Essentially the poster-boy of what became known as acoustic alternative, in which dudes from punk backgrounds would start writing unplugged ballads, Carrabba would pave the way for your Secondhand Serenandes and your City & Colours that melted hearts throughout the 2000s.
One of the key releases that broke Carrabba through to a wider audience was his second album as Dashboard Confessional, 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most. The album will be played in its entirety during Dashboard’s upcoming Australian tour, appearing at Good Things festival and at select headlining dates. Being 17 years old, it’s obviously a snapshot of a very different time in Carrabba’s life, something he is all too aware of.
“Making those first two records was a total blur in time for me,” he says. “They were written within months of another, so they kind of count as one record in a sense. To be frank, it was an exciting time – even though the circumstances of my life were definitely more difficult.”
There isn’t even a long enough gap to ask Carrabba to elaborate on this before he’s right back into it. “I’m trying not to sound maudlin here,” he adds. “At the time, I didn’t realise that things weren’t going great. When I retell these stories, however, it doesn’t paint the best picture. I’ll give you an example: At the time, I was living in a van. That might paint a real bummer of a picture, but I was stoked. I’d gotten rid of everything I owned, and I’d committed myself to breaking into music.”
This persistence – spoiler alert – ended up paying off. The Places You Have Come… still holds up after over a decade in the wilderness. It’s a pensive, emotionally-striking record that encapsulates diary-entry vulnerability and twenty-something anguish in a tidy half-hour LP. It’s a record that many fans came of age with, and that’s not something Carrabba takes for granted in the slightest. “Everything I went through went into my music,” he says. “I’d been through a serious heartbreak, I had a family emergency… yet, at the same time, I was kind of deciding that I was going to make my own destiny. I figured some people make theirs, why the fuck not me?
“I certainly did not expect, however, that I’d still be talking about this record so many years later, not to mention still being able to make music for a living. I’m still playing these songs to people that live so far away from where I live. I don’t even live in a van anymore. I still don’t like the trappings of things – I consider myself a minimalist – but I’m very happy to have that part of my life in the past.”
The Places You Have Come… was recorded in early 2001, roughly a year after Dashboard’s debut Swiss Army Romance. Holed up in the apartment of his producer, James Paul Wisner, Carrabba instinctively began laying down a mix of solo numbers and full-band arrangements. “These songs were written with the kind of freedom that you get when you’re being pragmatic,” he says. “I was writing under the impression that no-one was really going to hear these songs, which meant I was censoring myself less.
“It’s always the case when you’re writing self-consciously – you worry about sounding uncool, or coming across as obtuse, or wanting to sound braver than you actually are. That’s not what I’m interested in as an artist. I’m more interested in exploring the idea of vulnerability.
“Bands like The Cure and Fugazi did that for me when I was growing up – bands that weren’t afraid to address how to be a young person, wanting to be a part of the world. Bands were doing much cooler things at the time, but it wasn’t all that revealing. I was more interested in the nature of being revealing in your songs.”
In the 17 year since the release of The Places You Have Come…, Carrabba has made five more albums with Dashboard Confessional. The project has taken him around the world a good half-dozen times over, with fans ranging from lyric-tattooed devotees to Taylor Swift and back again. Somewhere in the midst of answering a different question entirely – such is Carrabba’s nature – he touches upon what it is that has kept Dashboard alive as an entity for roughly half of his life at this stage. “We take the power that music can have and we embrace it – and we let it embrace us,” he says.
“We don’t wield it. It’s something we’re working to be a part of. It’s part of a lineage. In order to understand this band, you have to understand the ethos of where we came from. Bands in this world of indie rock, of hardcore, of pop-punk, of post-hardcore… how they operate is integral to how we operate as a band. We’ve made this connection – and we want to keep it.”
Dashboard Confessional will perform as part of Good Things Festival next month. Crooked Shadows is out now via Fueled By Ramen.