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The Dismemberment Plan: Back In Business

The Washington, D.C.-based indie-rock band The Dismemberment Plan released four albums and toured the world, including an opening stint with Pearl Jam. By 2000, its members had quit their day jobs to keep up with their dedicated following on tour.

But in 2003, 10 years after forming, The Dismemberment Plan broke up, and its members drifted back into the workaday world. Drummer Joe Easley became an engineer at NASA, bassist Eric Axelson works with Rock the Vote's high-school civics program, singer Travis Morrison has a job at The Huffington Post, and guitarist Jason Caddell does freelance audio work.

But it appears that civilian life was too tame. The Dismemberment Plan has reunited with a small number of sold-out tour dates in D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and New York City.

"We still like each other, and we still like the songs, and we still like to play music," Morrison says of the band's decision to reunite.

Below: Watch two videos from a reunited Dismemberment Plan's recent appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

In an interview with Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen, Caddell says revisiting these old songs has reminded him of his old guitar style.

"There are a thousand little details that you don't ever notice about your playing and your communication until you've been away from them for a long time," Caddell says. "To hear us play now — and we've been using the record as a reference — compared to then, it is a pretty astounding difference. I do feel like my priorities as a musician are so much different than they were then."

The band also just reissued its most popular album, Emergency & I, on vinyl.

"Records do sound different than CDs, but frankly, I don't think any of us are sitting at home in our cardigans with our pipes in front of the hi-fi," Caddell says, laughing. "There's so much about vinyl records that's more than it happens to be an analog sine wave as opposed to a bunch of bits in a row. There is that echo — 'This is what music used to be' — that I think is emotionally resonant with some people."

So no more jewel cases, then?

"You're pushing on these little plastic things in the middle with your thumb to make it pop out," Morrison says. "You might crack the CD. It's a hard, shiny, plastic, unpleasant, unhappy little medium."

Finding The Eternal Groove

There are so many moving parts in any Dismemberment Plan song — bits of punk, hip-hop and R&B. How does a song like Emergency & I's "Back and Forth" go from inception to creation?

"It's a miracle," Morrison says, laughing.

Morrison says the verse structure in "Back and Forth" is based on "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" by Bob Dylan.

"The chorus — I was walking to work and I started singing it to myself," Morrison says. "And it was almost like I had this feeling of a song, but I didn't know how it sounded. I didn't know what it was. Then I went to work. Then we had rehearsal that day. I walked in, and Eric [Axelson] and Joe [Easley] were playing the groove. It was almost like walking into a space where they had been playing it for all eternity. And I was like, 'That's the song I was writing.' "

Morrison says he may come up with an idea at home, but when the band gets together, it all gets thrown out the window in the name of "collective creation."

"We still are four nerds that love music and love to bounce it off each other," Caddell says.

On The Cusp Of Club Life

At the time in 2003, it seemed like The Dismemberment Plan was going to finally break out, which is why the breakup seemed surprising.

"The truth of the matter is that we had been doing it for 10 years, and it's a lot of work," Caddell says.

"I don't think we were on the cusp," Morrison says. "I think we were on the cusp of being a club-lifer band. Sometimes in the last seven years, I would look at peers who were maintaining, and I would feel some pining for it. But now, I feel like I took my medicine in terms of life, and now this is just incredibly fun."

When the band members returned to the working world, they didn't come back to standing ovations every time they did something well. But Morrison says band life is harder anyway.

"I've never had co-workers that rode me as hard as my bandmates," Morrison says, laughing. "Everything that I've had to deal with in business — I'm in computer programming for advertising, which is hectic and insane and the clients freaking out. You know what? I was in a van driving 25 hours overnight to get from Seattle to Fargo to open up for Veruca Salt, so you can't tell me nothing."

For Caddell, the transition was solidified by the band's achievements.

"By the time 2003 rolled around, I think what I personally needed was a direct feedback loop of accomplishment," Caddell says. "There's a far distance — between standing on stage and reading record reviews and having people buy your music — there's a big difference between that and directly knowing that you've done a good job, you've achieved something, and that your bank account is starting to get out of the emergency zone. Those things are hugely important.

"It's extraordinarily ironic, because people who haven't done it think, 'Oh, you must feel so fulfilled and lauded,' " he adds. "On the one hand, I do feel very much like we've — and not to get crazy about it — but we've done good things in the world, the four of us. I think we have that as an achievement. Now, it's time to do the next thing."

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Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Back in the day - say, 1993 - there was an indie band from D.C. called the Dismemberment Plan. As the decade progressed, so did they: selling out shows, putting out CDs, touring the world with Pearl Jam. By the year 2000, they had quit their day jobs. It's not that they were making a ton of money, but because they were on tour so often. The band had a less-than-huge but very dedicated following.

In September 2003, the Dismemberment Plan broke up. The band members drifted back into the workaday world. Drummer Joe Easley became an engineer at NASA, working on robotics; bassist Eric Axelson works with Rock the Vote's high school civics program; singer Travis Morrison has a job at the Huffington Post; and guitarist Jason Caddell does freelance audio work.

But civilian life, it appears, was too tame for these guys. The Dismemberment Plan reunited; is heading back on the road; and has just reissued its most popular album, called "Emergency & I."

(Soundbite of song, "The City")

THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: (Singing) Well, now, I notice the street lamp's hum, the ghosts of graffiti, they couldn't quite erase. The blank face stares on the subway as people go home. The parks lay empty like my unmade bed, the streets are silent like my lifeless telephone, and this is where I live but it never felt less at home...

HANSEN: That's "The City," from the Dismemberment Plan's newly remastered recording from 1999, "Emergency & I." Two of the band members are in our D.C. studio. First, singer Travis Morrison, welcome to the program.

Mr. TRAVIS MORRISON (Singer, The Dismemberment Plan): Hello.

HANSEN: And guitarist Jason Caddell, thank you for coming in.

Mr. JASON CADDELL (Guitarist, The Dismemberment Plan): Oh, of course.

HANSEN: Now, I didn't know about your band and your music before I heard about your reunion, so I listened to this new version of "Emergency & I." And I really had some head-banging fun with it.

Mr. MORRISON: You've got to be careful when you do that.

HANSEN: I do, especially when I'm driving. Why did you decide to get back together? Let me start with Travis.

Mr. MORRISON: Well, we re-released "Emergency & I" on vinyl, and we wanted people to know about it. And we still like each other and we still like the songs, and we still like to play music.

HANSEN: And you have already sold out shows in D.C., Philly, Boston and New York. Travis, did you expect that kind of welcome back?

Mr. MORRISON: No, no. I'm always convinced that there'll be 15 people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRISON: I don't think we ever sold out a show ahead of time when we were a band from the start to the finish, until the very last show in Washington.

HANSEN: Yeah. And I would bet that your fans who are attending these shows will insist you play some of your popular blasts from the past. We want to hear one now. This is a tune called "What Do You Want Me to Say."

(Soundbite of song, "What Do You Want Me to Say")

THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: (Singing) I lost my membership card to the human race, so don't forget the face, because I know that I do belong here. Go down the checklist; let's see. Feelings are good, dishonesty is bad, and keeping it inside is worse still...

HANSEN: Jason, what are your thoughts on revisiting these songs as a guitarist?

Mr. CADDELL: It's amazing to me - kind of the size of the universe between just walking back in the room after seven years off, and where we were when we stopped. There are a thousand little details that you don't ever notice about your playing, and about your communication, until you've been away from them for a long time. And so to hear us play now and, you know, we've been using the record sometimes as reference, compared to then it is a pretty astounding difference.

But I do feel like my priorities as a musician are so much different than they were then.

HANSEN: Sure. I want to go back to the fact that you are releasing this on vinyl. Is it because of the sound that you get on a record, or is it just a nostalgia? 'Cause it seems to go both ways with vinyl that's being released now.

Mr. CADDELL: Records do sound different than CDs but frankly, I don't think any of us are like, sitting at home in our cardigans with our pipes, in front of the hi-fi, you know, kind of deal. And I think, you know, there's so much about vinyl records that's more than just the fact that it happens to be an analog sine wave as opposed to a bunch of bits in a row. I mean, it's much bigger art. We can do some really wonderful things with the packaging.

And there is, you know, there is that echo - that sort of nostalgic, this is what music used to be, that I think is emotionally resonant with some people.

Mr. MORRISON: It's a storage medium that has a potential to be beautiful in a way that the CD does not. After years of these jewel cases, you're pushing on these little plastic things in the middle with your thumb to make it - to pop out.

HANSEN: That's if you can get the jewel case open.

Mr. MORRISON: If you can get the jewel case open, and you might crack the CD. And it's a hard, shiny, plastic, unpleasant, unhappy little medium.

HANSEN: How about the tune "Back and Forth"? I mean, the lyrics begin: There's a kind of music that reminds me of you. It's all clear, expensive drinks and shiny shirts, and the click of heels as they descend from the taxi like the first foot on the moon. Oh, and it glows with ache and if it hits me right, it's almost too much to take. I mean, that is some imagery. It's kind of - there's a "Sex and the City" moment there, where...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRISON: Clearly, the intent.

HANSEN: Surely. Let's hear some more of the tune.

(Soundbite of song, "Back and Forth")

THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: (Singing) There's a kind of music that reminds me of you. It's all clear, expensive drinks and shiny shirts and the click of heels as they descend from the taxi like the first foot on the moon. Oh, and it glows with ache. And if it hits me right, it's almost too much to take.

HANSEN: I'm speaking with two members of the band the Dismemberment Plan - they have reunited - singer Travis Morrison and guitarist Jason Caddell.

Again, you've got that driving beat, that rolling beat behind it, and the guitar and the lyrics, obviously - almost too much to take in on a first hearing. There are so many moving parts in your music. You know, you do the punk stuff, you do kind of the hip-hop stuff, the rock, the R&B. How, in theory, does a song get from notes on a napkin to a full-blown performance?

Mr. MORRISON: It's a miracle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRISON: It's a miracle. I mean, I think just raw effort. I mean, the story of "Back and Forth" is, from my angle, is pretty great, which is that the verses are just based on "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" by Dylan. Their structures are completely the same, yeah. Not maybe emotional intent.

But the chorus, I was walking to work and I started singing it to myself, and it was almost like I had like, this feeling of a song.

(Soundbite of song, "Back and Forth")

THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: (Singing) Back and forth and back...

Mr. MORRISON: But I didn't know how it sounded. I didn't know what it was. But I was kind of singing like, (Singing) somebody scream, all right - and then I went to work. Then we had rehearsal that day and I walked in, and Eric and Joe were playing the groove. I walked in, and it was almost like walking into a space where they had been playing it for all eternity. It was just boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. And I was like, that's the song I was writing.

So as a lyricist, I might have a concept, and I might have even mocked something up at home that I stubbornly thought was how the song was supposed to go. But all that would go out the window when we would all get together, and there would be collective creation happening. And then you would just look for juxtapositions between those concepts, and between the raw interaction that was going on between the musicians.

Mr. CADDELL: I mean, it's still exactly the same. Like, the four of us get in a room together and like, we still are four nerds that love music, and love to sort of bounce it off each other.

(Soundbite of song, "You Are Invited")

THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: (Singing) I got it in the mail one morning, there was no return address, just my name in gold leaf on the front...

HANSEN: Your tune "You Are Invited" tells the tale of an anonymous invitation that comes in the mail. Was this for all the kids out there who never fit in, never got invited anywhere - and was that both of you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CADDELL: You get older and I think you get more comfortable in your place in the world. I think when you're 24, you're kind of auto-yearning - or you feel auto-left out, you know what I mean? Like, it's just in you and then you get older and you get incredibly nostalgic for that time in your life and that place in the world. It's just, you can't win.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Why did you guys break up in 2003? I mean, you were on, it seems, the cusp of hitting the...

Mr. MORRISON: We weren't.

HANSEN: You weren't. What do you mean, you weren't?

Mr. MORRISON: Everybody says that, yeah.

Mr. CADDELL: I mean, there's absolutely, positively no way to tell what would have happened if we had been at it for a while longer. But the truth of the matter is, we had been doing it for 10 years - and it's a lot of work.

Mr. CADDELL: Yeah, absolutely.

Mr. MORRISON: I was like...

Mr. CADDELL: I'll tell you what, I don't think we were on the cusp. I think we were on the cusp of being a club lifer band. And sometimes over the last seven years, I would look at peers who were kind of maintaining, and I would feel some pining for it. I would feel some pangs of like, the road not taken. But now, I feel like I took my medicine in terms of life and now, this is just incredibly fun.

HANSEN: When you returned to a working life, you don't work for people who give you standing ovations every time you've done something well. Was that a hard adjustment to make?

Mr. MORRISON: Actually, I'll tell you what, I've never had co-workers that rode me as hard as my bandmates.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRISON: Everything I've had to deal with in business - and I'm in computer programming for advertising, which is like, hectic and insane and the client's freaking out - I hear that 17 times a day. I'm like, you know what, I was in a band driving 25 hours overnight to get from Seattle to Fargo, to open up for Veruca Salt. So you can't tell me nothing.

Mr. CADDELL: And I'll tell you what, the thing about it for me is like, by the time that 2003 rolled around, I think what I personally needed very much was a - kind of a direct feedback loop of accomplishment. Because there's a far distance between standing on stage and reading record reviews, and having people buy your music. There's a big difference between that and directly knowing that you've done a good job and you've achieved something and, you know, your bank account is starting to get out of the emergency zone. Those things are hugely important.

Mr. MORRISON: And it's extraordinarily ironic because people that have never done it think, oh, you must feel so fulfilled and so lauded. And on the one hand, I do very much feel like we've - and not to get crazy about it - but we've done good things in the world, the four of us. And I think we have that as an achievement. Now, it's time to do the next thing.

HANSEN: Jason Caddell and Travis Morrison of the newly reconstituted band the Dismemberment Plan. Their reissued record - yes, vinyl record - is called "Emergency & I." Thank you both for coming in.

Mr. MORRISON: Thank you.

Mr. CADDELL: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: "Spider in the Snow," from the Dismemberment Plan's album "Emergency & I."

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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