Carrabba likes how far he's come

March 8, 2002



Amazingly prolific, passionately inspired, and never less than heartfelt in his approach to music-making, Chris Carrabba, a k a Dashboard Confessional, is near the top of any critic's short list these days when pressed to cite an example of new rock music that "really matters," and that isn't just about selling product.

Carrabba is gearing up to play three shows at the House of Blues on March 24, 25, and 26, touring in support of his recent E.P., "So Impossible." A second acoustic E.P. is due next month, before the Boca Raton, Fla., singer and songwriter returns to the studio to begin work on Dashboard Confessional's next proper album.

I spoke with him by phone from New York in the midst of the current tour.

  Dashboard Confessional

March 24 (sold out), 6:45 p.m. March 25 and 26
House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
Tickets, $13.50
(312) 559-1212

Q. I've read interviews where you've said you expected to sell 100 copies of your first record, but you've been doing 10 times that and are considered one of the big "buzzes" of the last year. Has any of that had any impact on you?

A. That buzz thing serves everybody else, not me, really. I don't sit around reading my own press and saying, "Hey, everybody's saying this about me!" I only check it out because my family gets real excited--like when my grandmother sees me in Rolling Stone. It's kind of strange that there is this buzz, because for me, it's always been like this constant growth, where every day seems better than the day before. It's never felt like this sudden thing. All the people in the core audience that I ever hoped to hit, I've managed to hit, and the rest is kind of gravy.

Q. It's always foolhardy to talk about "scenes," but there does seem to be a community of listeners who trust and appreciate everything Vagrant Records releases, as opposed to, say, your Korn and Limp Bizkit crowds.

A. What Vagrant has done well is kind of pin-pointed where the energy is coming from and focused their energy there. I do think there's something different about the kids who will go to a Dashboard show or a Get Up Kids show or a Saves the Day show than there is from somebody who'll go see Limp Bizkit or Korn. The openness and the level of exuberance from these kids is unmatched, and I don't know if that translates into buzz for Vagrant or the bands, but I can see how the outside world would look at that and say, "Well, something special is going on here." I don't know if it's the bands that are making it special or the kids who are making it special, but I think it's the kids who are coming to the shows.

Q. The audience will sing along to every word of your songs, and there are a half-dozen Web sites devoted to parsing your lyrics. This is a real change from a lot of Generation Y rock fans, who seem to treat music as mere entertainment, or background noise to accompany the Sony PlayStation.

A. There is a difference between those two audiences you've picked as examples. I think for one, most of the Vagrant bands are just in that cusp between Generation X and Generation Y. I think you nailed the difference: The music they're force-fed is this sort of background music for their mall existence, and the kids that come to these Vagrant shows are dissatisfied with that, and they're the ones that dig deeper.

Q. How do you feel about the word "emo"?

A. Oh, I feel fine about it. I would never go out there and say, "I'm an emo singer!" Personally, if I was going to label these bands myself, I wouldn't use that word; I don't see how you classify Sunny Day Real Estate, the Promise Ring, Saves the Day, the Get Up Kids, and Fugazi as one. But at first, I was completely "acoustic punk"--that was the only label I ever got--and I didn't really understand that one, either. So because I was "punk," people would ask me, "How do you feel about Blink-182 crossing over?" And I'd say, "I think it's amazing." But genre labels can be useful in the sense that there's some dude in some Podunk town where there is no alternative to the rock station, and there is no underground scene, and there is no indie-rock record store and no one else like him in that town, and instead of getting sucked into listening to country rock or the Backstreet Boys on MTV, once every couple of hours he gets to see this punk-rock stuff on MTV that's full of energy and he gets to feel the same thing I felt when I heard Green Day for the first time when I was 15, or even better, when I heard Operation Ivy and lost my mind.

Q. What makes a good song?

A. To me, it's a perfect mixture of melody, grit and anger and honesty. I find the same qualities in the bands I listen to, though all the bands I listen to don't sound like me.

Q. Who do you listen to and say, "Damn, I wish I could write a song like that!"?

A. There are so many. Jimmy Eat World, the whole "Clarity" album, it's just a genius step. And obviously Elvis Costello and legendary people like that. I think Radiohead is probably the best modern band; they're the Beatles. It seems like they can do anything, and that's what I hope for for me: They have a career where they're able to do everything, and their fans don't ever seem to turn on them.

Q. You've played with a lot of different people on album and on tour. Do you envision a time when Dashboard Confessional will become a set band like Radiohead?

A. I hope so; it was never my intention to make this a solo project. At its root, Dashboard is always going to be an expression of myself. But I hope that the players who play with me stay with me forever. I can't imagine playing with another drummer ever, and I think that Mike Marsh is a real member of Dashboard and always will be. I think there will be a point where the contributions from other members will be obvious to the listener; we've only now just had the opportunity to start writing as if we are a band.

Q. When you share as much of yourself as you do in your songs, do you worry about ever revealing too much?

A. I worry that what I've said is going to be misconstrued. I'm not so singularly defined as my songs make me seem to be. There are times when I think, "Do I want people to think that I think this about myself?" And then I think, "Well, why the hell not?" If I didn't want something to be judged or experienced or interrupted, I shouldn't have put it out there. I write for myself and hope that my audience connects, and I think that they do and will.

* * * *

As spring approaches, things are once again heating up in clubland, but a pair of shows this weekend at the Abbey deserve a special mention.

The orchestral-minded alternative-country band Lambchop is playing a rare gig tomorrow night at 9, and the bill is made all the more special by the presence of co-headliner David Kilgour, ex of New Zealand guitar-pop legends the Clean. Tickets are $12.

Also at the Abbey in an early show at 6:30 tonight: legendary punk raconteur and poet Lydia Lunch.

The Abbey is at 3420 W. Grace. For more information, call the club at (773) 478-4408.