Interview by Wil Henneberger
This year has been a good one. I’ve had the chance to be a fan again this year. Thanks, to my “job”, over the last few months I’ve seen some tremendous performances and even interviewed more than a few of my heroes and inspirations. More than that, I have come back around to a version of myself that I really missed. Like most thirty-somethings, I’ve graduated from Screaming Infidelities and settled right into Something We Just Know. I’ve moved out of the Dashboard Confessional and on to Twin Forks.
I recently spoke to Chris Carrabba, front man for both of those incredible bands and once again found myself, simply, a fan.
Vent: What is the most notable difference a Dashboard Confessional fan is going to notice at a Twin Forks show?
Chris: I think if they’re a Dashboard fan they kind of get the difference. They kind of get the one thing that people who only ever heard DB records got. There was so much joy in Dashboard and that’s really on display here, first and foremost, with Twin Forks. So I think they would recognize… they would see that it’s a more of an outward celebration that I’m drawing the room into. With Dashboard the perspective of the songs were different. There was a sense of joy or commonality in the room that I was more drawn into, by the room, but the place we’re getting to is the same. I think that the invitation is coming more from me, then to me, and maybe that’s the difference.
Vent: Can you tell us about what you’ve been doing the last few years to refine your craft as a guitarist?
The first thing I had to do was to discover which kind of playing resonated the most with me because it has never been the real flashy stuff. So, I boiled it down to who are my favorite guitar players that sing songs, to me. Paul Simon, Townes Van Zandt, Lindsey Buckingham a
nd I did homework to see whether there was any commonality in their style of play and as it turns out there’s absolutely commonality in the way they play. The style is called Travis picking. They all sound so different from each other and their guitar playing is so different from each other, but it really is rooted in this style of playing called Travis picking. That’s what I decided I was gonna study, and it took me probably six months to become adept at it, another year and a half to become… I’m confident enough to say, really good at it. Then it took me at least another year to learn to be able to write my own songs in that style.
There’s so much melody used up when you’re writing that stuff because the melody is all on the guitar. If I break it down for you, your thumb is playing all the bass line stuff, your fingers are playing all the melody stuff that might be sung or played by piano or lead guitar. You’re doing that all at once. So, my normal instinct, my first insti
nct melodically as a writer has already been taken up by what my fingers are gonna do. That was really rewarding because I didn’t expect to have a whole new place to come from. Inadvertently, I found myself on a new path on this song-writing trip. To have to come up with a secondary, but even more powerful melody that would be supported by this guitar melody and not be challenging it, something harmonious.
Vent: You have a great gift for writing lyrics that we all just have to sing along to. Who are some artists or songs that make you want to sing along?
Chris: There’s so many. God, there’s so many. I mean everything from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Fleetwood Mac to Texas Is The Reason, Saves The Day, FUN., Just about everything Paul Simon’s ever sung, but especially that period from Simon and Garfunkel to The Rhythm of the Saints. That stuff is undeniably singalongable.
Foxing, I think is an incredible younger band with powerful sing-alongs, The Front Bottoms, the Cure. Even massively popular bands like the Killers. God that guy, his sense of melody is so unique and powerful but also so fucking relentless. Those songs can’t be denied. The same could be said for Mumford and Sons and pretty much every song Ryan Tedder writes.
My list could go on for hours. The Wood Brothers is a massive one… what’s the song… I haven’t been able to get it out of my head today, until right now, when I need it. Um… [Mumbles lyrics] oh, Lovin’ Arms by The Wood Brother, one of the most infectious songs, both lyrically and melodically, I’ve heard in years. That’s not off their most recent record, that’s a record I think from 2008.
That’s what I’m a fan of, and I guess that’s why I’m good at it. I’d like to think I’m good at it. People have said I’m good at it. I’ll leave that to somebody else, but if I’m good at it it’s because I just happen to love it as a fan, so much that I’ve probably invested so much time, kind of studying it, I guess.
Vent: In your opinion what truly makes a song a folk song?
Chris: Shit, I don’t know. It’s a malleable term isn’t it? It’s meant to be bent and changed by definition. It’s handed down… a lot of the songs and the song structures are handed down generation to generation. Then we end up here, its cyclical, it’s part of pop culture again, but then it’ll be underground again, which is where I expected it to be when I was making this record. I thought it would be firmly in a ditch, it’s a little more popular then I expected, by like a thousand miles. By the time we got done with the record, Mumford and Sons had exploded all over the world and changed the definition of what folk is. If you asked me this two years ago, I would have said that was part of the definition… that it was unpopular. You can’t say that anymore.
I’d say all that it takes to be folk is… I think… Can I reserve the right to change this answer anytime, because I will disagree with my answer, even as I answer it… but I would say that all you really need is an instrument made of wood, and a song that’s lyrical and melodic enough that you can sing it with just that… or without it. The reason I reserve the right is, you can add as much as you want to it after that. You can’t unfolk it, I don’t think.
Vent: I read about your previous rule of not using the words ‘heart’ or ‘love’ when writing lyrics. Are there other words to stay away from when trying to write a great song?
Chris: You have to pick them arbitrarily, but they have to be the ones that you see that you use a lot. For my case it was ‘heart’ and ‘love’. I happen to write songs from the heart, and I happen to write a lot of love songs or brokenhearted songs, I guess. I didn’t take those words out of the rack because I thought they were overused or something, it was an arbitrary challenge to myself, to find other ways to say it.
The timeline… this doesn’t answer your question, but there’s reasoning for all this… The timeline is inconsequential. The point is, find the words that you think you’ve used almost as a crutch or out of convenience, ban them, find ways to convey those same sentiments with different words. It usually takes a lot more words. Then find your moment, wait for the most obvious moment when there is no other and the only perfect and right word is the word you banned. The well will just open again, and you’re like- I have this word back. You don’t put it in every song, you treat it carefully still, but when you get it back, you’ve earned it back.
Vent: What are 3 words you’d pick that would 100% ruin a love song…
Chris: Any three? Used Sanitary Napkin. I hope that’s not misogynistic… That will take you out of the moment for sure.
Vent: For the right price of course… Is there something that you use or personally appreciate, for which you could see yourself writing a jingle aka ‘product love song’?
Chris: Yeah, Hell Yeah. This Burton backpack I have is the best thing that I have ever, ever, ever owned… and my Filson jacket. Those are two products that I would endorse musically if it would help them. Not that they need any help from me.
Vent: What about a TV theme song?
Chris: It would probably be Orphan Black.
Vent: This interview will hit our print edition after you have passed through town, so we should get a couple different versions of how the show went.
Chris: There’s only one… It was fantastic man! I had a blast. What more could you want in a show then what I got that night?
Vent: Well, I’m 99% on board with that but as a journalist and a professional I have to cover all my bases…
Chris: I understand. Okay, here’s the only other scenario. Guys, I’m sorry we didn’t make it.
Vent: Okay, we have a best case and worst case, now how about a Game of Thrones case scenario…
Chris: Where everyone is dead? All the most beloved characters have died… okay.
Vent: What happened last night, I don’t remember anything after the dragon attack? I woke up this morning near the gate under the body of giant… how did you make it out alive?
Chris: Well, I remembered my oath and one of those seven Gods must love me.
Vent: Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that…
I would be remiss to neglect the fact that Chris has gathered a wealth of talent to round out this new album. From Suzie Zeldin of The Narrative bringing loveliness via vocals and mandolin, to Ben Homola from Bad Books on the drums, with some Jonathan Clark right smack in the middle on bass.
I’ll be experiencing Twin Forks at House of Rock in Corpus Christi, TX on June 27th. You can find me front and center trying not to be the dummy requesting Hands Down. Their tour continues throughout the US and Canada this summer. Visit www.twinforksmusic.com for dates near you, and pick up their self-titled LP now.