For more than ten years now, Chris Carrabba’s career as a singer-songwriter has flourished under the Dashboard Confessional moniker. As the spearhead of the project, Carrabba has enjoyed worldwide commercial and critical acclaim, culminating with charting success across five studio albums. In the lead-up to his return to Australia as part of Soundwave 2012, Carrabbba recently spoke with Kill Your Stereo about the upcoming tour and the project’s future in the modern era of music.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role in the band?
I am, well, I guess I’m the only guy that’s always in the band. Sometimes some of the records are just me and an acoustic guitar, but it’s usually under the same name of Dashboard Confessional. Other times we’re a four-piece, with three of the best musicians I know, so my role in the band is I’m a songwriter, I play guitar and I sing. Sometimes I play everything else because I can’t find the other guys, because we all live in four different states.
What were some of the highlights of 2011 for you?
2011 was a quiet year for me. One of the things that I did do that year was take almost the entire year off, except for a run of shows I did to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of my debut. It feels like an odd way to say it. I went out and played my first record in its entirety for an audience, and I think I did about 20 or 30 shows. That was a big highlight for me, and it was kind of about looking backwards. It was kind of liberating, to go back into all those places that I played more than 10 years ago now and revisit where I’d started, and it was great.
You’ve celebrated the ten-year anniversary of your debut album. How does it feel to reach this milestone as a musician?
I mean, it’s kind of shocking, to be honest with you. It’s not the kind of thing that I expected in the career that I shot for. There’s not a lot of longevity in rock and roll, certainly if you don’t have massive radio hits, which I haven’t had. I’ve had success at radio, but I haven’t had any kind of massive success. What I have had is a semi-cultish dedicated audience, and I guess they’ve given me a career, and it’s extraordinary. It’s extraordinary to be able to do this for 10 years, basically I’ve got a gig in music, it’s incredible and I’m lucky.
What are the lyrical inspirations behind your music?
It’s hard to pinpoint what the inspiration is in general. You find inspiration all around you. I read a lot, so I think that that’s something I can pinpoint at least in how I frame lyricism. I’m inspired by reading a lot, novelists. Most of my topics in my songwriting are inspired by the smaller moments in life, and you don’t know where that’s gonna come from. It hits you, and you have to be willing to drop everything, even the things you want to be doing, to chase the song.
What about your musical influences?
My influences are pretty varied. It’s strange, but my favourite bands are either 90s post-punk and post-hardcore bands, or old, country songwriters, so it’s a bit of a strange mash-up. I also listen to a lot of acoustic guitar players, who have that impossible ability to make a guitar sounds like two or three guitars. You have one in Australia, Tommy Emmanuel, who is chief among the people who I listen for that. That kind of composition on such a small instrument, taking something that isn’t electrified and isn’t affected and turning it into something massive like that is incredibly inspirational for me. I can’t do that, I can’t do lots of things, I’m just at the top of the scale for that sort of thing.
You seem to have done alright though.
I do it in my way, but I’m handicapped, you know what I mean? I’m handicapped like a guy on the golf course against someone like that!
Are there plans for another Dashboard Confessional album?
There are hopes, but I gave up planning for that stuff. I’ll wait for it, ‘cause you never can plan. I feel like I get in my own way when I set the plan, you take the mystery out of it, and it’s resistant and harder to do. It has a lot to do with the fact that I have piles of songs that I could put together and I could have an album out, and I would be making that decision because I’m really excited about getting back on the road, but I don’t think that’s the right way to make a record. I think the songs that you write should stand out and demand that they be a record, and that’s the only way to do it.
What has kept you from Australian shores for so long?
The same thing that kept me from everybody’s shores for so long. When I was making my last record, my sister was in a terrible car accident. There were a few other factors too, but that was the main one among them, and she was in a coma for a long time. She was going through her rehab and learning to walk again, and these were all real life things. It’s even difficult to talk about because I know it sounds very melodramatic, because it is dramatic. I don’t want to sound like I’m addressing this for any other fact than that it kept me home. It slowed the making of the record down, and everyone on our family’s lives came to a complete stop so we could care for our sister. Ultimately, the record that I was making took a long time to make, and I only did 20 shows in promotion of that record. Just to give you an idea, for every other album I’ve made I’ve toured for more than two years on each of them, which is in the 700s in the number of shows. There’s a striking difference. I would’ve liked to have been there, and I would’ve liked to have been everywhere. I’m not suited the domestic life, I don’t know that I’m wired that way. I’m much more of a troubadour and a vagabond. It’s been a strange and I feel liberated now that I can back on the road and reclaim my own.
Your tour as part of Soundwave 2012 will see you perform solo acoustic sets throughout the country. How does this compare to performing as part of a full band?
Listen, I don’t think that gives you an excuse to not sound as big as a band because you don’t have a band. I think that gives you a challenge to give the same impression when you need to be driving and powerful and potent. Playing by yourself acoustically, it brings you the ability to bring small dynamics into play, but it forces you to be creative about bringing those large dynamics across.
What are you most excited about playing the festival?
Seeing the bands, honestly, and also being able to play in front of people that have never given my band a chance. I love that idea of hanging your shingle out there in front of the unconverted. It’s a great feeling to win them over if you can!
Your collaborative track with hip-hop artist NOTAR was recently remixed by Volts United. Do you have any plans for further endeavours in the genre?
Yeah, there’s other hip-hop artists and beat writers that have approached me about doing that stuff. I think I’m like everybody else in the modern era. I don’t know any of my friends that listen to music genre-specifically anymore, as was the case in the past. Everybody I know listens to indie rock, metal, hip-hop, singer-songwriters and country music. Maybe that’s by virtue of what I do for a living and who I surround myself with, but I think actually it’s indicative of different,cultivated taste in the modern era.
Is there hope for another Further Seems Forever album or an Australian tour for the band anytime soon?
Yes on both fronts, we’re definitely making the record and when we do, we’re definitely coming to Australia.
Tell us about the craziest thing you’ve ever done on tour?
I mean, there’s been a lot of foolishness and mischief in ten years of touring, it’s hard to pinpoint the most… But I will say, it’s fun, the shenanigans are fun, but they’re always embarrassing to retell. I’m going to resist answering that question!
As an artist who has witnessed the evolution of the online era, what are your views on utilising the web as a means of sharing music?
I’m conflicted. I think that on the basic level it’s great, it’s incredible and it makes your musical community enormous. As a person who embraces a love of music and finds that to be a part of my identity, I love that. I can find others in an instant who love it the same way, and they don’t have to live in my state or in my country. However, I do worry a lot about bands that aren’t in my position, that have to worry and will probably never make money off music they made, and I think that’s just too bad because I think that they deserve it. They deserve to be able sell their music and it’s theirs to sell, but it’ll probably never happen again. I can only hope that bands that come up now are able to get as lucky as I am in terms of finding an audience for their live shows, so that it will enable them to find a livelihood in music and keep making it. It’s tricky to answer that, because I don’t necessarily find it offensive that people will download music for free, but I do believe that someone is getting hurt. I don’t happen to be one of those people, and I’ve benefited from it.
Are there any comments you’d like to finish on?
Thanks a lot for your time and I hope to see all of my Australian fans at the shows.