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WHEN I FINALLY REACHED Eric Axelson on his cell phone for this interview he was in a van, logging mile after mile on his way from his hometown of Washington, DC to Chicago. Over the past 10 years, Axelson, the former bassist for The Dismemberment Plan, has been on dozens of such trips. But this was a little different. Instead of touring with bandmates, he was on a family trip, traveling with his mother, sister, brother-in-law and two young nieces. And listening to Dora the Explorer songs.--Joseph Epstein

"It's a whole different experience," he explains with a laugh. "After an hour or so into the drive, my two-year-old niece got all sick. And, of course, we had to stopped a lot for diaper changes."

Lots of things are different for Axelson these days. After nearly a decade with The Plan, which has always been sort of the People's Republic of Weirdness on a post-punk dance fever planet, Axelson has joined forces with singer-guitarist Davey Von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier, formerly of the Promise Ring, to form Maritime. The band, which includes two part-timers on guitar and keyboards, has an easy-going soft-shoe pop sound, not unlike much of the Promise Ring's more recent material. And while Maritime's debut album, Glass Floor, lacks the mechanical whimsy of the Dismemberment Plan, the J Robbins-produced record is playful and well crafted, alternatively lush and sparse.

"They needed a bass player for the record," shrugs Axelson, describing how he became part of the band. "I had the farewell tour that summer (of 2003) but had nothing going on for the spring or after the summer. At first I thought it would more of a studio project for me, just writing bass lines for them, but it eventually evolved into being more of a full band."

But not everything clicked fight away for the trio. After all, they were like "two ships passing in the night" years ago when The Dismemberment Plan played Madison, WI, with the Promise Ring (the rising local favorites) playing in support. "Its not like we weren't friends, but we didn't have a lot to say to each other," recalls Axelson.

It was only when the Promise Ring came down to DC to mix Very Emergency and the two bands went on tour with Burning Airlines did they become better friends. "They came to town and we played some basketball," he says. "Davey is a great ball player and Dan is a monster under the rim." Needless to say, The Ring won on the blacktop and a relationship was born.

Despite the camaraderie, making the transition from The Dismemberment Plan's off-signature musical frolicking to Maritime's more traditional song structures wasn't easy for Axelson. "It totally fucked me up. I literally had to go out to do research because my normal bass style wasn't jiving with what they were doing," says Axelson, who took in a steady diet of mid-'80s alt-pop like The Housemartins, The Smiths, Aztec Camera, and The Style Council. "Getting used to new song styles after playing with the same guys for 10 years gave me whiplash."

Still, starting over with a new group of musicians has some real advantages. "With these guys, there's a whole new lexicon of stories," he says. "You get used to one way of touring, but with these guys it's nice to have a whole new look on tour."

And for Axelson, that means a lot more scrabble, cribbage, cards in the van, more soccer and football at gas stops, and, thankfully, not much Dora the Explorer or diaper changing.
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Author:Epstein, Joseph
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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