Having suffered through some soured relationships, Dashboard Confessional, a.k.a. Christopher Carrabba, has managed to turn a few bitter ends into a pretty sweet start.
Dashboard Confessional's second album, The Places You Have Come to Fear, was released nearly a year ago but has sold roughly half of its retail total nearly 100,000 copies, according to SoundScan in the last four months. The LP's first single, "Screaming Infidelities," has only recently been receiving spins at radio, while its video has been in rotation for barely a month.
The album's popularity can be attributed, in no small part, to the emotional thunderstorm that strikes each track. There's nothing stupendous about the music. Carrabba's an adequate guitarist his surging, mostly straightforward acoustic songs don't require much more which leaves the heart-wrenching lyrics, like the troubadour himself, standing alone to be absorbed and pined over by his faithful audience.
"I'm reading your note over again," he sings in "Screaming Infidelities," after studying his "Dear John" letter. "As for now, I'm gonna hear the saddest songs and sit alone and wonder how you're making out. But as for me, I wish that I was anywhere with anyone making out."
You won't find cryptic metaphors or complex poetics elsewhere on the album, either, which is just fine. It's this simplicity, like the words on a teenager's tear-soaked diary page, that adds to the sincerity of his work.
"I write the songs that I write in order to get through whatever it is, good or bad, that I'm dealing with at that time," Carrabba explained. "Once it's out of me, once I've created this song, then the healing or coping process is done. And from then on, I'm re-experiencing those same events every night, but I'm also experiencing all these people's different takes on this. And to hear them say it with that much passion, it makes me understand that they must connect on some level."
And connect they do. Dashboard Confessional shows are demon-sharing group therapy sessions. It's not unusual to see concertgoers crying, though some tears are from fans delighting in knowing that they're not alone in their pain, as entire throngs sing word-for-word along with Carrabba.
"Sometimes I stop singing entirely and just let them take it," he said. "[The songs] are as much theirs as they are mine."
Dashboard Confessional began as a side project to Carrabba's former band, the overtly punk Further Seems Forever. While the singer/guitarist recorded Dashboard's first album, 2000's The Swiss Army Romance, by himself, he was backed by bassist Dan Bonebrake of the Vacant Andys and drummer Mike Marsh of the Agency (both bands in which he had also spent time) for The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most.
While the subtle melodies of his current project contrast with the bombast of his earlier work, there's more than a smidgen of punk left in this 25-year-old, 1950s greaser-looking balladeer. His outward appearance (both arms are sleeved with ink) and his inner misfit that can't seem to maintain emotional stability combine in his music to make for a turbulent culture clash.
"What I do is a little hard to categorize," he said. "[It's somewhere] between singer/songwriter and punk rock, or post-punk or whatever. And that's because I definitely was exploring those separate genres for so long kind of independent of each other. I was writing all these songs in my bedroom that were definitely singer/songwriter stuff, in the vein of Elvis Costello and that kind of thing.
"But then I was writing these very aggressive punk-rock songs for my bands. At some point all the lines seemed to blur. Some of the songs I was writing for the band sounded a lot more heartfelt no less hard-edged but somehow more melodic. And the inverse was also true; I found myself writing these songs that were basically ballads but were kind of driving. And that's become something I embraced, because there's more than one way to sing a love song, or an anti-love song, and I maybe merged those two worlds a bit."
Despite his soul-bearing approach to songwriting, Carrabba doesn't see a direct correlation between himself and other warts-and-all softies Elliott Smith and Mark Eitzel. Instead, he cites Fugazi and Jawbox as more direct influences and likens his craft to that of harder fare by Cursive and Bright Eyes, two artists, like Dashboard Confessional, that have been saddled with the often misappropriated catchall "emo."
"The whole emo tag line is such a funny quandary to me because it seems to be so important to the people trying to use it. And to the people being labeled that, it's of no consequence. To me, I'm involved in the indie-rock scene. I can't figure out, for the life of me, how Sunny Day Real Estate, the Promise Ring, the Get Up Kids and Cursive all can be the same kind of band. I don't understand how bands that are so different can be pigeonholed that way.
"But if that helps open the eyes and ears of people, if it's easier for someone to pass along a CD that may not have otherwise been heard by saying, 'Hey, this is emo!' then good, cool. Music is for everybody."
And since heartache doesn't discriminate, Dashboard Confessional should have no trouble relating to an audience that's not fixated on en vogue hipster tags.
Dashboard Confessional tour dates, according to Vagrant Records:
- 3/5 - Tempe, AZ @ Nita's Hideaway
- 3/7 - San Diego, CA @ 'Canes
- 3/8 - Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues
- 3/9 - Anaheim, CA @ Chain Reaction
- 3/11 - West Hollywood, CA @ House of Blues
- 3/12 - West Hollywood, CA @ House of Blues
- 3/13 - San Francisco, CA @ Slim's
- 3/14 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
- 3/15 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
- 3/16 - Seattle, WA @ Showbox
- 3/17 - Olympia, WA @ Capitol Theatre
- 3/19 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Brick's
- 3/20 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Brick's
- 3/21 - Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre
- 3/22 - Iowa City, IA @ Gabe's Oasis
- 3/23 - Minneapolis, MN @ Quest Club
- 3/24 - Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
- 3/25 - Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
- 3/26 - Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
- 3/27 - Pontiac, MI @ Clutch Cargo
- 3/28 - Pontiac, MI @ Clutch Cargo
- 3/29 - Cincinnati, OH @ Bogart's
- 3/30 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Laga
- 4/1 - Lackawanna, NY @ The Funhouse
- 4/2 - Rochester, NY @ Water Street Music Hall
- 4/3 - Hartford, CT @ Webster Theatre
- 4/4 - Worcester, MA @ The Palladium
- 4/5 - South Amboy, NJ @ Club Bene
- 4/6 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 4/7 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero
- 4/9 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 4/11 - Norfolk, VA @ The NorVa
- 4/12 - Myrtle Beach, SC @ House of Blues
- 4/13 - Raleigh, NC @ The Ritz
- 4/14 - Atlanta, GA @ Earthlink Live (Center Stage)
- 4/15 - Orlando, FL @ House of Blues
- 4/16 - Tampa, FL @ The Masquerade
- 4/17 - Pompano Beach, FL @ Millennium