Main Attraction

Twin Forks is not a side project for former Dashboard Confessional star Chris Carrabba

Photo by Michael Dubin

Nearly a decade and a half ago, the music gods decided the time for middle-aged pop divas and nu-metal bands were to be done with, and they gave birth to a new musical genius that both reign and polarize the music world for the next decade.

From Boca Raton, FL.

His name is Chris Carrabba. You may know him from his earlier bands, Further Seems Forever or Dashboard Confessional. But now, with the debut album from his newest venture, Twin Forks, in the hands of the public, we sat down with the legend to figure out where this new sound developed, how the new band deals with the Dashboard audiences and, most importantly, talk Taylor Swift and Footloose.

Americana, anyone?

For those who haven’t heard Twin Forks’ music before, how would you describe your sound?
Well, I guess it’s a bit like… It’s a boot stompin’, folk kind of approach to music. It’s really joyful and celebratory.

Your past projects such as Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever differ musically from each other, as well as Twin Forks. What inspired you to create this new project?
The original inspiration was to play with a lot of the guys and girls that are in the lineup now. Originally, I was recording something a little bit more delicate and understated, and then the dynamics became more exciting, I guess.

All of you have been in different bands over the years, so how did Twin Forks come together?
It’s because we’ve both traveled together or worked together in different capacities. I was the only person that knew everybody else in the band. None of the other guys knew each other, so that was part of my experiment. I found these specific people to be incredibly positive people, and I thought it would be great to put them together and see if that combination of people would, I don’t know be…

Yeah, I guess, work. And it did. It really did. I’m really pleased. I love my band mates very much.

So you had worked with everyone at some point in your career?
Yeah. Suzie opened for me with her band, The Narrative, quite a bit, and Jonathan produced a lot of music for me, including the Further Seems Forever record, the last one. And Ben and I toured together a lot when Brand New was opening for Dashboard, and when Bad Books was playing, and when Manchester Orchestra and all those bands were passing through.

What influenced the songs for this record?
It (goes) back to those influences I had grown up with that I actually had been avoiding for a while. … I don’t know exactly what my reasoning was. I guess I didn’t want it to be too obvious, at the time, what my influences were. But I guess I got more confident in (my) songwriting over the years, and I kind of embraced that idea, like working within the parameters of the music that I’ve grown up on. I’m still trying to excel.

Finally getting it out of your system?
Yeah! Well, I don’t know if it’s getting it out my system, but it’s certainly in my system.

Your moniker was Twin Falls, but you changed it to Twin Forks for legal reasons. Any reasoning for “Forks,” or was it just one of those things where it was like, “Oh, this sounds cool”?
First of all, legal reasons are not just it. We found out there was another band who had the name Twin Falls. We contacted them, and they didn’t seem to care if we used it, as long as we called it Twin Falls (U.S.). Then they did care, which is completely their right. So we just decided to change it instead of having – I mean I’d hate to take somebody’s band name away from them, you know? But we didn’t know about them.

Anyways, originally, Twin Forks was what we would call our rehearsal space. We kind of jokingly talked about it as if it was, like, this fictitious town. Because we all came from different places and we’d meet up in this garage and we’d call it Twin Forks.
None of us lived near each other at the time, (so the idea was that) it wasn’t about coming to a fork in the road and taking one of four directions, it was like four people coming from the ends of four different forks and meeting in the middle. And so when we decided that it was not going to be Twin Falls, we’d already had the name Twin Forks, we were just (using it for) our rehearsal space.

That’s actually what led to Twin Falls in the first place. We had been calling our space Twin Forks and we thought… I don’t know, it was a funny, neat approach to paying homage to where we wrote all the music. But Twin Forks has more identity to us, anyway, since it’s the first thing we started talking about in terms of where to meet, you know?

Lately there has seemed to be this revolution of indie folk groups like Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers taking over the airwaves. Do you think Twin Forks falls into that category?
Yeah, I guess it does somehow. When we began doing this, I thought it was going to be strictly on the fringe of music, you know? But during the course of making this record and developing this band, bands like Mumford got on the radio, and they changed a lot of the sound of modern radio. I think it helps us, in a way, because people still have to like the music or not. I bet you, before maybe Mumford was on the radio, if someone heard a mandolin on Top 40, they’d probably change the channel. Now they’re up to maybe giving it a listen, if nothing else.

Twin Forks was what we would call our rehearsal space. We kind of jokingly talked about it as if it was, like, this fictitious town. Because we all came from different places and we’d meet up in this garage and we’d call it Twin Forks.

Sort of like paving the way for you guys to have a wider audience.
Maybe. We’ll see. I think so!

You released the EP last year, then went into the studio to record the full length. Did you already have songs written for the album, or did you it write as things went along?
For the full length, the whole thing was – with the exception of a song or two here and there – was finished. It was just kind of waiting to be released. But we didn’t want to wait all the way until February to get on the road. We were very eager to get out there and play shows, so we released the EP.

Where was the album recorded and whom did you work with?
We did it ourselves in our garage.

Nice! What was the vibe like in the studio – well, garage (laughs) while recording?
(Laughs) It’s called a studio. It feels like we’re for real; it feels equivalent. The vibe was just, like, absolute free-wheelin’. I’d write a song in the afternoon, everybody would listen to it for maybe an hour and then we’d go and record together. And since there wasn’t a lot of expectation or, how else should I put this? Forethought? There was a lot of reactionary playing. It got to be very, very exciting to see. You can hear it all over the record. Somebody will do something, and you’ll hear cheering in the background! We didn’t expect maybe Ben would do this fill or Jon would do this thing or I would have changed stuff up without everybody expecting it, but we got a big cheer, you know?

What made you decide to put all the songs from the EP on the full length versus only a few and make the rest of the album new?
The thing is a record, and that is very much the identity of the record. We released the EP in order to go on tour, and we agreed we wouldn’t push it too much in terms of getting it into doors or getting it into… It was just something mainly we would have to sell at shows. We didn’t want it to take it away from the record, but we really wanted to have a way to get out and be out on the road. So, like I said, that was our decision. We didn’t want to take the record apart. … Really, (those songs) are defining parts of the record.

My favorite song off the record is “Kiss Me Darlin’.”
You know what? I’m so glad you said that! I was just thinking about that when you asked me which song we’re excited to play, and that’s the one I wanted to say, but I know we’ve been playing it. It’s just the one I want to play. I really enjoy it.

I like the simplicity of the love at first sight lyrics, and how you and Suzie balance out vocal duties.
She really shines in that song.

What’s your favorite song on the record and why?
My favorite song on the record? Damn, that’s a tough one! What’s my favorite song on the record?

It’s a hard one. I wouldn’t be able to pick.
Yeah, I can’t pick! It’s hard to pick. I mean, I really like “Back to You”; I really like “Reasoned and Roughened.” I don’t know! (Laughs) I like them all!

You like all of them!
(Laughs) They’re all the best songs. I have no idea how to answer that.

I agree. That works.
(Laughs) That’s a get out of jail. You just bailed me out.  I like that.

You mentioned before that you refrained from using the words “heart” and “love” in your songs, yet you use them in such songs as “Scraping Up the Pieces” and “Something We Just Know,” among many others. Why the change of heart, so to speak?
Oh yeah. Yeah. So what I was referring to is that I spent one – actually two – years without using those words. It wasn’t that I was never going to use them again, or not use them on this. I didn’t use them for a solid two years of writing.

Was that for Dashboard material?
It was just for everything I was writing, period. For anything. Because I felt like they’re – I mean, they’re really, very important words, but they’re also easy go-to words. Sometimes, I think a writer will use them – myself included – because it’s quick and easy, (but it) may be not the right time to use it. So the way they show up on the record, now, is because after that – I can’t remember if I gave myself a year or two years not to use that? It was a temporary rule. A long temporary thing that sounded stupid.

Twin Forks, for me, is where my whole heart is. It’s not a side project for me; it’s my band. It’s very important to me. It feels like the most honest thing I’ve done in many, many years.

The album as a whole is more happy-go-lucky and love-driven versus Dashboard’s infamous brokenhearted anthems. Would you say that’s because you’re just at a different point in your life and it reflects in these songs?
I think so. Also, sometimes, I think Dashboard was taken to be sad when it really wasn’t. There are plenty of songs that are very happy and celebratory. Like, I mean, some of my biggest, most successful songs – like “Hands Down” and “Stolen” – you couldn’t have a happier song, you know?

But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think of Dashboard as a bit sadder than Twin Forks. And yes, I’m in a different spot in my life, but it’s also the music and the dynamic within the band that feels – I’m so powerfully potent and positive and mature and, not to overuse the word, but joyful. That’s just kind of what came out. You know, I love having this great time on stage and I think our audience – when I speak of our audience, I guess I mean Dashboard’s – they always embrace that, too. So it may be that the songs are sad, but when you got to the show, it was this real lively, positive experience. I wanted to capture that first and foremost on this Twin Forks record.

I think it shows through the record and live performances. I’ve been to a Twin Forks show, and it was awesome.
Where were you? What show?

I was at one of the L.A. shows at the Troubadour.
Oh awesome! That show was phenomenal. I had so much fun that night! I’m glad you were there.

It was definitely a lot of fun. Lots of hand clapping and all that.
Yeah! Right? The audience is not bashful, right? What a crazy thing. I’m used to people singing.

I’m sure each of your musical projects holds a special place in your heart, so I ask what does Twin Forks mean to you?
Twin Forks, for me, is where my whole heart is. It’s not a side project for me; it’s my band. It’s very important to me. It feels like the most honest thing I’ve done in many, many years.

That’s a bit misleading; I don’t mean to say that anything I did other than Twin Forks was dishonest. It’s just great that you have a band with no expectations versus a band that has a lot of records out, with built-in expectations. You have a freedom to be who you are, right there, that day without having to subconsciously acknowledge an existing catalog of stuff or anything.

You can play for the pure love of it.
Absolutely! And what can be better than that?

You’re no stranger to writing catchy hooks. This album is no different. Is that something that comes natural to you, or does it take some effort to write songs like that?
I’m lucky that people think the choruses I write are catchy. I just write songs. I’ve tried like to be decisive or – no, that’s not the right word – calculating about that, but I’ve never had any success when I’ve tried to be calculating about it. I just write the song and I get lucky, I guess.

You have whole audiences singing back the words to your songs to you without having to say a word! You can just play guitar if you want.
(Laughs) I know, there’s been times where I’m like losing my voice because I’m trying to scream louder than the people. I’m like, “You know, I could just not sing here.” But I don’t know, I get excited, too!

I’m sure that’s a crazy experience, to feel the energy of the crowd and them singing back to you over the years.
Are you kidding me? I think that’s so rad! Sometimes it’s incomprehensible to me. You’d think after this many years you’d just go, “Oh yeah, that’s the part that they sing.” But I don’t.

Can you talk a little about the instruments and sounds used on this album? I know Suzie plays mandolin and you recently took up finger picking, not to mention there’s whistling and hand clapping throughout the record.
I have a real affinity for acoustic music, so that’s something I wanted to get back to. There are some electric instruments on here, but generally speaking, the directive was to play all wooden instruments and try to find power within that instead of power within distortion.

How was the experience and reception touring the EP?
The tour was incredible. We’re being very careful not to advertise it as Dashboard, so when people get there, nobody’s disappointed. I’m sure I play Dashboard songs just about every night of the tour, but I don’t want people feeling like they’re getting gypped because they thought they were coming to see all Dashboard shows.

I’d rather advertise it as Twin Forks and have maybe a hundred people there the first time, but maybe the second time have three hundred and the third time have –you know what I mean? Build it organically, instead of the other way around where we have a few thousand people that want to see Dashboard, and then realize it’s not really Dashboard and then they don’t come the next time.

Twin Forks recently did a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Mean.” Why that song?
I just love the song, to be honest. And I love her. I think she’s a wonderful person and a great songwriter. But that song is just infinitely catchy.

It’s a good song. I like Taylor Swift.
Mm-hmm. Me, too. Even people who don’t admit to liking Taylor Swift like Taylor Swift.

You guys are going out with Augustana this spring, as well as hitting the U.K. Obviously, touring is an important part of promoting the album. With that said, what would be an ideal tour for Twin Forks?
I’d say the ideal tour for Twin Forks would be a number of headlining dates where we got to play to smaller rooms. A number of support dates for bands that we could probably learn from. You know, not that it would ever happen, but like Mumford and Sons or Avett Brothers or bands that are seasoned and spectacular. Or even, like, Counting Crows or Ryan Adams – Americana-based bands. Then, in addition to that, playing a whole bunch of folk festivals. That would be a great year for us. I would love that.

What’s the best and worst part about your job?
The best part is playing the music and meeting the people. I think the worst part is the long stretches away from the people you love. And on occasion, though not many, not the shows but getting to the shows.

But these are luxury problems. I get to do what I love, you know? Those aren’t real problems; those are just factors.

So many people’s lives have been shaped by your music. What were some albums growing up that shaped you as a person?
Wow, that’s a good question. Paul Simon’s Graceland. Townes Van Zandt’s Live at The Old Quarter. The Cure. Well, probably every Cure record. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Yeah I could make a huge list and use the whole article!

Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
The first record I ever bought was Prince’s Purple Rain.

Nice! How old were you?
Like, four.

That’s awesome! The first record I ever bought I was probably five-years old and people don’t believe me.
(Laughs) What was the first record you bought?

You’re going to laugh at me.
I won’t!

First record I ever bought was LL Cool J’s I Need Love.
I absolutely would not laugh at that! That’s awesome. That’s killer.

“Back to You” was recently played on the TV show Reign right?
Yeah, that was a surprise.

I know in the past Dashboard music has been featured in TV and movies, but with Twin Forks being so new, how was that to have your song featured on a primetime network? How did that come about?
Honestly, that came about just because the music supervisor heard it. I don’t think he knew the history of the band or anything, just said, “This is the right song for this” and picked it. And I’m so grateful because it really, like, I’m very fond of that song and it cemented that song for our live show because people got exposed to it that way. Yeah, it’s a great medium for exposing songs, television.

What have been some of your favorite songs from movies and TV?
That’s a good question. Wow, that’s a really good question. If I go back to being a kid and, like, renting Footloose? The theme song would come on and I’d be like, “What?! This is the best song ever!” (laughs).
I mean, for me, it was a lot more skateboard videos than it was movies or TV that I got exposed to music through. Some of those bands were like Fugazi and Operation Ivy and Green Day.

Swiss Army Romance came out three years before there was such a thing as social media. Do you think the work ethic of promoting a record or show has become lazy or smarter?
Hmm. Is it possible to be both? I think it’s savvy, but I do think some of it might keep bands from heading out and being there with their audience, as opposed to having a slightly removed relationship with their audience. I mean, I think social media is incredible because it does personalize your relationship with your audience, but nothing – for me, nothing competes with meeting them in person and being there in front of them.

Twin Forks was posted on March 3, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .