This October the Dismemberment Plan will release their first album in 12 years. Singer and guitarist Travis Morrison recently looked back at the group's early days in the late 1990s, and along with his bandmates created a massive playlist from what they were listening to in their van on tour. Check it out below, along with some thoughts from Morrison, in his own words, on the transformation of the musical landscape at the time.
The Dismemberment Plan made its bones on the live circuit between 1995 and 2002. We were a late-'90s band.
The late-'90s were a strange time for music. Kurt Cobain’s suicide and the grotesque grunge-pop that got popular in Nirvana’s wake meant that a lot of smart young indie-rock musicians didn’t want to Rock with a capital R. Furthermore, they questioned whether or not they wanted to be stars, or even all that ambitious. There were some seriously cautionary tales in front of us.
It seemed like rock died a bit at the time, but really, everyone went underground and started experimenting. Negatory urgency seemed a little passé, and the anthemic mode was definitely out. Fugazi had explicitly turned their backs on writing anything that had the effect of “Waiting Room.” Now they were chanting the names of military contractors after musique-concrete intros. People were messing with different instruments: you had to have keyboards. Having a keyboard in your band (maybe even two) was the sign that you were down with the New Arty. I believe Fugazi was rocking a clarinet but I could be wrong about that. There were more instrumental bands, thanks to the huge influence of Don Cabellero.
The best way to sum it up is that this period of time gave the world “post-rock.” I mean, think about that phrase.
Of course, the rock was still around. But even bands working the g-b-d seam started making strange noises down there. Years of ear-stretching tonalities from hip-hop and Sonic Youth, and the looming challenges of Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead in the mainstream, made everyone expect that these wood-and-wire contraptions were capable of a lot more than barre chords. So even the real rock and roll was barbed with howls, burrs, growls, wails, clangs, you name it.
The influence of music that was meant in some way or other to be "dance" music increased radically. R&B and rap started to produce acts like The Roots, Missy Elliott, D’Angelo... groups that seemed approachable and relatable to people who, as much as they loved Biggie and Mary J. Blige, weren't really sure how to draw inspiration from them. Outkast were the best band in the world to a lot of people (including me). And the silly idea that this "electronica" thing was killing rock and roll was lost on all my friends in bands who were getting their minds blown by Aphex Twin.
What I found interesting, making this playlist, is that no one wanted to write hits or anthems. I mentioned this earlier. That skittishness, that refusal to write “Waiting Room,” was so palpable that I struggled to find a leadoff track. Even the great Sleater-Kinney, as galvanizing as they were, doesn't seem Big in retrospect. Finally I realized I hadn’t put Jon Spencer on the list, and when I heard "Full Grown," I said okay... now here was someone that wanted to leap out of the speakers and grab me. It’s funny because at the time he was vaguely controversial. Now he just sounds like a good-hearted guy who wants to do something crazy.
This changed, of course. Just a few years later, we’d be watching the Twin Towers collapse, and we’d be going to war, and the world would be hearing “Last Nite,” “Wake Up,” “House of Jealous Lovers,” "White People For Peace," and so on... all stuff I trace as coming from arts undergrounds but really wanting to grab people by the lapels. It would be time for anthems again.
And that’s how it goes, pretty much. Music serves people, and not the other way around, and it's always a new moment.
So without further ado, here's a lengthy playlist of songs from that period. They are songs that The Plan considers the "soundtrack" to that time in our lives... ones that we played over and over again (sometimes to the point of driving some bandmates insane) while driving around the country. It seems like a pretty good illustration that late-'90s, post-Nirvana, post-rock time. Enjoy!