Q&A: Chris Carrabba Talks Pretending to Be John Lennon, and Lists His Favorite Local Bands
Dashboard Confessional frontman Chris Carrabba has done his fair share of wooing behind his guitar. Lauded as one of the poster boys of the emo indie-rock movement, he's challenged other competitors to be just as charming and sincere with their lyrics as he is -- and they've all failed in comparison.
"Well, I'm always confused by it a little bit because well... it seemed like something that had already happened, so it didn't seem like that's what we were," says Carrabba. Modesty aside, the singer/songwriter has big plans for his hometown this week, as he intends to play his debut, The Swiss Army Romance, in its entirety, in order, along with some other songs, as he's sure he'll "get excited to be home."
And he isn't just soft-spoken in his songs. When New Times caught up with him up recently, his phone voice reminded us a little of Dana Carvey playing Garth Algar in Wayne's World. Is that weird? Well, that's how personable and witty he is. He talked to us about the state of the South Florida music scene, his favorite local bands, and what he has in store for us at his show at Revolution on Saturday.
New Times: I've been a fan since Further Seems Forever started. As a Florida native myself, I always went to shows and heard stories from friends of mine who lived up north in Broward and Palm Beach about how they got to meet you and what a nice guy you were to them.
Chris Carrabba: Oh, that's great. I appreciate it. Where are you, down in Miami?
Yes. I commuted up for the shows even though I was really young, as I'm sure most of the Miami girls did.
Well, I did commute way down for some girls down south, myself.
How do you feel about Dashboard being classified as one of the first emo bands?
Well, I'm always confused by it a little bit. I always thought of bands before us as that with that moniker like Sunny Day Real Estate and bands of that ilk. It seemed like something that had already happened, so it didn't seem like that's what we were.
You sort of brought it into the mainstream, though.
That may be the case, but I never gave it much thought -- the term itself, anyway, or whether or not I was gonna be called that. I thought that was somebody else's scene. But we were a tight-knit scene. It was a lot of bands working together like Saves the Day and the Get Up Kids, Alkaline Trio, New Found Glory -- many, many bands working hard together to build something together. There was a sense that something was happening, but they needed a genre to call us because none of us really sounded that much the same.
Your songs are so revealing, but in real life, you're so guarded and secretive about what goes on between the lines.
Yeah, I guess that's by design. You know, you have to choose the way you wanna live your life. I think I've chosen well. It's not appealing to me so much, you know that? That part of the music industry where all these nonmusical things are on display for the world. That's just not as appealing to me. But I don't really have a problem letting my guard down in the context of within a song, you know?
A lot of male singers who reach the status where they have "fan girls" sort of have a heavy female presence that starts monitoring everything.
I think you're asking if I have a female audience? I think it's predominantly female, but it's like 60/40 split when I look out on the audience. It's hard for me to tell what's the reason for affecting them, you know? I guess I'm writing revealing things from a male gender point of view, and I think that that's insightful somehow.
Well, I meant more along the lines of this... A lot of times when male musicians are in relationships, the audience can sort of tell. Do you think when you're in a relationship, any of it affects your heavily female-slanted demographic at all?
Ohhh! That's the part! Please forgive me; I'm on a cell phone. When I've been in relationships and when I haven't during the course of this band, I don't really make any noise about whether I'm in one or not. So I dunno if I've felt the effects from the audience. I know I've had girlfriends affected by it. But I don't know about my audience.
If Justin Bieber takes a picture with any woman and Tweets it or something, he'll have millions of angry female fans lashing out.
[laughs]. Yeah. There's some simple genius in that, I think. Yeah, I don't do a lot of that now.
Can you tell me more about playing "rockstar" with your brother and simulating Rolling Stone reporters when you were younger?
Ohhh, yeah! Boy, you're pulling from way back. Well, my mom had a subscription to Rolling Stone, and we only got two magazines in the house: Road & Track and Rolling Stone. I remember like my whole world opened up when I started reading this music magazine, you know? And we're talking about like little children.
Yeah, that's a different kind of game for kids to play.
We were like pretending we were the Beatles or something. We'd be playing along to a Beatles song with like tennis rackets as guitars or whatever. And afterward, I guess I wondered what it would be like probably because I'm reading all of these interviews with bands in Rolling Stone. So I just thought that was part of being in a band, like afterward you just do an interview. So we would like finish a song, and then my brother would be like, "So, tell me John, about tonight's show."
So then you pretended to be Lennon? Or just John as a name, in general?
Well, in that description, I played John, yes. But I think I varied. Everybody had a fair chance to be John, and everybody wanted to be John.
A few years back, you said that if you went back to school at FAU, you'd want to change your major to English. Do you still have plans to go back to school?
I have a desire, but I have no plans. No real time. I'm sure I would flunk since I don't have a lot of time to put back into school yet.
Is there anything that you really hate about being on the road? Apart from being away from South Florida, of course.
I do miss South Florida. I have to be honest with you. I find it as I'm standing here and looking out on the Intracoastal [waterway], I'm thinking, "I don't want to leave here." But nonetheless, I do love touring. I love it very much. I love playing shows every night in different cities. I love going from city to city -- the actual travel is something I love. And it kind of fits in with my semirootless existence that I kind of thrive in. I don't like to live in one place very long. I don't like to get attached to things very long, so it suits me well to tour the number of days that I tour every year. It's very exciting. You get to travel with your friends, and every night is some kind of mini-adventure to some degree [laughs]. You learn a lot about yourself that way.
Every time I play a show down here, I get razzed about it by my buddies, even though they're my biggest supporters. I couldn't ask for a more supportive hometown. A fan base isn't quite the right word since I'm close with so many of them, but it's the only word I can think of, to sum it up. Community, I guess?
Yeah, that's a good way to put it.
Well, you're from here. You know the communal vibe down here, though I think it's changed a bit since the days when I was coming up in it. I think it's actually not as communal as it was, maybe?
It has changed a little bit, but not necessarily for the worse or anything.
I think it has. I'm a little too far removed to really know with a completely clear view of what's what, but I can say that when I see a bill for shows, it used to be all kinds of bands and all kinds of genres and everyone working equally hard. I don't see that as much anymore.
Yeah, lately with a lot of shows, they sort of restrict themselves to one genre for the most part.
I mean, that makes more sense for the audience, but yeah. That's just not how it was when I was coming up.
Have you gotten a chance to hear of any of the newer bands that are Broward- and Palm Beach-based since you've been in town?
Yeah, yeah! And I like so many of them. Surfer Blood is doing so well. I like the Jameses quite a bit. Alexander is one of my favorites. Uhh... yeah. I think there's some terrific bands. But there's always terrific bands down here.
Of course, look at the inspiration you guys have.
I'm just a product, one of many in a line.
But one of the first that sort of hit it to mainstream with so many different audiences.
Well, I think that that's true of my audience. If I look out into my audience you see very... like for example, when I was in Further [Seems Forever], it was like one kind of person that listened to us, and that's fine. But I don't see that at Dashboard shows. I see every kind of person. And all of them getting along, and no one outcooling anybody, which is really a breath of fresh air.
Outcooling anyone? I don't think I've ever heard that before.
You can copyright that if you want. I'll give it to you.
Dashboard Confessional, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 27, at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. $25 in advance. Visit ticketmaster.com.
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