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After The Ice of Interscope
the dismemberment plan
by tim mcmahan



Update: Read the November 2001 interview here.


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.




The 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."

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Through 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 us. "

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.

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"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."

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"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."


Interscope 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 Jawbox-style distortion.

"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."

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Published in Omaha Weekly March 9, 2000. Copyright 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.