Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba

Reacting against the “more big and loud” stance of the hardcore bands he was playing with, Chris Carrabba sought a more intimate connection with audiences by showcasing his voice and an acoustic guitar. The result was Dashboard Confessional—which made its “full-band” debut with 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most—and the appeal of Carrabba’s raw, melancholy style quickly earned the band a devout following. Dashboard’s latest release is Dusk and Summer [Vagrant].

How does the guitar fit into your creative approach?
I always wanted to play songs, not riffs. My style is still developing, but I’m primarily a rhythm-guitar player. My songwriting is without intention. You can play a chord 50,000 times in your life, and, one day, it sounds like the first chord ever played, and it becomes a song. First, a feeling hits you, and then experience comes in. You’re telling a tale, so there needs to be something linear. You have to find the thread—the connective tissue.

How often do tunings figure into the songwriting process?
Generally, my electric tuning is D, A, D, G, A, G (low to high). But the characteristics of the guitar I’m writing on will ultimately determine the tuning. All these strange derivatives factor into the end result. I’ll just start tuning until it sounds good to me, and then I’ll go to the [electronic] tuner to see what I did.

What types of artists tend to inspire your writing?
I love Tesla’s Five Man Acoustical Jam, and I listen to a lot of Pixies, Jawbreaker, Quicksand, and some hardcore—like the Refused. I really love Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty, because their songs are stories that pull you in completely. Radiohead definitely tugs at my heartstrings, but, most of all, I love the Beach Boys and the Beatles. Their harmonies are an infinite bag of tricks.

How was it working with producer Don Gilmore on Dusk and Summer?
Before working with Don, I was very isolated. But Don got me out of my house, and he had me look at my songs differently. He can wholly see your vision and appreciate it, and he never lets you forget the original concept while taking you down his road. He’s a true companion on that journey. Also, Don brought resonance and mystery to the recording. We didn’t want the modern barre-chord guitar sound—no super noise-gated compression. We wanted jangle, roar, and just a little noise, and not too many lows or mids. I wanted each note to be heard.

I understand you’re kind of a gear fiend.
I’m a huge fan of Gibsons. I have a ’52 SJ Southern Jumbo, a ’44 LG2, a ’58 LG3, and my main live guitar is a ’61 Les Paul Junior with a single P90. I also have a ’63 Fender Mustang, a ’53 Fender Telecaster, a ’38 Martin 0-17, and a ’70 Martin 0-18. I typically use a Bogner head and cabinet, and my bag of tricks includes a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, a Moogerfooger Lowpass Filter, and a Maxon Overdrive. My electric strings are a .011 set of D’Addarrios, and my acoustic strings are medium-gauge D’Addario and Martin sets. For picks, I use a Dunlop Nylon Light 0.46mm, and my acoustic pickups are always Fishman. I could talk about gear for days. It’s my bliss.