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FFF interview: Travis Morrison of the Dismemberment Plan

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Ramon Ramirez

Editor’s note: This article was originally published November 13, 2013

Travis Morrison can talk. The Dismemberment Plan frontman is a 20-year veteran of the Washington, D.C., punk scene and I am prepared to probe for geeky anecdotes. Chatting on-sight Sunday at Fun Fun Fun Fest, I never get to the self-indulgent good ol’ days portion about rained-out shows at Fort Reno. An enthusiastic openness, littered with pensive digressions, swallowed our allotted 20 minutes.

Morrison is a music nerd. Not in the way 40-ish contemporaries like Craig Finn or James Murphy — auteurs who channel specific memories of romanticism from their ’80s cassettes to create a learned, calculated whole — are music nerds. Morrison is a voracious listener who gets lost in his influences.

“(Lou Reed’s) voice is really missing from our music today,” Morrison says before recommending entry points for the recently deceased icon’s corpus. He advises I start with 1972’s “Transformer,” and then skip ahead to 1982’s “The Blue Mask.” Morrison willfully finishes his Reed starter kit, “‘Set the Twilight Reeling’ I really like. It’s like a Sonic Youth record. It’s guitar impressionism.”

This stemmed from a dissection of the influences on October’s “Uncanney Valley” (the misspelling is intentional). Others include albums like the National’s “High Violet,” Battles’ “Gloss Drop,” Tune-Yards’ “Whokill,” Disclosure’s “Settle” and “Odessey and Oracle” by the Zombies for its lyrical eccentricity. “Valley” is a verbose, poly-rhythmic indie rock album that mostly works within its happy conception and upbringing. “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer” is about who parents were before they became parents. “I hope I’m not a mystery to those who knew me best,” Morrison sings.

“Valley” is also the first album that the band has made since 2001’s “Change.” The first since the Dismemberment Plan broke up in 2003, before returning to rock a handful of one-off reunions. Like Don Draper, the band is a trending upward force with a detached but defining past. NPR recently threw out the notion of pop stardom for these guys. But what, exactly, is their plan?

“We don’t have one right now. We haven’t talked about making a plan. There hasn’t been any real sign of needing one,” Morrison says. “It’s a relief to not have people see us as a function of their memory.”

Morrison has an open relationship with his band these days. Fun Fun Fun Fest is nestled into a littered string of D-Plan gigs that he playfully calls a “limited engagement.”

“Weekend warrior sounds so lame,” Morrison says, “It’s more like ‘we’re gonna do a run, we bring a candelabra with us.’”

This has included festival dates over the past two years, like the annual Roots Picnic in Philadelphia. Roots drummer Questlove liked the “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” performance so much that he booked Dismemberment Plan.

“It’s almost like a conceptual greatest hits of your identity,” Morrison says of the recent festival dates. “The greatest hits of who you are.”

Now rushed for time because Washed Out bled over on the Orange Stage, Morrison jokes about the condensed showtime between muscular, anthemic renditions of songs like “The City” from 1999’s urban despair emo gem, “Emergency & I.” “We’re just going to play ‘Barracuda’ and leave,” Morrison says. Sunday’s set is a far cry from the club-packed singalongs that have littered their reunion years. But the turkey leg crowd is entertained and compelled to applaud from their cross-legged positions on the lawn. Earlier, Morrison agreed that their space capsule song for the ages is “What Do You Want Me To Say?” and so the band closes with that track.

The Dismemberment Plan is no longer beholden to history, and Morrison, for one, is relieved.

“For every person that saw the Plan in 1997 and was like ‘those are a goofy group of guys,’ you’re going to have 10 people who see some kind of single commercial avatar,” Morrison says. “We’re not really talented enough to will ourselves in one direction or another. We just go into the basement and start playing.”