Last week, I got the chance to chat with Chris Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever fame) about his new band, Twin Forks. During the interview, Carrabba opened up about his long-held aspiration to pursue folk music, the slow and steady formation of the new band, an upcoming tour with Augustana, his current feelings about his other musical projects, his opinions on the modern mainstream folk resurgence, and his friendship with Butch Walker. (Note: Click here to read my review of the new Twin Forks record. In addition, you can find Twin Forks on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, and on their own website by using the search term "Twin Forks Music" in a Google search.)
Craig Manning: First of all, love the new record, really pleased
with how that turned out. How did the Twin Forks project come together
initially? What influenced your songwriting direction?
Chris Carrabba: Well the band came together…let’s see, let’s just
retrace this correctly. Well, I had these songs that I wanted to record
– some covers and some originals. The covers were mostly folk stuff I’d
grown up listening to and some outlaw country stuff. I ran into Ben, I
was playing a Dashboard show at the Troubadour, and Ben had played a few
nights before, so the Bad Books guys all showed up.
I asked Ben, who I knew was a producer, if he’d help me out with this
stuff. So I started working with Ben on these covers, and then he had to
go out and tour with one of the 1,500 bands that he’s in, and so then I
got a friend, a guy named Jonathan Clark, to help me with the covers
record. So that was the impetus. And these guys hadn’t met, but what
they had in common was they had these indomitably positive attitudes,
which I found incredibly infectious.
So we worked on these covers [for the 2011 album, Covered In The Flood],
and then I started thinking. Ben was still on the road, and Jonathan
and I started talking, “Well what could be next?” And I had a lot of
Dashboard stuff begun, but maybe not…I wasn’t sure how I was feeling
about all that. And at one point he said, “Well why are you…” You know,
we had just done all these covers, and if I’m left to my own devices,
just sitting around making music, playing music, what I end up playing
is stuff from my earliest influences, like Townes Van Zandt songs or
Steve Earle songs. I play a lot of, like Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan,
just the stuff that as a kid I was exposed to that helped me learn to
play guitar and compose. And…he said, “Why are you afraid to do what you
That was a really profound kind of question that I didn’t have an answer
too. So that was the first seed planted for going back to my earliest
roots. And then, I have a…there’s a composer in San Francisco, her name
is Dawn and she’s a mentor to a lot of bands, legendary promoter. One of
the things she does is called “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.” So at this
point, I’ve begun writing what I guess would have been a Chris Carrabba
record, so like, a pretty delicate…like Nick Drake, Alexi Murdoch kind
of record. A lot of finger picking, very understated. I thought it was
very charming. It felt really good. And she invited me to play this
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. And it was under my own name, there was no
Twin Forks, there wasn’t anything. And in the course of this, Ben had
come back from his tour, so it was now the three of us working together,
and as soon as we started playing together, there was this really
But here I’ve got Jonathan, who’s really busy, me in a band that’s
really busy. I got Ben, who’s as busy as anybody I know. And so we just
kept saying to each other, “We’re not a band, we’re not a band.” So when
we got the opportunity to do the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, we said
“What a great thing. We can kind of go up there and pretend to be a band
and have like a weekend of exciting role play,” or something. (Laughs)
So we walked onstage saying “We’re not a band” and we walked offstage
saying “We’re a band.” Something happened on that…in the course of that
show that just felt radical, like something was changing.
So we came back, and one of the things that we realized was that those
small and delicate songs that I wrote, while I loved them – still do –
what I loved more was when we played some of the covers that had that
boot-stomping thing that really let Ben and John shine. And so we came
back and I just began writing from there, where that’s the kind of music
I was developing. I’d write a song in the afternoon, we’d listen to it
in the late afternoon, and then we’d get in the room together and play
it live. So what you got was a really fresh and new song and a really
reactionary approach to recording it. And we’re in the same room and
there’s all this mic bleed, and I was thinking we were doing demos until
we listened back and we though “Oh yeah, that antiseptic thing we’ve
all been taught to do in the studio is not going to represent this band
well.” This band needed to be represented by the the messy stuff of
making the record too.
CM: Yeah, it’s really more organic sounding than the later full-band Dashboard stuff.
CC: Yeah, because the more there is on the line – you know,
bigger labels, bigger expectations – there’s a feeling that there’s a
way to [make a record] that’s really specific. And that’s like everybody
in a different room. Like, “You’ve had your time to play together, now
everybody go into a different room and play separately.” And that has
its place, and some great, great records are made that way. I don’t know
what ones are and what ones aren’t, but like, if you were to tell me
that – just to pick one out of the hat – a Killers record was made
separately with everybody in the room, I would say there’s no drawback
to that, because the power was what was captured. Or Say Anything,
another one that has more chaos in it. If you were to tell me that [all
the band members] were all in different rooms, I’d say “So what,” you
know? It’s not a hard fast rule as long as the power is captured. I
think for Dashboard, on the last record or two, sometimes we captured
the power, sometimes we didn’t. That’s only my opinion. With Twin Forks,
[the different rooms thing] just never would have resonated. It would
have been this really clean, maybe forgettable thing. Or sound. The
songs I think would still have power, but the sound of it would maybe
not have as much.
So then, once the record was done, we started thinking about what would
be cool as far as extra instrumentation, and Ben played the drums, and
John and I played pretty much everything else on the record. And then we
were…looking for that last bit that would make it just right, and I had
all these great idea for harmonies, and I would have John or Ben sing
the harmonies on the record, or I would sing them – which I never really
like to do that, then it sounds like what I call “wall of Chris,” which
I don’t really care for that.
And so we thought about Suzie because she had done the cover record with
us and she’s such a lovely girl. Well…that’s too small a statement, but
she really is…her positivity is on par with what I described from those
other two guys, you know? Collectively, those three have like, rays of
sunshine hanging out of their ass. You can’t bring them down. Sometimes,
the work of being in band…being in a band is the best. It’s work
though. Nobody really wants to know that. You don’t want to know how
sausages are made, right? But a lot of it can wear you out, can bring
you down, can bring me down. Not these guys.
So all of that being said, that was the final piece of the puzzle. We
invited Suzie to come down and sing. I mean, first thing we did was play
together, and it was like, “Oh yeah, there’s no question here.” And
then we began to record that stuff and it was just…I’ve rarely had such
an ease with decision-making. So anyway, that’s how the band came
together, and then we did the one show about a year ago and…man, I just
can’t believe it. I can’t believe I get another chance in the batter’s
CM: The album has been billed as along the same lines as the
Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, and other modern folk bands. Folk in
general has been able to recapture a place in the mainstream as of late.
Were you inspired by the way that listeners seem to be opening up their
ears to these older, more traditional styles of music again?
CC: I am now, that’s for sure. Without a doubt. When I began
doing it, those bands existed, but they were on the climb. They were
just being introduced to the world. I think I’d heard that first Mumford
song a couple of times, and I was like, “Wow, that’s it, they got that
right, really exciting, love the song.” But I didn’t expect that to work
at top 40 radio. I didn’t expect what I was doing to work at top 40
radio. I’ve made a pretty great career out of being on the fringe, being
a niche artist. I’ve had some good showings of almost getting some
radio recognition, some top 40 success if you will, but only really come
close to it. “Stolen” did pretty well on the radio. But generally
speaking, I think my whole career was made in a niche scene, and that’s
just what I expected with Twin Forks. I thought it would be an even
I’m going to repeat myself here, so if you see this in other interviews,
forgive me, but it really is something I stand by with these bands: the
Lumineers, the Avetts, the Mumfords, and what have you. Those bands
write hit songs. I find it really lucky for me that they are interested
in the same kind of instrumentation that I find really interesting. But I
think all of those bands write these songs that are powerful hits songs
that are just plain hit songs. They’re just incredible. They transcend
the style in which they’re played in. [The bands] could have written
them as piano ballads, or as the post new wave kind of stuff. But they
happened to choose the kind of music and style that I’m so drawn to and
that I love so much. I think there would have probably been a period
before those bands were on the radio where if a song came on the radio
or on Spotify or in a friend’s car that had a mandolin in it, it would
be like an immediate skip track or change channel [for mainstream music
listeners]. It would have been off-putting. But [the Lumineers and
Mumford & Sons] have made it inviting to people to stay on that
station, stay on that song, stay with it for a minute, and then if the
song’s good, they stay with it.
That’s a really lucky thing for me. I will admit to still being a bit
shocked that that actually happened. I think we’re really lucky because I
think there was a minute that I though, “If they’re doing that, then we
can’t do that.” And then I thought to myself, “Well, it took me a long,
long time to get to a place to do this, and I’m here now. I’m not going
to run to some other setting because another band exists that does this
well.” Because, to be frank, Bob Dylan did it well; Paul Simon did it
well; the Eagles did it well. So I thought, “There’s room for us.” I
still believe we’ll be a niche band. It would be great [to hit it big]
but I don’t have any designs on top 40 radio. All I know that I get to
do what I love, and thanks to those bands, people might give it a full
listen instead of a 20 second listen.
CM: You guys released an EP last fall, and I think a lot of
people sort of thought that was going to be the extent of the project.
Did you always intend to drop the EP to gain interest and then go ahead
with the full length shortly after or what?
CC: The full-length was done, and it wasn’t about building
interest, but an excuse to get on tour. Because we’d found a record deal
and it was like, “Well the record can come out in January,” and we were
like, “Next January?! Is there any way…anything, just to go on tour?”
Because I think I’ve made no bones about my draw to the touring world,
it’s just where I feel most centered. So they let us do the EP. They
kind of just said “If you’re expecting a lot of promotion for an EP,
let’s temper the expectations, but if you want to put this EP out and
just go on tour, you absolutely have our blessing. And when it comes
time to release this record, it will be our time to shine. The label’s
time to shine.” But [the EP] was never intended as the be all and end
all, and it wasn’t really intended as a thing to stoke a future fire.
For me, it was a means to an end to be out in front of people.
CM: How did you choose the songs from the album that did and did
not make the EP? I was really interested when I heard the full album,
because even though it’s half the same songs, I think it has a
completely different mood and personality and pacing. You saved a lot of
the slower, more balladic tracks for the LP, and the EP was more of the
more upbeat, handclap stuff. Was that a conscious decision? Were those
the songs you wanted to play live, so they got on the EP?
CC: Probably, probably so. We didn’t put all the hand-clappers on
the EP. There’s still a few that we saved for the record. But that’s
the piece of the band that I think encapsulates the identity of the band
more than anything else, so that’s the choice that was made.
CM: Listening to this record compared to some of the Dashboard
stuff, I think there were definitely folk stylings sort of creeping in
on the last few records, specifically with the acoustic version of Alter the Ending
and on the second half of that record with songs like “Even Now” and
“Water & Bridges” and “Hell on the Throat,” I think those were sort
of moving in the style that you’re doing with this. Were you already
sort of thinking about writing folk songs back then, or was it just what
you were listening to and it was a subconscious thing.
CC: I think it was a little subconscious in that some of those
influences were just coming out happenstance. Because I wasn’t…as I
mentioned to you, I hadn’t quite had that epiphany yet that I was
allowed to make that kind of music, that I was going to allow myself to
make that kind of music. Interesting that you say that, because I
haven’t really thought about that, but I totally agree with you. Like
specifically “Hell on the Throat.” That’s pretty much just a folk song.
And now that I think about it, especially the acoustic version of “Water
and Bridges.” The style of that, the structure of that is a folk song.
Interesting, interesting. Sometimes you do things subconsciously before
you are consciously aware that the path is there.
CM: Speaking of Alter the Ending, I think come November,
it will have been five years since that album came out. Dashboard
Confessional hasn’t released an album this decade. What’s the status of
that project? Is it done? Is it indefinitely on hold? Do you have plans
to record another Dashboard album at any point in the near future?
CC: I love Dashboard. I love my bandmates so much. You know, it’s
family. And of course I love those songs. Those songs defined my life,
and I don’t mean that the songs themselves chronicled my life, I mean
the fact that those songs existed in the world gave me a life that I
wouldn’t have lived otherwise. I have every intention of being in
Dashboard again. I don’t know when is right. I’ve felt at times since Alter the Ending
that it was something I should push real hard for, before maybe
interest ran out – I mean the band’s interest – or we just slipped into
that forgotten pile of record collections. But neither of those are
really the right reasons to make records. The right reasons to make
records is cause you…you must make the record. That’s the way you feel.
So I’m waiting to feel that way. And I know I will again. But for the
time being, that’s how I feel about Twin Forks. And to the degree I
hadn’t felt about Dashboard in a bit.
CM: Also sort of on the subject of Alter the Ending, I
think comparing that album to this one is interesting because that was,
more than I think anything else you’ve done, like this big, bombastic
pop production. And you worked with Butch Walker on that, and I just
need to ask about him because I’m a huge fan of his work, both as a…a
producer and a singer/songwriter and definitely as a live performer. How
was the comparison between working with him on this big pop album and
then turning around and making this organic, sort of backwoods folk
thing? And who produced this record? Was it self-produced by the band?
CC: Yeah, the band produced it, probably in this order: John and
then me and Ben tied. We all know how to run the gear, we all know how
to structure songs, and we all know how to listen to our gut about
what’s right and wrong, so we just did it ourselves. Working with
Butch…it’s funny you should bring it up, because I was just texting with
Butch this morning about unrelated stuff and non-musical stuff. Just
shootin’ it, you know? And I’m a fan of his in exactly the way that you
just described that you’re a fan of his. So getting the opportunity to
work with a guy like that was a big, big deal for me. And we ended up
being kindred spirits and having a real friendship.
There’s no kind of record that Butch couldn’t make. So if I had showed
up with songs like [the Twin Forks songs] and said, “can you make a
record like this,” you’re telling me Butch Walker couldn’t make the
record? (Laughs) The guy’s…there’s very few in his class. But he also, I
think, was just…well I’m similar to him in a lot of ways. I’m a writer
like he is. I’m a performer like he is. I understand how to work the
engineering end of records like he does, and I understand production
like he does. There were a lot of times while making that record with
Butch that he would turn to me and say, “You can do this.” You know?
It’s great to have mentors out there. I’ve spoken about it before. Butch
is a good friend, but he’s also a mentor, you know? Like, throwing in
little things like that while making a record that had a lot of
expectations from the label we were on, that had a definitive style
expected…you talked about…did you call it pop, or sleek or something
CM: Yeah, sort of bombastic was what I said.
CC: Yeah, I don’t know. The label had a big…had an opinion in a
more…they vocalized it more than they ever had for that record. And so
that’s the kind of record we set out to make having been given the
marching orders. It was kind of exciting. It was kind of a challenge,
like “Can you do this?” “Yeah, I think I can. I think I can do that.”
And I’m sure it was reactive to like a couple of the demos I took them
that were pretty fully formed and probably sounded like that and they
got excited and were like “Yeah, this is it, this is what we want.”
So half the record I did with Adam Schlesinger [of Fountains of Wayne]
who’s a real pop guy, and Butch is a rock…guy…believe it or not, though,
what he writes…
CM: Oh yeah, he’s definitely a rock guy. (Laughs)
CC: You know, he’s really famous for writing Pink songs and Avril
Lavigne songs, but if you ever listen to a Butch Walker song, it’s a
CM: Yeah, definitely.
CC: So…I can’t remember your actual question, but yeah, I don’t
know that Butch decided that’s the style of the record that we were
going to make, or I did, or the label did, or we all did. But it is the
only one like that that I made, I think.
CM: Definitely. So you’re going on tour with Augustana, right? That’s what’s next?
CC: Yeah, we go to Europe…we go to SXSW, then we go to UK and Europe, and then we come back and do the Augustana tour.
CM: What can fans expect from that tour? Is it going to be all
Twin Forks stuff from the new album? Is it going to be a mix between
Twin Forks and covers? Are you going to throw in any Dashboard stuff?
CC: I think Twin Forks and covers and Dashboard stuff is a pretty
reasonable expectation. I think that, especially when we open for
people, they don’t necessarily know who Dashboard was, or they might not
know. But in this case, we hosted Augustana, I don’t know, four times
or something? So a portion of that audience that came to know Augustana
on tour with [Dashboard] will be aware of my other band.
I’m not opposed to playing Dashboard songs. I’m more excited, I’ll be
honest with you, to play Twin Forks songs, but I’ve always had – since
we started doing this – my own marching orders to myself have been to go
out and play Twin Forks songs. And the most I can hope for is that the
audience will give Twin Forks a chance to be Twin Forks. And then if I
feel like…it’s not about winning [the audience] over, but I feel like if
I’ve been given graciousness…like, it’s really hard for me to say no
when someone calls out a Dashboard song. It’s a real kindness to allow
somebody to grow. To be a fan, become a fan, or just be there to support
the challenge of it all. But it’s just really hard to say no when
somebody then says, “Play this song I love,” because they’re saying
“Play this song that I LOVE,” you know? It’s not like they’re saying
“Play this song that…my girlfriend knows!” (Laughs).
But we are really excited to go out with Augustana. It’s been really
cool that, so far, two bands that we helped, in whatever small way that
we could, established themselves as career touring artists – City and
Colour and Augustana – have both turned around and given my new band an
opportunity to open for their crowd.
CM: A question from someone on the site: in 2012, you reunited
with Further Seems Forever for the first new album in eight years. Was
that reunion a one-off kind of deal, or could you see doing another
reunion a few years down the road?
CC: Yeah, that’s one the easiest for me to say yes to. Let me
re-state that, within the band, it’s easiest for me to say yes to doing
the band, because I’m the only one whose job is music. Everybody is
really desirous of doing that band. We really enjoy each other. We love
each other. We’re talking about childhood friends, you know what I mean?
It’s like family. And there’s not really a day or week that goes by
where we’re not in contact, and we’re not even in a band together.
They’re the most brilliant and funniest guys I’ve ever known in my life.
They’re excellent musicians. I’ve seldom been as rewarded through
friendships or musical collaborations as I have with these guys.
So my answer is that I really hope we do a lot more. I do understand
that it’s going to be less often than any of us would like. I mean,
people were patient to wait the eight years the first time, so if they
can be a little bit patient along the way as we look for our next
opportunity. I don’t know what we would do, I don’t know if like…I’m not
sure if people…we toured so little on Penny Black that I’m sure
there’s still plenty of places we could go. I mean, people want to hear
the old stuff anyway, that’s just the way it works, so I’m not sure that
we would make a new record before we toured. I just want to play with
those guys in front of people. If it’s up to me – and it might be, I
don’t know – I’d like to do shows and tours before another record. I
think everybody wants that too, by the way, but it’s a moving target.
CM: Speaking of reunion tours, a few years back, you did a belated 10-year anniversary tour for Swiss Army Romance. And now, I think A Mark, A Mission turned 10 last year. Did you think about going out on the road and doing a few shows to sort of celebrate that?
CC: No, I didn’t think about that. When I did the Swiss Army Romance
tour it was because I had talked to so many fans who are still fans
from that earliest, earliest stage. And they asked…it was more a
foregone conclusion for them that we would be doing something to honor
[that album]. And my intention was to go out there and celebrate like,
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, what a great milestone in my
life.” But then I realized, this fanbase, in a way that maybe doesn’t
happen very often, popularized this band and gave me a career through
their own hard work. So I decided to do that Swiss Army tour [as a thank you].
And then the Places anniversary came, and the Mark, A Mission
anniversary came, and I look at it and I think, “I’d love to play that
record straight.” I’d love to play an audience that wants to hear it.
But then I feel a little like…I did that once for Swiss Army, and
it just feels like…I don’t know, a money grub? To go out and do it
again and again? To do it once was this great thing. To do it every time
I have an anniversary sounds a little bit opportunistic. And I thought
that outweighed the charm of doing it and I thought it outweighed the
positive reaction the idea would get from the fanbase. It felt a little
bit disingenuous, just to me.
And then of course, I second guessed myself when I saw some other bands I
love go out and do some of these records that I love, and I watched the
show, and doing this “I know what this means to them” audience because
it means that to me when I see X band do X record. But…it might have
been different if we were a full-time band who had released records
every year of this decade. Like you said, we haven’t done something this
decade. I probably would have done it then, because it wouldn’t have
just the one thing we were doing. But that’s the piece of it that made
me feel like, “This probably looks like I’m just trying to pay my rent.”
CM: So what’s next for Twin Forks? I mean other than the touring,
are you still writing songs for this project and do you see making
CC: Yes and yes. You know, when you stumble upon it – the right
thing for the band – the songs begin to form an identity. And everyone
in this band, they all seem to think that I stumbled onto the template
of the identity of the band really early. And so they literally got out
of my way, they left me in a room alone and sat in the next room until I
said, “Hey, come check this out.” And now I think they really
understand the difference between a folk song that’s great and a Twin
Forks song that’s great. So I’m really excited to see what [kind of
songwriting] Jonathan brings to the table or what the other members of
the band bring to the table, but I’ve already begun writing too.
CM: So do you see Twin Forks being your full-time thing for a
while, or are you just going to just sort of keep following your
inspiration wherever it leads?
CC: I don’t have any indication that my inspiration going to lead
anywhere but Twin Forks for the time being. I don’t know that I’ll feel
drawn to Dashboard the way I feel drawn to Twin Forks right now. But it
would be really unfair to this fanbase that’s been just sort of waiting
[for Dashboard] to make a record just so they can have one, as opposed
to because I feel called to do it. And that sound’s way loftier than I
intended it, but I think you know what I mean. So yeah, Twin Forks is my
band. It’s not my side project. It is my band, and it is my band to the
degree that I’ve committed myself to it with everything I’ve got.