The D.C. legends unite for an album and tour. Travis Morrison explains, in a fashion.
BY ROBERT FULTON
According to Wikipedia, an uncanny valley “is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.” Simply put, R2-D2 and WALL-E are cute. That life-like Japanese android that mimics your movements is totally creepy.
This has little to do with the Dismemberment Plan, the indie rock band that recently reformed and released its first album in 12 years. The title of the new album? Uncanney Valley, though it has no relation with robots, and is in fact misspelled.
Dismemberment Plan formed in Washington, D.C. in 1993, and after four albums, called it quits in 2003. D-Plan – Travis Morrison (vocals and guitar), guitarist Jason Caddell, drummer Joe Easley, bassist Eric Axelson – achieved only moderate success, but are beloved in their hometown. The band regrouped for a handful of shows in support of the re-release of their album Emergency & I in 2011. That led to more shows, their first album of new material in more than a decade, and a short tour that that includes dates on the coasts.
Travis Morrison spoke with BLURT from his home in Brooklyn about getting back together, Gallaudet students, and naming their latest album after a hypothesis in human aesthetics.
BLURT: Uncanney Valley, did you intend to name it after that hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics?
TRAVIS MORRISON: Yeah, it does come from that.
Why, what inspired that?
I don’t know. I think we just liked the sound of it.
No underlying message?
No, I don’t think so.
Did you know you misspelled uncanny?
Yes, that was intentional.
Why was that? To throw people off?
I just think we liked how it looked.
Tell me about the recording process. How long did it take and where did you record?
It took us about a year to write it. And then it took us a week to record the basic tracks, and then three weeks of intermittent overdubs for little details and fixes. And then it took about two weeks to mix.
The writing of the album, what were some of the influences that went into writing it?
My real life. Songs I like.
This is the band’s first album in more than a decade. What was it like to record together again?
Great. I love the guys. I love how they play. Always have. And I like the songs, so it was really fun.
Was it easy to get back into the rhythm with everybody, or was it kind of strange at first?
I think it was great. We made the record because while we were practicing for reunion shows we started to jam, and we really liked to jam, so when the shows were over, we decided to get together and just jam with no playing of old songs. So by the time we decided to actually start a fully creative process, we were jamming, and we liked how the jamming felt. So we did not decide to make a record and then get together for the first time and say ok, here we are. We had already started to play, and were enjoying playing, and the reasons for making the record followed from the enjoyment of the playing and not vice versa.
What inspired you to get back together two years ago?
We put out a vinyl re-release of one of our records. The label that did it asked us to play some promotional shows, and we said yes.
Tell me about the story behind the video for “Waiting.”
That was my idea. I used to hang out at a bar in D.C. where deaf kids from Gallaudet college used to hang out, and being around them as they got drunk and they hooked up and they fought and they hung out with fiends, really made an impression on me. The ways that they communicated is so different. In a lot of ways people communicate primarily through sound. In the bar, the communication was very clear to them because bars are loud, but they can’t hear it. So a lot of the struggles that people that hear have in bars they don’t have. I found that very—I wish I could do that. It wasn’t an intellectual process, but I think remembering how they communicated in a bar, sometimes very angrily, remembering how they were communicating, and I think the subject of the song came together. It just popped into my head in some kind of Eureka moment.
I read in some press release that the band is not burdened by expectations. What are your expectations with this album and with these shows coming up?
None. I just really like doing it, and I love to perform. I love to go up on stage and perform. I really like attention. I like people to look at me.
I’m looking forward to it. No expectations, just excitement. I just like to be engaged in it. It’s fun for me.
Is this a one time thing? Is this temporary, or is the band back together for the long haul?
I have no idea. We’re not thinking about it at all right now. We’re just enjoying the moment as it is. We have not talked about whether or not we want to do another record, write another song. I think it would just have to be if it sounds like an enjoyable thing to do. That’s just the place where we are in our lives now. It’s not about getting back together or breaking up. We’re not going out any more like we were going out when we were 23 years old. It’s now just to create a project to create a project.
Will you add any more dates?
I hope so. I think that’s being discussed for the spring or the summer. It’s tough. We’ve all got busy lives.
You live in New York. Do the rest of the band members live in D.C.?
One guy lives in Richmond, I live in New York, and two still live in Washington. I like to joke that we average out to Baltimore currently.
That’s not bad.
Baltimore’s a cool town now these days. Baltimore’s where the action is.
Being separated by a few hundred miles, what are the challenges?
We can’t get together any time we want. We have to schedule well in advanced. But even that proves to have benefits because you come into practice focused. I like that.
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez