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Confessions from Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional

Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba has never been one to shy away from his feelings.

As one of the emo movement's most visible pioneers, known for often leading his audiences in what, at times, seemed like a campfire sing-along of highly personal, incredibly emotional lyrics, Carrabba has always been comfortable with tapping into his own experiences - no matter how raw or painful they may be.

But even he has his limits.

Just as Carrabba was wrapping up work on the sixth Dashboard Confessional album last year, his sister was in a serious car accident that put her in a coma for several months. "I was torn between being with her through most of her waking hours until we were kicked out of the hospital at the end of their shifts and going home and doing my work," says Carrabba, calling from his home in Florida. "It was an influence, certainly. It changed the tone of some of the later songs and was also in the spirit that I set aside some of the other songs that I had already written. Everything seemed more important suddenly. When something like this happens to your family, you get a clearer view of what's important in life.

"I didn't look at these songs and say, 'These need to be more morose,' or 'These songs don't feel intriguing enough,' " Carrabba continues. "There was nothing so literal. Some of the tonality of the lyrics definitely reflected what was happening. . . . All I know is I don't recommend it as a way of making a record. If you can avoid that, you definitely should."

 

A deeper meaning

That said, the struggle seemed to help Carrabba. The resulting album "Alter the Ending" (DGC), which hits stores Tuesday, may be Dashboard Confessional's strongest yet, combining the raw emotion of his earlier work with the songwriting skill and infectious hooks he has developed more recently. It's not an overwhelmingly sad album, since the bulk of the songs had already been written before his sister's accident, though the context gives the love song "Until Morning" another interpretation and the rocking "Everybody Learns From Disaster" a deeper meaning.

"With all that happened, I started thinking, 'That is a great song that I can do better and should,' so we did," says Carrabba, adding that his sister has improved and is starting down "a long road to recovery." "We took some time to do it."

 

New vocal stylings

"Alter the Ending" features a variety of vocal approaches from Carrabba - some darker, some more plaintive, some sweeter, as in the current single, "Belle of the Boulevard" - that haven't been heard from him before, though he says that wasn't planned.

"I do hear it, but I didn't hear it until someone pointed it out to me," Carrabba says. "That's just the way I sounded that day, the way that sounded good to me, so I chased it. Objectively, I hear it and hopefully can replicate it. . . . Singers grow - their skill set, their resonance, all the things that make a voice a voice - they change over time. Also, I listen back on the songs I recorded - the early, early stuff, some of which I recorded in my teens - and I don't think my voice had fully changed yet."

Carrabba laughs, as he adds, "It's not like I'm putting on my Johnny Cash voice, though if I could, if I had one, it'd be on there."

Fans will have to wait a bit longer than expected to hear how Carrabba handles the new songs, however. Due to a family situation with another member of Dashboard Confessional, the band had to cancel the initial promotional tour for "Alter the Ending" last week. "It's a familial need that has to be dealt with," explains Carrabba. "It stings. But considering the issues with this album, it's almost apropos to delay the tour."

Carrabba says he is scrambling to schedule a quick solo tour to help roll out the album, though he says fans will have to wait until the band is at full strength to hear the new songs the way they were originally intended. Of course, he points out, the unexpected delay may actually add to the songs.

"Right now, we play the songs perfectly, just exactly like they are on the album, but maybe that's not the way they're meant to be played live," Carrabba says. "Maybe they'll take on a different presentation after we've lived with them for a little longer. . . . It's a long pleasure delay that may make it better."

WHEN | WHERE Dashboard Confessional's "Alter the Ending" is in stores Tuesday.

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