Arts Desk

Why Cataract Camp Finally Released Its Travis Morrison-Produced Album

Cataract Camp’s debut album is some of the most hyperactive rock D.C. has heard in some time—sort of like Black Eyes taking on the skewed pop songs of The Dismemberment Plan at a college house party. But Sing Rain doesn't mark the revival of D.C. spazz rock but perhaps the last gasp of it. Cataract Camp made Sing Rain in 2005—it's the only record ever produced by Dismemberment Plan's Travis Morrison—but the album didn't see the light of day until this March, when the Charlottesville group quietly released it on Bandcamp.

For two years, Cataract Camp tried to find a label to release Sing Rain—efforts that ended in 2008, when the group stopped playing. So why release the album now? “I went back to listen to the record and it was something I was really proud of," says keyboardist and singer Zach Carter, a D.C. resident. "I’m 29 now, thinking then that this is something I did five, six years ago and I just have not wanted to deal with it at all. When I think about it [now], I’m like, ‘This is really pretty good.’ We spent a lot of time and put a lot of energy into it.”

Recently, Carter e-mailed with his bandmates—guitarist and singer Thomas Orgren, who now plays in D.C. groups The Torches and Typefighter; bassist Drew Butler; and drummer and singer Steve Snider—and they agreed releasing the album online wouldn't be too difficult.

Cataract Camp formed in the summer of 2004 in Charlottesville, where its members attended the University of Virginia. According to Carter, the band built a reputation on the town's sweaty house-show circuit, and met Morrison when they opened for him at a show on UVA's campus. They hit it off, and Morrison—who had been releasing music under his own name since The Dismemberment Plan's 2003 dissolution—became a sort of patron to Cataract Camp, bringing the band on tour and agreeing to produce a full-length.

Cataract Camp and Morrison did the recording in October 2005 at Inner Ear in Arlington. “They’re a great group. Absolutely fantastic group,” says Don Zientara, the studio's owner, who engineered the album. “I remember [working on the record] because they have a nice blend of almost punk sensibility but pop, too. It was great music. I just happen to subscribe very strongly to that combination, that formula. That’s why it was such a joy to work with.”

Morrison recalls the sessions fondly, as well. “They have three singers, all of which had very distinctive voices and that was really fun to work with. I was a singer in my last band myself and I always had something to prove about challenging singers in the studio, I felt like,” he says. “A lot of time singers get stuck in a very awkward position, it’s a little bit like a colonoscopy. It’s kind of clinical and not very creative. With all three of them, I felt like we really got a chance to go after really exciting takes and go after things that they didn’t really know were in there and I didn’t know were in there and really do something creative. So I think that’s the main memory that sticks out."

The D-Plan influence is easy to hear in Cataract Camp’s songs. But at least at the time, the Travis Morrison imprimatur might have been less compelling than the band had hoped. A year earlier, Morrison had released his quirky debut solo album, Travistan. Early reviews were luke-warm to favorable, but a 0.0 rating on Pitchfork crippled Morrison's solo career (and proved an early case study in the influence of the taste-making site). "Lots of bands have it hard, and lots of bands, nothing ever happens for," says Carter. "I think we, on net, we ended up with more opportunities because Travis was associated with us. But a lot of those opportunities never materialized.”

Whatever the reason, Cataract Camp never found a label to release Sing Rain. "They had a hard time getting anybody interested in their music,” Morrison says. “There weren’t very many people at the shows. I think their shows were very chaotic and I think if people had heard the album, without taking away from the show’s chaos, I think it would have been something that helped people at the show understand what was going on and make it more enjoyable...Sometimes really, really great bands just cannot get people’s attention."

So why did Sing Rain sit idle? “We had done so much touring and had put so much effort and energy into getting that record somewhere and it just wasn’t going anywhere,” Carter says. “We wanted to put [the album] out but I think all of us sort of felt so unhappy about it not working out that we couldn’t even put it up online for free or something. And it kind of languished there. And every couple years we talked about doing something with it and we finally did.”

The members of Cataract Camp eventually moved past Sing Rain's failure to launch. "The thing that was frustrating and painful the whole time was not that we never became indie-rock stars; never got to be on some huge indie label— [it was] just, literally no one outside of D.C., New York, and Charlottesville really cared." Now Carter says he's just happy to have it out there for anyone to hear. "There’s no need for us to make money off of it at this point,” he says.

Cataract Camp has no current plans to regroup and play live. For now, at least some fans are happy Sing Rain is finally out there.

“To have a guitars, keys, bass, drums, and multiple-singer band just leap out of the speakers and drag you down the street is very satisfying,” Morrison says. “And I heard a couple people say, ‘Wow, this is great. I haven’t really had this itch scratched in awhile.’ So, I love really great, aggressive, energetic rock and roll—creative rock ‘n’ roll. And I think this record scratches that itch. So I’m really glad it’s out there for me and I really hope other people get the same itch scratched.”

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