By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Revered '90s emo band the Dismemberment Plan has re-membered.
The quartet (singer Travis Morrison, guitarist Jason Caddell, bassist Eric Axelson and drummer Joe Easley) is back together for one more go-round, a tour celebrating a classy vinyl reissue of the band's best artistic achievement, 1999's "Emergency & I."
That does not mean they'll be playing the whole album in concert.
"I hate that! I hate that!" Morrison cries. "Who would want to see that? Who, who would want to see that? I don't want to go see a band play the album start-to-finish. What kind of parlor trick is that? Why not pay $30 to hear them play longest to shortest, or alphabetical, or group them by key? Part of the joy in seeing a band live is seeing all the places they've been over time all scrambled up. Hearing them young next to old — I love that. What they have to say now adjacent to what they were doing then. Any band that reads this that does that album-in-concert thing: I am no longer a fan!"
It's so like the Plan to tour behind an LP release of a 12-year-old album. Granted, it's a supreme package: four bonus tracks, color photos, new and in-depth liner notes, a gatefold, and the whole thing's pressed on 180-gram audio-nerd-grade vinyl. "Oh, yeah," Morrison says, "if it weren't for the vinyl, we wouldn't be doing this [tour]."
This was a band, after all, that practically skipped through its career as if everything was a lark, and then abruptly shut down eight years ago, eventually tossing out a belated retirement announcement. The band, Morrison insists, was always an excuse to travel the world (they just returned from another week playing in Japan). The lack of ambition created a more creative space in which they were able to spice their jagged post-punk with dub and dance without too much worry over commercial concerns. That lost them a record deal, of course, but it also then produced "Emergency & I."
In conversation, Morrison is easygoing and remarkably carefree, and here are his takes on a few salient points ...
On looking back over the band's catalog: "I think we're lucky. Yeah, lucky. Lucky that we wrote songs that don't totally embarrass us at this point in our life. I think [they have] emotional intent that we're comfortable with. I don't want to get too pompous about it. We wrote songs we can still relate to. Not all, some are really juvenile. The more emo ones from later on seem a little much to me. But for the most part there's a core of songs that we still feel good about playing, and that's what keeps us together when we come back together."
On vinyl and the reason for the tour: "We had always been longing to do vinyl, but vinyl was a dead medium for about 10 or 15 years. Then people started to bring it back to life. We always pined to do vinyl, always wanted to hear our music and I think just really hold a vinyl record with our music on it. It's such a great medium to hold and feel and lick, if that's the kind of person you are. It's beautiful. It flatters anything that's on it. The offers we got while the medium was on life support were not attractive; they needed money to pay for half the production, and it just never appealed. Then vinyl came back and we started talking to people and were suddenly able to consider things we'd never been able to before — gatefold, double vinyl, liner notes. Then we had this beautiful product [from Barsuk Records] that cost a lot of money. We owed it to the people paying for it to help them sell it. I mean, that's not the only reason we're playing shows. If shows felt like a root canal, we wouldn't have done it and would have scaled back the product. But it was easy to say, 'Of course,' if playing some shows gives us the opportunity to put this out."
On why the band ceased: "We weren't too keen on the songs we were writing. We could feel the call of real life at that point in each of our lives. One of the things I've been proudest of is that we made that decision. You know when a group of musicians is on fire? It's phenomenal: You walk in and leave with four incredible new riffs and grooves, and you come back the next day to work on those and come up with four new things. That's the head space bands should be in when they're writing. Some bands shoulder through because they're committed to the life choice and want to find their way over that hump and regain their creative chemistry, by hook or by crook. For us, it just felt like when that energy waned it was better to stop."
On the chance new music will be written: "Uuuhhhhhhhh ... no. [A beat.] No, no, no. I think we are enormously focused on playing the old stuff well. There's been none of that head space. If we were to enter that head space, we would all go for it. But we're not going to will it into being just to have a fifth thing to sell."
On his obsession with Gladys Knight: "She's a very emotionally intelligent singer. I just think she's great. I always learn so much from her. Those songs are really smart, yet they don't sacrifice emotional resonance. People who think analysis has no place in art, especially rock 'n' roll, that the conscious mind has no place in rock — you want both. You want the feeling and the analysis. It's a challenge to make art that has analysis but also a visceral thrill. So many of her songs are these incredible, intelligent analysis of human relationships. Not many people have that going on. It's more common in country. She's really a country singer. For that reason, I've always locked onto her heart."
THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN
with JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound and Kid You'll Move Mountains (Feb. 19); Maritime and the Forms (Feb. 20)
♦ 9 p.m. Feb. 19, 7 p.m. 20
♦ Metro, 3730 N. Clark
♦ Sold out
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.