Since 2003, Washington D.C. indie-rock band the Dismemberment Plan have been rather on-again-off again. On, in the sense that they still get together and play shows, but off in the sense that they haven’t recorded a new album since 2001′s Change. But change is indeed in the air, as the band began dropping new songs like “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer” and this untitled number into their sets, and Morrison confirmed last week on Twitter that they were preparing a new album. Hive checked in with Morrison this week to find out how the new record was coming along. Though he was cagey on song and album titles, we did learn what’s in store for the band’s first album in over 10 years.
How’s the new album coming along?
It’s very exciting. [We've got] about eight songs done. Or, at least, we have eight songs that can be played live and have full lyrics. Of course, things are subject to change with them. I’m very excited about it.
What do the new songs sound like?
It’s very high-spirited. Our most high-spirited record is our second record [The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified], I would say. It’s very high-spirited and bright, and kind of deals with topics that are a little more adult, I guess – but not intentionally so. It reflects the changes in our lives, and all of that. Hopefully it doesn’t do it in a way that makes it sound like a fuddy-duddy. Maybe that’s the bucket we’re going to end up in — the fuddy-duddy bucket… [Laughs.] But there are examples, like Cosmic Thing by the B-52s, or Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, or Graceland by Paul Simon, where they were able to make a record that expressed the spiritual pleasures of growing up without sounding corny, or too on-the-money, or dad-like. So that’s what we’re shooting for. It’s hard! [Laughs.]
Do you think about the legacy of the Dismemberment Plan when you’re recording now?
No. Not so much. I think that what helps with that is that we’re all still really fond of each other, and we’re all still friends. It’s such an enormous blessing because a lot of bands, even if they don’t hate each other – or are suing each other! A lot of bands end up suing each other, it’s really sad. Suing someone for a hundred million dollars, or suing someone for $90,000 – someone you used to be friends with, it’s just depressing. But not only is it just that we get along, we’re all still friends. It’s different now than it used to be, but we all still have a good time hanging out. We all still have a lot of things in common. And that helps for us to give a sense of now-ness. We were just in Baltimore playing Virgin Fest, watching video from the Skrillex set, which had the most insane light show. We’re still buddies who are getting off on things we’re seeing in the culture. The bottom line is we’re all still passionate about art, and that goes a long way toward creating a new context for us as players. It’s not like we’re strangers to each other who have this brand. For us, it feels fresh because we’re still friends and we’re still hearing what’s going on.
“The new stuff is very straightforward and very musical, and that was not in our toolbox before. It’s kind of like a tree growing another major branch. It’s still the same tree, and it’s not better or worse, but it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah – this is growth.’”
You’ve been playing some of these new songs live. What’s that like for you?
It’s great. I love it. I think they sound great. They’re really exciting. I remember at the first show, going into the first new song and being really scared. But actually they’ve been received really well, I’ve found that they sound great, and there’s a lot of things that we can do that we couldn’t do back then. For me, now, the show is the number one thing, and we need this or that kind of song to fill in that kind of emotional gap that we don’t really express, and I’ve found that the new stuff is making the shows better. One of the nice things about the band is that we went through a couple of different phases as it was, and our shows are kind of great, because there’s the really early, scrappy stuff, and then Change was this prog/goth/emo thing, and Emergency & I is really tricky, tight songs. The new stuff is very straightforward and very musical, and that was not in our toolbox before. It’s kind of like a tree growing another major branch. It’s still the same tree, and it’s not better or worse, but it’s like, “Oh, yeah – this is growth.” And it makes the show better in that way. But I can’t lie. The first show, I was scared as shit. [Laughs.]
Were you surprised that people were getting into the new songs, given that it’s not usually the top on people’s lists for a reunion show?
[Laughs.] You just don’t know. It’s tricky with art. You have to have some idea of exactly what you want, and then it surprises you and makes you feel good every time. It’s very easy to lie to yourself. But on one level you have to make sure that it’s resonating with your self-conscious, and then you have to pray and hope that it does the same for other people. So it’s almost like a trapdoor from your subconscious to their subconscious. And that doesn’t always happen. You can’t actually control that. You just have to see what happens.
So there’s no way I would ever say, “Oh, you just follow your heart and don’t worry whether other people like it!” But it is the best you can do. And if you don’t dig it, then there’s no way. You have to dig it yourself, and then maybe other people will dig it. So that’s the game, and I think some songs get better reactions than others. But that’s no different from how it was back in the day. Some of our most beloved songs, when we played them the first time – you know how, like, a song will end, and people will just clap twice, like the golf-clap? [Laughs.] A lot of songs that are beloved now, when we played them the first time live, that’s what they got. They just sounded weird, and not really together. So I don’t know, man. It’s a relief that we’re not just getting hostility. And I think it’s a little bit of an honor that people actually think a band our age might actually be pretty interesting. I think we’re being extended some line of credit, and if we are, that’s really wonderful. Hopefully we can deliver on it.
A couple of years ago, would you have thought that you would be making a new Dismemberment Plan record?
No. But that’s not to say that – people are a little too aggressive about that. “I’ll never do this! I’ll never do that!” All I knew is that we were, every once in a while, playing, and there weren’t a lot of creative sparks. And that, to me, is kind of the barometer of a band. If every time they pick up the instruments as a band, they start playing a little cool something that isn’t really anything. And that did dry up at the end, and it was dry when we would get together again for other reasons. And then starting this year, there was just no denying that we were getting some juice creatively. We really didn’t force it – it was just happening. So I wasn’t closed off to it. I think we were just good about being disciplined about, like, “There’s no gas in the tank,” and then, “Hey, wait a minute, there is gas in the tank.” That’s how it is in any field – sometimes you feel it, and sometimes you really don’t feel it.