w/ Death Cab for Cutie, Aveo
Sat Feb 23
It seems like everyone in the world loves the Dismemberment Plan. Why, in the Mercury office alone, three out of four* employees would sell their homes to tour with them, even though that is a really hippie thing to do. How does this nine-year-old band--that's been through four full-length records, a couple bad tours, and being signed and dropped (Interscope) and signed again (DeSoto)--deal with the good tidings that came with the success of 1999's Emergency & I and 2001's Change? "I can finally pay my alimony," jokes Travis Morrison, the Washington D.C. quartet's singer and guitarist. "People are at the shows. I don't have a day job. We never made a record that anyone cared about, so [with Emergency & I] we were like, 'Oh, you like it? We never knew.'"
How could we not love you, Travis? The Dis. Plan makes the catchiest music without condescending to its audience by pulling out old tricks--it's pop music with changes, intellectual music with a respect for the masses, mass-appeal music with a sense of artistry. They have many different attributes, including an irreproachably kickass rhythm section (Eric Axelson and Joe Easley, along with guitarist Jason Caddell) that pulls out their dub roots with the same ease as they do straightforward rock beats. They reference everything from punk and emo, to D.C. go-go, to modern R&B and hiphop, and they can sound just as diverse. Their lyrics are soulful, intelligent, articulate and, of course, grammatically correct.
"I guess I did approach this as a more interesting and potentially lucrative and fun version of being a writer," explains Morrison. "I did want to be a writer when I was a kid, largely because my parents were writers. So I directed my energy into songwriting. I am aware that I do seem to be craftier about it than other people. I have pretty high standards for myself. When I was 16, I would notice when metal bands would turn their rhyme scheme around, or when a word or a rhyme would fit the melody. I don't know. Maybe it's just something I have a knack for."
Maybe. One aspect of Morrison's vocals that surely attracts fans is that he sounds as if he's been your pal for years, and you're having a coherent conversation that's two-sided. It's why his lyrical wisdom works--he comes off just like anybody else, and that's appealing in a vocalist. However, says Morrison, it wasn't always this good. "It was a horrible depressing fight for years. The main problem was that I thought I couldn't sing, and the number one method to doing anything badly is thinking you can't," he explains. "I just hacked away at it. There are a lot of singers I study and admire, but most of them are the kinds of people that, when they talk, you can hear their singing voice. At best, their performances are like musical speaking. I can't say I wanted to be in this because I love Freddie Mercury. It's the struggle of humiliation, I guess."
*1. The normally hetero Ezra Ace Caraeff, who has a lengthy argument on why "Travis Morrison is the sexiest man in rock," during which he froths and giggles; 2. The normally homo Katia Dunn, who says "[Their music is] smart and confident, and confident people are often sexy"; 3. Myself, whose relationship with song two from Change saved me from checking into the loony bin (See Up & Coming pg 16 for Travis' explanation of song two's lyrical intent.); 4. Wm. Steven Humphrey--who, upon hearing Change, said "What is this reggae shit? Who is this, BURNING SPEAR?" and stomped out of the room.