Originally published on (April 2000)

Sound familiar? A rock band that is not quite like anything you’ve ever heard before builds up a pretty decent following in the indie rock world. The obvious next step is that the band, hailing from Washington, signs a deal with a major label while leaving their friends and peers behind. While the band records its major label debut, light pop rock dominates the charts, little girls swoon to the power ballads. There seems to be no place in the ‘modern’ rock climate for this indie-turned-major-label band, yet when they release their CD, this band is met with overwhelming critical response. The band continues to tour in small clubs until they reach the level that they are asked to head to Europe and play in some very important festivals, festivals that may propel them even further up the rock ladder. This could be the story of Nirvana. It’s not. This is the Dismemberment Plan.

The D-Plan (as they are known in the indie circles) hail from Washington D.C. They spent what seems to be a lifetime on DeSoto Records (run by ex-Jawbox member Kim Coletta), building a solid following and recording some stunning early efforts. Then, in a move that surprised many, Interscope Records came knocking on the D-Plan’s door and offered the band a deal too good to refuse. At least that’s what it seemed like at the time. The band recorded Emergency & I and were all primed and ready to take the world by storm. Then people started getting fired at Interscope. The label merged with Geffen and A&M and many artists were suddenly caught in the crossfire. The D-Plan was one of those bands, forgotten by the label that signed them. When it became apparent that Interscope wasn’t going to release Emergency & I, the band negotiated to get the music back. After a lengthy delay, DeSoto finally secured the rights to the CD and released it to a hungry crowd late last year. By year’s end, EVERY indie rock writer in America (and around the world) was hailing the quirky post-punk, fractured art-rockers and the phenomenal songwriting talents of lead singer Travis Hoffman. In short, Emergency & I wound up on more Best of ’99 lists than anybody in the band can even keep track of (Swizzlestick’s included).

Chip Midnight caught up with D-Plan bassist Eric Axelson following a spastic and energetic performance in Columbus, Ohio at a makeshift ‘rock’ club. This was the first night of a short tour that winds up just in time for the D-Plan to have one day off before jumping on a plane and heading to Europe to tour for 3 weeks with Pearl Jam. Yes, that Pearl Jam. 

From a band perspective, what was the highlight of 1999?

I think it was the release of the record. We were on hold for so long after the Interscope breakup. It was kind of scary because we didn’t know if we were going to get it back. When it finally came out, it lifted a lot of weight off our shoulders. It’s hard to describe. I can see why a lot of bands breakup when they get dropped and can’t get their records back. It’s really stressful. October was the best part of last year because of the release.

Did you have any idea when you were recording the album that every fanzine and e-zine in the world was going to put it on their Top 10 of ’99 list?

We got a lot of press, which was nice. I had hoped so, but I didn’t know that it would. You never really know. There are a lot of really great records that I think that never got a lot of props. The last Smart Went Crazy record was, I thought, amazing. American Music Club records were amazing and they never got touched. So, even though I thought our record was great, I wasn’t sure if people would latch on to it or not. Last tour – we donĀ¹t usually get much press on the road – but in almost every town we had features and pictures, it was really stunning.

We toured a bunch on the new songs and most of the songs were out a long time before the record came out. We toured at least three times with the songs before the record got released because of Interscope holding on to it. So a lot of people in different towns heard those songs. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Braid and Promise Ring both had bootlegs and they made copies for all their friends, so we went on tour before the record and kids knew all the words. We were like, “How’d you know the words?” And they’d be like “Bob Nanna” (of Braid). That’s the greatest PR you can get, to have another band give people a copy of your music.

With that being said, what are your thoughts on MP3s?

I think they are awesome. It’s so amazing that some kid in California can get our record and love it and e-mail his friend or cousin in South Dakota and be like “Check this band out.” That kid would never know who we were if his friend couldn’t get a copy of our song and e-mail it to him. Some places you can’t find these songs.

It’s just like the radio. If we are on college radio, kids can tape it off the radio. It’s no different than e-mailing someone a song.

How would things be different for the band now if Interscope hadn’t dropped you and had released the record?

I don’t know. It’s kind of weird. We’re getting good college radio play and a commercial radio station in Cincinnati picked us up. I’ve been wondering if we had someone pushing these songs to commercial radio if they would have caught on or not. I think if they hadn’t gone through the merger, if they were the same Interscope Records we signed to, I wouldn’t have minded staying around. When they merged they became a totally different animal altogether. Everyone we worked with got fired, so it wasn’t worth being there. I’m glad we got dropped, it’s not sour grapes. I think it could have been radio-friendly, like the Talking Heads. Who would have thought that “Burning Down the House” would have been a Top 10 hit? We’ll never know. I’m just glad the record is out and it’s all said and done.

Weird stuff is happening now. Getting all the press is crazy. Getting a lot of airplay is really weird. Pearl Jam e-mailed us to go on tour. Guided By Voices wants us to open for them in New York. I hope it keeps going this way. I hope the Pearl Jam tour opens more doors for us. It’s nice because we just call Kim (at DeSoto Records) and yap about things. It’s not like going through two secretaries trying to get an answer and being put on hold.

Being back in the indie world is a nice thing.

Now that you’ve seen the major label side of things, if Sony called tomorrow and offered you a deal, would you take it?

We’ve been courted already again. It’s flattering. We’re like “Thanks. Glad you bought the record, glad you enjoyed it, but . . .” You’d have to change the way a major label works, change the royalty rates, change the way things get done, and that’s not going to happen.

How did the Pearl Jam tour come about?

We got off tour Monday March 6 and Travis was checking our e-mail. There was an e-mail from the management company that said “We work with Pearl Jam. They got your CD, they like it, they came see you on the West Coast. And they want to bring you to Europe.” Travis was like “Huh?” We had toured with Juno and we had kind of fucked around with them. So he called the number they gave and he got an Indian restaurant. Just to be sure, he called again and he gets through to a secretary. He was put on hold and there was this hold music. We’re like “There is no way Juno could pull off hold music. They are smart guys, but they wouldn’t do that.” We got through and this woman gave us this whole spiel about Pearl Jam liking our band and wanted to have us on some dates in Europe. We had to go through a bunch of budget stuff to propose what we need to go to Europe and they said “No problem.” They offered us three weeks. We’re meeting them June 14 in Prague and we’re playing with them through July 3 in Rotterdam. That’s fantastic. There’s no better way to go to Europe. We were going to go by ourselves in March and we would have lost our shirts. Now we’ll be making enough money to at least break even.

We’re doing a week by ourselves first, then three weeks with them, then two weeks alone. Half of the tour we’ll be sleeping on floors and playing dives, but the other half we’ll be playing hockey stadiums and amphitheaters and festivals with the Cure and the Counting Crows. It’s insane, I can’t wait to thank them.

So the guys from Pearl Jam actually came to some of your shows?

I may have met Jeff (Ament). I was selling shit after a show and someone was asking about my bass. We chatted about basses that we played. I asked him if he was in a band and he said “Yeah.” He didn’t see what they were. It may have been him, it may not have. I want to find out.

What’s the biggest crowd you’ve played in front of so far?

We did a festival in D.C. called the HFS-Fest, the big radio thing. There must have been, when we played, a little over a thousand kids. We opened for Veruca Salt in front of about 1,000 people. Those two are probably the biggest shows. The festivals in Europe hold about 70,000. But we’ll be on early in the day so it;s not going to be the full thing.

Typically, what are the types of places that you’ve been playing?

Well, tomorrow we play at a school. We’re playing a club on Sunday, a radio station on Monday. Every day is different. We’re playing a house show next week in South Dakota. I like clubs because you get monitors and can hear stuff. Things happen more efficiently in clubs and that’s kind of nice. There’s also a good romance to a house show. That’s what we grew up doing. People are packed in your face, a small ceiling, and one lightbulb is hanging. It’s dingy, you can’t hear a damn thing. They’re both good.

Arenas? We’ll see what happens.

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