Winners sometimes quit
"One thing I learned from this whole experience is that nobody cares about music," says Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison. "People care about music, but people love bands like nothing else."
After four full-length albums, unending tour schedules and a major-label dalliance, Morrison's decade-old post-punk/spazz-pop quartet is calling it quits. Morrison says the separation was necessitated by a dimming of the Washington, D.C., band's spark, brought on by members' differing visions of the future.
"For the first time, it was like 'words, music and arrangement by Travis Morrison,' and that was never it," he says. "That was a real sign to us that the entity that was the Dismemberment Plan was running out of creative juice. The songs [that I brought in] were calling out for really adventurous arrangement choices. That's not really how the Plan functioned. Everyone had a voice, the voices came together and that was the sound."
So, he says, it was a good time to walk away. "We didn't feel like fixing it."
Bassist Eric Axelson shares that sentiment via e-mail: "It's always painful for me to see bands past their prime forcing out records that you know they don't mean, and playing shows because they're not sure what else to do."
The Dismemberment Plan's first dip into the indie scene came with 1995's !, a frenetic mishmash of stop-on-a-dime time changes Morrison equates to an "ADD breakdown." That was followed by 1998's Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified, which showcased more of the band's pop sensibilities and storytelling abilities.
Then the Plan got a deal with Interscope. But shortly after 1999's Emergency and I was recorded, the label dropped the band amid management shuffles. The guys returned to their previous label, DeSoto, with their master tapes, and a new legend was born. "The band suddenly had a narrative, so we started getting a lot of press and more people started coming out to our shows," recalls Morrison.
Emergency was the finest work of the Plan's career. It was followed by 2001's nearly brilliant Change. By then, the group was indie-rock royalty, its sound fully developed into a melodic pop-punk mix.
Aside from the music, the Plan's success has hinged largely on the accessibility of the band. Their website offers a plethora of user-friendly information — maps to shows, links to purchase tickets, and LPs available for download. It also features essays from band members (such as Morrison's "pro-war" piece), a list of favorite songs, even a section where fans could remix the band's tracks. The best remixes will soon become an album titled The People's History of the Dismemberment Plan due out Sept. 22 on DeSoto.
Live, the band is equally open and hospitable — bringing up-and-coming bands on tour, singing "Happy Birthday" for lucky audience members, inviting fans on stage to dance during their signature song, "The Ice of Boston," and taking audience requests during sets. Morrison is so approachable a fan once asked him for cab fare home from a show.
Sticking with Plan tradition means that fans are integral to the final tour. "We're doing all-request; we're not gonna make a set list," says Morrison. "We're picking the first couple of songs and we're picking the encores, but we're just kind of calling on people."
When the Plan's tour ends in Japan Aug. 30, Morrison will finish recording a solo album. Axelson will tour with In English, featuring former members of the Promise Ring. Multi-instrumentalist Jason Caddell and drummer Joe Easley have tired of the touring, though Morrison expects the percussionist to gig around the D.C. area.
"The ride overall was fantastic," says Alexson. "We had a great, slow-building career — got to see the world, play with tons of cool bands and play for fun audiences. Yeah, I don't have too many complaints about my life in the Dismemberment Plan."