Things to Do

After Hours Interview: Travis Morrison on Reuniting the Dismemberment Plan

Travis Morrison.

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.

So it wasn't too much of a surprise that when the Dismemberment Plan announced they were reuniting for two concerts at the Black Cat on April 27 and 28 to benefit Callum Robbins, the musical community in DC went slightly crazy. Tickets for each show sold out in a matter of minutes. 

Now, in advance of their concerts, Travis Morrison, former lead singer for popular DC band the Dismemberment Plan, spoke with me about the band's upcoming reunion shows, his solo work, and why the Wizards are just killing him this season. Read below for the full interview.

So when and how exactly did the Dismemberment Plan decide to reunite?

It was no one person that moved it ahead. Really, I think we all had the thought about it on our own and then there were some folks not in the band who came to some of us on our own and asked us if we thought we’d do it, and that all just kind of added up. This was about two months ago. I can’t say there was just one person or moment that moved it forward.

Would you ever have reunited down the road without the motivation of the Callum Robbins benefit? [Callum Robbins is the 1-year-old son of longtime local musicians J. Robbins and Janet Morgan. He was
born with a genetic motor neuron disease called Type 1 SMA, or Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which is currently incurable. Several musical benefits have been held to raise money for his treatment.]

When we broke up, we knew that we would want to do things like this some day. We knew we would want to play, and we said so at the time. We said that it could be down the line we would want to play local benefit shows. There’s a few groups much older than us who do that. The Slickee Boys do that—they were kind of DC’s first punk band, even before Minor Threat. They play once a year. I don’t think we’d play as often as once a year, but we knew that as long as health was willing and we still found the tunes interesting and worthy, that we’d want to do it. So it was just the right combo of factors, but those factors were factors that we had thought of when the band broke up.

How’s prep for the shows going?

We’re practicing about once a week. It’s going really great, feels good to be back together playing. We’ve all played with other folks in the past few years, we’ve stayed in music. So we all are more sensitive and more skilled and more varied musicians now, and it sounds like it. I think some of the songs have never been as expressive as they are now.

Are you at all nervous about the shows and how they’ll go?

The level of interest in the shows has been a little shocking. We knew they would sell out, but not in four minutes. Some of the things that have been going on—the auctions of tickets—have been kind of shocking. So, you know, it makes you want to not forget the lyrics when you get up there. But for the most part I’m just excited about it. I think it will be really, really fun.

There was some grumbling about the size of the Black Cat as a venue. Why didn’t you book a bigger venue for the reunion shows? Maybe the 9:30 Club?

I think it was a little bit of not knowing if the 9:30 was appropriate because it was bigger, and having no idea of what was coming. And also the Black Cat is more of the club of record for the DC scene. The 9:30 does what it can when it can, but they are much more committed to national touring acts. We’ve played the 9:30, it’s a beautiful club, it’s great, but they serve different masters. . . . But if we knew we could have sold 3 to 4000 tickets—I mean 1,500 tickets sold out in four minutes, so maybe we could have, we might have made a different decision or venue.

I mean, we just couldn’t have predicted it. You have to remember, when we existed as a band we never sold out a show before doors.

Really? Not even your last show?

Okay, maybe the final show. Generally we would sell out the Black Cat at doors. But really, we’re much bigger and more popular now after we broke up than ever before. I have no idea why. I could never begin to know why. All I know is that we very rarely sold shows out and we never sold them out in advance except for the last one. So this is completely unprecedented. I mean, it’s not like we thought all these people who were interested in us back in the day just went away—we just really didn’t used to have this many fans, I swear.

So what are you up to nowadays besides prepping for the shows? How’s the solo work going?

I finished a record, and I’m getting art done for it now. I will be doing some touring on that in the fall. Also I’m singing at the National Cathedral. But I’m not that good a sight-reader—I mean I’m good enough to hang with a pro choir, but not that good. I don’t get paid. I’m in the tenor section there, and hopefully—I’m working like the dickens at the sight-reading. Hopefully I can get good enough that I can get paid jobs at smaller churches.We practice Thursday night and do services weekly at 9 am. I’ve been doing that about a year and a half now. My girlfriend is an opera singer at the cathedral, and she’s a section leader there.

Any local acts you’re currently into? Have you been going to any shows?

I’m listening to the Aquarium a lot, Georgie James, Owls and Crows, who are playing with us. I like the Evens. There’s a band I like named Soccer Team on Dischord.

And I go to shows once in a while—three or five times a month. I saw Erase Errata at the Rock and Roll Hotel, a band named Fuddle at the Rock and Roll Hotel. I saw Jukebox the Ghost—they were really, really excellent, really good. I saw the Thermals, the Hold Steady—so yeah, I guess I go out to see shows.

You kind of do blog-like updates to your site every once in a while. Do you write often? Do you read any blogs?

I really like to write. I’ve been really irresponsible about updating my site, though. I mean, I’m in charge of ad scripts at the Washington Post site. But I never read anybody else’s blog. They’re like, “Read my blog! Read my blog!” But I can’t—I don’t have time. And you know what? People take that as a sign that you’re living like Howard Hughes, if you don’t read blogs. Sometimes I make a point of trying to write something involved for my web site, but I haven’t had time lately.

I read you’re a fan of local sports. What are you thinking about the Wizards and the Nats?

[Laughs.] The Wizards are killing me. They lost two all stars, so what can you do? They’re probably my favorite local team. They just had the most depressing game against the Bulls last night. They don’t even have Antonio Daniels right now, so what can they do. They are kind of stuck in the same rut. Even if they were healthy they probably wouldn’t have won the championship—they would have done the same kind of second-round thing.

The Nationals—I went to one game once. I don’t know what their plan is. I grew up cheering for the Orioles so intensely, but nowadays I don’t follow them either because I’m not such a Peter Angelos fan. Who is?

The DC Voting Rights March is taking place today [Monday]. What are your views on DC’s voting rights, or lack thereof?

Yeah, I wish I could make it down for the march. Obviously we should vote—it’s like the craziest thing ever that we don’t have representation, like we’re not even citizens. It’s so strange to me that it’s even that way. It’s like savage or something. I dunno. I have a good feeling that people are going to—I think this is the time. I think Americans are going to go for it. But then at the same time, how much can you expect somebody from Nebraska to care? They’re not gonna be like, let’s march in the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska, so DC people can vote! Hopefully—there’s been Democratic administrations before and nothing happened—but hopefully a Democratic presidency and Congress would get together and make it a priroty. I understand 250 years ago when DC was a couple of buildings in the middle of a swamp and they never anticipated that anybody would live there. But now it’s a different reality.