Believe it or not, Chris Carrabba says he's never understood the heart-on-sleeve characterization of Dashboard Confessional's music — even though he's seemingly poured his personal heartbreak and torment into a huge percentage of the band's songs.
"I've always thought that I've actually had a little bit of a guard up," said Carrabba. "It's always surprised me that people have thought how exposed to the inner self I let the audience be. I've always thought that that was only true to a very limited extent. I know that I have an earnestness in my lyrics that I'm either celebrated or lambasted for. I don't mind. That's sort of my lot."
So for those who may have found Carrabba's musings a bit too personal and introspective: just wait. On Dashboard's forthcoming, yet-untitled disc, which should surface late this year or early next, "I think I've let a little more of myself fall into this record," the frontman said. "I sort of let a couple of darker moments come through, along with a couple of the more hopeful moments. I let myself root these songs in certain things that I wouldn't let anyone near before. The place I let myself get to really was someplace that I hadn't quite tapped into before."
For the moment, though, the fourth Dashboard disc has been put on hold, so that Carrabba and his band can traverse the continent with U2. In between those arena dates, DC have several club gigs scheduled, with the proceeds from both the ticket and merchandise sales earmarked for charities assisting the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"The other night, Bono gave me a pep talk before the show, basically saying that every band that tours with [U2] gets the short end," he said. "As amazing a chance as it is for a band to go on tour with U2, he said there was going to be parts of it where you are going to get heckled or whatever. He was trying to make me less nervous, but I've got news for you: A pep talk from Bono doesn't make you less nervous."
This is the third break he's taken from working on the new disc, which is being produced by Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan), but Carrabba says that he just needs to finish mixing it, which he'll do when he returns from the U2 run.
Carrabba said he wrote more than 30 songs in his Florida apartment, and then recorded the demos in run-and-gun sessions that unfolded in his laundry room (see "Forget That New Dashboard Album — Carrabba's Already Written A Better One"). He and Lanois then recorded a total of 20 songs: half of them in Lanois' Toronto flat, and the other half in the producer's Silver Lake, California, home — mostly in "living rooms and basements." When the record finally hits stores, it will feature just 10 tracks.
"I think it's a failure of the medium that we're in," he explained. "Just because you can put 112 minutes on a CD doesn't mean you should. It sort of begs for people to skip songs and never pay attention to some of the work that you've done. I think that was a failure of my last record," which boasted 13 tunes, "that there were songs that you could easily overlook."
Carrabba said he wanted to return to his roots with this album — which meant playing every note on the album himself. He also experimented with different instrumentation, everything from mandolins and "weird pianos" to metal flower pots, which were utilized as a last minute drum-kit substitute (see "Dashboard Confessional Look To The Future And See: A Piano"). Fans might even be able to detect some distinctive foot stomping on the disc.
"[Lanois] is like this benevolent, mad scientist," Carrabba said. "There's no emotion you can't read off of him. Frustration, jubilation, excitement — it just pours out of his skin and right into yours. So you know you're on the wrong track instantaneously, but when you're on the right track, he's got his fists pumping, he's stomping his feet. At one point, I was recording a vocal track, and he's standing right next to me, stomping his feet like crazy. He's just so into it. And I said, 'Dan, I could hear your foot stomping on the tape.' And he was like, 'Was it in time?' 'Yeah, it was in time.' 'Great! That was a great take!' So, Daniel contributed in many ways to the record — his feet are all over it."
While Carrabba's still considering which tracks will ultimately make the final cut, he said "Sin, Silk and Skin," "Into the Coast" and "Heaven Here" are some of his favorite creations from the Lanois sessions. But did working with Lanois, a dude who's worked with some of the biggest names in the business, alter Dashboard's musical identity?
"I think people will say Daniel's changed my sound, but if they heard the demos, they would say, 'Oh well, it was a good pairing,' " said Carrabba. "The demos sound as if I was preparing for him. There's a bit more of a lush nature to the record.
"It's a fairly far-reaching record, sonically, but I don't think it's pretentious at all," he continued. "I don't enjoy music that's hidden somehow behind nonsense like that. [Lanois] has made records for the biggest bands in the world and made them share themselves with their audience, while still having this enormous scale. I don't think our record has an enormous scale, but we're sharing ourselves with the audience while sort of letting them wade into the songs in a different way. I've felt that there's been a bit of an abrasiveness to my songs that maybe pushed people away. But what I like is the raw energy to them. The trick to this record was finding a way to completely, wholeheartedly embrace that raw energy, but also give people other things they could latch onto, so it doesn't come off snotty."