Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison Talks ‘Less Neurotic’ New Album ‘Uncanney Valley’
Travis Morrison holds many titles. He’s a computer programmer and social media platform developer — check out Shoutabl, a tool for bands to promote their music — and, of course, he’s the frontman for cult indie faves the Dismemberment Plan. Known for their unusual funky, punky sound and Morrison’s offbeat songwriting, D-Plan return today (Oct. 15) with ‘Uncanney Valley,’ their first album in 12 years.
After splitting amicably in 2003, the band reunited in 2011 for a series of reunion shows. ‘Uncanney Valley’ happened by accident, evolving from Morrison’s jam sessions with equally busy bandmates. (Drummer Joe Easley is an engineer at NASA, for example.) And now they’re back at it again, promoting the record via a national tour.
Diffuser talked to Morrison about the new album, his move from his beloved Washington, D.C., to Brooklyn, the Plan’s upcoming plans for new music and more.
What made you decide to put out an album after 12 years?
We were improvising while we rehearsing for our tour. And we thought, “This is really fun. Why don’t we keep improvising. Not necessarily an entire record, but just improvising, and let’s see where it takes us. And if it doesn’t take us anywhere, no harm, no foul.” And now here I am, talking to you!
What does the new album mean to you?
I’m really proud of it. I think it’s still us, but I think it really grew emotionally and is who we are personally. I’m really proud of that. I’m really excited to do this one live. When you’ve been working on something for 16 months, it becomes a total obsession.
What influenced you when you first started making music, and what influences you now?
I really loved Public Enemy, the Beatles, Talking Heads. There’s always new influences. A lot of it is wanting to be involved in what other people are doing. In the last year, there was Tune-Yards and Battles and bands like that. But in the end, it’s really just wanting to be out there and wanting to be involved in a larger musical conversation. That’s the principle that takes you from record to record.
You moved to New York from Washington, D.C., in the last few years. How did that affect the music you found yourself making?
New York is a very, very energetic place. And very empowering in certain ways. It’s very empowering to the individual. It’s just a shift in energy from Washington and New York City. They’re very different cities. It’s a shift in energy from living in a thoughtful, Southern town to this very intense dynamic in a not-so-thoughtful city. It was that shift of energy that was a real inspiration, I think.
How did the rise of social media affect D-Plan?
I think that we didn’t do so great before the Internet because it used to be all about association with scenes, and we were just odd ducks the first couple of years. People started hearing our music on the Internet, and they’re like, “Wow, this is really interesting.” Maybe if you were in a car-full of hipsters and they were like, “Oh man, that band is lame, they’re weird,” maybe you’d be like, “Oh, okay, you guys are right.” Then you go home, and the Internet shows up, and you’re like, “Oh, no, actually, this is kinda dope.” It’s weird. It’s making me kind of uncomfortable, but I like it. I always felt the Dismemberment Plan was kind of awkward, and you kind of had to interface with it one on one. Like a weirdo that doesn’t do well in groups. A band like Arcade Fire, the more people standing there listening to it, the better they sound. But I feel like there’s something kind of just a little peculiar, and it goes over just a little bit better if you’re with it alone. I think that phenomenon with the internet really helped us when we first showed up. In the privacy of their own homes, people would listen to our music and say, “This is very eccentric and kinda goofy, and kind of embarrassing on some levels, and they’re putting it out there and I like that.” Before, it was just like, “This is not punk; we can’t work with this.:
What do you think of ‘Uncanney Valley’ in relationship to your earlier albums?
I think it’s more open, emotionally available. There was a huge amount of neurosis in the earlier Plan records. Neurosis is one of the great engines of art. It’s essential on some level. But maybe it was, not too neurotic, but really dined out on the topic of neurosis, of self-consideration. And it’s fine: You’re a 24-year-old, you’re too smart for your own good, guess what’s gonna happen? It’s less neurotic; it’s more about the real world. We were funny, and we were warm, and we weren’t inaccessible or closed off; usually, sometimes, we could be. Eventually artists have to learn to open up and either they’ll never be able to find inspiration in the real world or they will, but you got to because talking about yourself for 50 years is tough. You fall out of love with yourself. The old neurotic stuff is great, but it was time for us to do something a little less neurotic.
What is your ideal D-Plan scenario for the future?
Right now, we’re a little older. All that kind of happens is that you just want it to be interesting and exciting and have things come along that are really unusual and unexpected. There’s no real plan. The ideal thing is having the flexibility to do things that excite us and not do things that don’t excite us. Back in the day, we were on an eternal road trip with each other. And now we’re not. I would hope for the flexibility to do really exciting things and go home and take off the Plan hat and not do something for a little bit until the next exciting opportunity comes along.