Travis Morrison: Interview
The Man With(out) the Plan
I'm in my bed. The telephone rings. It's 3 am. I check the caller ID. It simply reads: The Plan.
I bring the receiver to my ear and ask "Who is this?" "This is Travis Morrison.
When you wake up, I want you to ask me questions... and make sure they're not
redundant and dopey." Click. The next morning I wondered if the event was
nothing more than a dream. Nonetheless, I felt the need to conduct the interview
for the man. I contacted him through email, and the interview was on its way. We
shared moments of laughter and moments of sorrow. It was a confrontation made in
D (tinymixtapes): I would think that the greatest compliment you could receive as a musician would be "I've never heard anything like that before." How valid is this in the way you approach music?
Travis Morrison: Not really. It's nice to hear but it isn't a direct goal. The goal is more to be honest. If you are honest, you will be likely to find things that are uncommon and interesting, because most people just aren't that honest with themselves... honesty is pretty original!
D: Ok, so about your solo career. Do you plan to play all instruments on your albums?
D: Any thoughts as to who might help you out?
Travis: Well, Chris Walla is going to be involved, and there are other people that I don't want to name because I haven't spoken to them directly and definitely named it down. I think that I will be approaching all this like Steely Dan and Queens of the Stone Age, two musical entities that had a spiritual core that was involved in everything and then had a big-ass rolodex of people that are fellow-travellers--as well as a wish list of people they don't know that they would love to have involved.
The Dismemberment Plan was a BAND, and that is limiting and also a cool challenge. You have a set palette of colors and the challenge is to paint as many worthwhile paintings with those colors as you can. We broke up in large part because we could feel that we were running out of new combinations. On the flipside, When you play what I like to call "rolodex rock" you can lose the sense of limitation that any artist worth their salt works with, and therefore lose your identity, because you're just all over the place, trying on stylistic costumes but not really getting together any signature getups that are clearly assembled from your own closet.
D: And have you given any thought to who might back you up in a tour?
D: The Flaming Lips maybe?
Travis: why not
D: How do you feel about songs on ! and Terrified? Do you ever look back and wish you could, perhaps, alter a few decisions you made?
Travis: Nope! Especially Terrified. I am so proud of that record. "!" is our first record and a real shot in the dark, but there was a vision with Terrified. in 96/97, indie rock was so boring and dull and conservative, and meanwhile, in the pop realm, Beck was winning a Grammy for "Odelay." One of the bravest and coolest records ever. We were angry about this, angry that what was supposed to be the art underground was so blah and uptight, so we just said hey--we're gonna make the most hyperactive, cheerful, in-your-face record we can. It was intentional. We came out swinging. Swinging so hard we fell down, which is NOT an indie-rock thing to do, and everyone kinda laughed at us and said those guys are no good... and then we turned around and made "Emergency and I" and everyone had to eat it! And we established our credibility--real credibility, not what-label-are-you-on credibility, but the kind of credibility that indicates that these guys literally DO NOT GIVE A FUCK, they will do whatever they want, no matter what people think. They will make themselves look like utter clowns and not worry about it. Most punk bands desperately care what people think, but we didn't, and people know it now, and that can be traced back to "...is Terrified."
D: You're obviously maturing as a writer, is songwriting more difficult as you grow older?
Travis: Well, you think... been there... been there... nope, been there... but it isn't difficult, because if it's difficult, I don't do it. Why do it if it's hard and not fun? If I notice things about how my peers are living that deserves a song, I write it. I do work very hard at the craft of songwriting, don't get me wrong, but in terms of looking for ideas... you don't have to work. You have to relax and live and keep your eyes open, and the goods will make themselves available to you. Or not, but if they aren't, who cares? I'm just trying to have a good time and a good life and do right by people, and the final desertion of my muse wouldn't bother me at all. I think that's why she comes back so much.
D: At a certain point in some people's lives, they become musically stuck in a time period. At some point new music doesn't appeal to them as it did in their early 20s (par example). Have you found this happening to you at all?
Travis: I have that feeling every few years, and then it goes away, and now it doesn't bother me at all. At some moments, your antennae just aren't up that high. I still think of 1997/98 as a moment where I was the highest on current music--Brainiac, Lauren Hill, Elliot Smith, Missy Elliott, Radiohead, Beck, Soul Coughing, Smart Went Crazy, Stereolab were still bangin', Black Star, Bjork, the list goes on forever-- but this last year was pretty close to that peak. I was loving the crazy synthesis of pop, rap, and R&B that was making all the money and I think has reached a real peak with the Justin Timberlake CD. This is truly the era of the hip-hop producer.
Generally, when I feel like the popular-music dialogue is slowing down, I reach back into the past and research music I know little about. I'm having a little dip like that right now so I'm trying out things like Eric Clapton (great when he doesn't do endless Mr. Blues Guitar crap, which he wasn't really ever that good at,) Hawaiian slack-key guitar stuff, hard classic swing (Billy Eckstine is the MAN) and I'm nurturing an old obsession with The Band.
D: Are there any current music trends that you'd like to see dispelled? Something that you feel has just been beat to death?
Travis: Nah. I'm not the music police. I love trends--they direct everyone else away from the uncharted territory and so there's more space for me to move around in.
D: Is there a new musical direction you'd like to see take off... or is this where you come in?
D: Do you ever surf the internet, looking for yourself?
Travis: No, that sounds like a real path to insanity!
D: Does this mean that you don't read critics' reviews of your albums?
Travis: When in front of me, sure. I collect them for my mother.
D: Have you ever read a review that actually made you question some choices you made and thereby caused you to do something a little different on a later album?
Travis: Not really, no. Feedback from fans have done that, but not reviews.
D: How do you like it when fans send you Instant Messages?
Travis: I don't mind when people IM. I can always just ignore them if I have things to do.
D: Ok, onto some politcal talk. Because ofthe current state of our nation, it seems as though our population is becoming more involved and democratic than I've seen in my lifetime... the indie community in particular. Assuming that you consider this a good thing, what would you like to see happen if things were magically resolved with Iraq? The indie world would probably go back to a non-politcal life, but what other issues would you like to see everyone focus on with their website messages, banners, letters, and things like this?
Travis: I don't know, unfortunately, what a "magical resolution" is for Iraq. So I can't really answer that. In terms of other issues, I think a living wage is really important. And I would like to see more straight up education and erudition amongst punk types... there's a notion that if you're hewing to the lefty-punk line, you're therefore thoughtful and informed, and it simply is not so. People say "no war for oil" but what the fuck does that mean? If we go to war, will it really be for oil? How so? You pose most people those questions and they have no idea. (We didn't really get any oil out of Kuwait for our trouble, for example. They kept their oil fiercely nationalized.)
D: What sort of role do you think the media plays in these punks being misinformed? What, specifically, would you like to see changed in the media?
Travis: Nothing, really. All this stuff is in the better newspapers in America--the Washington Post, the NY Times, Christian Science Monitor, etc etc... and that's online for free. The main problem is that "these punks" think that allegiance with a set of ideological values means that they are learned, and that is simply not the case. Your general proximity to a fold-out table of PETA and anti-globalization flyers does not translate into your actually knowing a damn thing.
D: Ok forget the magical resolution. What's the best-case scenerio of what you could see happen from this point?
Travis: We invade Iraq, depose Saddam, get Iraq's infrastructure back together, and set up a democratic nation, while making sure that the Kurds can hold on to their semi-autonomous state within that new nation. We also need to keep Afghanistan coming along (congress has been criminally unwilling to fund that) and also tie Israel's aid to the halting and dismantling of settlements in the West Bank. We can't expect a Palestinian nation right now, but we can do some simple things to make sure that we keep in a holding pattern there, and it would do us a world of good diplomatically to demonstrate that we will, when fair and appropriate, stand up for the Arabs. Maybe then, someday in the future, Israelis can move to Palestine... but right now it's frankly invasive and confrontational and everyone knows it. They aren't moving there for the good schools and municipal services. They are what we in America call religious nuts!
D: What do you have to say about George Bush?
Travis: He isn't stupid. He's a smart man. He isn't intellectual, but lefties always have a problem confusing intellectual and smart. I know some intellectuals that are boxes of rocks. The left can only harp about things like his inability to speak in public because it has lost all sense of vision for America. That bums me out.
As for Bush himself... I think he's a B president, earning a C- before 9/11 and a B+ afterwards. I think he's handling the post-9/11 world well, I like enthusiasm for school vouchers, and I think that he actually handled the whole Enron thing fairly well. I'm a somewhat laissez-faire person in terms of economic rules and I think his position was that Enron hid nothing from the world and people should have known more about the company when they invested in it. His environmental policies is OK, nothing great, his administration's desire for mildly authoritarian powers is bothersome but not a real threat because I think they won't get most of those powers... he seems utterly disinterested in abortion and hopes it won't be an issue during his presidency, which is fine by me, because it reflects my own don't-ask-don't-tell ambivalence about the issue... the $300 tax rebate was a little nutty, but our great presidents all tried nutty things. FDR didn't know what the fuck to do, so he just threw shit up on the wall to see what would happen, and that's why he's on the nickel.
As a managerial president, he's all right. The last election was pretty dreary, and that includes Ralph Nader for me. But it will be interesting to see if his current morphing into Woodrow Wilson--rather, the into the WW that WW wanted to be--is fruitful. I like him a lot more as a reborn Wilsonite leader-of-world-liberalism than the somewhat small-minded and retreatist guy that ran for president a few years ago. He certainly has abandoned almost all of his campaign pledges about our role in the world, and thank God for that. I didn't vote for him, but the Dubya that is president now, I might vote for this one.
I think our current legislative situation is the real problem. What a bunch of dickheads.
D: Care to expand on that?
Travis: Well, Congress is fiddling while Rome burns, pretty much. They earmarked about seven dollars for the rebuilding of Afghanistan, they are absolutely to blame for the accounting scandals of Enron and such (because they'd spent 10 years gutting the legislation after getting foot massages from industry reps) and their reaction to the Internet has been terrible laws that the courts shoot down. They also spent all the money when we had that surplus.
People forget that Congress is the real administrative body of this country. It's what makes the laws here. The President has a bully pulpit and he does foreign policy. That's it. That's why it's always a wonder to me that the Green Party keeps running presidential candidates--it seems like you gotta start with the House, and then the Senate, THEN you can think about the Presidency.
D: What do you have to say about Saddam, and the interview that was just held by Rather?
Travis: Didn't see it. He's an asshole. I mean, what else is there to say? He's a murderous asshole.
D: So you think the war is justified?
Travis: Depends on the follow-through. No, it is not if we don't commit ourselves to actually making sure it all happens the right way, to the end. Simply getting Saddam out and then losing interest would be catastrophic. I will say that I am not worried about what France thinks. Trust me, if we do this and this makes new business opportunities for French oil companies, they will be the first ones through the door. The noble French resistance to this evil war will disappear pretty magically. They already do a lot of business with the Iraqis.
D: While we're on the subject, what do you think of Justin Timberlake's solo album?
D: What do you think about him touring with Christina?
Travis: I don't think about him THAT much!
D: Ok, so what new releases have you bought recently?
Travis: Beck, Q And Not U, Ted Leo
D: What CDs are you listening to this week?
Travis: The Band's greatest hits, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Ella Fitzgerald, Steely Dan, Bach's The Goldberg Variations
D: One more thing, does it piss you off when people compare Cex to Eminem? It makes me angry! I saw him open for you, I've also got his latest album... and just about the only thing the two guys have in common is their skin color. Their genres aren't even really the same! What, to you, does this say about our society and music?
Travis: That when it comes down to it, white people still have it pretty easy.
And with that, I sent him one last note thanking him for the interview. I received a message back from the Postmaster reading, "The requested user at this domain has blocked all incoming messages from your address."