“I feel like if I have any kind of legacy its that I helped to kind of break down the wall between performer and audience. I’m still at the merch booth with Twin Forks because it gives me an opportunity to tell people thanks for coming face to face.” -Chris Carrabba
Last March, Substream had the pleasure of attending four separate Twin Forks performances at SXSW. These would be the first of many for the new group, boasting members from The Narrative, Bad Books, and front man of groundbreaking acts Further Seems Forever and Dashboard Confessional. Their new self-titled EP is a brilliant introduction to a style which Chris Carrabba has been pining for since he first penned your favorite breakup songs. The songwriter is embracing his earliest influences for the first time while adding years and admirable adaptations to his already set in stone legacy.
Substream Magazine: You have always liked this style of music that you grew up on, but you never felt comfortable adapting your sound to the more indie/folk style until now. What were you afraid of? What made you confident to do it now?
Chris Carrabba: Years ago when I started Dashboard and I wanted to pick up an acoustic guitar and do something that was the polar opposite of Further. I was really wary of and conscious of avoiding what I thought were the trappings of the influence that I had, which was everyone from Leonard Cohen to Simon & Garfunkel and all the way to Tom Petty. That’s when I started with the open tuning guitar because even if I ended up playing those same chords, it was going to sound different and feel different. That was my way of avoiding that. Cut to all those years later and I’ve firmly established that I’m able to write different styles, I feel very confident to go back to those influences of mine and work within and excel within the parameters of that as opposed to trying to avoid them altogether. Now I see a bit of foolishness in that, and a little bit of arrogance. I’m taking a very traditional approach to song structure and guitar playing while trying to define my own unique spin on it and I think that’s what’s really exciting for me right now.
SM: Yeah, and that’s part of the trick too. How does an artist transition without alienating anyone?
CC: Don’t you think it’s tricky to try and not alienate anyone? You’re going to alienate someone. I think that I better not worry about who likes it. I just kind of believe that if I write something potent and evidently honest, then I just kind of trust that people will like it. There’s going to be people who don’t like it because they like the non traditional aspect that Dashboard had. You can’t predict that stuff and I think you could drive yourself crazy. I think you can give yourself writer’s block when you do that and I’ve done that before.
SM: There’s some irony to this decision because folk has had this huge resurgence in the last few years. Maybe you could have been in the forefront had you made the leap a few years back.
CC: The fact is that I started it a couple years ago. There was no smart money on folk music becoming all the rage on Top 40 Radio. Who would have thought that? I guess you could try and Monday morning quarterback it. That’s not why I was doing it. There’s a genre of it but there’s also a sub-genre of it which I think we fit more closely with. We’re maybe a more underground version of that. That isn’t to say that I don’t love hearing those songs on the radio. I think the reason Mumford and Sons is the biggest band in the world right now is that they’re the best band in the world right now, they’re just incredible. I think if those same groups of people chose any style, they’d excel at it and have hits on the radio. Would you have been able to say two years ago that folk music would be the new thing that was on the radio That it would be the thing that regular people liked? You and I coming from a counter-culture place? I could have never predicted that.
SM: I think most wouldn’t have predicted that they would like it a couple years ago.
CC: See, I would have known I would have liked it but I never would have thought. I kind of grew up on it. I discovered it while giving a couple interviews that I worked in reverse order of my influence. There are tinges of bluegrass and tinges of 90’s rock in there.
photo by Mike Dubin
SM: I wonder if there’s any fans out there saying “Wait a minute, we thought Chris grew up on hardcore and punk! Where is this coming from?”
CC: I was a kid once and I don’t think there was hardcore when I was a little boy (laughs). The first wave of hardcore I think I got really into. It didn’t exist when I began listening to music. I also listened to Metallica. Doesn’t everyone that’s a really big music fan have a lot of different stages in their fandom and don’t they overlap?
SM: And as those tastes and influences overlap, they can even guide you in other things in your life.
CC: Absolutely. When I started on this voyage of a new kind of thing and embrace this influence in my life, then I started going down the road of learning how to play this style, working harder than you would believe. There’s an easy version and a hard version and I’m striving for the hard version and probably ending up in the middle, am I right?
CC: I walked into a bar one night to see one friend play and there’s this kid Cory Branan playing first, who at the time is just a guy, not my friend who I went to see. It’s so firey and masterful. It had drive. I was ending up with these very Paul Simon, delicate kind of things, that’s how I was approaching it. I watched him do what he did which was pairing the guitar part and thought “that’s the guy that knows the past”. I didn’t even watch the next band, I walked out and went home and sent Cory an email saying “If you ever want to play together, I’d just love to spend time with you so I can watch you play every night”. That really influenced where I landed too.
SM: I hope that the resurgence in stuff like Cory’s music is speaking to us wanting something more honest from our music. It’s funny to look at the charts and see Miley Cyrus right next to Mumford and Sons. People feel just as passionate, in different ways, about both.
CC: It’s great that people do. This is an example of the kind of fandom I have with music. There’s introspective songwriting that drives me to a place where I’m examining the world and where I fit into it on a very deep level. You talk about those songs on the charts that are doing that, I suppose Mumford and Sons are a great example of that. Then there’s the other piece, where all you want to feel is goofy joy and it’s not rooted in introspection. That said, those songs are spectacular or they wouldn’t have made it in the Top 40. People classify them as “bubblegum”. They’re obviously something more than that; there’s something radical and incredible about those songs. You mentioned Miley Cyrus and to go back a few years to “Party in the USA”, on the surface it’s very goofy, but if you break it down like quarterly, it’s a really complex song. It’s escapism but it’s not like a jingle, its real music.
SM: It seems like you’ve always kind of been the mastermind behind your bands. With Further, you have this kind of cosmic connection and obviously with DC, things were yours from the start, so what is the collaboration dynamic like with these guys and girl?
CC: It’s a bit more collaborative than Dashboard and the only reason I say a bit instead of a lot is just that the band really came together later, almost when the writing was already done. Jonathan and I collaborate a lot, we write songs for other people. I was on a voyage of discovery like there was an absolute and I needed to find it. I needed to find that thing. Ben was instrumental in production. I think the band was more instrumental in the actual production of the record and definitely the arrangement more than the writing for the majority of the songs on this record but I can say confidently that that won’t be the case going forward. I think it’ll be truly collaborative because we know what the absolute is, what the heart of the band is so everyone can understand the mission statement, for lack of a better term.
SM: You made a point with this band to not trade on your name or your band mates’ former acts, having made that decision, how do you gauge your success? You had Spin.com premiere a teaser for the EP, not any small band could get something like that.
CC: I’m really lucky that I’ve gotten such a leg up from the hard work we did and the relationships we built and the respect we gave our audience. We get these opportunities like Spin that we probably wouldn’t get had it been another band. That’s something that’s great but I’m also not calling up magazines and saying “Hey, you have to do this because I was in Dashboard and you have to mention Dashboard because that’s the way to get people to the show”. We’re playing very small rooms just like every other band hoping they’ll sell out. It would be real easy if I just said “Twin Forks featuring Chris Carrabba playing all the songs he knows” or whatever (laughs). I think that would be a surefire way to make sure the shows sell out and that they were bigger shows, but its time to share this music with the audience if they’re along for the ride. That’s not to say I won’t ever play Dashboard songs at these shows, I will and I have. Just like we’ll play Bad Books songs and Narrative songs as time goes by. We’ll do all that but we’re not saying “Come and see this and you will see it”, we’re saying “Come and see Twin Forks, you’ll see Twin Forks”.
Some of it is self-serving. I really do like playing those rooms and it’s hard when you’re playing to the converted all the time in a giant room. You lose a little something. Playing these songs I’ve learned a lot more about what your songs have or lack and what you need to do live to make them have what you need.
SM: And that was such a big appeal to you when you were getting big with DC.
CC: I think that’s one of my favorite things that that didn’t become so odd after I was doing it. I think kids came to see me play and said “Oh that’s what bands do” and so when they started their bands, they did that too. I feel like if I have any kind of legacy its that I helped to kind of break down the wall between performer and audience. I’m still at the merch booth with Twin Forks because it gives me an opportunity to tell people thanks for coming face to face.
SM: Do you still get that same enjoyment out of connecting with fans as you did when you were younger?
CC: I think even more now than ever. I understand now just the rarity of that. It was “This is great, this is fun, I’m making new friends every night, all these people are so kind”. Now I can say “I can’t believe that this actually happened and is happening again”. When I go to see a band, even at their merch table, I’m hesitant to go say hi. It takes a certain amount of bravery to make that leap. That’s what I’ve learned with the benefit of distance from that in terms of time that it takes a big effort on the listener’s end. That’s why I didn’t stop doing that even when we got so big we were playing arenas. I continued to do solo shows when I could in the smallest rooms I could. Truth be told, I liked it a lot more. Obviously I’m proud that Dashboard got big. I’m proud of it because I think it happened by virtue of the audience sharing it with other people, it was very organic. For my own enjoyment, I still enjoy playing the CBGBs of the world. May they rest in peace.
SM: And that’s an important legacy to hold onto because I don’t know if Dashboard could happen today.
CC: I really don’t know. It makes me feel real lucky though because I got to have the experience.
SM: At this point in your career, do you feel like the pressure is off?
CC: No, I don’t. I don’t know that I feel like the pressure will ever be off because I put the pressure on. I felt a lot of pressure when nobody was listening. I felt a lot of pressure when the people were listening were diehard fans and I felt a lot when the people were listening were diehard fans and haters who wanted to tear it up. The pressure comes from me, it’s eternal. I don’t think its reactionary to the particular happenings of the moment.
*Twin Forks’ self-titled EP is out 9/17. Check www.twinforksmusic.com for tour dates!
By Jameson Ketchum