“I don’t really remember feeling pressure,” says Morrison. “I remember feeling excitement that anyone would care about the next record we made. That was a novel feeling. We were just excited to have somebody at the shows. We had a nice little thing going in D.C., but for about six or seven years, we would play on tour to about 12 people, and suddenly there were 212 people! It’s funny: Maybe we should have felt pressure.”
In March 2001, the band entered Inner Ear Studios in Arlington, Virginia, with venerable producer J. Robbins, who the band had previously worked with for Emergency & I. The result,Change, was released that October-and after being physically out of print for several years, it is being reissued on Nov. 4, 2014, by Partisan Records, on vinyl for the first time. The record will be a 180-gram LP in a gatefold sleeve with a 12-page booklet containing art, photography and lyrics to all 11 songs-including the lyrics to “Ellen And Ben,” which was omitted from the original CD version.
Change would end up being the Plan’s final album in their first iteration-something Morrison didn’t know at the time but can easily point out now. “Looking back, I can see where the gas ran out,” he begins. “In the timeline of the songwriting, it was a struggle to get it over the finish line. The last song we finished was ‘Ellen And Ben,’ and I think it’s last on the record for a reason. Listening to it now, it sounds very much like the romantic equivalent of what was happening emotionally in the band, where people were getting to that late-20s/early-30s part of your life when you realize college really isn’t coming back and you’re a grown up. It’s a dicey time for a lot of artists, especially rock musicians.
“I think we captured some of those emotions very vividly,” Morrison continues. “I can hear the band having those thoughts making the record and I can feel to a certain extent the band sputtering out because of those natural emotional conditions. I think the best songs on the record are about that theme.”
When quizzed about what those best songs may be, Morrison quips, “The ones we still play live,” which includes the driving, high-strung “Following Through,” the relaxed dance vibe of “Ellen And Ben,” the absolutely gorgeous “Face Of The Earth” (the track the frontman pinpoints as his favorite D Plan song) and the angsty, painful “Time Bomb.” These songs easily justify Change’s album title-the band was experimenting, growing, learning and still struggling to come to grips with who they are as artists and as people in general. Those feelings were soon to be echoed throughout America and the world following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001-the same day the band was supposed to begin a headlining tour leading up to Change’s release. Even though Change was completed before this tragedy, the album still carries an eerie sense of foreshadowing.
“America changed for good; what we expected from art changed for good; what we expected from our country changed for good; everything changed for good,” comments Morrison. “There was that ‘shit’s getting real’ feeling.” For Morrison, Change lived in this long cultural shadow for some time; he only recently re-evaluated the album thanks to the occasion of the record being reissued on vinyl, and while it’s still an emotional experience for him, he almost bashfully recognizes the brilliance in what the band created.
Though the D Plan were struggling with their own identity, Change ended up becoming a crucial part in many others finding their own; dozens of bands from a variety of genres cite the album as an influence, and lines from artists as diverse as Minus The Bear, Cloud Nothings, Into It. Over It., Weatherbox and the Velvet Teen can be drawn back to Change. “It’s getting to the point where people who were in high school and college when that record came out are established musicians, and when you bump into them on the festival circuit, they say the nicest things,” Morrison says. “I frequently stand sidestage at these fests and watch these young artists do their thing. So, to have some of them be like, “Oh shit, Travis Morrison, I know you!” I don’t know if I can put into words what it means to me, because I’m a fan of them.”
While the Plan was taken out by Pearl Jam on a European tour in 2000 (an experience Morrison identifies as influential in Change’s songwriting, citing the hard-rock moves of “Time Bomb,” “Pay For The Piano” and “Secret Curse”), and the band wasn’t without peers, either (their 2002 co-headlining tour with Death Cab For Cutie, cheekily dubbed the Death & Dismemberment Tour, is still talked about with reverence in the indie-rock community), there were never many signals from rock ‘n’ roll’s old guard that the Plan was on the right creative path. Morrison offers two reasons: either they all checked out after Kurt Cobain died, or maybe they just thought the Plan was crap.
“After we broke up, people like David Bowie started coming out for bands like Arcade Fire and TV On The Radio, and I was like, ‘Were we just terrible? Why wasn’t David Bowie at ourshows?'” He laughs, then self-deprecatingly jokes, “Maybe it was just like, ‘Ugh, that band with the annoying singer? Is that what the kids are into these days?'”
Change is a perfect reflection of where The Dismemberment Plan and indie-rock culture as a whole was at that time-aging out of their party days, struggling to create a new identity without leaving behind what made them unique and having a spotlight shown on them during the entire process, making the struggle all the more real. Yes, the short-term result was the band breaking up, but given the passage of time, Change has proven its merit time and time again. And with this vinyl reissue, a whole new generation of fans can discover what thousands before them already knew: The Dismemberment Plan was-and continue to be-an important rock band, the kind you’re eternally thankful was smart enough to leave the basement and enter a recording studio a few times.
10: The Other Side
11: Ellen and Ben
11/7 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
11/8 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
11/28 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club