After The Ice of Interscope
the dismemberment plan
by tim mcmahan
Update: Read the November 2001
The Dismemberment Plan lit up the crowded Sokol
Underground stage March 3. A packed house heard all the songs off the band's latest CD, Emergency
& I, after hearing a pounding opening set by Omaha's Red Menace. Hope you dig the
pics, they represent my first foray with a digital camera.
Dismemberment Plan, hot off a crushingly successful performance at San Francisco's
"The Bottom of the Hill," had just enjoyed their first day off after playing 20
straight days on tour. It was a chance to do laundry, catch up on some sleep, and try to
shake a nagging head cold that had been plaguing the entire band since Texas. Life on the
road means sharing everything in close quarters, including an insidious virus that had
found a new home touring the country in their van.
"We can't get rid of it," said Dismemberment Plan bassist/keyboardist Eric
Axelson. "Every night you sleep on someone's floor, then get back into a van and
drive. It's hard to get back on your feet."
He only had about 20 minutes to talk via phone from a friend's living room located
somewhere "in the Haights," only moments before heading to Chico for the night's
gig. "You get used it," he said of the tour. "Your days are almost always
the same. You find food, get in the van, get to the club, do the sound check, unwind, have
one hour of real intensity, then find a place to sleep."
constant touring and high-energy performances, The Dismemberment Plan have garnered a
following and a reputation for being an awesome force on stage. The legend began when the
4-piece first played New Year's Day 1993 in Washington D.C., our nation's capitol and a
legendary punk rock hotbed.
"Three of us grew up in the 'burbs outside D.C.," Axelson said. "In the
'80s I was listening to Dag Nasty, Rites of Spring, Beefeater. I was too young to be going
to shows, but the scene was on fire, every band was great back then it seemed. I was
hanging out with skaters and the high school drum corps -- that's where I learned about
all sorts of different music, passing records and tapes back and forth among my friends.
This was before computers."
It was also before the rise of Nirvana and the surfacing of "alternative"
music. Indie music has since been swept from the radio back to the underground, a
situation that's "for the best," Axelson said. "It bastardized things in
the early '90s. I don't know if we're better off now, but there seemed to be a lot more
labels and bigger bands back then. But it's still easier for the kids to track down our
music now with the Internet. Most college stations have internet websites, so you can
listen to them anywhere. Kids don't have to nearly work as hard."
I first discovered The Dismemberment Plan's music a couple years ago, when they had
just signed to Interscope Records and put out their 4-song "Ice of Boston" EP.
It featured a track where singer/guitarist Travis Morrison played the ultimate loser, lost
at home in a shabby Boston apartment on New Year's Eve, watching the world celebrate from
his window, mulling over an old girlfriend and talking to his mother on the phone after
pouring a bottle of Champaign over his head. Slacker ennui? You bet, all gracelessly
backed by a righteous, flicking electric guitar that exploded with every chorus. I was
hooked. The music was at once fun and funky, played by a bunch of guys who list Slint,
Shudder to Think, and Kool and the Gang among their influences.
It would be the first and last CD the band would release on
Interscope. That label would go through a dismemberment of its own, eventually dropping
dozens of young, edgy bands during the chainsaw days of its reorganization. Bands were
left bending in the wind, wondering about their fate. For Axelson and crew, the waiting
was the hardest part.
"The pressure of the situation was more to get the word out of them that we were
gonna be dropped," Axelson said. "We wanted to get off the label so we could
make music again. Interscope wasn't the same label we had signed to, anyway. They used to
be into innovative bands and had a reputation for being artist friendly. Now it's more
about the bottom line. If they need bands that are real radio friendly, well that's not
They didn't leave empty handed. Upon releasing them from their contract, Interscope
handed the band the master tapes to "Emergency & I," which they promptly
released on their former label, DeSoto Records, home of such cutting edge acts as Burning
Airlines, Juno and Faraquet.
"Interscope wasn't the same label we had
signed to. They used to be into innovative bands and had a reputation for being artist
friendly. Now it's more about the bottom line."
"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
might be rethinking the deal. "Emergency & I," recorded by J. Robbins
(Burning Airlines, Jawbox) and Chad Clark (Smart Went Crazy), is clearly the band's
strongest, most refined effort and pushes their sound to the next level.
Forget the scary name, this really isn't a punk outfit, at least not anymore. The new
CD has all the shimmer and sway of the best of XTC or even Guster. Morrison's voice is as
sweet and soft as an old friend telling you the way things are, whether you want to hear
about it or not. Guitars rule the day, while dense, noisy keyboards are used more for
effect than to push a melody. Though melodies abound. "What Do You Want Me to
Say" has a big fat chorus that invites us all to sing along, but breaks as far away
from user-friendliness as possible when it returns to the verse, where an electric guitar
bleeps ceaselessly like a pulse meter, marking time as the whole thing ends in a crash of
"Spider in the Snow" takes a turn at Pavement-style indie rock. Inspirational
verse: "The only thing worse than bad memories/Is no memories at all."
"Gyroscope" sounds like a high-octane They Might Be Giants track, while
"The Jitters" is a low-key drive through a forest-covered highway at night,
enhanced by strange synth sounds and lonely guitars.
"You Are Invited," the CD's high-water mark, starts with a simple drum
machine as Morrison tells the story of a magic invitation that can get you into that
swank, exclusive disco or your ex-girlfriend's party only to discover you never wanted to
be at either. The charm is in its simplicity.
In fact, Dismemberment Plan is at its best when it is simply playing music. When they
stray into areas of sheer controlled distortion, such as on the pseudo-rapper "I Love
a Magician" the painful "Girl O'Clock," and the funk rave-up "8 1/2
Minutes" they can become rather challenging.
Going back to DeSoto Records appears to be a step backwards for a band that some say
teetered on the verge of national notoriety. Axelson says that's not the case. "We
like where we are," he said. "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."
Published in Omaha Weekly March 9, 2000. Copyright © 2000 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.