IN EARLY 2003, the Dismemberment Plan announced they weren't so keen on being the Dismemberment Plan anymore. A farewell tour crisscrossed the country, and by the end of the year, the post-emo, indie-rock darlings had called it a day.
Aside from a couple one-off reunion shows, it seemed likely the DC band's story would end there. Frontman Travis Morrison took a job with the Huffington Post and moved to New York (where he now runs his own web start-up); drummer Joe Easley works for NASA; bassist Eric Axelson took a job with Capital One; and guitarist Jason Caddell is an audio engineer. But ever since Barsuk Records decided to reissue the band's 1999 classic Emergency & I in 2011, the Plan keeps coming up again—first with a full-fledged reunion tour, then with Uncanney Valley, the band's first album since 2001's Change.
"There really had to be a reason," says Morrison. "We weren't really sitting there thinking, 'How do we play again?' I think it just had to be a good reason to do it."
The frantic early version of the band that jumped through time-signature hurdles is mostly gone, but the softer-edged version of the band that emerged on Change endures on Valley, with their pop sensibilities seemingly sharpened in the interim. And Morrison—arguably indie-rock's funniest lyricist—still jumps from witty satire to naked sentimentality with sprinkles of "he didn't really write that, did he?" (from "Let's Just Go to the Dogs Tonight": "When I say 'cluster,' you say 'fuck'").
Morrison says "Uncanny Valley," a reference to theorized negative reactions people have to robots that seem too human, was "a mid-level candidate for album title" until it was misspelled in a cover art mockup. "I liked that it was a high-tech term that also sounded like a place in Southwest Virginia or West Virginia, like an Appalachian kind of location," he says. "When it comes to album titles, I'm the lyricist, so I flex a little bit. I'll take other people's input, but once I see something I really like, everyone can sit down. It's not that way with so many of the other areas of the band, but it's Hammer Time when the lyricist decides he likes an album title."
While the band was away, the D-Plan's legend grew, and the group became a point of comparison for subsequent indie-rock bands. "I think there's a certain thing that people say sounds like the Dismemberment Plan, and the Dismemberment Plan had a lot of different moves and a lot of different sounds. It kind of reminds me when people say a band is 'Beatlesesque.' You hear it and there's a certain thing that everyone knows is 'Beatlesesque' but actually doesn't really sound like any one particular Beatles song," says Morrison. "There's a particular munging of various sonic elements. I hear bands and I think, 'Oh, here's a band that people will think sounds like the Dismemberment Plan,' but I don't actually sit and think, 'Man, they're copping my shit.'"
The band reconvened every so often during their seven-year hiatus, but new songs didn't start spilling out until the rehearsals for the reunion show. And while members haven't been completely absent from music—Axelson played in Maritime with former members of the Promise Ring; Morrison has another band called the Burlies—they're far enough removed from the Change-era burnout to enjoy themselves again.
"I'm definitely more connected to playing shows than I have been in a long time," says Morrison. "I always love the aspect of looking for lunch the next morning and seeing friends and all that. I never really got too tired of that."
Morrison has said in recent years that he feels more distance from some fan-favorite tracks—songs like "What Do You Want Me to Say?" and a big chunk of Change. So what sort of deep cuts should be expected?
"You like to stretch out the set list, and you like to surprise the crowd and stuff like that," Morrison jokes. "I'm not really moved to not play any of the hits. I'm not that kind of person—I like approval—but it's nice to have a blend of that kind of stuff and 'Whoa, they're playing this song? Not only is it old, it sucks.'"