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He went along for the ride

Chris Carrabba, a.k.a. Dashboard Confessional, let the songs take him new places.

July 13, 2006|Lina Lecaro | Special to The Times

CALL him prolific. Call him passionate. Call him pensive. But don't call him a procrastinator. Although it's been three years since Chris Carrabba, the performer known as Dashboard Confessional, released a record, the wait had nothing to do with dillydallying and everything to do with the ebb and flow of his own inspiration.

Carrabba, 31, began writing what would be his new Vagrant/Interscope album, "Dusk and Summer," two years ago, but after completing nearly 25 demos he scrapped everything and began writing anew.

"I'd gotten to a point where I thought that those songs were pretty good, but the honeymoon was over fairly quickly for me," he says. "They weren't intriguing to me all of a sudden, and I felt like there was no mystery, no sense of discovery. So I said to myself, well, don't panic, just start over. So I did, and I made the decision to travel to all the places that I've lived, places that I know have had a huge influence on the shaping of my life."

After visits to Connecticut, where he was born, and Florida, where he grew up, Carrabba began furiously writing new material, recording all the instrumentation himself in his apartment.

Then a social meeting with famed U2 producer Daniel Lanois led Carrabba to Lanois' home in Jamaica, where the pair "sat by the water, listened to the demos over and over, talked about them," he says. After that, Lanois offered to come out of semi-retirement and work on the actual recording, which they did last summer in Toronto and L.A. The collaboration influenced Carrabba so much that after the sessions were over he found himself with but another wellspring of ideas.

But Lanois was busy touring his solo record by then, so Carrabba called upon producer Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Pearl Jam), with whom he worked on the hit "Vindicated" from the "Spiderman II" soundtrack, to record two new songs. "Two songs became three, and three became six and then six became 12," he says. "Then it was, like, where is this record?"

Lucky for the singer, his label allowed him the luxury to find that out. "With most other artists we would have been concerned," says Rich Egan, Vagrant's president and co-owner, as well as Carrabba's manager. "But Chris is so disciplined, we knew to trust him."

The final product ended up being a mix of everything he'd worked on up to that point. Though Gilmore's production is most prevalent, Lanois' lush influences are there (Carrabba says that in some cases, vocal tracks from the Lanois sessions were used with Gilmore's production). Even a tune from Carrabba's original demo sessions made it onto the disc, a duet with Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz called "So Long, So Long." "We were such fans of each other, I think we just kept trying to please each other in the studio," says Duritz, who fell in love with the song even before he added his own vocals. "Chris has no qualms about opening his heart to you as a singer and songwriter. We come from the same place, writing from the gut and the heart, so working together was great."

"So Long," along with the title track, will surely give fans of Carrabba's early solo acoustic incarnation something to sing along to (Dashboard's fans are known for their possessed vocal accompaniment at live shows).

Right now, though, Carrabba is most comfortable playing pumped-up anthems with his full band (whose current members include guitarist John Lefler, bassist Scott Schoenbeck and drummer Mike Marsh), a more rhythmic turn he took on the last release, the gold-selling "A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar."

"I will release another acoustic full-length again, I know it. It may be my next record or it may be a few records from now," he says. "I'm a slave to the chance part of songwriting."

Still, "Dusk and Summer" definitely goes for an epic, electric rock sound, with sweeping guitars and arena-ready hooks, best embodied by its opening track and single "Don't Wait" and later on "Slow Decay," Carrabba's first attempt at a political composition.

"I started thinking about friends of mine who had come back from the war in Iraq and their experiences," he says. "You know I'm passing no judgments here, but I just think that it can't be ignored. It's affecting us on so many levels and I thought maybe I found a way that it affects them [the fans]."

And although homecomings -- and departures -- framed by wistful memories of summers past constitute the general theme of the new release, it wouldn't be a Dashboard Confessional disc without a hefty dose of lovelorn lyrics and tortured troubadour-style laments.

Carrabba is highly guarded about whether he's found happiness in love -- "I don't talk about that stuff.... I need a private life in order to have an artistic life," he says when asked if he's in relationship. But he does say that despite his rep as a sad sap he's content right now.

Indeed, the boy once crowned the king of emo is now a man whose multifaceted music may have finally eclipsed the label and the hopeless romantic image, appealing to wider fan base. He's got a lot to live up to, so it's no surprise he struggled in the process.

"I go where the stories take me," says Carrabba, whose commercial success seems to confound him still. "I do think about what the response will be, but it's always in terms of, 'Are people going to connect?' not, 'Am I going to get on the radio?' "

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Lina Lecaro may be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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Dashboard Confessional

Where: Gibson Amphitheatre, 100 Universal CityWalk, Universal City

When: 7:15 tonight

Price: $29.50

Info: (818) 777-3931; www.ticketmaster.com

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