Dismemberment Plan terrifies Philadelphia’s South Street



Jean Ellen Gismervik

There was more to D.C.’s The Dismemberment Plan than just being able to rock like a heart murmur on speed and crack mind — numbing jokes between songs at South Street’s TLA last Friday. In fact I was treated to an arsenal of accents and even an exchange in Japanese when sitting down with lead singer Travis before he joined his bandmates on stage. After over an hour of tape I have only one thing to say — if rock is looking for a voice, look no further, because the only thing that comes close to listening to The Plan play is to hear them talk.

Jean: How do you feel about the relationship between rock and politics?

Travis: Not great. Lately I’ve really felt not great about it. I think rock is good for expressing. I think rock is a narcissistic art form and that’s not always a bad thing. I think back in the ’60s there was the statement of “Hell no, we won’t go,” and you can see that as a selfish statement, but it was also a valid one. “Hell no, we won’t go,” in 1942—you’d be ashamed of your Grandad. “You deserted in WWII? I thought you were the greatest generation, what happened?” That kind of spirit would have been really ugly at a time like that. So I think yeah, rock is a very narcissistic language. It’s about inner refraction, inner truth. There are times like the ’60s when society went through an incredible upheaval and had a new-found respect for the inner life. I think that has had good and bad effects. That it was valid. There are times when politics requires a respect for the art of the possible, and respect for what people want, and knowledge of history and historical antecedents, and generally your average punk rocker knows [nothing] about history. (Laughs) It’s just true. They don’t know anything about history and, more importantly, they don’t want to find out. They want to go somewhere where they feel like they’re in their tribe. They’re not enormously self-challenging people, and especially with indie rock where it’s mostly people trying to find a subculture to be in. Subcultures tend not to be places of intellectual ambition, they tend to be places of shelters mostly because of insecurity or a feeling like you don’t belong in the outside world.

So I guess what I’m kind of getting at is what our burning social issues right now require. I pretty much think that rock is not equipped to address the things we need to think about right now. I wouldn’t want to say that music isn’t equipped, but I really don’t want to hear rock musicians’ opinions about what is happening in the Middle East because they just don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Jean: You have some of the best-written lyrics in rock today. Do you ever use this talent in other genres?

Travis: “I don’t really see the [connection]. Song writing is a particular craft. I am not saying that just because I write lyrics means that I should write poetry, and particularly it doesn’t mean I should write a book. They are very, very different crafts, and I tend to find people who are really concerned with the literacy of their lyrics quite frankly [are bad]. Lyrics are kind of like what poetry used to be when it was “Beowulf,” which was all history and it was very much about the sound. Reading “Beowulf” is very strange. It’s like reading a screenplay. When you read a screenplay, it’s like “Well I like ‘The Godfather,’ but this is boring!” Or reading a play, like “I saw ‘The Dollhouse’ and I loved it but I want to go to bed. I hate this!” God forbid you actually try to read “Waiting for Godot.” Why would you do that that? Why would you sit there and try to read “Waiting for Godot.” It’s like “Yep, still there!” It’s meant to be spoken in scenes; lyrics are meant to be sung and heard. And to me, a Little Richard lyric, “A wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom,” that’s perfect lyrics — that’s exactly how the song should go. To be like, “Well, I was really inspired by the fiction of Cormick McCarthy for this song,” — lyrics can have an intellectual quality and have a lot of subtextual meaning. They go as far and as thin as you want, and they can go “A wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom, ” but I don’t necessarily think it means you could write a good book — and this is my point — that I really don’t think that it is writing. I think it is more of a verbal craft that involves words such as writing a play or writing a screenplay.

Jean: What is the best compliment you’ve ever gotten?

Travis: “You guys were pretty good tonight!”

Actually you know when it’s from someone I really respect who sees something that I didn’t think anyone saw. You know what I tend to respond to more, when “Change” came out — this was actually something that I took to as a sign that I wasn’t completely incompetent — when we made “Change” we knew it was going to be a very opaque document. We had, like, three albums that were, like, super catchy punchy, big chorus can’t-escape-the-Pixies songs and we were like, “Ok the Pixies were great,” — and if you listen to the radio and even if you never heard the Pixies, the way that Linkin Park writes a song was invented by the Pixies. They’re so influential you don’t have to hear them to be influenced by them — like the Beatles — so we wanted to get away from that. “Emergency and I” was a very like “I’m-24-and-this-all-sucks-college-was-more-fun kind of record.” And that’s also valid, but I could not make another one of them. I pretty much maxed out my early-adulthood-is-tough credit card.

So we decided to make this more opaque document and what really made me happy was when certain reviewers weren’t very happy about the direction that we took and they saw exactly what we were doing and said, “I don’t like it.” And that made me happy because I knew that when you do these things you have to toughen up a little bit and not attach yourself to it personally. You just have to let it happen. And it may kind of [be bad], you don’t know, but you just have to complete the mission, take accountability for it and make another record and move on. I knew the kind of critiques that we would get if we would change what we were shooting for and when I saw those kind of critiques I was like, “Good news! They disliked it exactly how I hoped they would dislike it!” (Laughs) And that made me feel really good about my craft.

Jean: You’ve posted some new tracks on the website. What can you tell me about the new sound?

Travis: It’s faster; a lot of samples. Sonically, I think it takes a lot of leaps from the song “The Plan Gets Rich.” So it’s pretty antic. We made “Dismemberment Plan is Terrified” as this maniacal record and then we chilled and then we really showed a lot more; I don’t really want to be Bedhead. We should make something a little spazzy and fun again, but I like Bedhead. The lyrics aren’t political but they touch on social themes and historical themes. I was listening to a lot of The Band. I love The Band — Robbie Robertson. And then when I was a little kid I watched “The Last Waltz” with my dad and thought, “Man that guy’s cool. He’s the coolest white person I’ve ever seen!” He’s incredibly intelligent. He’s a serious jiver. He’s like a reptile. I just really responded to how on one level he’s really analytically keen and on another level really kind of slimy. Yeah, Robbie Robertson was really, really impressionable on me as a kid. I really went back to a lot of their records a lot of their historical stuff like ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” That was written by a Canadian Jew — but hey, whatever it takes.”