Travis Morrison was in a band called the Dismemberment Plan, followed by a solo career, followed by the Dismemberment Plan, followed by the Hellfighters, followed by the Dismemberment Plan again. Such are the wages of breaking up before your band’s popularity really peaks; it’s like quietly eating your lunch at your desk, and enjoying it (sure, I mean, it was a REALLY good sandwich, made with love and all), and then walking down to the break room and finding 25,000 people there throwing you a party with a fatted calf turning slowly over a bonfire. Surprise, sucker: now you sell out 1,200-capacity clubs in 4 minutes. So hey, you can find room for some BBQ and a couple beers, because it’s only polite, after all. But this is a grounded guy, he’s been through the wringer, he opened for Pearl Jam in Europe ten years ago, he’s been dropped by a major label and come out on top, he holds down a real job, he walks down the street on his own two feet, and he moved to New York for grown-up reasons, not because he was hoping to make it big in the Williamsburg scene before the trust-fund money runs dry. So Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie parachuted in to see what’s on his mind and ask him a few questions about the future and the past, right here where the two of them bump up against each other.
STPP: Let’s start with go-go; I love it, you love it, it’s on every street corner, when can listeners expect that white-hot neutron star of DC music and culture, i.e. Travis Morrison covers Fugazi, Marvin Gaye, Jawbox, Eva Cassidy and Duke Ellington in go-go style, featuring the bucket guys from in front of the Verizon Center Metro and a church choir? Is that sort of genre-exercise dilettantism on your radar, or was the recent D-Plan reunion a cathartic, plate-clearing sort of milestone, a satisfaction of that music jones, the sort of “bizarre final gesture” you referred to when Travistan was coming out? Also, does NYC have bucket guys, and do they even remotely compare with our bucket guys? Do they play go-go beats as well?
TM: New York does have a lot of street musicians and some are drummers. A lot of them are good. But they just don’t have the same pocket, the same feel, that they do in DC. They’re too pushy, too on it, too frantic. DC drummers just have that easy power… relaxed yet they got you. Dunno I’d love to collab with some go-go cats. I’d love to collab with a lot of people. I mean I would collab with Steven Reich in a second.
STPP: Put another way, do you see yourself as what the major labels call a “legacy artist,” a workmanlike producer of albums in the mold of Paul Simon and what Jeff Buckley was supposed to be, or is the task of recording and performing music something that you can only do on occasion, when a compelling reason arises?
TM: I’m definitely not someone who sticks with it and puts out a record every two years because it’s what I do. For better and worse it really needs to be an inspiring and interesting act. Lately it seems very inspiring and interesting. I don’t think it’s totally awesome that I can’t stick with it through dull patches btw, I really regret that sometimes, but that’s what it is.
STPP: And on that note, Trent Reznor has been having some interesting discussions on his site about the recording industry and revenue models, etc. Do you even feel the need to make albums anymore? Do you think that the inherent physical limitation of (rightfully) resurgent vinyl discs is good for musical statements, i.e. that the 35-55 minute length is just about right for popular music in compiled form? Or would you be happier dropping a Time Travel song onto the internet whenever it’s done, regardless of commercial concerns or context?
TM: Very good question. Probably the latter. I feel like at this point the only reason to make albums is to give the press a talking point so you can promote your stuff. Because that world still likes release dates and albums. I guess it’s hard to write a profound review about a YouTube link.
STPP: I remember the first time I heard you on the radio, right around when …Is Terrified came out, I think you were being interviewed in advance of an HFStival performance. When was the first time you heard your songs on the radio? Not necessarily on the local show on Sunday night when you know it’s going to happen, but by accident, for real, out of the blue? Did you freak right out?
TM: Ow. Don’t remember it but it was probably somewhere on tour. College radio playing it while we pulled into town for a show. It is very exciting! The main thing is the crazy radio compression. It’s almost a funhouse mirror of your music, how it pulls the dynamics like taffy.
STPP: Also, what’s the deal with radio? The programming on college stations and the big internet independents, like KEXP, KCRW, Y-Rock, WOXY (R.I.P.), and NPR Music would seem to indicate that there’s a need and a demand for good rock/free-form radio, but when you look at DC and NYC, that demand doesn’t seem to find any representation on the dial. Why is there better music playing on the Starbucks’ p.a. system than on DC101? Shouldn’t the commercial model that supports playing Fleet Foxes at a coffee chain support playing Wye Oak on the public airwaves?
TM: Good question. One unfortunately I don’t know anything about. But I have to correct you. There is fantastic true free-form radio in NYC–WNYC and WFMU are very robust and supported institutions. I give money every year. And they are TRUE free-form–not just white indie-rock. There’s, like, an hour dedicated to Hebrew ska.
STPP: What gear are you psyched about, amp-wise and guitar-wise? Do you have any truck with pedals, or is that not your scene?
TM: Not my scene. My main bag these days is learning to sight read music. Just me, a pencil, and the music.
STPP: Was the recent Dismemberment Plan reunion tour just an elaborate way of convincing Smart Went Crazy, Rites of Spring, and Q And Not U to get back together for a show? If so, how is that coming along, and can we at Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie help in any way?
TM: Ha no. Don’t see those 3 bands doing it again. All great. Let’s face it though. Fugazi should make more music. But maybe in ten more years, when reuniting will seem like a totally new thing, and they are beginning to be actual old men. They could be the post-punk Tom Waits, being crabby and funny and making crazy feedback noises.
STPP: On a related note, did you catch the Our Band Could Be Your Life-themed show at the Bowery Ballroom? As someone who sort of straddled the era discussed in the book and the rise of the internet, and as a walking, talking touchstone for the DC rock scene, what’s your take on the nostalgia for previous scenes and the effect that the sort of hagiography implicit in my last question has on new bands? Is it a positive thing for people like you and Jenny Toomey and Ian Mackaye to be constantly plowed under as fertilizer for DC rock music or is the danger of ossification, of atrophy, a valid concern?
TM: Actually that night I was singing across town in a tribute to Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets. Funny night in NYC. I saw YouTube of St. Vincent just SLAYING Big Black… I never thought of myself, Jenny Toomey, and Ian MacKaye as human ortho-grow but, hell, I’ll go with it… I dunno man, I just keep moving and doing things that excite me and everyone should do the same. DC is changing as a city, but everything changes, and if someone emerges to make poetry of the moments the city finds itself in, if there are such moments that deserve poetry, then it’ll be a mitzvah, and what came before won’t matter all that much. If the moments aren’t there in the community anymore then… dunno, sunrise sunset I guess.