By Courtney Grimes
Gibson rocker Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional, is always eager to connect with his audience. So eager in fact, that he refused to name his band after himself. The former frontman for heavier rock band Futher Seems Forever extended his talents into a successful solo side project, which he eventually turned into a main project called Dashboard Confessional.
This year, Chris has been enjoying sweet success with his single “Vindicated,” which was chosen for the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack, as well as “This Is a Forgery,” picked for the soundtrack for Wes Craven’s new movie Cursed, due out next year. And after three consecutive hit albums with Dashboard, Chris is back in the studio working on a piano-driven fourth album, also due out next year. Between tour dates, recording sessions, and scoring films, Chris chatted with gibson.com about freaking out at home, never having a “road album” and stripping.
CG: How did Dashboard Confessional come together?
CC: I was in another band, a heavier band (Further Seems Forever), and I spent a lot of time writing sort of simple, straight-forward stories on my own. I felt I kept getting drawn back into that. Some friends convinced me to get back into it. Well, basically they stole my tapes. Slowly but surely I found other guys. I found that it was a rotating cast, but soon I found the three other guys who play with me now.
CG: How did you come up with the name?
CC: I wrote a song that I called “The Sharp Hint of New Tears.” It says, “On the way home my car hears my confessions.” It’s about how you work things out, I don’t wanna sound too quasi-hippie here or whatever, but basically you live in your head a lot. But basically that’s where it came from - you get into a meditative state when you drive. I didn’t want to call it by my own name. I felt that was exclusive, and I wanted people to feel it was theirs.
CG: Tell me more about not wanting the music to be exclusive.
CC: I’d go out and play and my friends knew the songs because I’d play them in my house, and we’d all sing the songs together. And the crowds slowly grew, and it became evident that it was something to be shared. And I found that to be more fulfilling than any other band I had been in before. When you write songs that are journalistic, when people take them as their own, it’s fulfilling in a different way that you would have never expected. And I knew I was going to have other people play with me I just didn’t know when or who.
CG: How do you feel the dynamic of the band has changed the most over the years?
Well we’ve been together for quite a while, as you know, since 2000. The thing that has become the most different is how (the group) becomes intrinsic to communication. The trust builds and you’re dealing with… for example, this last record the songs were written before there was a bass player. So on our last full length, the better guitar
ist - John
, he’s playing stuff I’ve written, playing what I wanted to hear. But you play with somebody for so long, they just sort of anticipate your wants and needs for the song. I just sort of have this part of a song written out in my head and before I fully get done asking him to play it, he’s done it and then some.
And a more evident way, we’ve crammed in a lot on this last record, and I wanted to prove that we were a band. I don’t think we went overboard, but we definitely did a lot. And now I think we’re learning to find that middle ground where we enjoy it. I’m learning to be able to do vocal and guitar
and not feel bad like I’m leaving the other guys out. It takes a good player to not play. I think we’ve learned that about ourselves. I didn’t know that before. That took a lot of relearning for me. CG: When did you begin to play guitar?
I’m still trying. I got a guitar from my uncle when I was about 15. I’m 28 now. I started then and I’ve never had lessons but I really would like to take some. But I’m sort of a chord enthusiast. So I know a million inversions and I really enjoy that. But I’ve always been fortunate to play with really great players and that sort of rubs off on me. I can write well beyond my physical abilities to play. On one hand I try to hack my way through (playing) but on the other hand it gives me something to try for.
I love playing with John, he’s just an incredible player whose style is so diverse, and I’m even learning simple things like different finger picking techniques.
CG: Were you ever interested in lessons?
CC: Initially I couldn’t afford lessons, then it was ‘I didn’t have time.’ Now it’s like I could make the time and I could find somebody willing to teach me. Stylistically and the percussive nature of my playing, lessons might change that up, but I also want to get better. There’s only so much you can teach yourself.
In my writing and in my playing and recording I’ve always been on the mentality that discovery is the best thing. And it gets you so excited. Like in the studio, you can say, okay if you turn this dial to here, then you get a better sound. Okay, cool. But it’s not the same thing as messing with it all and finding new things out.
CG: Tell me about your Gibsons.
I have several because I use a lot of different tunings. I started a collection. The model I play for acoustics is the J-185
. I love it. I’ve been toying with maybe switching with the Emmylou Harris
. I’d like to eventually change. But basically the guitar
s - I have five of the J-185s. They all sound drastically different. Maybe it’s the wood, it just happens. They sound to most people probably the same. Like the warmest one, I use for my open tunings. They all have different personalities.
And then my main electric, I have two Les Pauls
that are Customs
, ’60s neck. They’re standards, but they have different hardware. Silver, I don’t care for the gold. My main one is a cherry-wine red, and I have a black Les Paul and an ES-335
that I love. I also have two SGs
and a Melody Maker
CG: Do you have a particular favorite?
CC: Believe it or not I have a J-185 that is ready for a fire, but I love it so much. It’s cracked on the side, and it’s like a foot-long crack, like through the bend of the body. And I love it. And I love that Les Paul. On the last record I used my J-185 for almost all the acoustics. But I used my Les Paul the most. But then surprisingly, my beat-ass Melody maker I used, because it has the best sound in the studio. It’s a feedback monster, so it’s tough to use live, but it’s real responsive. You can really get the dig out of it.
CG: Tell me about life on the road.
CC: It’s life for us now. We’re always gone. I just called up our drummer Mike because we’ve been home for two weeks. He’s like, “I’m freakin’ out man, we gotta get outta here!” I’m like, “Me too, man!” It becomes part of how we function. I can’t exist on a normal clock. I’m gonna live the rest of my life on the night shift. I get to feeling confined by my surroundings in my own home and town because I know how to get around.
CG: What about when you first started touring?
CC: Oh, it was great to come home because it meant you got to eat. You knew for a fact which couch you were gonna stay on instead of if you were gonna get a couch. If I didn’t have a home to come home to, I don’t think I’d be on the road, though. I’m writing now, but I don’t write much or well when I’m on the road. I wrote “Vindicated” on the road, but it was because we were stationed for about three days. I think it’s a safe bet that I’ll never write that “road album.” I just don’t sit down and contemplate where I’m at when we’re on the road. It’s exciting, it’s always new, fresh, challenging and really, really hard. I like it when life is challenging, with exceptions. I can’t imagine ever retiring. My run, of course, will be over but I’ll have to find something new to do.
CG: Which do you prefer, being on stage with the band, or being on stage alone?
It’s hard for me to decide objectively without having just done it. When I come off the stage from having performed with the band, I’d say “with the band.” But when I come off the stage having just performed alone, I’d say, “by myself.” I have to be honest though, there’s something incredible about doing it alone. It’s scary as hell. But it’s amazing when you see how the crowd reacts and raises your performance level. But then you get on stage with your bandmates and you realize how incredible they are. I’ve been really lucky with the guys I’ve played with. I mean I can look over at Scott…. I used to go see Scott’s bands because
I think I like playing alone more. But I couldn’t do one without the other. I have to do both so I can appreciate each one. I think I did about 40 shows this year by myself, and probably 150 with the band. So that’s not exactly an even split. But it used to be 90% by myself. I’m sure I’ll get back to that at some point. John
and I played a couple times at some points. We’d switch off piano and guitar
– just whatever you can do to keep things fresh. That’s why I’d have players sit in, it’s like the old Dylan thing. I love listening to the old bootleg series. You’re listening to the same songs over and over again but they’re not the same songs. The melodies change, the vibe changes.
From my vantage point of having to do it every night, I prefer that. And we know we’ve been playing together for a long time. So before each set, we strip the set down, change the tempos, change the keys, put in different builds where they weren’t supposed to be there…
CG: How did it feel to have a hit song on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack?
I’ve always been a comic book fan, and specifically a fan of Spider-Man. I used to collect them. So I got a call from them to see if I wanted to be involved. I saw the movie before the release, and the minor themes like the romantic parts really stuck with me.
I said, “I have this song,” and recorded it quickly and they said, “Yep, we want to use this song.”
But I kept thinking about it and asked to redo the song. They told me I had one day to redo it, so I redid it in a day – less than 20 minutes. And I said to the guys, “We gotta track this tomorrow so you gotta sorta play what I tell you. So it’s either gonna work or it’s not gonna work.” We sent them the rough copy.
Originally, I had this song that I’d just written and was looking at it like the centerpiece of our next record but I was ready to give it to them. But I was going back and forth and got some advice to try writing another, different song. It was really cool when I found out they wanted that song for the single. They told me point blank there was no chance for this song to be any of the singles. This was a SONY picture and they were using SONY artists for singles. It made sense. And somehow they took a chance on our song. The guy who was the head of it all said I captured the spirit of the film.
I was thinking of the feeling of losing something important to you and losing it so recently that maybe there was a chance at getting it back. What if you didn’t know you had the best thing in the world until it was just recently gone, but just so recently that you could get your stuff together and get it back? There was one shot that kept sticking with me was this shot of her hand when they announced when she was engaged.
CG: You’re in the studio now? Tell me about the upcoming album.
CC: I’m in the studio by myself right now. We did a run of songs with the band, and I’d say a lot of it was junk on purpose. An old fashioned session like I used to make records – where we do 22 songs in 9 days. There’s a couple keepers in there. And I’ve got a bunch more. But I think last Monday I stumbled on the vibe of what I want this record to be. I don’t know if I can put it into words. I have this passionate desire to sort of explore space than compounding everything into these driving parts. It makes those parts sound so huge because there’s a lot of space to fill. The anticipation builds and you know, less methodic and consistent, constant strumming. It took a lot to get away from carrying the song in your right hand. It feels pretty good to have stumbled into this way to do this. And I love understated, beautiful, quiet moments. I believe I put too many songs on the record because it always feels like it’s my last chance. Our fan base wants another record out of us. We were very lucky for that. I want all the songs out of me before people stop wanting to hear them. Also, I don’t know exactly what stories I’ve told and sat down and gone, “Okay, where’s the story here?” I still need to find the part that makes it cinematic. I stay keenly aware of that stuff, which I feel makes records successful or failure.