Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba brings new band, new sound to ‘Mountain Stage’
If Chris Carrabba’s name or face is familiar, perhaps that’s because he toured under the moniker Dashboard Confessional for more than a decade and enjoyed mainstream success as one of the breakout bands of the emo scene that emerged in the early 2000s.
That band was slated to appear on “Mountain Stage” in 2010 until the show was canceled due to snow.
On Sunday, he’ll try again, but this time with new bandmates in tow.
Though Dashboard Confessional is not officially dead (in fact, the band is playing some festivals this year), Carrabba’s main focus now is his new project: the folk/bluegrass group Twin Forks, which came together sort of by accident.
“It wasn’t exactly with a definitive plan of how or what I was up to,” Carrabba said.
“I first ran into Ben [Homola] because I was playing in California. His band, Bad Books, showed up at my show. Ben’s a producer, not just a drummer; I asked him to help me record these covers I was doing, and he was game for that.
“In the interim, I met Jonathan Clark through Further Seems Forever, one of my old bands, and I found out he was a producer and a multi-instrumentalist. Both of them began helping me record.
“We kept saying, ‘We’re not a band. We’re not a band.’”
Then, Carrabba was invited to play the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. He took Homola and Clark along with him.
“We walked on stage and said, ‘We’re not a band.’ But the connection we felt on stage and the connection with the audience, there was no denying it. We walked off stage and said, ‘OK, we’re a band.’”
Upon returning to Carrabba’s Boca Raton, Fla., home, their focus shifted away from cover songs, he said.
“Once we did that show, we realized how much of our own folk and bluegrass could culminate into one thing. It was more about the tempo and excitement of bluegrass, even though I think the form is closer to folk.
“We’ve been called boot-stomping bluegrass. I like that.”
Carrabba credits bands like Mumford & Sons, The Head and the Heart, Of Monsters and Men and The Lumineers for the increased popularity of that particular sound.
“I had no idea that it was going to be sonically palatable to the public to hear banjo and mandolin unless they were country or folk fans. [Those bands] changed the state of radio and of those radio listeners. Maybe where they heard a banjo before and changed the channel, now maybe they’ll listen to a few bars first.”
Despite finding its sound, the band wasn’t complete yet. For Carrabba, mixing in a female voice was important.
“There’s a Conway Twitty-Loretta Lynn kind of thing I’ve always loved. Just about every old singer that I loved, my favorite songs of theirs were always when they featured a female vocalist. So we invited Suzie [Zeldin] from The Narrative.”
Carrabba had found all his components, but the band still wasn’t done growing. Because of their commitments to their other bands, Homola and Zeldin come and go. This led to the addition of drummer Shawn Zorn and sisters Kelsie and Kimmy Baron.
Carrabba said it was an exhaustive search before he was turned onto the Baron sisters. Part of the problem was not only did new members have to have the musical and vocal ability, they also needed Zeldin’s “indomitable positive energy.”
Positivity and joy are key components to the band’s sound and live shows.
The band’s self-titled debut, released in February, is full of high-energy, up-tempo songs. Its live shows are also joyous.
“We are having fun,” he said. “With these songs, we wanted the arrangements to beam that joy; we wanted that to be the earmark. This band is about embracing a celebration.
“There’s a spectrum of emotion on the record, but certainly, live, the overriding feeling is joy,” he continued. “We won the lottery; our band hasn’t made it [big], but we made a record and people come to see us. How can you not be happy?
“We’re there to have a good time with you, and I guarantee that everybody has a better time for it. That’s contagious.”
Working with a rotating cast of musicians also lends the shows a freshness.
“It seems new to us all the time. A new person on stage brings a whole new element.”
Carrabba says the band now has a core group (Carrabba, Clark, Zorn and Kelsie) and a “network of visitors.”
“We’ve kind of discovered this really unorthodox band dynamic where, because it was started by people in other bands, we’re really open to people coming in and joining it if they can and for as long as they want.”
This includes the audience. While audience members don’t actually join the band onstage, they’re a crucial part of Twin Forks’ live shows.
“I don’t really write a setlist,” Carrabba said. “The audience chooses it by what feeling leads to the next feeling.
“That’s part of the excitement. The audience is directing the show even if they don’t have any idea of that. Sometimes I can tell what I thought would be the right next song is not the right next song.”
Because the audience is so important, Carrabba feels it’s important not to lead them on by trading on his or his bandmate’s other fame.
“I don’t want to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. I don’t want it to say Dashboard Confessional in big letters then apostrophe ‘s’ Chris Carrabba and in small letters Twin Forks. I’m not trying to get people through the door through trickery.”
But he is doing whatever he can to get people in, including assuming all the risk for some club shows and opening for bigger names like Augustana and “American Idol” season 11 winner Phillip Phillips.
Carrabba said he had no hesitation or nervousness going from headliner to opener.
“I go out there feeling like the worst that can happen is we’re gonna have a really great time on stage. It’s such a liberating thing.”
Also liberating is being able to get out and meet fans like he used to.
“With Dashboard from the get-go, I would play the show, then sell merch and say hello and thank you to everybody,” he said. “But we got so big that it was disruptive to go out there somehow. Now I can just mingle and hang out. I’m out there being just a guy as opposed to being THE guy.”
After each show, “the audience becomes a part of [the band’s] lineage now,” Carrabba said.
“We have t-shirts that say ‘Thanks for visiting Twin Forks.’ We treat it like a place you’re welcome to come to. You’re invited; it’s as simple as that. You’re all invited, and I hope you come.”
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