|March 8, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
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.
March 24 (sold out), 6:45 p.m. March 25 and 26
House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
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
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
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