Most people spend their summers hitting the highways to see the sights, but Chris Carrabba is doing just the opposite. While everyone else is worrying about stopping their mail and having their neighbors water the plants, the Dashboard Confessional frontman is staying home with his nose to the grindstone.
"I've got a lot of songs finished, I've got a lot of songs half-finished, and I've got a lot of songs half-brewing," Carrabba said, offering a status report on the follow-up to last year's A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar. "I'm not sure what the new record is going to be yet. It's too soon to tell."
One thing the singer — who is currently enjoying a hit with "Vindication" from the "Spider-Man 2" soundtrack (see "Dashboard Singer Gives Props To Higher Power For Spidey Song") — can guarantee is that Dashboard's fourth album won't be like any of Carrabba's previous work. The singer/guitarist was responsible for penning most of the material on the band's last album, as well as 2001's The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most and 2000's The Swiss Army Romance, because until recently Dashboard Confessional were essentially a one-man operation. Some of his bandmates pitched in for the last album, though the new one promises to be a fully collaborative affair.
"Now we're this really great collective," Carrabba boasted. "Whereas before, when I'd bring in a song that was completed, I'd know where all the parts should be. And when [my bandmates] would ask, I'd say, 'I'm thinking about this for the guitar part.'
"Now [guitarist] Johnny [Leffler] says, 'Well, how about this?' And if it works better — which it does a lot of the time, because he's incredible — we'll use it. I guess I write the poems and then we all decorate them afterward."
The other difference Dashboard fans will recognize immediately is the presence of a piano. A new tune expected to make the album, "So Long, So Long," a live version of which is available for download on the band's Web site, features the instrument, and Carrabba says he's excited about crafting songs that show off his new skill.
"I didn't play until January," he said. "It was something I always wanted to learn how to do, so I taught myself how to play when I was stuck in L.A. for three weeks. Instead of renting a car, I rented a keyboard."
With barely eight months of practice under his belt, Carrabba is far from virtuoso status. His lack of experience, he said, promises to make the album an adventure to craft.
"I like not knowing what I'm doing," he joked. "You can do really well as a writer when you're really not exactly sure what you're doing, like when you haven't mastered the tools that you're using. It leads to exploration, and that can lead you anywhere."
With so many variables, even Carrabba doesn't know where the new album will fall in his canon. Then again, he said, he never really does.
"I've made some very different records, and I'm not sure ... Every time I do [a record,] I think we've really kind of defined ourselves. And every time I let it sit for a few months, I realize I haven't. I have no idea if I ever will [define myself] or if it's even good to. At least I'm still looking to find what the thing is that we do. I'm not sure I've found it yet."