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Barrelhousing with Travis Morrison, the Man (Formerly) with the Plan

Travis Morrison doesn't like small talk. Don't ask him about the craziness of a rock and or rolling lifestyle even if the question is in jest. The boy's got other things on his mind. And let's be honest, questions about booze and women are silly given that he spent ten years fronting DC's beloved Dismemberment Plan and released Travistan, his first solo effort, on September 28. There are plenty of other things to discuss and that's exactly what happened when Barrelhouse caught up with Travis during his late summer solo-acoustic tour, a tour on which he performed some new tunes and a few covers of artists ranging from Ludacris to Sophie B. Hawkins. In a short discussion Travis told us about the leap from working in a band to solo activity and the art intricate art of the cover song.

Barrelhouse: What has it been like to shift from being in a band, where I would imagine compromise is key, to being the final word on every aspect of the music? How has this shift changed your writing process? Do you feel freer now that you have more artistic control or do you miss the collaborative effects of working with three other guys? Maybe a bit of both?

Travis Morrison: Well, the thing is, I haven't stopped collaborating. I recorded the last record in a pretty intense mind meld with Chris Walla, to the point that I can't really remember who played what. And my new live band is very collaborative too. They pretty much play what they want. They're great, so it's a good idea that they do so. The main job for me is to take public blame for anything that people don't like, so the musicians I play with are free to do their thing. I'll always want "Travis Morrison" to represent an environment where artists can get together and do some intense stuff together, not an environment where I control every detail.

Barrelhouse: What effect, if any, did growing up in/around DC have on you as a musician? Why have you stayed in the area? Do you think you'll ever move anywhere else?

TM: Lots. Go-go was huge for me, very influential on my attitude towards what live music is supposed to sound like and how bands should interact with show goers. I wore out live tapes of Rare Essence, E.U. and Trouble Funk. And I was a big bluegrass fan as a kid, oddly enough, and that's big around here. And I listened to the Pacifica radio station a lot, with its eccentric mix of world music, jazz, and R&B. That station really nails what the cultural story is around here. I didn't really get into DC Hardcore until I was in college and more artistically ambitious bands like Fugazi and Shudder to Think and Jawbox showed up.

I've stayed in the area because DC is like no other city--it's a shy, prim, black southern town that is also the capitol of the free world. I mean, what a combo.

Barrelhouse: The Dismemberment Plan sprinkled covers into their live sets and you just completed a solo-acoustic tour where you played covers every night. What is it about covering someone else's song that appeals to you?

TM: I dunno. That's a hard question to answer. It's just kind of fun, I guess.

Barrelhouse: There seems to be two distinct schools when it comes to covering a song, one in which the cover band reproduces almost note for note the original, and another where the band takes the covered song in a totally new direction. Which of these appeals to you more and why?

TM: Well, obviously, the one where the cover band reproduced almost note for note the original.

Barrelhouse: If you could pick any band/person to cover one of your songs who would it be? Any particular song of yours that you'd like to hear them do?

TM: I always thought that if Norah Jones sang "The City," I could really make a lot of money! Actually, she could do a nice version of "Following Through." And Bryan Ferry could do "Superpowers," I think.  

Barrelhouse: Finally, the Barrelhouse standard: Bearing in mind that we may use your answer to psychoanalyze you, what's your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

TM: Big Trouble in Little China. 

Editor's Note: We at Barrelhouse are aware that Patrick Swayze did not appear in the 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China. However, the mistake is understandable. Big Trouble's star, Kurt Russell, was sporting a very Swayze-esque mullet throughout the mid-80's, causing all kinds of comparisons between the two stars, some warranted, others not. Hair of this kind could have crossed anyone's wires. In fact, in discussion of this topic, the Barrelhouse staff often referred to Big Trouble and Escape from New York, Mr. Russell's 1981 vehicle, interchangeably. Fear the mullet, indeed.

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