“Tom Petty, Springsteen, Neil Young, and Pearl Jam…these are the people I look to,” says Chris Carrabba, the creative force behind Dashboard Confessional. “They do what they want and follow their hearts, going wherever their music is taking them. I look to those guys, and I start to think: how does it work for them? What were they holding on to, and do I hold on to that as well?”
With the release of his fourth full-length album Dusk and Summer, the Boca Raton, Florida resident is no longer simply an up-and-coming musician; he’s a career artist. Dusk is certainly the most defining album of what has already been a remarkable career; on one end, it’s a return to the full band sound of Carrabba’s earliest, pre-Dashboard work, and yet also the most forward-thinking and innovative record he’s ever recorded.
“When I started Dashboard six years ago, I was reacting to these other bands I had been in,” says Carrabba, referring to his time in the bands the Vacant Andys and Further Seems Forever. “At the time, I needed something…simpler.” If those bands were about being loud and filling a room, Carrabba’s instinct was to strip it all down and let his voice and his guitar carry the emotions.
It was a smart, and life-changing, idea. After recording an EP (Drowning), Carrabba released his debut full-length The Swiss Army Romance in 2000. Carrabba’s acoustic yearnings found a home with the punk and indie rock crowd. A year of constant touring led to bigger shows, better opening slots and the sense that something bigger was coming.
With 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most on Vagrant, a more mainstream crowd started to take notice. “Screaming Infidelities” became a much talked-about anthem and 2002 saw Dashboard garner a much-coveted Moonman for MTV2 Artist of the Year. More importantly, it opened up a wider audience for Carrabba. MTV commissioned an Unplugged special, and later released it as a live album. The resulting CD/DVD, titled simply MTV Unplugged V2.0, went platinum. Rolling Stone and Spin wrote features, after noticing the growing crowds at Dashboard shows who sang along to every single word…and oftentimes, took over the show. It was half arena rock, half revivalist meeting.
“I always feel like I’m on a chase, me and my audience,” says Carrabba. “There are no boundaries between us. Any show I do, big or small, just playing some random place, it always makes me really feel alive.”
On 2002’s Summers Kiss EP and 2003’s million-selling A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, the singer started tinkering again with a full band sound, earning a hit with a electric-guitar reworking of his earlier song “Hands Down” and “Vindicated,” a track released on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack that ended up at #2 on rock radio and cracked Top 40. More tours, this time headlining arenas and opening for U2, followed, as did an MTV concert special where Carrabba covered REM’s Automatic for the People and jammed with Michael Stipe. But even these projects only hinted at the sounds to come.
“When I started recording for this last album, I decided I needed to explore that full sonic realm again,” he says. “And it’s not just because I’m using a full band. I write all the songs, rhythms and instrumentation. It’s just my taste as a writer now.”
When Carrabba sat down to work on the record in 2004, he hired legendary producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan) to helm the disc. It was a fruitful, but unusual way of prepping a Dashboard record; a lot of the writing and recording was fairly free-form. While Chris had never really worked that way before, together they made cool and innovative music. However, when they wrapped and Daniel had to go, Chris decided he wanted to record another song. So he got Don Gilmore (Pearl Jam, Linkin Park) to work with him and suddenly went on a writing binge, six songs in four days. These songs comprise most of the new record. There is a ton of great, unreleased stuff recorded with Daniel that at the end of the day didn’t fit thematically with the new record.
Instead of confusion, however, the new album flaunts its diversity. The first single, “Don’t Wait,” may be the best song Carrabba’s ever written – over jangly guitars and crashing drums, Carrabba croons “to lay your armor down”, then pulls out an impossibly catchy, almost Bono-esque “oooh ah oooh” chorus.
And yet, that opening track only hints at what’s to follow. “Reason To Believe” is aggressive, “Stolen” floats by on strings and synths, and “Slow Decay” takes on a noisy, foreboding tone (“I’m not dead but I should be”). On the opposite end comes the pretty, piano-led “So Long, So Long,” featuring the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz on back-up vocals.
“Adam and I met at the Bridge School Benefit a few years ago,” says Carrabba. “We knew we were going to be doing something together at some point and Adam suggested a song.”
Oddly, it’s “Dusk and Summer,” the one acoustic, “classic-style” Dashboard track that nabs the album’s title. “I knew I’d write a song at the eleventh hour that would surmise and tie together all the pieces of the record, and that was it,” he says. “It’s so affirming; there’s no question that it sums up the album.”
After wrapping the album, Carrabba immediately made plans to hit the road and stay there. “It’s strange, our fan base started as college kids, got a little younger, and then went older again…and now it’s boundless,” says Carrabba. “I think it’s because everyone is welcome. I don’t try to shape an audience; once you do that, you get in trouble.”
Despite a return, in a way, to the sounds of his past, Carrabba says he doesn’t know where Dusk and Summer will lead him down the road. “I think for the next 5-10 years, I’ll still be finding my feet,” he says. “And I think everything is cyclical. I’ll be back to me and a guitar at some point. But people are hopefully embracing what I’m doing now, whatever this thing is, this new ideas. It’s still me; I’m just taking a different avenue to get there.”