There is no mistake that Chris Carrabba‘s latest venture with his newest band, Twin Forks (see above), is further down the Americana path than he has ever been before. The self-titled album which has an air of unrestrained joy, old fashioned boot-stompin’ and mandolin playin’ that you might not have heard on a Dashboard Confessional record but that comes down, in part, to the turning tide of a rebellious streak that saw him push against his own influences in his earlier years.
Time has shown Carrabba that influences are something that makes a musician, “You don’t become a musician without influences and you don’t become a successful musician without learning how to embrace those influences and not run from them. I got lucky having success running from my influences or thinking I was running from them and now I’m just accepting that there’s a traditional style of writing music that is applicable to the kind of music that I love the most.”
Carrabba, initially though he had tapped into a new musical dimension with the open tunings that became a hallmark of Dashboard Confessional’s records but he admits that “I had convinced myself that I had developed my own way in but I know now that a thousand legendary musicians figured out those open tunings to get in there before me. At the time, I didn’t know and I’m self taught so I didn’t know that these open tunings existed. I didn’t know that was part of the whole country blues, I didn’t know that that was part of southern guitar lore or slide guitar”
Throughout the interview, it is obvious that Carrabba is now speaking like a man with a high level of respect for his influences, it was a respect that was there in his earlier years but one he is only coming around to fully embracing. His initial rebellions against his influences were borne from fear of imitation or possibly not sounding unique but it took a few sessions fooling around with his new bandmates to finally learn this and some words from his bass player Jonathan Clark, who also acts as a producer and a man who Carrabba claims “knows where you want to go before you know yourself“, to convince him to do what he loves. “We’d be sitting around playing all these songs by these fantastic influences of ours and get to laughing and playing and Jonathan says, “Hey, that’s your record right there” as we are stewing over the songs and he says to me “Why are you afraid to do what you love?”.
It is a point he has made in previous interviews and he acknowledges this “forgive me because I have said this before but it was a profound moment for me. It led to the defining sound of the band. I felt like he was right, now I want to embrace them and if somebody says, “that sounds like Steve Earle?”, I can say “fuck yeah, that sounds like Steve Earle“. Carrabba’s list of influences is quite long, which can only mean good things for listeners, given his new found ability to put these figures into his work. “if it sounds like Townes van Zandt or Robert Smith, you know, just pat myself on the back and think that I’ve got a song. I’m not setting out to imitate them but they are deep inside me like influences, just like every other musician”
Having mentioned Paul Simon in previous pieces, it becomes apparent very early during our conversation that Simon played a major part in the evolution and development of Carrabba the song writer, “I remember being drawn into songs of real simplicity, and not that the songs are simple, but the stories are simple, like Cecilia and Me and Julio and then Scarborough fair being more verbose and more high-minded but still speaking basic language and conversely being drawn to Dylan, for the more verbose nature of his delivery and then having an eye opening moment hearing Paul Simon’s Graceland, where I believe Paul Simon fell into his most powerful moment of lyrical prowess“.
The self-taught Carrabba also says he had trouble identifying certain aspects of music that he can now quite easily point out but at the time was so foreign to him that he couldn’t quite grasp it, “I loved the African rhythm, at the time I didn’t know it was African, it sounded to me like boot stomping. That stuck with me and as I started down a path in search of things that I like and not understanding that it was African rhythm, I ended up falling into some outlaw country stuff where you can literally hear boots stompin’ on the floor and unrestrained joy”
The influential aspect of Carrabba’s music works both ways and when it is mentioned that many people were influenced by his songs, he understands and explains that it is something he has thought about before and is fully aware of the significance music can hold. “You can love songs and love artists but every now and again there’s an artist, for some reason, you believe, at first in your naivety, that they’re speaking to you and then you realize later that there is some view of how the world works that no matter what, no matter how different you are as people or how far apart you are that you’re going to find the same importance in those points of minutia”
There is a massive overflow of Dashboard Confessional fans who follow the work of Chris Carrabba that now find themselves with a Twin Forks album that, given their loyalty, they want to like and these fans can expect their loyalty to be repaid “it’s great to have fans who want to like your music. We are playing tiny venues at the moment, and I mean tiny venues but if we go on stage and these people sit and listen to our new songs and then I get a request to play “Vindicated”, of course I’m going to play “Vindicated” because these people came here to see us and they are kind enough to want to hear our songs”
Carrabba’s modest stage presence carries with him through his life and the dream he holds for Twin Forks are the same as that for a new and unknown entity, “We are just like any band starting out and we stand to lose a lot of money and the dream is to, eventually, not lose money one day“. He is trying his best not to ride off the fame of any bands he was in before and makes that clear, “I wanted it to be about this new thing and I didn’t want to fill a 4,000 seater because the advertisement said, in massive writing, Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba with Twin Forks in tiny writing at the bottom”
There is an honesty in that that must be applauded but what more would you expect from a man who gathered his belongings, donated them to Good Will and took off across the country in search of something more meaningful from life, “Yeah, I gathered up all my things and gave them to goodwill because I don’t think when people get old, they sit on their porch and think about all the money they accumulated. It’s about how many friends you’ve made and it’s about making friends who will come over and put boards on your window in the middle of a hurricane. They’re the things that matter”
The honesty with which Carrabba sings was a theme in Dashboard Confessional’s records, followed him in Twin Forks and was pretty obvious in conversation.