Chris Carrabba is the lead singer of the bands Twin Forks, though he is probably most known for his work as Dashboard Confessional. He has also served as lead singer for Further Seems Forever at two different times during their tenure over the last 15 years. He is an artist whose music has left an indelible mark on my life and it was a great pleasure to speak with him about his new band.
Audio has been split into two parts. Part two appears further down the page.
Chris Carrabba Interview pt.1
answers have been minimally edited for the sake of clarity
Ryan: You’ve been really adamant – at least in a couple of interviews that I saw – about deflecting the spotlight away from yourself and onto your new band; even refusing to be billed as “Chris Carrabba and Twin Forks.” So, my question is, what does this band’s identity mean to you as someone whose personal identity has been so wrapped up in what you’ve done previously?
Chris: That’s a really good question. I guess a simpler way for me to answer that – and then you can tell me the question again and see if I got anywhere close the answer – is, my reasoning for doing it is [that] I’m really grateful for the fan base that built my career in the first place and I don’t want to trade on their loyalties by pulling a “bait and switch”, saying “you’re gonna have to like this because it’s that thing you were attached to previously.” So that’s the reason I decided I really wanted to try to [do it this way]. And I think the band is, frankly, really good. We survive on our own merit, despite the fact that many of us have been in other bands that were popular.
Ryan: Is there an element of “ownership” about that? Because I believe everybody probably kind of saw Further Seems Forever as something you were a part of, but then Dashboard Confessional wasyou.And then this is more of a collective, creatively maybe, even?
Chris: It is. I would say in this instance I wrote most of the songs mostly myself with some exceptions and I can name a few – “Cross My Mind” was a collaboration, “Kiss Me Darlin'” was a collaboration. It wasn’t exclusively my writing. The only reason it happened to be my writing over others on this go-round simply boils down to the fact that, I think, I kind of sussed out what we were very early on (or could be) and was able to zero in on it very quickly. Quicker, maybe, than the other bandmates were able to. And I feel really grateful that they were able to trust me to do that.
Then when it came to arrangements there was massive collaboration. As a matter of fact, the way we did it was I would write songs – and that’s not to say there was no collaboration on the ones I wrote “myself”. Jonathan [Clark] or Ben [Homola] would come into the room and go, “yeah, that’s not good,” or “oh, that’s great,” or “oh, hey hey, that line right there…” So, great “in the moment” criticism that really directed the songs.
And Jonathan produced the record, and so he’s heavily involved in the arrangement. And Ben co-produced the record with me and Jonathan, so it was a collaborative effort in every sense except that maybe I wrote the first pass in this sense. So, I [would] record the guitar riff and the vocal and we would listen to it and then all get in a room together and play it live. And we don’t only listen to it a few times you know in the hours between [when] I recorded it and when we got together in the garage.
The thing I love the best – and I’ve said it before, so at risk of repeating myself – is that I really wanted that element of a “live moment” to be preserved. So you can actually hear our reactions all over the record. You can hear me go “oot!” when Ben did a fill or “alright!” ’cause Jonathan did some sort of run or you know you hear all these great things. You hear laughing all over the tracks because somebody nearly got something fantastic and we all laughed. And we’ll go back and all listen and it was even better than we thought. And that’s all over the tracks. You know, we did go back and overdub, but it was essential for us to keep the live tracking as the centerpiece to what we would build around.
So, now that all being said, that was a long long answer to say that now as we’re writing going forward it’s become much more collaborative because everybody (with the touchstone of a finished record) can say “This kind of song is a Twin Forks song and this kind of song isn’t.” And I think that’s important for a band to have an identity. Now, you should be able to stretch far and wide within the identity that you set for yourself, but it is important to have your own identity – something you can hang your hat on and say “This is what our band is.”
Ryan: I think that identity kind of drives a bunch of these questions… You know folk and Americana music is kind of the en vogue thing right now. I wonder what brought you to this genre, given what we’ve heard from you in the past?
Chris: Well, I think what you’ve heard from me in the past was not me neglecting my influences (which are folk music, before punk rock or hardcore). I think, what they were was me wanting to use those influences, while not using the templates of the songs as the influence. A lot of what folk music is – and you can push these boundaries far and wide – but it is like a tradition. I guess there is, you know, a bit of a traditional template to the kind of songs. There’s Celtic and bluegrass, then there’s eventually folk and protest and I think even all the way up to punk rock there’s a direct lineage if you ask me.
So, it’s en vogue now, you’re right, but when I began this project… I mean, I just couldn’t have imagined (I think I could have believed it,but I just couldn’t have imagined) [that folk would be so popular]. There was a definitely powerful underground indie scene of folk that’s been long-running that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and felt a part of if even though the music I played wasn’t folk, necessarily. But it was acoustic-based and it was rooted in having grown up listening to folk music. But, I don’t know about you, but I would not have put money on the single biggest band in the world being a folk band. So, I don’t know if that’s good for us or bad for us. I just know that we love what we do.
Ryan: And I think that ya’ll bring something a little bit unique to it. I am hearing the traditional sounds, but also the Celtic sound that you mentioned and maybe even a little ’80s new wave in there?
Chris: Yeah, well, I’m never going to get away from The Cure too far. You know, those are some of the biggest influences that I had… these melodies that are so infused in your life and then song structures and things from years of listening to music, like the Talking Heads was such a massive influence on me growing up and, or “influence” wasn’t the right term. I didn’t know it at the time.
Bob Dylan, I remember, before I got into punk. The way I got into punk was an older kid told me “Listen to Operation Ivy,” and it changed my life. And the same thing happened in the back of a school bus. This kid said – and this is earlier than punk rock – he said “Hey, you like music?” And I said, “Yeah, I really like music.” He said, “Listen to Bob Dylan.” I didn’t know who Bob Dylan was, but because my mother had the record of his, I was able to dig in and had this like voracious appetite, you know. And at first, I was like “This is terrible.” But I kept listening because I thought that kid was cool. I was like, “That kidknows something. He knows something.” And eventually I cracked the code.
I remember listening to Fleetwood Mac and that became one of the most powerful influences in my life, even to my style of guitar playing. Not that I would put myself in his category, but the “travis picking” style Lindsey Buckingham does is the way I play, post-Dashboard. That’s a big influence on me too.
I think we’re playing this kind of music because it gives us an opportunity to – with very limited accoutrements (if you’ll forgive it) – to portray all the things that we’ve learned along the way. And I think that if you do that with like electric guitars or keyboards or stuff like that, you’re just trying to be flashy. You boil it down to just some hand-played instruments that aren’t electrified and can never be, it’s hard to over do it, you know. It’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible not to be tasteful.
Ryan: And it allows the song to speak for itself, rather than the sound to necessarily define it.
Chris: Yeah, and I’ve had that… I’ve made that mistake before. I’ve had that song that I thought, “This is a pretty good song. ‘Cause once you get in there with all the stuff it will sound awesome” – and then that really doesn’t work.
Chris Carrabba Interview pt. 2
Ryan: As a professional musician for well over a decade – kind of turning the corner – what’s the difference between trying to launch a band now in 2013 versus where you were 15 years ago and trying to launch a band?
Chris: Good question. I mean, because we’re not trading on our names, it’s not too different. We’re playing really small rooms. We’re traveling in a van. We’re getting paid very little, if at all. So, in that regard, it’s a very similar thing.
On the other hand, we’ve got a loyal following, some of whom will be interested in this band. So that’s like a little leg up, I guess that we have. Although, maybe that’s a little like what I had coming out of Further Seems Forever and having some fans follow me.
But I’ll tell you, probably the biggest advantage we have is you’re speaking to me right now about my record. And that didn’t happen [until] well into my Dashboard career. [It wasn’t until I] had sold a lot of records, had sold a lot of tickets, before anybody really knew about me, [no one] really wanted to talk to me, or I had anybody that was really willing to say “Call this kid. He’s worth talking to.”
Ryan: Are you a “technology guy”? Are ya’ll leaning in on that? …I haven’t seen a whole lot of technology push from the band, proper. I’ve seen a lot of coverage: Rolling Stone, Billboard last week. Is that right?
Chris: Yeah, I mean, I’m feast or famine with that stuff. My bandmates are too, I think. I think we make certain mistakes that we should be more savvy about, like the week before going on tour we should just be blowing everything up. But instead, we’re spending hours in the garage trying to make sure we’re just that much better everyday so that the people that are gonna come see us will want to invite their friends next time.
Ryan: So, this is where you’re at. This is your band. This is what you’re doing right now. As you set out on tour, what does the set look like? Are you playing any old material? Are you doing any cover songs? Are you solely honing in on this moment in your career or are you kind of building the setlist – because you are so new – with older material?
Chris: We do quite a lot of our songs – Twin Forks songs – because it is the internet and they age. In a sense we’ve done them a few times. They’ve gotten a lot of reviews and a lot of requests. We did a tour EP and that had four songs on it. Then we have this EP coming out which a lot of people have heard and that has five songs on it. So, there’s a good amount of songs that people know.
Then there’s covers. We’ve released a favorite song of mine from growing up by Hank Williams, called “I Saw the Light”. We just put it out for free the other day and we’ll continue to probably release a couple of more covers probably before or as the tour goes on. So we’ll do covers. I’ve always done covers in every band I’ve ever been in. I really love covers. It’s the closest I get to karaoke, I guess. I really love doing that stuff. It’s like that euphoric, “Anything could happen here! We could crash and burn.”
Ryan: So you’re saying “Don’t Stop Believing” is your closing song?
Chris: We did that in Further Seems Forever, if you can believe that. But, no, that’s not our closer in this band. And in regards to the Dashboard stuff – which people are wondering about whether we’ll play it or not. All I can say is, we don’t really plan to play it. We end up playing it, on occasion. I think those occasions are the ones [where] we really feel like we got… we really succeeded in communicating to the audience who Twin Forks is. As opposed to the other way around where we’re like “We’re not getting them quick [enough, play the hits].” (Please, please. I use that term knowing that we’ve never truly had “hits”, but we had some songs that moved the needle a bit.) So for me, if I had a rule of thumb, that’s kind of it. I do it, but I do it when the audience… well, where we’ve succeeded… if we’ve succeeded in proving ourselves to the audience as the band we are.
The band is on tour now and will be on the road through mid-December. They have a full-length album that should be making its way to us early next year and don’t miss their cover of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” available at American Songwriter. Keep up with their latest info on Facebook.