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Chris Carrabba

Dashboard Confessional bares its soul

Up to now, Chris Carrabba, the man behind the music of Dashboard Confessional, has been known mainly for one thing — his ability to write soul-baring, emotionally devastating songs about heartbreak.

This ability has formed a rare bond between Carrabba and his audience. At most shows, fans are known to sing every word to his songs with so much passion and volume, that it practically drowns out Carrabba's own performances.

But the "king of pain," as Carrabba was dubbed by Rolling Stone in a feature story in July 2002, has broadened his focus on the current Dashboard Confessional CD, "A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar."

Yes, there are still a few moments of searing heartache on the CD, such as "If You Can't Leave It Be Might as Well Make It Bleed" and "Rapid Hope Loss" — two songs firmly in the broken hearted tradition of Carrabba's earlier music. But Carrabba also has broadened his subject matter and, most notably, even wrote some cheerful love songs. For instance, "Hands Down," finds Carrabba caught full flush in the bliss of young love. "As Lovers Go" is another upbeat love song as Carrabba sings the praises of an ideal love match.

For those expecting to share a romantic catharsis with Carrabba, this shift to a brighter, more varied song cycle might be reason itself to run for a hanky.

But Carrabba himself reports that so far, fans seem to be welcoming the new facets in his lyrics.

"I think it's been accepted by my audiences as something positive, a good change," he said. "You know, nobody's that singularly focused. So in a sense it's the most human record."

The rise of Carrabba and Dashboard Confessional to mainstream success has been one of rock's big stories of the past year. Early in 2000, Carrabba, who up to then had been teaching in his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., released his first Dashboard Confessional CD, "Swiss Army Romance," on a small independent label called Fiddler Records.

Fans immediately responded to his emotional, acoustic-based performances, and Carrabba was signed to the larger independent label, Vagrant Records. The next Dash-board Confessional CD, "The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most," was released in April 2001, and it quietly sold more than 200,000 copies by word of mouth before the song "Screaming Infidelities" began getting major radio and video play.

Before year's end, Dashboard Confessional became the first non-million-selling act to record an "MTV Unplugged" special. A CD culled from that performance was released last fall. Now "A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar" has been released through a partnership between Vagrant and major label Interscope Records, a move that has given the group stronger promotional support. And a new version of the CD will be released in May, with a bonus DVD added to the package. The DVD captures Dashboard Confessional's recent MTV "Album Covers" performance, during which the band covered all of the songs from the 1992 REM CD "Automatic for the People."

With "A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar," Carrabba made good on his long-held ambition to turn Dashboard Confessional into a full-fledged band. "A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar" is the coming-out party for the Dashboard Confessional lineup of Carrabba (vocals, guitar), Scott Schoenbeck (bass), John Lefler (guitar/keyboards) and Mike Marsh (drums).

Instead of the spare, near-solo settings that characterized "The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most," the new songs feature plugged-in full band arrangements. Carrabba said the new sound is exactly what he envisioned in his head before he expanded from solo to band performances.

"It's pretty spot on," he said. "It's partially how I chose the guys I was going to align myself with. It's really what I envisioned it would be. In the spirit of the songwriting and the song delivery, it's very much similar. It's similarly grounded, but taking it in a slightly fuller direction."

The full-band sound works well. With drums, bass and more guitar, Carrabba's gift for instantly appealing pop melodies is more apparent, particularly on such songs as "Rapid Hope Loss," "Hey Girl" and "Hands Down."

Carrabba's singing, meanwhile, remains front and center, allowing the emotion and honesty of his lyrics to ring through despite the additional musical accompaniment. Expanding to a full-band sound in the studio was a tricky endeavor, according to Carrabba.

"You're faced with walking a line between doing too much or too little when you're trying to make a record that has more depth than the records I've made before," he said. "I mean, I think my (earlier) records are deep in an emotional sense, but I think my records were simplistic in an intentional way. So it ("A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar") was about walking that delicate line between overdoing it and doing it well and doing it right. I think, I really believe, that we did it right.''

Dashboard Confessional plays a sold-out show at the Pageant Wednesday, May 26. Thrice and the Get Up Kids also are on the 8 p.m. bill.

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