INTERVIEW: Travis Morrison

Travis Morrison is a chameleon.

When T.Mo started out as the driving force behind The Dismemberment Plan, the group was all smart-allecky screamo-rock, like your favorite indie record done with wreckless abandon. Yet, as time went on, the band grew, and before long, the Plan had become one of the most respected and revered indie rock acts in the nation, as biting tracks like "The Ice of Boston" and cathartic albums like Change managed to bring a wit and intellgence to a scene that rarely saw such generous amounts of it. Then, the group disbanded. T.Mo went to pursue a solo career, and Evcat clearly remembers how each new song that Morrison posted on his site being a revelation unto itself: beautiful idiosyncratic bites of electro pop that were as funny as they were melodically stunning. (Oh, and let's not forget Entertainment Weekly covering that "What's Your Fantasy?" cover ...) A notable rock site slandered T.Mo's first solo effort, Travistan, but, really, this was the sort of multi-textured pop gem that we all knew Morrison had lurking in him. The more straightforward, darker (and, hell, even more intriguing) follow-up album All Y'all came in 2007.

Yet Morrison is at a good place in his life: he's found a band that he feels very comfortable fronting (the Hellfighters), is writing even sturdier songs than before, and, appropriately, is addicted to Twitter. Morrison sits down with Globecat to discuss his latest excursions, how the Plan has defined his life, and how his gas tank has destroyed his wallet ...


>>Listening to All Y'all, it feels like the making of this album was a very deliberate move for you: focusing on a very band-oriented approach where Travistan was much more studio-oriented. Obviously, this makes the record easier to tour, but, given how quickly the second disc came out, would you say that it was somewhat of a "reactionary" move to the reception that Travistan received?

No, not at all. I know this sounds strange but I adore Travistan. I have nothing but fond memories of making it and I really like a lot of songs on there. But I did assemble a band to play it live, and then we just started writing songs together, so then All Y'All came together.

>>On the new disc, I got to say that "I'm Not Supposed to Like You (But I Do)" immediately struck me, not just for its straightforward approach, but also because it -- like much of /All Y'all/ -- seemed to be coming from a darker lyrical perspective (reflected in the similarly-themed "I Do"). To a degree, if feels like something of a "confessional" record, but set in a much more excitable setting. Did you find much catharsis in making/touring All Y'all?

Yeah, I can see that. It is kind of dark. I think I was in a pretty dark place--by my standards, not by Metallica's standards. I wasn't strung out on smack. I was just broke, probably still adrift post-Plan (which was kind of like getting out of the Army), and not sure why I was making another album. I loved some of the other musical stuff I was doing; getting to choir practice at the National Cathedral I can remember with the brightest, most excited light. I felt like a kid. It was challenging and beautiful and I loved it. But in terms of playing rock music in public, I was kinda like... where is this going? I don't feel that way at all now, so in a lot of ways now I'm glad I made a record at that point in my life because I think it does capture how I felt.

>>To what degree do you feel your career has been defined by the Plan, and to what degree has it been defined as a solo artist? Is there one you prefer over the other?

I think my career is totally defined by the Plan. That's when I had a "career." Although I don't like that word much. It's more like, x amount of money falls on your head and you can live on it for a while. It's like a grant from the cosmos, not a career. But anyways, I think if anyone knew who I was, it would be as the lead singer of the Plan.

>>I remember when you were recording Travistan, you were keeping people updated on its goings-ons with your blog, and the moment that sticks out the most is when you were looking for a string quartet for what would turn out to be "Angry Angel", unable to pay the string players, but asking for help out of the kindness of their hearts. There was something utterly inspiring about that -- trying to create something grand on a budget of absolutely nothing -- and it really went to show how much your records are real labors of love. With that said, I remember you expressing some doubt about your recording future prior to the release of All Y'all, saying being a solo artist/bandmember was no longer a full-time occupation for you. If we do hear another T.Morrison record in the future, what circumstances will there have to be for it to come into light?

Oh there'll be another record! It's touring that's hard. We did one in March and it was actually really successful and fun, but man, gas prices and touring ... wow. We would have made serious bank six years ago, but I poured it all into the gas tank instead. Phew.

>>Finally, so far in your career, what's been your biggest regret and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?

Oh man. I can't really say I think that way. I'm definitely proud of all the talented people I've had the opportunity to work with, I think that's what I'm proudest of. I feel like that must reflect on me pretty well.



Sometimes it's easy to forget that musicians do other stuff, too. When your only connection with an artist or band is through live shows and recordings, it's difficult to imagine them having a life outside of that bar or concert hall, or that record player/stereo/iPod. Like running into your grade school teacher in the supermarket, it takes seeing a musician in a different setting to jar your senses back to what should have been obvious all along: artists are people too, no larger than life than life.

With the Internet, finding out more about artists' lives outside of music becomes stalker-easy. Many of them, such as composer Nico Muhly, keep weblogs of their travels, detailing their hobbies and musings of a less musical nature. Sometimes, as Davecat found out, you have a lot in common with an artist. Except for working with Björk, Philip Glass, and Antony Hegarty, scoring films, writing cantatas inspired by grammar books, releasing two albums of achingly, head-splittingly gorgeous contemporary classical music (Speaks Volumes, and this year's fantastic Mothertongue), graduating from Julliard, etc. etc. etc., he and Mr. Muhly are pretty much into the same things.

Here, Davecat attempts to talk with Mr. Muhly (who he refers to as Mister to feel better about his own wasted youth: Muhly is only 27, which is obligatory to point out) about some of their shared interests, in part to demystify what it means to be a Composer -- especially of contemporary classical music -- and to learn more about the person behind the notes, but mostly because, as stated, Davecat is a big dork.


>>>> In all of the reviews I've read, for both Mothertongue and Speaks Volumes, the critic always mentions your age. Do you feel like a "young" composer, or that your age has any bearing on what you write? What does it mean to you to have praise (or criticism) qualified by how old you are?

Oh, this will pass. People just don't like to write unqualified nouns anymore, so you can't just say "composer." You have to say "young" or "venerable" or something. The 30's are a desolate wasteland where you're neither young nor venerable, though. So we'll see what happens in 3 years.

>>>> The pieces on Mothertongue come from very personal places: writing out all the phone numbers and addresses stored away in your brain, your parents singing "Twa Sisters" to you as a child, the time you've spent in Iceland. Was making this album a cathartic experience for you? Are the pieces on Speaks Volumes as personal in other, non-textual ways? Or is writing from specific events in your life something new about this work?

Well, Speaks Volumes was very impersonal inasmuch as I was trying to make chamber music, the historical idea of which being that it belongs in other people's houses, not mine. Mothertongue, on the other hand, is a vocal album, and as such, required explicit "texts," which were more personal. So: yes. I'm not sure if it was Cathartic, although it was incredibly exciting to me (and still is) to hear Abby scream out those zip codes at the end of the fourth part of Mothertongue, and I find the entirety of The Only Tune to be very autobiographically titillating.

>>>> What has your audience been like on tour? Indie kids? People dressed for a night at the theatre? Are you ever surprised by who shows up to see you perform?

I am always surprised. Like, literally always. It was different in different cities – I assume you're asking about these most recent shows in the Coastal Areas (+ Chicago). Boston and DC were mainly older, NPR-listening people, with some indie kids scattered around. San Francisco was a lot of young people! I seriously have no idea. I should have handed out a questionnaire. In Montréal, there were a bunch of young, straight-seeming MBA students and law students. What? In L.A. there were a lot of single handsome gays. In New York it was all about 40-year old gay couples. In Seattle one 50-year old couple (straight) turned up like they were going to the opera. A total mystery to me.

>>>> What's the best thing you've learned this week/month?

I finally figured out how to use the expression "I shudder to think" in Icelandic, which is like "shiver with" — very satisfying. Hrylla.

>>>> What have you been reading recently?

Tana French's In the Woods, Chris Bohjalian Midwives, really whatever Oprah tells me.

>>>> Back in 2005, you wrote a cantata based on Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Being a grammar dork myself, I have to ask: what's your favorite didactic example from the book?

"Somebody else's umbrella."

>>>> In previous interviews you've talked about your love of "text and language games," particularly Scrabble. Being a Scrabble dork myself: what's the best bingo you've ever gotten? What is it about taking words apart, not for grammatical or communicative purposes, but to gain more points, that's so exciting?

"Lesbian." I don't know what it is. It's like, motivic development in Brahms or something, re-arranging a scrabble board.

>>>> How many languages do you speak? Do you have a favorite language? Sound? Character? Orthography? Linguistic feature?

I have good English, French and Italian, in that order. Then I have bullshit Icelandic and even more bullshit Arabic. I love the way that Arabic uses a rhythmic pattern to make the difference between words related to the same root. I am also really into the specific Icelandic sounds, especially aspirated consonants and pauses inside words; I'm not going to write you an ipa rendering of it, but check out this webpage: http://accent.gmu.edu/browse_language.php?function=detail&speakerid=94 and have fun.

>>>> One of my favorite parts of your website is reading about your adventures with food. You talk about sauces as narratives, whale recipes, and all the great things you've eaten on your travels around the world. Aside from being delicious, what is it about gastronomy, as an art, that hits home for you and makes it such a big part of your life?

I'm going to give you a long answer, but basically, I had a long conversation with my friend the other night about this. She is a total gourmande and sensual æsthete. We realized that you can divide the world into people for whom eating and sharing a meal is THE social intercourse, and those for whom it is not. For me, it definitely is. When I talk to my mother, or her mother, 95% of the time it's about food: what we're eating, what we're thinking about eating, what color the stalk of a chard might have been. For me, food is really the only thing that there is. It's how I plan my day.


INTERVIEW: Rob Pollard

Q: How does Globecat write an intro about Robert Pollard?

A: You give him a guitar and let him write it for you. Though a six-stringed instrument was unavailable at the time, Robert Pollard -- the frontman for seminal indie-rock outfit Guided By Voices, co-founder of roughly a billion side-projects, film score composer, and iconic songsmith -- managed to sit down with Evcat to discuss the use of the Guided By Voices name, that new band that's he excited about (hello, Boston Spaceships!), and then takes time to clear up the biggest misunderstanding that anyone would ever have about him ...


>>You recently launched your own label, Guided By Voices, kick-starting it with ...Is Off to Business, one of the most critically heralded records you've released thus far. What were your reasons for revitalizing the GBV name for your new label venture? Will the GBV name forever be associated to you or does it just apply to a certain era of which you were recording?

Well, I had actually entertained the notion of using the name Guided By Voices again, but then I thought that it might be construed by some as a move to sell more records. It wasn't but it might be seen that way. I just thought, what the fuck, Guided by Voices had 50 or 60 members over the course of 20 years, so what's the difference? Anyway, my manager, David Newgarden, suggested when we decided to split from our label and form our own, that we use it as the label name. So I agreed and we went with GBV, Inc. The name Guided by Voices does apply to a certain era as a musical entity, but as a mental/spiritual concept, it is ongoing and stays with me.

>>After your collossal, epic closing show for GBV, you've been relatively quiet on the touring front. With the new Circus Devils disc coming out, do you see that changing anytime soon? With a back-catalog as extensive as yours, do you ever find difficulty in picking a set-list?

Well, I have a new band that I consider to be real and not a side project. It's called Boston Spaceships. We just released our first album, we have another in the can, and I just finished the demos for a third. We're doing a U.S. tour starting September 25th. Yeah, I've got a lot of songs so it's not difficult to make a list. We'll be doing the Boston Spaceships album, and my new solo album, Off to Business as well as some side project stuff and some old obscure GBV material. Suitcase 1 & 2 songs. Maybe a couple old crowd favorites.

>>Starting with Bubble, you've gradually shown more interest in scoring films, working in both songs and instrumental numbers -- how has soundtracking changed/effected your songwriting style (if at all)?

No, not really. For the most part it's just been small budget films and the director or studio requests songs that already exist on record. Steven Soderbergh and I have shared mutual interests for a while. He requests particular songs that he believes will suit the film. I've provided music for Full Frontal, Bubble, and the upcoming musical Cleo based on the life of Cleopatra. For Bubble I gave him a compilation of 45 or 50 acoustic demos and he chose, I think 10 for me to film. So far, it's been done in this matter, but at some point I might like to write songs specifically for a film.

>>What is the one thing that people most misunderstand about Robert Pollard?

That I'm some sort of mad, band-member firing dictator. I ask that you have a good time, be enthusiastic and play your instrument.

>>Finally, so far in your career, what's been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?

My biggest regret was writing "Hold On Hope". A lot of people like it but I consider it pompous, both lyrically and structurally. My proudest accomplishment was the recording and releasing of my first post-GBV solo album From a Compound Eye. I always wanted to do a double album and it's not easy to pull off. It has to be epic and sprawling with a lot of good songs, or it can me Metal Machine Music. That's ok too. I'm pretty proud of Bee Thousand and what it means to people, too.


Visit Robert Pollard's website
Photo taken by T. Nelles for Prefix.


OFF THE RECORDS: Patting Ourselves On the Backburner

We're still awe-struck, truth be told.

When we started off Globecat, we had sky-high ambitions, hoping to interview nothing but the greats, those artists who are either bathing in the spotlight or bathing in obscurity, making good music regardless of Billboard chart rankings, all with something valuable to say. Though reaching 2000 hits might not be a milestone for many, it certainly is for us, especially considering that at the start of June, this blog did not even exist. Since then, we've interviewed the likes of Anton Newcombe, Girl Talk, Aesop Rock, the Vivian Girls, and so many spectacular artists it's almost intimidating to mention. We have our Coming Soon to Globecat feature on the top-right of the page, and though sometimes it looks kind of empty, that's only because we file things in there that are already written & completed. Behind the scenes, there are so many things at work (and so many big names being tossed around) we can barely contain our excitement ...

But, there is something that is sorely missing from Globecat, and that's you. We have been contacted by all kind of publicists, but what we really want is to hear from you guys, the fans and followers. Though many, many songs are passed around here at the Globecat offices, we want to know who you want to see interviewed. Now that we've been around for awhile (and have interviewed big names, Grammy-winners, and cult icons), we have a bit more pull, and more than likely we can fulfill whatever interview requests you might have. Link us in your blogs, help spread the word, and -- most importantly -- let us know who you want to see next on Globecat. Please e-mail us at globecatmusic [at] gmail [dot] com post-haste -- we are excited to hear what you have to say!

Keep it tuned here, as all the latest developements will be posted here before anywhere else.

And, most importantly, thank you for all the support. It helps more than you can imagine.

--Dave & Evan


ALEATORY #12: Grails

It's been a busy year for Grails, and it's not over yet. Back in May, the Portland four piece dropped their fifth full-length in as many years, Take Refuge in Clean Living, pushing their grungy instrumental psych into new and groovy places. In October, their sixth album, Doomsdayer's Holiday, comes out on Temporary Residence. And their 2005 EP, Interpretations of Three Psychedelic Rock Songs from Around the World, was just pressed re-released and pressed vinyl. They also toured with Nadja in June, are hitting up Athens, GA and NY in November, and in the meantime are probably working triple shifts at their day jobs, just because they can. Three of the Grails guys—guitarist Alex Hall, drummer Emil Amos, and keys-man William Slater—took a breather from their hectic schedule and were kind enough to be our twelfth Aleatory.


12. Favorite band when you were in high school?
AH: Split decision between Metallica and (old) Van Halen.
EA: Dinosaur.
WS: Drive Like Jehu, Public Enemy.

13. Favorite Shakespearean play?

AH: Porky's 3.
EA: Zardoz.
WS: Henry IV.

15. Favorite exhibit or subject at the museum?
WS: Very old books and forgotten manuscripts. Sea monsters of the late cretaceous.

16. Favorite campfire story?

AH: Hamlet.
EA: "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" - Ray Nelson.

17. Favorite plant?
AH: Robert.
EA: Francis.
WS: Treebeard.

19. Favorite foreign film?
AH: Irreversible.
EA: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
WS: The Lady Vanishes, Throne of Blood.

28. What instrument would you most like to learn to play?
WS: Flute, maybe cello.
AH: It'd be nice to actually learn guitar at some point.
EA: Either a ham-radio or some Harry Partch shit maybe.

60. What's the worst show you've ever played? What would you have done different?
AH: Eureka, California, 2004, I think. It was in some Italian restaurant. An hour before the show, our violinist ate a handful of mixed scrip drugs he had scored off some dude on the sidewalk. By the time we started to play he was still in the van, writhing in the backseat and clawing at the air. He kept losing consciousness during the set with his violin shrieking a wall of feedback. After the show he passed out in the car and we couldn't wake him up. Eventually he came to at 4 AM, and was furious because it was freezing outside, he didn't know where he was and he filled my voicemail with about 20 hateful, threatening messages.

EA: The time I remember feeling the worst was in around 2001 when someone put the loop for a song called "Canyon Hymn" on a cassette. Since all tape player motors play at slightly different speeds the sound man hit play and we slogged thru 8 minutes completely out of tune with it. I remember experiencing an intense/unparalleled degree of shame while I was putting my cymbals away.

WS: The aforementioned two were the first two that came to mind… Honorable mentions to the show where the very heavy Rhodes organ collapsed on top of me mid-song, trapping me beneath, and the show where i played despite having a 102 degree fever, during which our violinist flipped me off repeatedly from the other side of the stage because he didn't like the set list I'd written. I remember that one as somewhat of a Robitussin-induced waking nightmare.

63. Band/artist you're secretly envious of?
EA: I'll speak for Alex on this one and say it's a tie between Rita Coolidge and Clay Aiken.

71. How well do you feel your music lends itself to remixing or being covered?
AH: I hope that someone might actually cover a Grails tune one day, since it might confirm that we'd succeeded in making an actual song. Most instrumental music these days is either just riffs or drones, rarely ever real songs....

81. If you could sync an album of yours to a movie (like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz), what movie would it be?
EA: Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
WS: Dirty Dancing

93. Longest show you ever played? What was different?
AH: We've played probably a dozen shows in Europe where the promoter hadn't bothered to add any support bands, leaving us as the sole 'entertainers' for the evening. So we were obligated to go total GBV and play really long sets....which is fun for us but bad for the Italian people who are waiting for the techno DJ that's going on after the rock show.

95. Do you ever read your own reviews?
AH: Yeah, always. I've never understood the idea that a lot of people have about separating oneself from one's criticism. It's just part of the process.

EA: With the amount of dispassionate publicity you generally receive, we mostly just end up reading our own press releases that've been copied and pasted 4000 times. Between that, deleting spam and shredding junk mail modern life has become a refreshing break from reading Kafka. When there's not much tangible community left in the underground it makes us sentimental to watch old videos of the crowd spitting upon the faces of the members of Fear.

98. Would you say that there's somewhat of a political undertone to your music? If so, what motivates it?
AH: You mean in a topical sense? No, we don't have any 'Bush is bad' songs. Music like ours is more about focusing inward than outward. It's head music that benefits from a generous amount of dissociation.

100. Even with the gradual decay of the B-side, most artists still have vaults of unreleased songs. What's in yours?
AH: A lot of stuff that will stay unreleased for good reason. But the rest is being compiled into a DVD project that should be out some time next year.



Girl Talk is inescapable.

When Gregg Gillis burst onto the scene with 2006's Night Ripper, no one really knew what to think. After all, illegal mashups had floated around for years immediately after the advent of Napster, but no one would have figured a Biomedical Engineering student at Cave Western Reserve would wind up redefining what the very definition of the phrase "mashup" even was. Night Ripper (following two similarly-styled but more glitch-oriented releases) traffic-jammed the whole of popular music into one non-stop party disc, challenging listeners beyond the mere "spot that song" guessing game and instead tearing down the rock and rap monoliths that have so dotted the past few decades, all in the name of fun. As if his acclaim (and insane live shows) weren't enough, Gillis then decided to release Feed the Animals -- his latest sample-heavy masterpiece -- in a Radiohead-styled "pay what you want" format only eight days after he finished mastering it. At the rate he's going now (and already an in-demand remixer), Gillis shows no signs of slowing down, except -- of course -- for the occasional detour into the land of interviews. Gillis graciously sat down with Evcat for yet another exciting Globecat one-on-one, and if you thought he was already manic, just wait 'til you hear what he did at his high school talent show ...


>> In retrospect, there really wasn't a huge wait between Night Ripper and Feed the Animals -- but that's also because you were touring like a madman at the time. For an approach that's so sample-based, what is about touring that you find so inspiring?

It was actually a little over two years between Feed the Animals and Night Ripper. That seems like a relatively large chunk of time between albums to me. I work slowly. I like ideas to develop over time. The past two albums have basically been an attempt to make a cohesive whole out of a bunch of tiny ideas. I always feel the need to have some new material to work with in the live setting, just a few small elements each week. Because of this, the live show is constantly evolving. I get a chance to see how crowds react to the new ideas, and this influences how I'll perform or the content of the next show. After a certain amount of time, I can take a step back and say "OK, I have enough material now that I feel that I could make a cool album out of it." Then, I'll start the editting process, and that's usually a long process as well. For the last album, it took about 6 months.

>> Much has been made about the release format you chose for Feed the Animals, yet what I found most interesting was that for those who selected the $0.00 option, there was a list on the screen that asked why people were choosing to get your work for free, with reasons ranging from [and I paraphrase] "I'm in the media" to "I don't believe in paying for sample-based music". Why did you create this options in the first place, and what did you learn from them?

Illegal Art, the label who is releasing the album, and I both thought it'd be interesting to get a gauge of why people weren't paying. We weren't the first people to do the "pay what you want" model, but it's still novel enough that we were kind of treating it like a social experiment. I don't have the exact stats on me, but I think most people who didn't pay said it was because they were either going to pay later or didn't have the money. The least popular answer was "I don't value music made from sampling," but that was also the most specific option. "I don't like Girl Talk" even got more clicks than that one. Our set up was pretty raw, so we can't really treat the response data as scientific or anything like that.

>> With your remixes, live shows, and fourth (!) album just out, where do you see yourself taking the Girl Talk sound into next?

I have no idea! After I finish an album, I typically don't know where I'm heading. I mean, there's already a bunch of new material that I'm experimenting with live, but I have no idea what shape that will take down the road. I want to do some collaboration work, which I haven't done much of in the past. I want to work with Dan Deacon and Skymall on separate projects. I'd love to get away from dance-related music at some point, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.

>> Has the notion ever emerged of doing a production job for another artist?

Yeah. That could be interesting at some point, but right now, I definitely wouldn't want to focus on anything like that. If I could keep my sample-based style, then that would be great, but for most artists, there would most likely be sample clearance concerns. In general though, I'm content doing music the way I've been doing it for the past 8 years.

>> Plain and simple: with tastes as wildly eclectic as yours, whose music do you find the most inspiring?

I'm inspired by everything I sample. I get pumped everytime I turn on the radio. I can't really isolate anything specific, there's too much.

>> Finally: so far in your career, what's been your biggest regret and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?

I honestly have no regrets in my musical life. My proudest accomplishment is when I was in high school, and my band, called The Joysticks Battle The Scan Feed Relay To Your Skull, played the talent show. We were a noise band and were all about smashing things and lighting off fireworks at the audience. Our junior year, we were kicked out of the talent show during rehersals because our act was a little too over-the-top for the organizers. The next year, we faked a more subtle performance during the rehersals, and there were new organizers so they didn't know what happened the year before. They let us into the show. We were pretty infamous in our school and in the local Pittsburgh music scene, so we drew a lot of people to the show who assumed we were going to go crazy and do our typical style show. We got on stage in radiation suits, stood completely still, and had the lighting guy just run a steady strobe on us. We played a noise loop that was about 3 seconds long on repeat. It was actually on cassette, and we were prepared to play for one hour. After about 10 minutes, the entire audience was heading for the exit. The talent show organizers ended up cutting the power in the entire auditorium to stop us and in the process, they broke the PA system. The rest of the show was canceled.


Visit the Illegal Art website.