) and Saturday (as part of the FreeFest lineup) singer Travis Morrison was kind enough to call BYT and chat for a few minutes, even after we rescheduled on him at the last minute. What follows is a mostly verbatim record, with a few edits for awkward pauses, chuckles, and length consideration. And be sure to check out Round 1 of our chats with Travis Morrison early last August.

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BYT: What made you all want to record again after nine years on hiatus?

Morrison: Well as we were preparing for the shows we just got a lot of really good creative ideas going on their own accord. And that’s really the hallmark of whether a band should be doing something I think, is if they just start doing really spontaneous, creative things together, not really plotting it out and that stuff started happening with more and more practice. We were all kind of in agreement that we were still having a good time together and getting along, so why don’t we get together and not write, but hang out even if it’s just a couple hours of us making synthesizer fart noises then ok, that’s cool, but if more comes from it that’s great. And next thing you knew eight months later we had nine songs. So you know it was very organic and very much within the framework of our lives. It wasn’t so much of a conscious decision. The only conscious decision was getting the others to have some fun making some fart noises.

BYT: Do you have any idea when you might record the new album or when it might be released?

TM: No….none. Still working on it. [Pause] I think early next year but….maybe we’ll do a Chinese Democracy.

BYT: What would you say has influenced the direction you’re going in on your new songs?

TM: Hm. Hmmmmm….you know I don’t know, I’m really bad at that stuff—

BYT: Is it more getting in there and starting to create something and letting it grow?

TM: Yeah, I think so. The material is pretty high-spirited…I’d say that Gloss Drop by Battles was an inspiration for me, because there was a bunch of grown men making a really fun ruckus. [Chuckles] Obviously it’s not [a direct inspiration] because they don’t have a full time singer, and the Dismember Plan’s not calling Gary Numan to take over for me, although that would probably be a good idea.

Artists don’t just come down from the mountaintop with it popping out of their head. There’s a conversation going on, not necessarily directly to those people [whose album they’re influenced by] but something you can run from. So it’s not like

I sat around listening to that album on repeat saying, “We will do this,” but I do think that Gloss Drop was pretty inspirational for me. I think also the great mood of the record, high-spiritedness…we were never particularly gloomy until the very end.

BYT: Do you think folks might have unfairly high standards for the new material, letting their own feelings about the old stuff prejudice them?

TM: I think they could not be interested. [Chuckles] And I think it would be possible to apply an intellectual layer to that lack of interest, but really they’re just not interested. It’s possible that people might say, “Well the Dismemberment Plan was a thing that—these four records, and this here—and I don’t know what this is all about, but this was not on the memo.” So [for] some people the brand might be something that stopped in 2002 and people were enjoying actually getting to kind of experience that brand brought back to life, and then the idea of us then actually doing something in this moment [they might] reject on a conceptual level. And you know, oh well…you just have to capture the moment as best you can and let the chips fall where they may in terms of it going out into the world.

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BYT: At the point where you release the new album do you think you’ll do a national or international tour for that?

TM: Well, depends on how you define tour. Obviously the drummer Joe [Easley] just had a second kid, and we’ve all got different commitments, we all do have non-musical careers. That stuff all has to be taken into account.

There will be shows. I don’t know if they’ll be 21 consecutive ones which is anyone’s definition of a tour. But will we get to play London? I hope so, it’s actually not that off the table. With the right bargaining and haggling and respect for each other’s non-Dismemberment Plan responsibilities I think it might end up happening, but again, it won’t be 21 shows in a row, that’s pretty hard for us. That’s living in airplanes.

BYT: You’re playing at both Ram’s Head [Friday, October 5] and FreeFest [Saturday, October 6]. Do you have a difference in your approach to playing a club show as opposed to a festival?

TM: No….I don’t. Which is probably bad. I probably should get better at it. I mean, I think that there probably is a difference in that in a club show you can kind of have ineptitude and unprofessionalism and it’s actually kind of fun, it’s part of the gig, whereas if you’re in front of 8,000 people and 7,800 have no idea what’s going on while I repeatedly drop my pick then it’s just lame, it’s clownish.

Festivals are also different from a large hall, you know, festivals are very particular things. They’re out in a big field and it doesn’t matter who you are, half the bodies out there are on their way to the beer tent. So there’s a diffusion of energy, a diffusion of focus, that as a musician takes a little getting used to because you just want to melt everybody’s faces. At festivals your little heat gun is just not getting at their faces, it just can’t, it can’t reach their faces to melt them, so you have to accept that and do the best you can.

BYT: Now that you’re in a different place in life from when you first were together, are there any songs that feel unnatural or awkward to play from your old catalogue?

TM: A little bit. Some of the angrier ones are a little bit of a struggle for me. Luckily they’re good musically so I can handle it. Generally we went with a couple of themes and the ones that are either lonely or horny I can still relate to, or I still think are good and open and honest and don’t say things that go beyond the song. Some of the ones that are angry kind of make me shake my head a little bit. But luckily there’s not too many of them and that’s a big relief.

BYT: You guys seem like you mostly came from happy places.

TM: Yeah happy or philosophical. There wasn’t a whole lot of baffled, angry, “what the fuck?” Which would be tough. That’s tough when you’re 40, if you’re baffled and angry at 40 it’s like, “oh boy, now you’re supposed to know everything!” But [that’s] your fault not anyone else’s.

BYT: You were part of a generation of bands that helped pioneer interaction of bands and fans through the Internet, and I saw something about this on your Facebook page too recently, but what do you think of the whole Amanda Palmer kerfuffle? And you also wrote recently in the Huffington Post about piracy so I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the music industry in general right now too.

TM: [Pauses beat] It’s great! Never better. [Chuckles] Fans and artists are in a really tough and unprecedented dialogue–negotiation actually–that I’ve definitely seen us going in the direction of for fifteen years. The normalizing layer between artists and fans, namely the major labels and entertainment industry, is gone. That filter is gone. Now artists and fans are talking to each other straight. And they’re funding each other. And they’re doing things for each other and promising for a certain amount of money to go to your house and paint a portrait of you, like Amanda Palmer was going to do. It’s a much more immediate cycle and everyone’s kind of growing up and actually realizing—that the artists and the audiences used to blame the music industry, that if they could just be left alone together everything would be great, but it’s actually not so.

There’s actually a lot of sticky points between the artists and the fans. It was kind of a convenient boogey man to blame, the record industry. And that’s kind of gone now. So there’s going to be a lot of bumps, there’s going to be a lot of miscommunications, just like any new friends or new situation. Especially when money is involved, when people are giving each other money there’s going to be a lot of pointing fingers and a lot of aesthetic criticisms and it’s going to get really messy.

Rather than just completely spaz out on one instance of this process I just think that there’s noting that it’s a whole new world and people who have never really spoken directly are now speaking directly and finding out that both of them might have agendas that totally don’t wind up, or not totally don’t line up but mostly line up and then slightly don’t line up with each other and that’s really shocking.

So that’s what I’ve observed happening but I’ve known that was happening for years. If I’d said it four or five years ago I’d have sounded like a crazy person but now there’s evidence.

Amanda Palmer screwed up with the musicians but she obviously just got a little too excited about social media and a little too excited about her huge, next level, industry-shaking, visionary way to handle herself…and then somebody else steps up and says, what about the musicians and she’s like, “Oh I thought I was doing the fan-centric thing, what the fuck?” So you know, oops, that was bad. Other than that I think she’s promising a monstrous amount, looking at her page made me feel exhausted, and you know what? If she can deliver then no one has anything to criticize her for. Because she asked for money, people gave her money, and she says she’s going to do them and she does them.

But the deeper things, like the direct patronage and the direct conversation is unprecedented and it’s going to have a lot of raw moments before it’s all over.

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