The DC musical community was just a little bit heartbroken when the Dismemberment Plan
broke up back in 2003. A predecessor to the dance-rock movement, the Plan played together for 10 years and had an extremely loyal fan base in DC and throughout the country. Though they reunited briefly for two reunion shows at the Black Cat back in 2007, they've kept their separate ways—and Travis Morrison, former frontman of the band, continues his solo work with his group, Travis Morrison and the Hellfighters. Though Morrison has since moved to Brooklyn, he's very much a Washingtonian at heart, having grown up in the area and lived here most of his life. He'll be back in the city this Saturday, May 3 at the Black Cat for a show. In the meantime, ask him anything you want—about that Pitchfork review, about his new album, and why the heck he'd leave DC for NYC. That's all the time Travis Morrison has for us today. Thanks for all the questions, and thanks to Travis for chatting!
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Am I crazy or was there a bit more than a little go-go influencing "All Y'all"?
Yeah, there is a little go go in there... I like Santana and latin music too, and soul like Curtis Mayfield... Curtis Mayfield's gtr-bass-drums-congas lineup was on my mind a lot.
Who's influencing you these days musically?
influences--I just like stuff that gets me going and is really daring... the new Mars Volta, MIA, and Dirty Projectors are all very challenging and exciting to me.
I know you used to work at washingtonpost.com, but you moved to Brooklyn. Did you find another job up there, or is it music all the time now?
I still work for WPNI from Brooklyn--I am down in DC once a week.
What do you miss most about DC?
What I miss most about DC--I am looking out over Arlington and I really miss the nature, the green stuff.
Are the dynamics between you and your current band any different than they were with the members of the Dismemberment Plan?
in terms of band dynamics--there is some stuff that is different, some that are the same. I've never been Mr. Write The Songs, really, I'm a pretty collaborative musician--but this time it is my name on it, so I am more responsible. For extra-musical stuff more really--like, do we have strings and picks before leaving for tour?
But in this band, like in the Plan, the goal is to collaborate to find something exciting that gets under our skin--that's the same.
Do you read reviews and articles written about you? If so, does that have any effect on you?
No, I really don't read stuff about me. I just get bored, it's not like a fear-of-the-mirror thing... more like, there's other things I'd like to read. And also, unfortunately, it's very rare that stuff is written that I can actually use as constructive criticism. Not that it hasn't happened. It's just so rare it's not worth wading through it.
Working on any new music lately?
Definitely working on new music... I think the next Hellfighters record will be something else...
I know it might be old news (and you might be tired of answering this question), but I've got to know: Why did the D-plan decide to call it quits?
The Plan broke up because it had been ten years and some of the guys just weren't all that into playing in a band. It just wasn't their thing. And if everyone isn't into doing something that is a collective thing, that can be hard after a while. I'm really proud of us for dealing with that with as much dignity as we did. I see other bands that have broken up because of divergent life desires and instincts, and the way that they are resentful with each other afterwards is awful. It's like, what can you do? You have to let people go the way they want to go.
Dear Trav, as someone who's previously proven themselves capable of producing obscure and interesting artwork (see "Screaming Orange Robot Shape Thing" on Emergency & I) what made you decide to outsource for the All Y'All sleeve? Also where did the Hellfighters portion of the band name come from? Vince
Hellfighters are actually the name of the all-black regiment that played jazz in WWII. Look em up, it's a really interesting story. As for the art... Actually, this is the first album art anyone has complimented me on! I never felt like the stuff I did before was really very good, and I saw some of Jewboy's stuff and I really liked it.
Hey Travis, I'm assuming you still have a "day time" job. What's it like juggling that and your musical career?
Actually, there are really cool things about having a day job. When you like it and it's exciting, which mine is. Playing music all day every day is wonderful, but it can kind of become a black hole of inspiration and ideas--all you're doing it siting around playing guitar all day.
Do you hold any bad feelings towards Pitchfork?
As for Pitchfork... they're critics, and critics can be really brutal. That's how it's always been. The early Plan records would get hostile stuff written about us all the time. What stuck with me about the whole experience, though, was the importance of Pitchfork to its readers--I was stunned at how many people just kind of go by what they say. It was really disheartening. But I think in the long run it was good for me. I had a lot of experiences I never would have had, had I been able to just kind of tour and make money on hipster approval. I would never have joined a church choir... so then I would never have learned to sight read...
Travis, what's your favorite bar in the city?
Favorite bar... I really like Wonderland, the Black Cat, Galaxy Hut, and I loved Stoney's at its old location. The new one is fine, I'm glad they're making serious money, but the old one was so quiet and mellow.
Any surprises in store for your homecoming show at the Black Cat?
Surprises? Hmm. A few covers, how about that?
Can you please pass around another porn cake at your show this Saturday? Also, how did you get on the bill with Jukebox and XYZ Affair? You all seem relatively different, musically.
God another porn cake... every show should have a porn cake... As for the show, I just basically begged and whined.
I think it was a guy from Q and NOt U (maybe?) who wrote an article for the post about when he was moving, his list of all the things he wanted to do before he left DC. Did you have a similar list? What would be on it?
Yah Chris did write that... ah, Ethiopian food, long runs on the GW Parkway, Murky Coffee...plants... they aren't so into plants in NYC...sunny humid warm springs...
I am admitting to following you on Twitter. Lookiing at your web site I see all your bandmates use it. Why'd you decide to start twittering?
The twitter stuff was just kind of a moment of mad inspiration while bored in the van. We really have all stuck with it, it's funny. My fiance gets annoyed when someone says something and I reach for my cellphone to twitter a quote. My website has been such crap for a few years now but that's the first salvo in all kinda weird new features.
Ben G from Death Cab often talks about how glad he is that his band broke through before the internet became such a massive tool for musicians. Do you think things would have gone differently for The Plan if things like myspace had been at your disposal? Also have you played Grand Theft Auto 4 yet? B
Aye I saw that Ben quote from that article... he also quotes Mike Watt to the effect that you can't blame people for not being born at the same time. I mean, I actually was able to make a living doing what I did for a bit: Brainiac and Trenchmouth barely had fans AT ALL, and they were so important in my life. So I mean, we had our share. Also, I feel like consensus and the collective is so important now, and we were such misfits... we might have annoyed everyone.
Do you keep in touch with the guys from the Dismemberment Plan? What are they up to?
I do keep in touch with the plan guys. Joe and Eric play in Statehood; Joe is an aerospace engineer and Eric is a schoolteacher: Jason is doing live sound and production.
What's with the album title? "All Y'all"?
I dunno, the album title just came to me. And no one had used it, which blew my mind.
Have your musical influences/inspirations changed with the change of location and band or do you still draw from basically the same sources?
I think NYC has definitely energized me. I mean, it's pretty crazy. Musical inspirations are important but you can't escape the influence of just where you are, the sound and pace of real life.
Can you please explain the difference between a conga and a bongo? I think people need to know.
Congas are played by bald Cubans that wear shades and boas. Bongos are for everyone. Twitter that.
What's that one album you keep returning to over and over again. The one you can't get out of your system?
The record I've had the longest continuous relationship with is "Sketches of Spain" by Miles Davis. I glommed onto that when I was like 11. Weird for an 11 year old... after that it's probably "Remain In Light" by the Talking Heads or "3 Feet High And Rising" by De La Soul.
Can you tell us a bit more about the next album with the Hellfighters? You've gotten me all excited!
The new one is crazy. It's like, all this ambitious two-guitar art-punk stuff combined with polyrythmic stuff, like Television crossed with Tito Puente or something... and the lyrics I love so far, it's all about money and class.
Did a fan ever get a little too out of control during the whole "dancing on stage" part of the shows? We want stories!
Haha yeah sometimes... I wasn't really psyched about having girlfriends watch as someone grabbed my ass during "The Ice Of Boston"... but let's be honest, it wasn't usually girls, it was geeky boys molesting me.