Editor's note: In its origins, the TASTE OF CHAOS tour was frequently deemed “Winter Warped” by both fans and organizers. The 2006 road show took place in the late winter and early spring, featuring lineups populated by some of the most diverse voices in the scene, including bands like My Chemical Romance, the Used, Underoath, Killswitch Engage, Deftones, Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold and 30 Seconds To Mars. For the next few weeks, we are going to go back in our time capsules to revisit some of the names that not only cemented TOC as a formidable adjunct to Warped Tour's summer mania, but as a festival of great merit curated on its own aesthetic terms.
As the reactivated TOC begins its next chapter with a touring lineup of Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, Saosin and many others, we'll be starting this weekly special “Taste Of Tuesday,” where we'll look back at the bands participating at the point of their original zeitgeist. First up is Chris Carrabba, aka Dashboard Confessional, from his first AP cover (AP 168) from 2002, talking about turning down, blowing up and making listeners realize that you can convey just as much tension and anger with a whisper, than you can at the screamo-karaoke night in your town's VFW hall.
Order a copy of AP 182 featuring Dashboard Confessional here.
Dashboard Confessional: No Rules, Only Play
There’s no doubt that Johnny Rotten—in his pre-PiL/People-feature/VH1-show days, at least—had stones the size of watermelons. He was bold enough to fly in the face of every possible societal convention. He was righteous enough, courageous enough to do battle with violent crowds, and rambunctious enough to raise the ire of the British public (under the careful guidance of Malcolm McLaren), inaugurating a movement with his, er, unique takes on “singing” and performance.
But could even the contempt- and bile-spewing screamer—at his peak—have had what it takes to strap on an acoustic guitar and pour his broken heart out before throngs of moshing hardcore kids? That’s exactly what Christopher Ender Carrabba did, quitting the Florida emocore band Further Seems Forever and putting his heart (and quite possibly his neck) on the line to sit on a stool, strumming and crooning, as the Dashboard Confessional on tour with hardcore heavy hitters H20 and Snapcase. And the gamble paid off, with the tattooed singer’s intimate polemics about heartbreak, betrayal and loss striking a chord with the post-emo set and punk rockers alike.
Chris started the Dashboard project partially at the insistence of his close friend Amy, who was dying to release an EP of his then-only-personal acoustic ballads on her label, Fiddler. He only intended to tour behind his first EP for about two weeks. Over two years later, with an impressive-selling album, The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most, on Vagrant Records, and a handful of EPs under his belt, the former Vacant Andys guitarist carts a band around with him, playing to sold-out houses across North America 300 days a year. His new ensemble for a time even included ex-Sunny Day Real Estate guitarist Dan Hoerner. He’s graced the pages of just about every major magazine going. The video for “Screaming Infidelities” is in rotation on MTV and M2. Chris’ love advice is sought from audiences who devoutly take his songs as gospel, screaming along to every sweat- and tear-soaked refrain.
There are no circle pits at Chris’ shows. And until recently, there was scarcely even an electric guitar. But what he’s doing is undeniably punk in its purest sense: in spirit, in attitude, and in breaking with established convention. Chris Carrabba shows us what’s possible with punk rock: that we can shape and mold it to include a little Cat Stevens without sacrificing any edges, and without losing ourselves. Ryan J. Downey tracks the once and future one-man band down in New Jersey to delve into the state of punk today, and his emblematic role—symbolically, or possibly quite literally—at its center.
Your publicist predicted to me that this AP cover may be your last big piece of press before you really “break.” Are you finding that you have a lot of “Hey, babe, you’ll be a big star” people around you now?
Well, [my publicist] is not like that. He actually believes in me. He’s not that kind of “yes man.” He took me on when I probably couldn’t have gotten anybody to write about me, and he just fell in love with the music, I guess, and, you know, got behind it.
You’ve done so many interviews lately that it seems I can’t open a magazine without seeing your mug staring back at me. When you’re doing an interview for freakin’ Elle, don’t you just think to yourself, “Man, I’m a punk guy with tattoos—what are they thinking?”
Well yeah, the Elle one, I don’t get that one. [Laughs.] But there’s some stuff that I accept that’s just kind of bizarre. But, you know, some things you do because they make the people around you happy. I did a photo shoot for Teen People because my sister is 13 [and] her friends don’t believe I’m in a band. She subscribes to Teen People, so I think, “Well, can’t hurt to do it once. Make her star in her class for one day.” I don’t really know what the mentality behind doing Elle is, to be honest with you, but I know my grandmother and my aunts will be stoked.
“I’m so close to my bandmates, and I think we’ve all helped each other from becoming “heady.” ’Cause there’s zero reason to become heady. We’re just working stiffs; we just happen to have a job that’s kind of cool.”
Do you ever find yourself in those situations thinking, “Wow, this person talking to me just doesn’t get me at all”?
Seldom—but it does happen; it really does happen. I did something for the TV Guide Channel that I didn’t want to do in the first place that I got talked into. I could tell that the lady that was conducting it, for the most part, was clueless. If you ever see it—I haven’t—I’m sure I look just miserable, like, “This person is an idiot.” But for the most part, I get the final say. I say no to plenty of [press].
Be honest. How has all this changed you? First, according to your own self-perception, and second, according to those closest to you. Surely they’ve offered opinions.
Well, resoundingly, those people around me say it hasn’t [changed me] much at all, if at all. I don’t think that it’s changed me, except—I don’t want to say I’m completely jaded, but I’m way more aware of the triteness of [the music industry] and how unimportant it is, and it has just made me put more emphasis on these kids that come to the shows. I’ve always put a tremendous emphasis on them, because at the end of the day, they’re the only people that are important. And my bandmates feel the same way. That’s another thing. I’m so close to my bandmates, and I think we’ve all helped each other from becoming “heady.” ’Cause there’s zero reason to become heady. We’re just working stiffs; we just happen to have a job that’s kind of cool.
You have a job that’s really cool.
We have a job that’s really cool, absolutely.
Your record is well over a year old. Why do you think it’s still getting so much attention?
Well, I think because it was like a game of telephone: More people just keep passing it along. I guess it’s landed in the hands of people that write for magazines or whatever. That’s what I attribute it to. That’s what I’ve always attributed it to. Any success I have comes directly from the kids that first listened to the record and liked it, downloaded it, made their friends download it…
You can say at a more base level, that’s how you got moving even getting the record out. Amy Fiddler was a friend of yours, put out this small release and played it for Vagrant.
It wasn’t as though you had a management team shopping a high-quality demo around.
[Laughs.] No. It wasn’t even that my best friend worked at the label. She was just playing it while she was working, and the guy that’s in charge of signing the bands walked in and said, “Who’s that?” There was a point before she worked there where she tried to get him to listen to it and he didn’t want to hear it.
Some of our readers may not know this, but you’ve released a couple of EPs since The Places album. One of them is on Eulogy, a relatively small hardcore-oriented label from your home state. With a dream team of big labels undoubtedly banging down your door even to release a one-off project of some kind, how did you end up choosing Eulogy?
I like ’em. The guys who run the label are good people, and I’m really proud of anybody who does anything well from our hometown. I’ve been helped by them before I was successful at all, and now that I’m successful, I want to help them. That’s true of that whole [hardcore] community. I was helped by that community. I’m not gonna just suddenly be like, “Well, great, I’m moving to Hollywood!” As seldom as I am actually physically home, that [community] is definitely where I’m rooted. It’s a label that I think does great things for bands and has done great things for me through the years, giving us shows and giving me advice. Eulogy is a great place. And Vagrant is great, too, because they let me do that kind of thing at will. Like, if I felt tomorrow that there was another label that I felt that way about, they would tell me to go for it.
“I don’t know what’s necessarily more punk than stepping on stage opening for Snapcase and H20 with an acoustic guitar, on a stool.”
Even if that label was DreamWorks or something?
Well, that I couldn’t tell you, ’cause it’s not a notion that’s crossed my mind. Just going to do an EP on DreamWorks isn’t something that really… I mean, I think DreamWorks is a great label, don’t get me wrong, from what I can see. But that’s different. I mean, they haven’t ever done anything to help me out! [Laughs.]
This issue is all about punk possibilities and the state of punk today. Despite the fact that you write acoustic-oriented love ballads, you’re completely associated with punk. Why is that?
It’s because that’s the world I [grew] out of, and that’s all the bands I’ve been in. Those are the kids I knew to play to when I started doing my own shows. I didn’t know how to go find the singer-songwriters, ’cause I didn’t know any, so I just started playing in that vein. It’s who you play to, not what you play, I guess. Plus, I do have this brazen, unabashed, like, “These are the songs I’m gonna play” attitude. That’s pretty punk rock. I don’t know what’s necessarily more punk than stepping on stage opening for Snapcase and H20 with an acoustic guitar, on a stool.
So would you say that punk in 2002 is twofold?
On the one hand, it’s not what you play, it’s who you play it to; and on the other hand, it’s…
Not necessarily who you play it to—I guess it’s where you first play it from, more to the point. Where are you rooted, you know? There are parallels in what I do, ‘cause my songwriting is very rooted in [punk]; my guitar playing is very percussive. It’s not necessarily really pretty and light. I’m just banging at my guitar. I just basically take songs that I would have put on an electric guitar that would have been punk songs, probably. So they’re not that far off structurally, and they’re not that far off, really, sonically…
Or in spirit and attitude.
Absolutely. Very well said.
Growing up in Florida, how did you first encounter punk?
Skate videos. I was way into skateboarding. Hearing things like Operation Ivy, Minor Threat and Fugazi on skate videos and just having my mind blown. Having to go and find an independent record store immediately. I started buying tons of records; started going to shows. I was like a sponge for that stuff.
What were some of your earliest experiences—beyond dressing punk and listening to punk, but actually getting immersed in the community and meeting other people?
In South Florida—well, you know, in the world of my high school, as a young student in high school—there was that community of skateboarders that was really small but a really tight community. Years later, we’re still all so close, even though we’ve taken such different turns in our lives. And then I found a similar kind of community once I started going to shows. It was really just a different hobby, but all of the feelings were the same—like, “It’s us against them”; “We’re in this together.” It sounds cliché when I say it like that, but that’s really how it felt. It felt vibrant. It felt new and exciting and “ours.”
Given the ways punk has evolved, do you think it can still have that feeling of being “ours”? Is it still “us against them” when the frat boys are moshing in the pit to Green Day?
It totally can. It doesn’t much matter to me how you dress, as long as you’re affected by the music. I don’t know about comparing that feeling to what goes on at a Green Day show, when there’s I don’t know how many thousands of people that go to their shows. It’s kind of hard to find the community there, but I’m sure that feeling pervades, anyway, even at those shows. It’s just been so long since I’ve been to a show like that, I couldn’t really comment on it.
What do you remember most about the first time you ever performed with a band?
I remember John Owens, my singer at the time, unintentionally falling over onstage after the song was over. We played one song. And I thought that was pretty damn funny. [Laughs.]
So what first inspired you to say, after going the traditional punk route for so long, “Hey, I can just go out here with my acoustic guitar and pour my heart out”?
I thought it was good, for one. [Laughs.] I thought it was good, but I didn’t necessarily think anybody was going to like it. But I knew that there was a small group of friends that really wanted to hear it, in an environment that felt like a show, so I did it. There wasn’t much more thought put into it than that. I got goaded into it by some friends, and that was that.
There was a time when punk bands drew readily from Dead Kennedys, Crass and Minor Threat—or in later cases, Slayer, Judge and the like. Your sound is straight outta Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. In fact, those are landmark albums for a lot of punk-oriented bands today. Is there anything punk about the Beach Boys?
Um, their work ethic at the time, when they were a band putting out two albums a year—that’s pretty punk rock. And, I mean, Brian Wilson’s life? I don’t know how you get more Sid Vicious than that guy’s life. That’s one of my favorite bands. I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about it in those terms. It definitely wasn’t very cool, when I was younger, to admit that I loved those bands. And I do love them. It’s become cooler to admit now—Weezer made it cooler to admit that you love the Beach Boys.
Does it bother you that so many of your fans can relate to your songs about heartbreak and cheating loved ones?
Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s amazing to me, like, “Wow, I really struck a chord here universally, right now, for this time period, for these kids.” And then, sometimes, I’m like, “Well, what a shame that so many people think that way. It was just something I wrote, like writing in a journal, about how things were feeling for me right then.”
Is it difficult to relive those feelings every night? Especially as songs kind of twist and turn and take on new shapes. Do they take on new meanings for you?
They do. They really do. [Long pause.] It’s difficult. But sometimes it gets easier. It depends on my state of mind that night. Sometimes it’s uplifting and cathartic. Sometimes it’s just so draining. Like, I walk offstage with a bit of the shakes and want to call a specific girl that I can never call again. [Laughs.] And I have that several times a week. It’s kind of… not cool.
Does it get back to you through the grapevine, what her reaction is to everything you’re doing right now?
I know she’s proud of me. She has… I haven’t really heard, since things started taking off, how it makes her feel. But I did know when I made the record, that it made her feel important—as in, a part of my life—even if it wasn’t in the most positive time.
Wasn’t that bittersweet? Like, “Hey, I wasn’t doing this to make you feel ‘important,’” you know?
Yeah, but it was also like, “Maybe now you’ll take notice of your behavior.” ’Cause there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. She’s a great person… Well, never mind. Let’s not drift there. I talk enough about this stuff in the songs.
Are you in a relationship now?
[Pause.] I don’t know how to answer that question properly. I don’t know that it’s important to talk about my relationships so much. Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t do it.
Fair enough. You partially epitomize what’s possible with punk. Dashboard started out as something on the side, and as a concept relatively unproven in the scene. You used underground show-booking connections to get off the ground. In your wake, one-man acts like Cub Country and New Amsterdams have sprung up; suddenly it’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable for punk guys to don acoustics and perform on bills with heavy bands. Sheesh—are we entering into the “post-Dashboard” era?
Oh, that’s silly. I mean, for instance, you mentioned the New Amsterdams. I know that [Get Up Kids singer/guitarist] Matt [Pryor] was doing that stuff before I was doing that stuff, or at the same time. Are we entering into the post-Dashboard era? No, we’re entering into yet another post-punk era. That has changed definitions so many times, and it continues to. It doesn’t have anything to do with Dashboard.
I don’t know. Since Dashboard, suddenly there are all these solo tours that are like “So-and-so from such-and-such band”…
You don’t remember that always happening?
“I think that it’s pretty punk rock for some kid who lives in some podunk town, who’s never going to get access to a true underground punk band, to choose Blink-182 over country music or Limp Bizkit because it affects him the same way I was affected when I heard Minor Threat the first time…”
Not in quite the volume or with quite the acceptance it has now. It used to be more like, “Hey, Jesse from Zao is playing a coffee shop.” Now, these people are able to go on tours with big bands.
Well, if I have done that for anybody, it was unintentionally. I can’t claim credit. It’s just the taste of kids. I don’t initiate the tide. I didn’t do anything big; I wrote some songs, just like any other band. I wrote some songs and performed them. Some kids like ’em, some kids don’t like ’em, and that’s okay. If it changed anything, it’d be really hard for me to see that. I’m also really close to it. I don’t know how I’d feel about that if it was true, so I’m inclined to say that we didn’t do anything major. [Laughs.]
And that way you can avoid contemplating it, in case it is your responsibility?
Yep. You mentioned Cub Country or Miighty Flashlight, both of which are amazing. Those are bands that are just really quality bands. If they are going up and they’re doing well, it’s because they’re great.
How have you seen the punk scene change since you first discovered it? Has the advent of Hot Topic or the success of bands like Blink-182 changed things, or is it simply business as usual by your estimation?
I think that [things have changed], but I don’t know if it’s for the worse. A lot of people think there’s this whole corporate mentality behind it, but I don’t think that’s true. I think that it’s pretty punk rock for some kid who lives in some podunk town, who’s never going to get access to a true underground punk band, to choose Blink-182 over country music or Limp Bizkit because it affects him the same way I was affected when I heard Minor Threat the first time, where it just got my energy level up and it made me feel affected, in a way that what was on the radio at the time didn’t at all, or what was popular in the rock scene didn’t touch me that way. It’s just a matter of exposure. That kid, that’s as close as he’s going to get to being indie rock. That’s probably better that he’s actually going on a gut-level, completely base reaction to music, be it because he found it at a Hot Topic or on the radio, or on MTV sandwiched between Janet Jackson and… I don’t know, do they still play videos on MTV? Whatever was on MTV at the time.
Something I’ve been subconsciously chronicling over the last year or so is the widening diversity of tastes in the underground. When I was 16, you could tell what was in someone’s record collection by how they dressed or who they associated with. Today, you can roll into a Dashboard show and see kids wearing Poison The Well, Jets To Brazil, Starsailor and even Slipknot shirts all under one roof…
I haven’t seen one Slipknot shirt at a Dashboard show, ever. Moving on…
Well, anyway, you might overhear them proudly talking about their love for Mos Def and Billie Holiday. What the heck happened?
I think what happened initially was that there was this really specific “These are the punk-rock kids, these are the hardcore kids, these are the ska kids”—you had these really specifically sected subgenres. How long can that last when all of those genres are making good music? I went to indie-rock shows, I went to punk-rock shows, I went to hardcore shows, because I loved rock. That just kind of grew. Why can’t a kid be into Mos Def? It’s just as good. It’s totally different, but it’s just as good. That’s a really mature thing to have happened to that scene.
You told me early last year that you had taken a leave of absence from the school where you were working to pursue things with Dashboard Confessional, with the full blessings of the school’s administration and staff. How proud of you are they now?
Very. Extremely, extremely proud… And I go to the school; I still volunteer. So I’m there when I’m home. The kids, first of all, are freaked out. They love it. They think that they know somebody famous. “Famous” is such a stupid term. Who am I? I am not Brad Pitt. I’m the particular flash in the pan at this moment in time. But these kids, they’re like, “Wow! I saw him on my TV.” It’s huge to an 8-year-old!
What’s even cooler is that I played in my hometown a couple of days ago. I’ve been doing after-school programs since I was about 18, since I was a senior in high school, so the kids that I had that were in elementary school then are in high school now. One of these kids came up to me the other day and told me that he has this band and that basically I’m the reason that he started a band, because I always had my guitar and I was always playing music out on the courts when we were playing basketball. You gotta take life at what’s really meaningful and that’s really high up there. That’s way bigger to me than when I saw that I was on MTV that one day.
It feels like the mid-’90s to me with punk right now. Hatebreed and AFI going to the majors; MTV playing Dashboard; Saves The Day and Jimmy Eat World on late-night TV. The big signing craze of a few years back didn’t do much for Jawbox, Shudder To Think, et al.
No, unfortunately it didn’t.
Do you think things will be different this time around?
No, I don’t. ’Cause this is how it works—this is how it worked last time: Some really incredible bands got signed, and they did amazing; I mean, they just struck a chord nationally. And then these other amazing bands got signed, but all the money had been put into those first few bands. And the only marketing that was put into those last bands was, “Okay, they can kind of just ride the coat tails.” And it just doesn’t work that way; those poor guys just got lost in the shuffle. And that’s what’s going to happen again unless people are very, very wise.
I’ve been getting major-label offers for a really long time. I know when the right one will come along, when there’s actually someone that will actually, actively be behind what I do; not just be there with a corporation behind them. I don’t know that it will, but I think it’s really possible that could just happen all over again. We’re also assuming that there’s gonna be some kind of boom. That was probably a once-in-a-generation kind of thing.
We’ve learned that punk guys can become rock stars, movie stars, pro skaters—the sky’s the limit. They can even play stripped-down acoustic songs all by themselves and keep the kids singing along. What do you predict the next development will be?
Hmm. What’s the next big step a punk guy could take? I don’t know. I’m sure it’s going to be something that’s completely out of left field. You’re talking about a community that’s filled with people that are really intelligent. Gone are the punk days of yore, where it’s just some angry idiot with a safety pin through his nose! [Laughs.] Today we’re talking about really, really hyper-intelligent people that are really goal-oriented, that don’t necessarily need to fit into any kind of molds—even the molds that punk rock predicates. These kids inherently think outside of the box. It’s not a stretch for them. It’s not about fashion, or even necessarily anymore about specific musical tastes. I don’t see why it would be any stretch to find out that Ian MacKaye becomes a legendary author, or does something huge socially. It’s a really kind of bizarre question for me to think about. What’s next? I’m barely even able to comprehend what’s happened. ALT