Ask An Indie Rock Dude About Sports: Eric Axelson of The Dismemberment Plan

 Eric Axelson is probably the biggest soccer fan in indie-rock, so we talked to him about that, DC sports fandom and what on earth is wrong with Luis Suarez.
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If you’re reading Extra Mustard, there’s a better-than-average chance you’re a grizzled, semi-reformed indie-rock lifer who left your best years back in 1999. It’s okay, we’re here for you, our new recurring feature “Ask an Indie-Rock Dude About Sports” will soothe your soul.

Sports and indie-rock have a surprisingly deep-seated relationship. Pretty much every interview Stephen Malkmus does these days is entirely fixed on his fantasy teams, and the vintage basketball jersey has become the fashion statement de jour at your yearly music festivals. Once upon a time I pretended I didn’t like sports to impress the girl in an Honorary Title shirt who sat behind me in Economics class. Times have changed, the internet has mashed us into the monoculture, and I couldn’t be happier.

For the first edition of Ask an Indie-Rock Dude About Sports features Eric Axelson, bassist for the seminal DC experimental rockers The Dismemberment Plan. D-Plan mashed up woozy, MIDIfied synth melodies with a straightforward post-hardcore snarl. Their best albums, Emergency & I and Change capture the creeping darkness that usually comes in your 20s after realizing that your mediocrity is inescapable and the city you’re living in is about to swallow you whole. Also their new album, last year’s Uncanny Valley, was far better than any decade-in-the-making reunion record has any right to be. Eric Axelson is also probably the biggest soccer fan in indie-rock, so we talked to him about that, DC sports fandom, and what on earth is wrong with Luis Suarez.

So how long have you been a soccer fan?

I picked it up in the late ‘80s and ‘90s we were in the studio recording Emergency & I and the World Cup was on so I ended up watching like two games or three games a day. That’s how I really got into it.

So you started watching the World Cup in the ‘90s, I remember back in ’02 and ’98 you’d have to catch some of those games on like, Telemundo and stuff, tell me what it’s been like seeing the World Cup become a bigger deal domestically?

Yeah in the studio we had cable to we caught a couple games there, but back in DC I didn’t and I lived in a neighborhood called Mount Pleasant which was predominantly Salvadorian so the only place I could find games was this Salvadorian grocery store. So yeah, that’s where everyone was hanging out to watch World Cup games. Even during that one year where the World Cup was in Japan and Korea, we were getting up in the middle of the night to watch games.

In ’06 it had gotten a little better, I was going to coffee shops and friend’s houses, but 2010 was when it became really easy. We had some viewing parties in DC and yeah, this year every place was showing the World Cup.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the sport growing in America, which there was around 2010 too. Do you think it’ll continue to grow in a major way out here or do you think it’ll always be a niche thing?

I think it’ll definitely grow, I don’t see it going away. I follow on a league level, on a national level, I follow a bit of college soccer, and you can definitely see a difference. Viewership alone has skyrocketed, the expansion of the MLS has been huge. It wasn’t too long ago that MLS was 12 teams, it was tiny back then, but now we’re at 19 teams and soon to be at 22 teams. We had stuff during the World Cup where it was like, 30,000 people standing in a field watching a TV, that’s crazy. I live in Richmond Virginia which is a smaller town, and we have a minor league team but we’re not like “a soccer town,” and there was 5,000 people in a gravel parking lot watching the Cup. So it’s definitely not going away. People are starting to understand the game and learn why it’s good, and it’s so international, it sorta has the excitement of March Madness.

You’re a fan of minor league soccer, and it seems like every small city in America has a minor league squad, talk to me a bit about why you like those games?

It’s a lot of reasons, one of the things people go to sports for the storylines, and even if you’re not going to see Lionel Messi you still care about these guys, especially in regards to how players are always coming and going. And you’re not going to be seeing world-class moves, it’s still high level soccer, and it’s still super afforadable. It’s cool to see the growth of the game, with the partnership of USL Pro and MLS, you get to see players on the field at Richmond and a couple weeks later you see them on DC United. You’re closer to the field, it’s a lot more casual. I had a funny experience because I was so used to going to DC United games where if there’s a bad call 18,000 people stand up and yell. But I was at this game in Richmond, and I had only had a couple beers, but the ref blew a call and I really started yelling at him, it wasn’t nice. The ref looked at me and all these kids looked at me. You kinda have to curb your passion at the minor league games.

You’re from DC, and so is Dismemberment Plan, what do you think makes DC sports fandom unique?

The hard thing is that DC is a very transient city. People are there because of the military or they’re contractors, and they might support other teams. And that’s a pretty big difference from growing up in Green Bay where everyone is a Packers fan. Everywhere you go it’s a pretty diverse fanbase. But that’s what I like about DC United, you still might see some other jerseys but not nearly as much as you might for football or basketball. Maybe a couple Red Bulls jerseys, but also a lot of national colors or Liverpool jerseys, just because it’s a more international sport. The fans are passionate, it’s one of the best fan experiences in the country.

What do you think is wrong with Luis Suarez?

Oh geez, I don’t know. I was reading a couple articles after that last bite, and there was a sports psychologist who was saying at a certain point you don’t know what you’re doing. I buy that to a degree, I don’t think anyone really means to bite someone on a stage like the World Cup, so I sorta feel bad for him because I don’t think he can control it. He’s such an insane goal scorer for being such a weirdo. I just think he forgets where he is. Now he’s going to Barca, where the frontline is gonna be Neymar, Messi and Suarez. That’s just too much talent. I’m not a huge Suarez fan but I don’t wish him ill.

How do you feel about the rumors that Kevin Durant might be making his way back to DC when his contract is up?

I’d love to see Durant on the Wizards. We’re a much stronger team than we were, and we have a much stronger locker room. He’d be good in that environment, and he also has the experience. I’m all for that, I love it when local players make their way back home.

Do you have a problem with the Redskins name?

Yeah I do. I’ve had one for a while. I don’t really follow the NFL but I grew up watching them. And there was definitely a moment where you’re like “oh…” After that point I started falling from the pack a bit. I think it will change at some point. Hopefully the team will be owned by someone more likable in the future.

What are your favorite soccer-watching experiences?

In ’04 when DC United were in the playoffs, I was on tour and after the show I called the promoter and said “okay so there’s a DC United game on tonight and I really need to watch it,” and his brother had the cable package so I went over to his house to watch it. It went into overtime and into penalty kicks, luckily DC won, and I made it back to the club about 30 minutes before the show started.

There was also this time I was on tour in Germany, and the label over there were really big fans of St. Pauli which is a second division soccer club. We were opening for Jimmy Eat World, and as soon as the set was over I met up with a label guy and we went to a game. It’s an interesting fanbase it’s strongly associated with anarchist punk, so on one side were these kids with mohawks and the other side were all these grandparents. All the chants were just DC United chants in German, so I did my best.