By Michael Lello
A folk/Americana project might be the last thing fans expected from emo hero Chris Carrabba, the frontman of Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever. But the hints were there in his 2011 covers EP, and there was even more percolating before his new band and current focus, Twin Forks, became a reality.
Part of the impetus behind the project was a dare from Jonathan Clark, who worked with Carrabba on the covers EP, “Covered In The Flood.”
“It’s still the kind of music when I’m left to my own devices, or when I sing to a group of friends or when I’m by myself,” said Carrabba, reached recently at his hotel room during a tour stop in Portland, Oregon. “I’ll play a Paul Simon song or a Woody Guthrie song, maybe I’ll play a couple Dylan songs or something like that, Fleetwood Mac, finger-picking songs, songs that are timeless and feel timeless to me. And Jonathan turned to me and said, ‘Why are you afraid to do what you love the most?’ This was a few years ago now. When he asked me the question, there was a critique in there.
“It’s been years of holding back from doing it, and it slipped out with Dashboard here and there, and it’d slept out in Further here and there and it slipped out on my covers record that I did by myself a lot. But I’m glad. I feel more rewarded than I would have if I had just come by it by myself, because it was sort of issued as a challenge to me.”
Last year, Twin Forks released a free EP, and in February, the band released its full-length debut, which USA Today debuted in its entirety. The band, which also features Clark, Ben Homola, Shawn Zorn, Kelsie Baranoski and Kimmy Baranoski, is Carrabba’s current sole focus, and it has toured extensively, including a show this Sunday, May 18, at the Theater of Living Arts. With Carrabba, we delved deeper into the roots of Twin Forks, the joy this band – and others he’s seen – brings him, the future of Twin Forks and Dashboard, and why his fashion choices might have foiled critics.
H81R: From what I’ve read, the seeds for Twin Forks had been planted in your mind for a long time. Why was now the right time?
CC: Well I think I had this in the back of mind as a hope and a dream for a long time because it’s one of the kinds of musics I grew up in, but probably the biggest influence I had was that music. I felt – how can I say this correctly – I felt apprehension about doing that music, writing the songs that I was going to write within the framework of that music, because I didn’t know that I could. I mean how do you excel beyond that stuff you listened to that’s that good, do you know what I mean? And when you start writing music, I think you’re trying to blaze your own trail, and you’re trying to be inventive. I’m one of those guys that says, “That sounds like something (else), I got to throw it out.” Well every song has a C chord in it buddy, so you have to deal with that.
H81R: Was any of your apprehension about doing this project due to concerns of how your fans would react to it?
CC: It wasn’t discussed as that big grand view of “Who is going to hear this?” It was more out of just kind of a respect for that level of musicianship and lyricism and understanding of the power of melody that all of those acts from the outlaw county ones to the sweet-sounding ones like the Everly Brothers to Gordon Lightfoot, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt. There’s too many things to dig through to care about wondering about how to get a record out. Where do I fit within this grand landscape of influences within this style, that in there somewhere is me?
H81R: Now that the EP and album have been released and you’re out playing shows, how has the reception been?
CC: Incredible. I think a lot of that is that the band leads with joy. There’s like an emotional cornerstone of the band and I think it’s joy, and I think that’s easily infectious.
H81R: Are there acts that make you feel that way when you see them?
CC: Tons, over the years. I remember seeing like Smoking Popes. Band of Horses, the first time I saw them. There’s heavy subject matter at play there, and the Avett Brothers is another one, but when they stand up there, they’re in the place they’re happiest in the world and holding the thing that they love the most in their hand.
H81R: There seems to be a directness with those acts, too.
CC: I think immediacy’s important. You only get a minute, you only get 30 seconds I think, to make somebody decide if they like they’re band or not.
H81R: That’s a lot of pressure.
CC: It’s out of my hands. There’s nothing I can do about it. Except go out there and make sure I have a good time.
H81R: How would you describe these live shows so far?
CC: A good time (laughs). Sorry, that was low-hanging fruit.
H81R: What type of set are you playing? In addition to the album and EP, any songs from your other bands or covers?
CC: We do throw in a lot of covers. And we have been throwing in some Further and Dashboard here and there. Generally when it’s a headlining tour, I’ll throw in quite a bit of that, because – if the setting and the mood is right – there’s enough time. When we’re an opener, and oftentimes people don’t know any of our history, you might as well do a different cover, not a Dashboard cover. I think we already have recorded 20 covers and we probably know 60 covers. And there’s also like, I heard Jonathan tell the ladies in the band the other day, “If you see that Chris has listened to a song twice, just learn it, because he’s just going to play it one day, and he’ll know it.” I said to Jonathan, “What makes you think I’ll know it?,” and he goes, “I don’t think you care if you know it, but you’re going to play it.”
H81R: I see Twin Forks has some festival dates coming up. What is your summer schedule looking like?
CC: We have a mishmash of dates that we’ve squeezed onto here and there in the world, mostly in Canada and America. I think initially we were not going to tour this summer. And then we were like, “Wait, why would we not tour?” We started touring a year before the record came out, now that it’s out we had thought we’d take a break. But it just came out!
H81R: Was putting the EP out first a way to test the waters and also have a reason to tour?
CC: We were eager to have the music out. I would like to have had the patience to wait for the record to be done, but I just couldn’t take not touring anymore, especially knowing that we were able to play the whole record, we were able to play covers, we were able to play full sets. There’s a certain way I’m wired, and I don’t know if it’s because I moved excessively as a kid or because I started touring very early, but it’s very natural for me to live out of a backpack. And I never quite figured out the thing that a lot of people have more stability in their lives have figured out, you play in the town you live, ya know? I’d rather go around the world if I have a chance to.
But I do limit it to a backpack, so I don’t feel like I’m always, I don’t know, even if there’s six months laid out ahead in front of us, I’ve still only got two sets of clothes. So that’s as far out as I have to think: which clothes to do I was today? I am a fashion staple so it’s very difficult for me. I know a lot of people look to me as a very important person in the fashion world, so it’s limiting to their blog ranting.
H81R: What are your long-term plans for Twin Forks? Are you thinking long-term?
CC: I am. I don’t know what. Our record’s only just begun, so I’d like to tour this record for a couple years, and then tour the next one for a couple years, and tour the next one for a couple years. The lineup has solidified a little more. It’s grown. I knew it would. We knew Ben and Suzie would be in it when they could be in it. That’s an awareness you have to have when you choose people that are in other bands. But the fact that Jonathan and I found Shawn, first got lucky with Matt as a drummer then got really lucky with Shawn as a drummer. And knowing there’s going to be nights that everyone who’s ever been in the band is going to be on the stage is pretty exciting to me. I love that we get to share this together. Suzie’s on vacation right now, and she’s still texting me, “I want to know what songs you played last night, and how great was it, and what happened.”
H81R: It sounds like there’s a real camaraderie and it’s a band in the true sense of the word.
CC: It is. Which is refreshing to me, because my last project wasn’t for a long time, and then it was for a really long time, and then it was just me again in the end. So this was right from the get-go a band.
H81R: What’s next for Dashboard? You have some festival dates mixed in with the Twin Forks schedule.
CC: Yeah, we’re doing some festivals. I see them all the time. And no two of us live in the same state, which is one of the simplest reasons for the early inception of the band, this band, is I wanted to play with people that lived in my town, so I could finish a song every day without playing all the instruments. But they’ve come out, respectively to where they live, to every town (Twin Forks) has been to, or we’ve been on tour literally side by side; we’re playing one room, and they’re playing the other room with like say Mike (Marsh) with his other band. We’re connected. That just doesn’t go away. We got lucky with our career. That’s such an understatement. And it wasn’t like we happened to find guys that were ringers. I have no intention of never playing with them again. I have every intention of playing with them again.