The Dismemberment Plan: A Change
for the Better
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Nov. 20, 2001
Read the March 9, 2000, Lazy-i article here.
w/Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Triangle
13th and Martha
What a difference a year or so makes.
It was Spring 2000 the last time we spoke to Dismemberment Plan bassist
Eric Axelson. Headed toward Omaha after playing a gig in San Francisco as
part of a never-ending tour, Axelson told a woe-as-me tale of a band that
just played 20 straight nights of shows, passing a nagging head cold from
one member to another while living sandwiched in a squalid van. The Plan
had just released Emergency & I on indie label Desoto Records
after acquiring the master tapes from Interscope, the major label who had
unceremoniously dropped them amidst its now famous reorganization of 1999.
"We just want to make enough money to pay the bills with our music
and not have to worry all the time and do jobs we don't like," said a
A much chipper Axelson spoke on a cell phone last week from outside a
café while the rest of the band enjoyed a big breakfast after playing a
sold-out show the night before at Boston's The Middle East. "We're
doing damn well," he said. "Things have been going good. Last
year everything just kind of took off."
Seems the band's constant touring paid off after all. Emergency
& I ended up selling an impressive 20,000 copies and eventually
fell into the hands of grunge godfathers Pearl Jam, who asked
Dismemberment Plan to open for them in 14 European cities. Now the band
hopes to build on their success with Change, their new album on
DeSoto, and with a tour that brings them to Omaha's Sokol Underground
Wednesday, Nov. 28.
The Washington, D.C.-based art-rock
four-piece, who lists D'Angelo, Joni Mitchell, Talking Heads and Marvin
Gaye as recent influences, carved out their rabid fan base by playing
incendiary alt/punk rock in smoky clubs along the eastern seaboard. Change
continues in the post-punk tradition of Emergency & I and their
early Interscope EP, The Ice of Boston.
Forget about their so-called influences and allegiance to the D.C. punk
scene. Dismemberment Plan is pure art prog-rock that would have thrived in
the days of Yes, King Crimson, Moody Blues, other bands whose basic song
structures didn't follow the norm. Their music is squarely focused on
going beyond the basic sonic expanses to big, wide-open soundscapes while
fusing basic rock and roll elements in a true indie sense. Chiming guitars
replace power chords, drums at times resemble hyperactive electronic
rattles, and while the bass is pure funk, the rest is held together by a
slightly dissonant keyboard and whooping sound effects.
The pretty packaging, more inviting then challenging, is wrapped around
Travis Morrison's stories of futility, loneliness, and regret. Try
listening to Change while following along with the lyric sheet, as
Morrison provides a cynical look at the meaningless meaning of life
("Sentimental Man"), sings about a lover who disappears through
a seam in space right before his eyes ("Face of the Earth"),
apologizes in the face of his own powerlessness against despair
("Superpowers"), pleads to an unknown assailant to lift a curse
from his back ("Secret Curse"), and warns of his eminent
emotional explosion ("Timebomb"). Throughout it, the music is
pounding and frantic. You can almost see Morrison running for his life,
constantly looking over his shoulder as he stumbles into the darkness.
The music is pounding and
frantic. You can almost see Morrison running for his life, constantly
looking over his shoulder as he stumbles into the darkness.
"I haven't had
stage fright since I was in high school. When we played in Prague
and Berlin, we were in front of 15,000 people. It was a huge, huge
It's hardly music that compliments Pearl
Jam's grungy '90s "alternative" noodlings or Eddie Vedder's
"It was kind of a mixed bag every night," Axelson said of the
European Pearl Jam dates. "Some folks were interested in checking out
new music. To others, we were just the band that played before Pearl Jam.
I haven't had stage fright since I was in high school. When we played in
Prague and Berlin, we were in front of 15,000 people. It was a huge, huge
Axelson said the rock star treatment didn't fire-up any hopes of the
band becoming an arena staple. "It reinforced the whole club thing
for us," he said, "We had to play behind big barricades away
from the crowds, and after shows, the bands were rushed off in unmarked
vans. I saw what those guys had to deal with -- they couldn't even walk
around town without being noticed."
With the high-profile gig, Axelson said major labels have again come
sniffing at their doors, but they're not buying. "We're not really
interested," he said. "We've been there and seen how it works.
With DeSoto we get what we want. It's more about the music than the bottom
line. We are living off the band now and touring a lot. We have freedom
from the corporate beast. We're lucky. A lot of bands didn't make it out
after the majors began to fall."
Published in The Omaha Weekly Nov. 21, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.