Q&A: Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba

The frontman describes life on the road: vodka-tonics, Wiffle ball and dirty laundry

Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional at the Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City, California on July 13th, 2006. Credit: Jordan Strauss/WireImage/Getty

For Dashboard Confessional's fourth album, frontman Chris Carrabba found his muse at the beach — hence the title Dusk and Summer. "Having grown up in the Northeast and then Florida, I remember when our big getaway was to drive an hour and sit on the beach," says Carrabba, 31, at a cafe in his new hometown, New York. "I just kept finding myself back there, finding inspiration." Dusk and Summer was a long process: After initial sessions with studio god Daniel Lanois, Carrabba wrote a slew of new songs and brought in Linkin Park producer Don Gilmore for several sleek cuts with big choruses, including the first single, "Don't Wait," and "So Long, So Long," a gorgeous duet with Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz. "It was a joy," Carrabba says. "What more do you want?"

Onstage, do you ever think, "I wish the crowd would shut up for a second and let me sing?"

Seldomly — unless they're really out of tune. They drown me out, but I don't stop — I get to sing too.

Do you think about changing melodies, to throw them off?

Some bands do that, like the Counting Crows, that I really love. That's not for us, though. We rework stuff within certain boundaries. When you change your songs beyond the point of recognition, it might be more interesting to you, but it won't be as interesting to the crowd.

Growing up, did you ever sing in church?

Well, I was in a church's kids choir, when I was three. That amounted to playing blocks in the corner. I was in the chorus in high school, and I didn't sing one note — I lip-synced. I was terrified to show that I didn't know what I was doing. I did get an A though, because I did well on the music-theory stuff.

Where'd you learn harmony?

When I was a little kid, my mother recognized that I really responded to the Beach Boys. That's what she played all the time, albums like All Summer Long and Friends. From a young age, I carried that with me. I always sang harmonies to records, always something different from what the singer was singing.

What's your favorite obscure Dylan track?

I love the Bootleg Series Volume 5. "Isis" is probably my favorite track on that — the band is kicking ass, and there's so much fire in his voice. "Isis" is a long story to tell, but I'm drawn in every time I listen. The hair on the back of my neck is sticking up — I get goose bumps.

I hear you're quite the Wiffle ball star.

When we're playing an arena it's so cool to do a Wiffle ball home-run derby. We tape the bat and the ball so you can really connect, and we set up against the seats so you can actually hit the hall into the stands.

Am I wrong to think that your new song "Slow Decay" has political overtones — that it's about war?

It is. It's absolutely about war. More specifically, it's about a soldier coming home from war, trying to adjust. The narrative is a conversation from son to father, and father to son. It's a loosely fictitious tale, based on two friends of mine and a third person, whose story I saw on 60 Minutes — the soldier was wearing a Dashboard shirt.

When Neil Young released Living With War this year, he said he'd wished that a young songwriter had written it. Do you have that album in you?

I may. I'm just as fed up as anybody else. I wrote "Slow Decay" about one of the horrors of war that we, as a nation, seem to be turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to. Many Vietnam vets are still maladjusted because they weren't reintegrated into society, so this will be a hot-button issue for the next twenty years. It's not the typical anti-war song, but I think it's a necessary one. Maybe it opens the door for me as a writer, or someone else, but I hope it encourages the listener to investigate more.

Your label chief Jimmy Iovine said he loved Dashboard because, like Eminem, it's reality music. What do you think about Eminem?

I love Eminem. The syncopation in his delivery is unbelievable, and so is the way he can tie a rhyme together when it's separated by so many lines. My favorite rapper is the Streets. The story of A Grand Don't Come for Free is profound, and his ability to tie the arc together is really inspirational. As a writer and a producer, his sound is unparalleled.

Does it bother you how much people discuss your hair and the T-shirts you always wear?

Who gives a crap? When I go on tour, I just bring enough to get by on one load of laundry a week. So if I'm on the road for six months, they'll see the same T-shirt a lot. I don't care, nor should I care.

What's your favorite musician joke?

What's the last thing a drummer says before he's kicked out of the band?

What?

"Hey, guys, I wrote some songs."

Nice! Onstage, what do you like to have nearby?

Some chewing gum — Extra. I have a line of drinks — a lot of water, a mixed drink like a vodka-tonic, Red Bull, tea, and that's it.

Have you ever performed drunk?

Of course. I've done a good amount of shows where I probably shouldn't be driving. I let some of my inhibitions down, but I'm more interested is being better than having more fun. It's better to know we nailed a song than to feel like, "Oh, that was awesome, man!" with a droopy eye. Then again, I'm sure I'll do more shows drunk.