Dashboard frontman to play acoustic set in Aspen
July 28, 2012
ASPEN – Chris Carrabba seems like anything but a punk – more like the antithesis of a punk. His lyrics are sensitive and self-reflective. Dashboard Confessional, the band he has led since 2000, has an intense relationship with its fans, but it is an intensity built not on shared anger but on a common empathy for human emotions and experiences. Carrabba is handsome, and he sings on key – punk no-nos.
There is a series of YouTube clips from a 2009 show Carrabba did in Florida, the state where he grew up. The performance is Carrabba playing solo with an acoustic guitar in front of an audience that seems to know every word of every song. It seems like the natural setting for Carrabba to perform.
Yet, for a long time, Carrabba saw himself as influenced more by Johnny Rotten than by Bob Dylan. Dashboard Confessional, which hit big with the mid-’00 albums “A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar” and “Dusk and Summer,” was, in Carrabba’s eyes, an outgrowth of punk rock. But Carrabba also had absorbed a lot of the great singer-songwriters from Bob Dylan to Townes van Zandt to Steve Earle. So much of it, in fact, that it may have started to seem like sonic wallpaper that eventually he barely noticed.
“That tradition of singer-songwriters, I didn’t realize I was being influenced by, that I didn’t realize until a few years ago was such an influence,” Carrabba said from his home near Fort Lauderdale. “I didn’t see these things as being so instructional. But the music incubates and sits inside you somewhere.”
There was another influence that Carrabba was so intensely aware of that he tried intentionally to shake it off. These were the Cure, Morrissey and the Smiths, the English ’80s bands that specialized in a more sensitive type of gloominess than the punks.
“Those influences were obvious,” Carrabba said. “I could hear them as I was making my music. It was so obvious that I started trying not to do it. I was trying to veer away and not get into the trappings of that.”
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Eventually, Carrabba embraced that influence. And when he did, he became one of the most prominent figures in modern-day emo, a term whose roots date back to the mid-’80s punk scene in Washington, D.C.
“Now, as a seasoned guy, I’m more impressed” with that set of influences, he said. “They’re not so much trappings – they’re brilliant. I would think at the time, there’s nothing new there; I don’t want to be one of those guys.”
More recently, Carrabba has been discovering his relationship with the singer-songwriters. That discovery hasn’t affected the newer songs he has written, but it has allowed him to look at his older songs in a different way. “I think I can see a linear connection that I didn’t see before,” he said.
No matter how Carrabba has viewed his material, he has always been able to foster an extremely tight connection with his audience.
“I think that’s the rewarding part, and that’s my goal,” he said. “Every singer wants to do that. That’s the paramount thing.”
When Carrabba makes his Aspen debut, Saturday at Belly Up, it will be as direct a connection with the crowd as possible – he appears with nothing but his guitar.
“On a base level, that’s terrifying,” he said. “And I respond well to that, that the whole thing is sitting on the edge, there’s no band to bail you out. If you’re not doing it, it doesn’t happen. You have to connect with the song and the audience; you have to get really deep into it in order to make it captivating. Without that, it’s just ordinary. But when you allow yourself to get that deep, it can get interesting.
“Just being one guy, trying to express myself through a song – I have experience doing that.”