Since forming in 1993, the Washington, D.C. quartet The Dismemberment Plan have toured the world, released five albums, and built up a devoted following. When stopping in Baltimore for their BSide Session, the band played the Ottobar, as a warmup gig before jetting off to appear at the Coachella Festival.
But when asked about moments in which they felt like they’d made it, frontman Travis Morrison zeroes in on a moment very early their career: being contacted by Desoto Records, the label founded by members of the band Jawbox that released most of The Dismemberment Plan’s albums. “To hear Kim Coletta’s voice on our voicemail, that was pretty exciting, way more exciting than signing to Interscope,” he says. During the band’s brief major label tenure, they recorded their third album, Emergency & I, but were dropped from Interscope before it was released. When Desoto finally issued the album in 1999, it was greeted with instant acclaim and expanded their audience outside Washington.
For their BSide Session, the Plan re-recorded one of their very first b-sides, “If I Don’t Write,” from the flipside of their debut Can We Be Mature? 7” single. Originally recorded with founding drummer Steve Cummings, the new rendition laid down in Mobtown marks the first studio version with longtime drummer Joe Easley, who joined shortly after their first album.
Guitarist Jason Caddell links the song to another exciting early moment in the band’s career: “Hearing the song that we just played on HFS.” The band was helping paint bassist Eric Axelson’s mother’s house when WHFS, the long-running Maryland modern rock station, gave the band its first radio spin on a local music showcase. “We were painting the backside of her house. I was on the ladder, listening to Dave Marsh’s Sunday indie show,” recalls Axelson. “And I ran down the ladder screaming, ‘We’re on the radio, we’re on the radio!’”
The Dismemberment Plan broke up amicably in 2003, with the band hitting a creative wall and deciding to get out of the van and go back to working day jobs and exploring other musical pursuits. But the members always stayed in touch, and when the time came for Emergency & I to be remastered, and released on vinyl for the first time, in 2011, they agreed to reunite for a few shows. That led to more shows, and eventually, for the first time in a decade, the band were writing new songs, and more importantly, feeling good about them. “In a lot of ways, it was easier making the new record, because we all have jobs and when you have this time to play, it’s a little more special,” says Axelson.
Even with Washington, D.C. as their hometown, The Dismemberment Plan have always enjoyed a dedicated following an hour north in Baltimore, dating back to early shows at the ‘90s DIY space The Small Intestine. And it ended up being in Baltimore that they debuted their new material, at a 2012 show at the Metro Gallery. One of those songs, “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer,” appeared on their 2013 comeback album Uncanney Valley, and the band ran through a spirited rendition for their BSide.
Being away for 8 years helped both The Dismemberment Plan and their fans better appreciate what they’d been missing. And the members of the Plan also found themselves surprised to be confronted with just how much the music means to its biggest fans, some of whom have even gotten tattoos commemorating the band or their songs. “That part always freaks me out. But then I also see, like, they have the Lucky Charms tattoo also,” says Caddell. To which Easley jokes, “We’re just as important as their breakfast.”
Recorded on April 5, 2014 at Mobtown Studios
Guitar, keyboards and vocals by Travis Morrison
Guitar by Jason Caddell
Bass by Eric Axelson
Drums by Joe Easley
Mixed by Mat Leffler-Schulman
Engineered by Sean Mercer and Paul Mercer
Filmed by Joe Austin, Justin Foreman and Nick Hughes
Photography by Tedd Henn
Photography post-production by Cassandra Robbins
Interview by Aaron Henkin
Written by Al Shipley
Audio post-production by Aaron Wold
Thanks to Karin Runett, Rob Runett, Amanda MacKaye, Ryan Matteson, Lisa Kaneff and The Dismemberment Plan