Chris Carrabba is stoked for new Chamberlain music and here’s why
The Dashboard Confessional founder chats up Chamberlain guitarist Adam Rubenstein as we premiere “Calling All Cars,” the first single from ‘Red Weather,’ the reunited band’s first new album in this century.November 18, 2020
Anybody who claims to be well-versed in emo culture knows how crucial Chamberlain are to the genre. The Indianapolis, Indiana, outfit started as Split Lip, a hardcore band with bigger musical visions than their contemporaries. Their desire to add everything from melodic singing to acoustic guitars helped build the foundation of the post-hardcore genre. After making dramatic sonic turns, the band made the decision to change their name to Chamberlain to follow their creative bliss.
Now 22 years after the release of their last album (1998’s The Moon My Saddle), Chamberlain have returned with Red Weather. Today Alternative Press is premiering the album’s first single, “Calling All Cars.” Just as spirited and chimerical as they were in the previous century, the quintet have created a work that people will be talking about years from now.
Just ask the man behind Dashboard Confessional, Chris Carrabba. The singer has been a longtime stan of Chamberlain’s storied discography. Carrabba was down to speak with Chamberlain guitarist Adam Rubenstein to discuss their sphere of influence as well as where they wish to go with Red Weather. If you’ve never heard of Chamberlain, we’d actually suggest that you already have. Their influence has been felt in communities far, wide and beyond emo and post-hardcore. Carrabba knows this implicitly, which makes him more than qualified to speak with Rubenstein about his band’s past, present and future.
CHRIS CARRABBA: Adam! How are you, bud?
ADAM RUBENSTEIN: I’m good. I’m raising a 4-year-old. Schools are about to close down in New York and all that madness. It’s just this wild life. The record is coming out in a week and trying to figure out how to navigate [it.] Putting out a release with, you know, no shows and no traditional promotional stuff, so… [Laughs.]
Well, I would contend that you have not been traditional the entire time. So why would this be different? [Laughter.] By the way, where are you in New York?
I’m in Harlem, but just near City College on 130th Street. And you’re in Nashville?
I’m in Nashville now, but I was in the Lower West Side for a long time.
I remember going to see Daniel Lanois at the Hiro Ballroom in 2002 or something like that. He was calling you from the stage. I should have said hi, then maybe we could have connected. But here we are.
Yeah, here we are now. Now I, on the other hand, have what I consider a deep relationship with you, having never met you. Because I came up musically in the wake of you and your bandmates’ trailblazing. That was constantly inspiring to me and my peers, who were just a bit younger, and we were really huge fans. You were really big in South Florida…
I remember playing in South Florida, maybe once or twice. Maybe a skatepark? I don’t know. Did you see us play back in the day?
Yes. I don’t think I saw Split Lip, but I saw you once [when] you were Chamberlain. That’s a good place to jump in on the difference of those two bands. I was thinking about it: I’ve never really considered Split Lip to be your standard hardcore or emo band. For me, the band were a defining moment for both of those genres while pushing the boundaries of the definition of both of those scenes, right from the get-go.
And if I were to pick a song, like one song for example from Split Lip, “Sleep” [from 1993’s For The Love Of The Wounded] seems to point back to where the band were headed. But it seemed like you were headed somewhere altogether new. I can hear influences in that song that other bands in the scene were not drawing from yet—and would not draw from for quite a long time. [Chamberlain] were ahead of the curve by setting the curve. Were you pushing yourself and with it by instinct or was it purposeful that you thought you were already breaking convention?
I was a metalhead. I grew up loving Anthrax, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Testament, Slayer, Death Angel. It’s where I came from. And as most of us did back in those days, we all met each other because we all skated, and we all had different influences. But in the early days of the band, it was a lot of hardcore. We were playing shows with Integrity, Snapcase. We were into New York hardcore: Burn, Youth Of Today, what have you. So there’s this heavy element mixed with my metal influence. Charlie [Walker, drums] from the band was really into metal, too. So we had that.
But then as I got more into the D.C. stuff, like Dag Nasty and the obvious melodic elements of Fugazi, I think we were at this crossroads or this identity crisis. We had all this angst and the metal sensibilities in our youth. And then we started getting into more melodic stuff. Not just the D.C. bands, but stuff like the Cure, as the world was moving into what became the traditional “alternative.” A lot of bands say this, but we never really felt beholden to any scene. We were, [in] the purest way, playing the music that we wanted to play.
It’s funny that you called that song. I had a conversation with Curtis [Mead, bassist] from the band recently, as we’re talking about some of these things for promoting the record and going back through our catalog. And we were talking about “Sleep,” absolutely. I remember actually thinking the first time that we performed “Sleep,” “Our fans are going to hate this.” It was just too melodic. It was interesting that you called that out.
Like I mentioned, the breakdown to me is very Iron Maiden-esque in a very hardcore way. But I can hear that influence.
I should say that the biggest influence for us in terms of that angsty energy was Endpoint in Louisville. Because they were our big brothers. And, you know, we really wanted to be them. [Laughs.]
I think I can hear the Endpoint influence on that. So you were expecting people to hate it. And did they?
No. People came along pretty quick. We were still developing. We wrote that song, and we hadn’t even put out For The Love Of The Wounded yet. The ground floor was just beginning. I do remember having a distinct feeling that people might not like it. Because people wanted to do their lawnmower dances in the pit. And perhaps a song like “Sleep,” wouldn’t jibe well with what people came to the show to do—grab the mic and scream at David [Moore, frontman] and all that.
There’s another element of For The Love Of The Wounded. It’s somewhat surprising and totally effective that you were already using acoustic guitars on the record in that scene. I didn’t really hear that element that was often used. There are even acoustic interludes in the songs in between the moments on the record. The acoustic is pretty prevalent on “Anthem Boy,” if I remember correctly, and it felt so much heavier because of that. I’m just curious if you were cognizant of that relationship, that you could use these delicate pieces to give the other parts’ weight.
I don’t think we were cognizant of anything, you know? We were so young: I was in 10th grade when I went on my first tour with the band. We were just kids, like we really knew what we were doing. But I think a lot of that acoustic stuff probably stems from my love of Metallica and the dramatic classical guitar moments that are probably in a lot of metal. But also, they grew up with Dylan. I would listen to Sting and the Police, and I felt like I had to do it closeted in that scene because it wasn’t tough enough.
I was really musically curious, and we all were really good at our instruments and our craft. I think there are two types of people on the scene: those that love being in a band and those that love playing a band. Those are very different things. I think we were cut from the cloth that love playing in a band. We wanted to experiment and try different things. And that’s why we’ve been such a chameleon of a band over the years.
I thought of Split Lip as a band playing dark anthems. So when you changed from Split Lip to Chamberlain, there were a lot of opinions in the scene. The scene was disgustingly opinionated. But the opinions fell on both sides about why you would view that as somebody that is musically curious. So you go from being Split Lip to Chamberlain. Fate’s Got A Driver comes out, and I and basically everyone I knew were just blown away. You can’t get past the intro of “Her Side Of Sundown” without feeling enveloped by the power of the music. Melody was now an important factor instrumentally, not as much chugga-chugga stuff, but not as much real angular, minor-sounding stuff. But vocally and instrumentally, there was this heavy sense of melody that, when juxtaposed with the big sound of the band, it just melted faces.
But the thing that was introduced, I thought at the time, and now still is that the song started to elicit a feeling of release of euphoria that I’d really have yet to hear much of in our scene. It would come to hear in our scene from some bands [that record] influenced like the Get Up Kids and my bands and Taking Back Sunday and the Gaslight Anthem and Rise Against. So I can go on for an hour about the bands you influenced. If you can remember, how were you perceived as your sound began to change so boldly?
David’s voice developed. David actually can sing. I think that was a big part of it. But David and I were all of our influences. You can hear big influences on Fate’s Got A Driver. I think somebody made a comment that one of our songs sounded like Pearl Jam. And I said, “Great!” But it was meant like it was more of a backhanded compliment.
It was always the struggle of our band. We were always a fish out of water everywhere we played. And I can remember [playing] punk shows like the likes of Deadguy or Snapcase or bands that just had a heavier sound that I liked. It was a yin and yang experience for people because we were just tethered to the scene. And I remember all of us just wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. We desperately need to play music that we love.
It’s funny that you should mention the bands you went out with. I think some credit is due there because they did the same for me. You know, Snapcase, H20, Sick Of It All… These are bands that don’t take out a kid with an acoustic guitar. And they did that for me. You had that hardcore kid that had their opinion. But the bands that they loved were all about broadening the scene. And I argue that they absolutely knew better, and we all eventually did.
Right. That’s the funny thing about people. The hardcore fans there might have been initially judgmental. They all came along with us.
The records were excellent. The Moon My Saddle left the hardcore crib notes behind and replaced them with rough-edged, high-minded street poetry and timeless arrangements. I found the record to be an exercise in restraint. Instead of what hardcore is, which is just bashing you with the riff. And that record helped launch a post-hardcore Americana, which gave the world so many incredible bands.
It’s unbelievably flattering that a lot of [those bands] cite us as an influence. But it’s humbling. But also, with The Moon My Saddle, we absolutely alienated everybody. And then there became Lucero and Limbeck, Chuck Ragan, Brian Fallon. There’s a whole kind of roots-tinged version of the punk-rock world that was born. We weren’t the first to do it: Tom Petty did it before us. But in that scene, we were one of the first to do it.
I remember playing at Brownie’s in New York and getting heckled and someone asking David [to] unbutton a button-down shirt. Someone yelling “John Cougar Mellencamp” as an insult from the crowd. The record was on Doghouse, and I think people that listen to stuff on Doghouse were a little taken aback. We were all Indiana boys, [but] we were living in Bloomington. We actually recorded My Moon My Saddle at Mike Wanchic‘s studio Echo Park. Mike Wanchic is the producer and guitar player for John Mellencamp. [Laughs.]
You may not be able to say it comfortably. I think you started a whole new paradigm within the punk and post-hardcore scene. I will credit Chamberlain directly with changing the way people looked at what was a possible road to explore. While you’re getting heckled at Brownie’s, kids way down in South Florida, where I was, were going to look at the possibilities. That these guys have shown us that it’s OK to be brave and unbound to get a definition of what this music is supposed to be. Which is about the most punk rock you can be, I think.
Well, that’s a high compliment. Because we saw that as the punk ethos. It’s extraordinarily flattering that people felt that there was an authenticity to it. We were just doing it for the pure love of it. But in a lot of ways, I thought we were impostors playing rock ’n’ roll. Let me ask you: When the record first came out, was there a part of you that felt alienated by it as a fan?
No. Not even a little. I felt like I would characterize it as like I remember the first time I heard Fugazi and just heard the enormity of the realm of possibility that music could have. And that’s what grabbed me when I listened to Chamberlain [and] Split Lip. My Moon My Saddle is a lyrical and musical powerhouse, an instant classic. You set the table for me and bands like me in 2010.
And here we are, 11 years later. I’ve already begun telling everyone that I know that this record is the record of the year. Red Weather is astoundingly good on every level. The guitar prowess is incredible. You said at the time you were learning how to play lead in this style of music. But now with this, it feels like it’s an effortless thing without feeling like a master. It’s got to be said that the production on this record is incredible because it’s not overly clean or sleek.
It’s a huge relief that someone like yourself, who’s been around for a long time and in my eyes, a respected musician. But it’s really because as we’re writing the record, I kept wondering again. Are the people who like Fate’s Got A Driver going to find this thing too downtempo? Have we gone too adult contemporary? Are we this manifestation of our 40-plus-year-old selves? Or is it really good, vibrant music that people of all walks of life are going to like?
This is not an easy-listening record. Let me just stop you right there. This record has some sharp teeth. I could break down every song. But I’ll spare you. [Laughter.] But I will say, these new arrangements create a mood that, like much of the lyrics, really can’t exist without each other.
We’ve always been really precious with our songs because we don’t write very fast. I get overly OCD and overly hung up on every chord progression and every riff. Every drum fill. And then I usually just pass the songs to David. For David, it’s a really personal exercise. To answer the question, it was throwing spaghetti at the wall, really. What I wanted to do is make a record that we love. But then after you get done with it, you just get to that moment where the self-doubt creeps in. We all do that.
Let me clean up some of the self-doubt. I think this record feels like all the spirit of young punk pent up inside the heart of grown-ass men. The record feels like it tears into the listener’s heart with almost surgical restraint in some places. And then there are absolutely heroic moments in other places.
Let me ask you this before we run out of proverbial tape. You may not be able to answer this or may not know. But how does it feel to have consistently pressed against convention and come out the other side with your best record, which is a deeply meaningful musical statement?
I remember having a few goals because I just always wanted the band. We flirted with major labels and did the whole thing. And I always have my regrets. I always wish the band could have done more. But I always wanted us to go to Europe again, which we did last year, and make another record. And really, I don’t know what the future holds. I feel like we’re going to do more because we’ve formed a stronger bond than we’ve ever had. Those are my goals.
So it feels amazing that the record is actually coming out and that people like yourself are actually taking the time to listen. We started a Kickstarter campaign to get distracted by the outpouring of support. It was just overwhelming. I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t feel validated because I think we’re all swirling with a little bit of pride
Thank you for letting me hear it early. I’m going to play this for people when I’m allowed to.
Oh man, you can play it for everyone. It’s not 1998, and it’s going to leak all over the internet. We just want people to hear it. It still feels exciting.
Welcome back Chamberlain by checking out “Calling All Cars” below. Get your copy of Red Weather here.