No Reggae Emo, But New Dashboard LP Owes A Lot To Jamaica

Last-minute Caribbean vacation with U2 producer gets creative juices flowing.

Dashboard Confessional fans have waited — impatiently — three years for emo heartthrob Chris Carrabba to give them a fourth sensitive batch of tunes. The singer said the wait will soon be over (he’s eyeing a summer release date), and he insists the delays couldn’t have been avoided.

He needed the time to reflect — and to live.

“I had to wade through this sort of diluted-writing thing I was doing, which was kind of perpetuated by only living on the road and not really having many life experiences other than playing shows,” he explained. “You can’t always pull from that well. You have to have a life to live in order to have something to say. So I needed to step back and think about the life I’ve led. I’ve lived enough now that I don’t think I have to wait another three years after this one comes out to put another album on the shelves.”

With Carrabba being on the road as much as he is, several of the songs that will appear on the forthcoming, yet-untitled follow-up to 2003′s A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar were written on the back of a tour bus or in his dressing room.

“It’s not my favorite place to write, but one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written was written on the road, so I can’t say that it doesn’t work,” he said. That song’s called “Don’t Wait” and is the first single off the upcoming album.

“When we were on tour with U2 [last fall], we played, and once the show was over, I still had that really sort of elated feeling you get from playing live shows. It’s a really unique feeling. You do whatever you can to stay there. I walked off feeling excited about seeing U2 but knowing I wasn’t going to get that same feeling, and I wanted it to stick. So I walked into our dressing room, picked up a guitar and started playing — and the feeling was sticking, so I kept playing. And ['Don't Wait'] sort of sounds like a song that should make you feel that way because it was born out of that. As soon as I start playing it, I feel that feeling — it just brings me right there to that moment. So sometimes it works wonders.”

At least a couple of the tracks that will make the final product were recycled from the first demos Carrabba had written and recorded by himself before teaming up with producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan).

“I did a batch of demos, and I said, ‘These aren’t quite what I want to be doing right now,’ ” he said. “I spent a weekend in a studio and had a batch of demos. They just didn’t resonate — for whatever reason, they didn’t fit my criteria of that day. And it’s funny because they do now. I listen to them and I go, ‘Oh, yeah, those are good for these reasons.’ Whatever it was I was looking for at that moment, it didn’t have it, and I needed to find it. So instead of reworking the songs, I needed to put them behind me and start all over again.”

One of those songs was tinkered with and touched up a bit, and Carrabba said he lifted the lyrics from a second song and applied them to one of the tracks he worked on with Lanois in the producer’s Los Angeles home. A third song will make the record untouched. But it was those first demos, Carrabba said, that caught Lanois’ attention and inspired him to come out of retirement. Lanois decided to retire after putting in long hours for U2′s 2000 release, All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

“Somewhere down the road, he received my demos through a common friend,” Carrabba said of Lanois. “We were set to do our record like a week later, and I got this phone call: ‘Chris, this is Dan Lanois. I’ve got your demos and I’m excited about what I hear. Do you have some time to talk about these songs?’ I said, ‘Sure,’ but he was in Jamaica. He asked me if I wanted to come to Jamaica — that day — and I did.”

Carrabba and Lanois listened to the tracks over and over again and talked about the tunes for a week while lounging underneath the Caribbean sun.

“It was totally surreal, and the whole time I was there, it was, ‘I’m retired, but I really like these songs.’ So I remember calling home and saying, ‘This is great. He’s workshopping this record. This record’s going to benefit so much from this,’ to like the next day being, ‘I think maybe I can get him to do this record,’ to the end of the week being like, ‘If he doesn’t make this record, I’m going to kill myself.’ I left Jamaica without a commitment, but he called me the next day and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

But Lanois wasn’t the only producer Carrabba collaborated with; he also sought the insight of Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Trapt) for a portion of the record.

“We had to go, ‘All right, which songs stand in a complementary way to each other?’ ” he said. “This wasn’t a patchwork for me. It was a very linear thing. But I had two guys steering the ship at that point, and so I wanted the listener to think it was one seamless record.”

When the record finally hits stores, fans can expect around 42 minutes of fresh Dashboard — maybe. OK, probably. “I’m not sure that I have stopped writing songs for this record,” Carrabba said. “No, wait. I think I have now. We were still recording last week because I did a whole other record’s worth of stuff with [Gilmore].”

The seemingly always-working Carrabba also collaborated Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz on a song that might make the final cut (see “Dashboard Confessional Singer Records Duet With Adam Duritz” ).

Dashboard plan to debut some new material on a nine-date college trek that began Friday in Worcester, Massachusetts, and wraps up May 7 in Amherst.