Washington, D.C.’s much-loved Dismemberment Plan have reunited for a brief tour in support of the reissue of the reissue of their Emergency & I; they’re playing a nearly sold-out show at the Starlight Ballroom Thursday. PW interviewed frontman Travis Morrison back in ’07, when the band reunited to play a one-off benefit show, about playing together after being apart for years, the origins of show traditions, which songs are a bit embarrassing in retrospect and ... how they’d probably never go on tour again.
On choosing cover songs: I probably just, quite to my bandmates’ consternation, started singing some song [laughs]. Usually that’s how things worked, I would do something that vaguely annoyed my bandmates and then kept doing it, and next thing you know ... I found myself being like, “If we didn’t do ‘The Greatest Love of All’ it would really be a shame. You ever heard the George Benson version of the song? The original’s by him and it’s all [deep voice] “I believe the children are the future!” It’s not the Whitney [spreads arms to heavens] thing. It’s great. It’s really good. It’s not great. But it’s really good.
One of the things I think was good about the band was we were open to trying, and if it stuck, it stuck. But we never really planned these things ahead of time, and some things would stick around for a long time and then they would go away.
On singers, like himself, with distinctive voices: The thing about voice is that the bands where people make fun of the singers, notice how successful they are? Like Sleater-Kinney, people bitch and moan about her voice, but she’s a great singer. People don’t like the vibrato; it’s like people who see Shakira and they don’t like that e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e thing. But that’s what makes them successful, the distinct human quality to that. Usually it’s when someone’s voice makes me go “yurgh!” [laughs]
On revisiting the old catalogue: It was a great relief to find out what a jerky young guy I was not. I’ll use this example: I don’t feel like singing “Time Bomb.” I cannot relate to that song anymore. It is ridiculous. There are a few songs that for one reason or another we’re all like, “Oh god.” And songs where we made such inexplicable musical decisions we just couldn’t relate to them anymore. But then a couple of songs, you’re like, “Oh, that just needs a little slap in the ass!” and it sounds better. Like, the first song on Change, “Sentimental Man,” can be an incredible rock and roll song when we ditch the keyboards and I stop singing like I’m on ’ludes—it’s fabulous. It’s so good.
Love and sex were big elements in our lyrics, and I was incredibly relieved that—like, my view on women was basically together, I was basically respectful. I didn’t fully understand love, but the voice was humane; and even in songs about personal conflicts there were very few straw men. “Time Bomb” is a little bullying, like, “It’s my song, so I’m gonna sing what I want!”
On the prospect of their one-off reunion show turning into a full-fledged reunion tour: We’ll probably keep playing occasionally. We’d never fight it, but we would never ever want to be like, “Shit, let’s go out and play ‘The City’ and make some money!” [laughs] That’s just really wrong. So the whole getting back together/not getting back together thing—it’s not like that.
I don’t think we’ll ever play for profit again, I don’t think that interests us … you got that on tape, so … [laughs] I’m gonna say it a lot, so then I’ll be embarrassed if we ever thought of doing it for a paycheck.
The Dismemberment Plan perform Thurs., Jan. 27, 7:30pm. $20. With Cymbals Eat Guitars + Trophy Wife. Starlight Ballroom, 460 N. Ninth St. 215.821.7575. r5productions.com
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PW's Music Issue 2014