Born Christopher Ender Carrabba, c. 1975, in Hartford, CT. Education: Attended Florida Atlantic University. Addresses: Record company--2118 Wilshire Blvd. #361, Santa Monica, CA 90403, website: http://www.vagrant.com. Website--Dashboard Confessional Official Website: http://dashboardconfessional.com.
Under the guise of the band-like pseudonym Dashboard Confessional, singer-songwriter Chris Carrabba belts out ballads in a slightly off-key chant-like monotone, droning against the driving rhythms of an acoustic guitar. This performer won the hearts of the mainstream youth audience by exuding the offbeat sentiment of so-called "emo," or emotional, rock music. Gushing with original, straightforward lyrics, his performances grab the attention of avid punk-rock audiences and pique the maudlin sensitivities of unsuspecting moshers, from adolescents to young adults. In an effort to explain the phenomenon of Dashboard Confessional, critics and music lovers note that Carrabba sings what his audience feels, and therein lies his appeal. A spontaneous sing-along atmosphere permeates his live performances, fueled by his less-than-profound, sing-song lyrics, which his fans recite verbatim.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, in the mid-1970s, Christopher Ender Carrabba first displayed his musical inclinations as a preschool pianist, pouring heartfelt emotion into fantasy performances on his toy piano. Encouraged by his mother, Ann Dichele, he learned to appreciate MTV and developed a marked preference for punk rock music. While attending West Hartford's Morley Elementary School and King Philip Middle School, he sang with a youth choir and nurtured a private admiration for certain classic rockers, including Cat Stevens and Elvis Costello.
Like many of his Generation X peers, Carrabba was a die-hard skateboard enthusiast in adolescence. He frequented the music shops near his home, enjoying in particular a West Hartford store called the Old Record Express. Also under the influence of Dichele, who had a master's degree in English, Carrabba developed an appreciation for literature and became well read at a young age; his favorite authors included John Irving and Sylvia Plath. At 15 years old, he added playing the guitar to his list of hobbies after receiving an instrument from his Uncle Angelo as a gift.
At age 16 Carrabba moved with his family to south Florida, where he attended Hall High School. He occupied his free time with playing guitar and composing simple songs based on his own life experiences. After high school he attended Florida Atlantic University, where he majored in education but maintained his musical aspirations with equal determination, performing for seven years with a band called the Vacant Andys. He later cut an album with the Agency before joining another group called Further Seems Forever.
By the late 1990s Carrabba felt burned out from the boorish, aggressive tones of the local punk rock scene; he was drawn instead to a more personal, softer-toned musical style. His fondness for the sound of acoustic guitar escalated as a result, and he came to the conclusion that Boca Raton, the town where he lived, was overly insulated from the full scope of the punk music world. Ultimately he unburdened himself of all unnecessary possessions and struck out on the open road in a worn-out old van, working his way through what was in actuality a self-sponsored promotional tour. And with that, he launched his solo career.
Carrabba released a debut solo album, Swiss Army Romance, on the independent Fiddler label in 2000, recording under the name of Dashboard Confessional. Although he taped the album without backup of any kind, he used the term Dashboard Confessional, which sounds like the name of a band, to diminish the concept of ego and to foster an aura of synergy around his performing persona. He adopted the phrase from the lyrics of one of his songs, "The Sharp Hint of New Tears," and he soon discovered that the imagery inspired by the name Dashboard Confessional struck a harmonious chord with his listeners. The words proved provocative and conjured up the universal swell of nostalgia associated with the memory of a first car and other newfound freedoms of the teenage years.
As Dashboard Confessional gained visibility, Carrabba worked as an opening act for more prominent headliners. In 2001 he released an extended-play disc called Drowning. He invited backup musicians to accompany him on stage and on the recording, and in this way developed a revolving membership for Dashboard Confessional. Among the various popular sidemen seen and heard with Carrabba are Scott Schoenbeck on bass and John Lefler on guitar and keyboards. Also heard are Sunny Day Real Estate guitarist Dan Hoerner, former Vacant Andys colleague Dan Bonebrake, and--with increasing regularity--drummer Mike Marsh.
A second full-length album, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, also appeared in 2001. Carrabba then fell into stride as the headliner of his own U.S. tour, performing to sell-out audiences at venues such as New York's Roseland Ballroom and Chicago's House of Blues. On tour again in 2002, he returned to West Hartford for his first full-blown solo concert since leaving the town as a teenager.
In March of 2002 the Hartford Courant reported that The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most reached number seven on the Billboard Independent Album chart and number 16 on the Heatseeker chart. By April Jim Farber noted in New York Daily News that sales of the album had surpassed 150,000 units and broken into the Billboard 200. The album's hit single, "Screaming Infidelities," found a spot among the tracks on the MTV2 Handpicked compilation after a sojourn on the MTV top-40 rotation.
Carrabba described the phenomenon of the Dashboard Confessional success to Newsday staff writer Glenn Gamboa, citing a tendency to "Look different ... think different ... [and be] called the freaks.... If we happen to be the next round of rock stars, we will be the first to be truly anti-rock stars. We're not into the rock star thing. We form a community with the fans." Critics in fact have hailed Carrabba for his quiet confidence and have noted his ability to mingle with throngs of atypically well-behaved fans. Even in the wake of his rising-star status, he moves freely in public without bodyguards. Many are drawn to this innocent presence, which shone brightly one evening as he performed an after-show concert in a parking lot for would-be concertgoers who were unable to gain entrance to the sold-out performance.
Carrabba--whose musical genre is acoustic punk--frequently accompanies himself on an electrified acoustic guitar; on occasion he plays a full-blown electric guitar. Although he acknowledges the highly personal nature of his song lyrics, he shies away from the image of a disgruntled poet and maintains a healthy sense of well being. While he denied to Gamboa that the real Carrabba is as miserable as the image of his songs might imply, he admitted to being emotionally spent at the end of a performance.
With a successful career poised for launching, Carrabba mulled over offers to sign with major labels but opted to remain with the smaller--and less ruthless--Vagrant label. He taped a concert for MTV's Unplugged in the summer of 2002; a live recording, MTV Unplugged 2.0, was released as a complement to the video exposure. Carrabba's eagerly anticipated third album, A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar, was released in August of 2003 on Vagrant. The album debuted in the number two postion on the Billboard Hot 200 chart (right behind country megastar Alan Jackson), and was acclaimed by critics and fans alike. The unlikely "Pied Piper of lovelorn teen punks," as Miami Herald reporter Evelyn McDonnell described Carrabba, delivered what the New York Times deemed "a remarkable disc that may become the year's most important record."
by G. Cooksey
Dashboard Confessional's Career
Played with Vacant Andys, mid-1990s; cut one album with the Agency; lead singer with Further Seems Forever; launched solo career, late 1990s; released debut album, 2000; U.S. tours, 2001, 2002.
Dashboard Confessional's Awards
MTV2 Video Award for "Screaming Infidelities," 2002.
- Selected discography
- Drowning (EP), Fiddler, 2001.
- So Impossible (EP), Vagrant, 2001.
- Swiss Army Romance Fiddler, 2000; reissued, Vagrant, 2003.
- The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most Vagrant, 2001.
- MTV Unplugged Vagrant, 2001.
- Summers Kiss (EP), Eulogy, 2002.
- A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar Vagrant, 2003.
November 30, 2004: Dashboard Confessional's album, Vindicted, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, December 2, 2004.
- Boston Globe, July 19, 2002, p. D1.
- Boston Herald, March 29, 2002, p. S23.
- Chicago Sun-Times, March 8, 2002.
- Guardian (Manchester, England), January 20, 2003, p. 1.16.
- Hartford Courant, March 28, 2002, p. 8.
- Las Vegas Review-Journal, November 3, 2002, p. 7B.
- Miami Herald, September 2, 2003.
- Newsday (Long Island, NY), March 31, 2002, p. D22.
- New York Daily News, April 30, 2002, p. 42.
- New York Times, August 10, 2003.
- Omaha World-Herald, June 12, 2003.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 20, 2002, p. 3D; October 1, 2002, p. 1E.
- "Dashboard Confessional," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 25, 2003).
- Dashboard Confessional Official Website, http://dashboardconfessional.com (June 23, 2003).