Chris Carrabba has given a lot to his fans: compassion, hope and a sense that they're not alone in experiencing dire emotional turmoil.
In two years and as many albums, all he's asked for in return is the continuation of a gift they bestowed upon him from the start: artistic freedom.
"The coolest part about this fanbase of mine is that they give me this really wide berth," the singer/guitarist said.
Most of Carrabba's fans took it in stride when he took Dashboard Confessional, a side project from his hardcore outfit Further Seems Forever, to the fore. They also didn't mind when he used a full band to record Dashboard's latest album, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most.
As Carrabba prepares to begin recording his third album, he's got more fans than ever, having sold nearly 325,000 copies of The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, but that hasn't meant any added pressure or led him to overanalyze the lyrics he's been writing.
"They've been kind through all those stages," he continued. "so I feel really free to challenge myself and then challenge them to see what ultimately works and doesn't work."
Most of the 40 or so songs Carrabba is considering for the as-yet-untitled album were written in the past six months. While he wraps up the remaining dates on his tour, which ends November 5 in Honolulu, he's in the process of paring them down to about 14.
While heartbreak, loneliness and despair fueled The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, things haven't been so wretched since that album's release in March 2001. In addition to the album sales, Carrabba has released three Dashboard EPs and has an "Unplugged" CD and DVD set scheduled to drop December 3, according to his publicist. Winning the MTV2 Video Music Award for "Screaming Infidelities" ranks among his biggest accomplishments in a year marked by crowning achievements, he said.
Although he's obviously coming from a different place this time around, Carrabba doesn't see himself writing a shiny, happy record. Instead, he predicts the album will make more musical leaps than thematic ones.
"I approach songwriting just a little differently on this record only because I held back a lot on my other records musically, not necessarily lyrically or emotionally," he explained. "I'm a bigger thinker now than what is portrayed on those records. ... I hear more than one guitar part, for example. I hear specific basslines. I have a group of guys who are dedicated to getting me to that end result."
Fans shouldn't worry that rock's reigning king of pain has turned into some prog-rock prince. Mostly, he said, he'll remain the same sensitive soul he's always been — perhaps with a little more experience in dealing with his emotions.
"It's not like I've become a jaded 40-year-old millionaire rock star with nothing left to write about."