Twin Forks frontman Chris Carrabba on what a punk kid listens to when he grows up

Chris Carrabba fronts Twin Forks, a Nashville-based Americana/Folk band that joins the Ryan Bingham/Lucero co-headlining tour as the opening act. Before this eponymous record, Carrabba fronted Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever before that.

He spoke to Weld about growing up punk rock in the ’90s and the Florida scene that raised him. He talked about punk rock kids evolving into folk rock kids, and he shared the birthday gift that he once gave Jon Bon Jovi.

Before Dashboard was a thing, you were part of that huge, emerging Florida punk rock scene. How did you connect with guys like New Found Glory and Less Than Jake, and how united was that scene?

It was pretty united. I didn’t really know the Less Than Jake guys, and to be honest with you, I still somehow don’t know those guys. Although, from the same time, I was very close to the Hot Water [Music] guys. I did play some shows that they probably wouldn’t remember, with Less Than Jake. I only elaborate on that because I am a massive Less Than Jake fan, and that’s sort of the one that got away. [Laughs]

New Found Glory and my friends — my friends being the bands that I was in at the time — we all grew up within a few miles of each other. I cannot tell you why there was a wealth of creativity and camaraderie, combined with one-upsmanship, but it was — let me take someone for example. Chad [Gilbert] from New Found Glory would suddenly get good at “this” kind of guitar playing. And instead of being like, “Ah! I’ve got my thing. I’m going to leave you guys in the dust!” He’d be like, “Hey, everybody come over. I figured out a new thing I am going to show you.” And we all did that. We all played in each others’ bands; it was very communal. And part of it was — probably I could liken it to, not in terms of cultural success or the massive impact that Seattle had when grunge occurred, nobody calls it “grunge” anymore, but for lack of a better word, the “grunge scene,” that era — there was a certain geographical isolation to Seattle that mimicked Florida. South Florida. Deep South Florida. You know, we’re closer to Cuba than we are to Georgia. That’s where I was living at the time. I’ve been a nomad my whole life, but two times in my life, I lived several years in Florida.

We worked together to make a scene because bands weren’t coming. And because word got out that local bands are able to fill halls with 500-800 people, bands started coming down. And they were surprised that we were good! But we had to be good because we held ourselves to that standard. We also cared. The people that came to the shows cared. The people that put the shows on cared. The people that were in the bands cared. There was a lot of crossover to who those people were.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything, man. I really wouldn’t. I watched some bands — I don’t know what their lineage was — they were out of nowhere, an explosion, and that’s incredible to me. But I wouldn’t trade all of those years of a common goal. And then, that next step, where Hot Water was the first one to start getting big and giving us all shows. And then New Found giving Dashboard shows, Dashboard giving New Found shows — whoever was bigger at the time. Not just Florida, but our extended scene, because we had the sister scene, New Jersey being a specific one. For some reason, there was a strong tie to the New Jersey bands with the South Florida bands. I speak of Saves the Day and Thursday and My Chemical Romance — that kind of thing.

Was that the hub of punk rock in the late ’90s?

It was one of them. Of course Southern California was the place, at the Bay Area — that was the tried and true, there will never be a shortage of pop punk bands or post-hardcore bands or whatever you call things now. On the East Coast, it was New Jersey and South Florida. I don’t know why, but it was.

Dashboard once opened for Bon Jovi. What was the most extravagant thing that you saw Jon buy on a whim?

I never did see him buy anything. I want to tell you that there was foolishness, but they were just so [expletive] nice and generous. And they have a great sense of humor.

It happened to be Jon Bon Jovi’s birthday while we were out. What the hell do you get Jon Bon Jovi, if you’re his opener, on his birthday? I didn’t know. So I put a crisp $20 bill in a birthday card. What do you get the guy that has everything? Twenty more bucks I guess? There was two days where it happened he was busy, and I thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to get kicked off the tour!” Then I found out he thought it was the funniest gift he had gotten that year. So we did it! It was awesome.

I think you had a collaboration with Birmingham’s Andy Jackson on a Hot Rod Circuit record. How did that happen?

I did a lot collaborating with Andy and he did with me. It was a lot of just messing around in dressing rooms, so I’m not really sure — it’s hard to keep track. It’s such a communal scene that nobody keeps tabs. Now, songwriting is such a thing and you change a word, get a third. No one gave a [expletive] about that. It was nice if someone was going to throw you a couple of bucks, but there was no need to do that at the time.

We all worked. These are people that — it’s so very, very different to think about the uniqueness of the scene. The uniqueness of the scene is that it’s all about camaraderie and spirit. Many of us went on to have great success, but it was in spite of our leanings toward niche taste. Luckily, somehow, the mainstream came our way for a minute. But we all loved each other, and we love each other still. It’s such a strange — I’m so grateful for it. Guys like Andy that have been in my life for so long now. I think about countless shows I’ve done with Saves the Day or Thursday or Get Up Kids. Years in and years out.

We were joking around about it a couple of years ago and realized: I don’t think there’s been a year that’s gone by since New Found Glory and that Dashboard started that we haven’t toured together either with our main bands or one of our side projects. That’s pretty incredible. There’s hard time when you’re making music and you’re on an indie label and then, maybe, you’re on a major label, and then maybe you’re fighting your way back from the bottom to the top or from the top to the bottom, who knows? It’s amazing when you have the same kids that you skipped class with going through it all with you.

You did a solo record called Covered in the Flood, and you did a significantly slowed version of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” How did you arrive at that version?

I had done some collaborations with R.E.M., and that was one song that I had never done with them or without them. But I remember talking to [R.E.M. bassist] Mike Mills about this technique of really slack-tuning a guitar, dropping it really low. I’m not talking like Meshuggah, for the sake of it being heavy and mean or anything like that. But really, just so you could get this warbliness from the strings. It was in the back of my head and I started to do this cover and I did it normally and I thought, “Well, I wonder what would happen if I dropped the whole thing and played it in this voicing.” It sounded like — when I played the chords that way with all of that warble — it sounded like a record that was spinning with a sandbag on top of it. Too slow. I loved it. And that was it. Years and years ago, he had talked about this technique of slack-tuning the guitar and I had just tried it for a minute as I was messing with the song, not intending to make it slow, just making it relatable to a conversation with the guy that had wrote the song that I was covering. That’s what led to that very slow, dirge of a version of that song.

Everybody knows that’s a fantastic song, and it’s fantastic on many, many levels. It’s fantastic because the melody is great, the message is great, the lines that stick out, they stick in your head forever. Everybody knows the words are witty and a lot of people know the words, but the words are incredibly powerful. And I thought that if I did do it slow, it would draw attention to the lyrics in a way that’s not — they did it as a gimmick, but taking the speed out of it, the tempo out of it, made it in a way that you could listen to the words without rewinding far to pick out what it was about.

Twin Forks calls Nashville home. Is that home for you now?

Oh yeah, we all live here now.

Why did you decide to move to Nashville?

I’ve lived all over the place. I lived a lot of my childhood in Mexico. I’m a transient by nature. One thing I have always loved about Nashville — well, there’s all the obvious things, right? It’s a music town. It’s a fine arts town. It’s a food town. The amount of culture here is radical and the cultural growth is exponential. It’s a vibrant place to live. And it’s gorgeous.

I have trouble staying in one place very long because I was raised moving every year or every other year, or maybe if I got lucky, every three years. This is an area of the country where you can pretty much get to anywhere in the country relatively easy and relatively quickly. And I like that quite a bit.

I have a lot of friends here. Almost all of those people we talked about are moving to Nashville. Many of them. The Florida cats — many of them live here. Or near here. I don’t live in Nashville, I actually live just a little south. It’s a fantastic place to live. I wish I had moved here a long, long time ago.

But I don’t think it has anything to do with — people have, maybe, inferred that it has to do with my taste in music, which everybody knows is a little bit, in addition to punk and all of that stuff, is country and folk and bluegrass. But that’s not why I moved here. It’s a great plus, but I didn’t move here to just have constant exposure to that. I do own an iPhone with the ability to play any music I want on it.

It’s natural to label Twin Forks “folk” or “Americana,” but what is Twin Forks to you?

Folk or Americana.

You’re fine with that label?

[Laughs] No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know what the hell it is. I guess it’s a folk/bluegrass combination. What’s to rail against? You’re talking to a kid that has been dealing with labels — being labeled this, being labeled that — for quite a long time. None of that stuff gets my panties in a bunch. I can’t honestly say that it never did. But it certainly hasn’t happened in a long, long time.

As a matter of fact, I found myself railing against the term “emo” for a long time, but mainly because I thought it applied to a music scene before Dashboard. But I’m honored by it now. I don’t know why that is. It’s some perspective I guess. I’ve taken some time off from Dashboard and yes, we’re an emo band. I don’t care if it’s something you think is something to joke about. I’m proud of the work that we do and it meant something to a lot of people including me, so what the [expletive] am I embarrassed about?

So you think people when they hear “folk” or “Americana,” they think, “That’s not what we are!”

But why? What’s the difference? I don’t care what you call us if you’re talking about us. It’s all an invitation. The first song is an invitation to the record. Talking to you so that you’ll write about us is maybe something to read about it, maybe take a listen to us. They’re able to categorize us. For someone like me, when I hear “Americana,” I think of things like Ryan Adams. I think of Wilco. I think of The Band and Steve Earle. It’s a multifaceted thing that I think it’s an honor to be associated with.

I don’t know, to me, it’s one of those things like, “Don’t call us rock and roll.” What? I don’t get that one. I got it when the grunge guys were like, “Don’t call us grunge.” It was this arbitrary thing that wasn’t steeped in any kind of tradition. But I don’t get it with folk or Americana. That’s tried and true, traditionalist music. You may be pushing the envelope, and to me that’s what people are afraid of — being taken to be a bland version of that or an imitation or a copy of all of that. I don’t think that. People ask what Twin Forks is and the only thing I add to the “folk” thing is that it’s “boot stomping.” Because then the venue realizes it’s a folk thing with a tempo. That’s just important to me so you don’t think it’s — although some of it is elegant, for lack of a better word — but most of it is brash, and I like the brash stuff.

Is this what the skate-punk generation grows up to be? Is this how we age? I say “we” because this is the same stuff I listen to now, too.

Maybe. Maybe so. I don’t know. It’s difficult for me to answer that one because it’s what I listened to before I discovered punk rock. And there’s a lot of — it depends on which guys or women you are talking about, but for me it was a lot of the counterculture folks. Not everyone. Bob Dylan was counterculture so to speak, but he wasn’t the culture of the music. Townes Van Zandt was absolutely counterculture. Steve Earle is massively counterculture. “Mississippi” John Hurt, that’s more blues — which by the way is not country or blues, just to clarify — is counterculture to me. There’s a subversive to his lyrics or their lyrics.

Steve Earle is my guy, because he’s the most [expletive] punk dude that ever lived. I think there’s — G.G. Allin, that’s all shtick. Black Flag and Descendents, that’s ultimate punk rock for me. Quicksand and Fugazi — ultimate post-hardcore bands for me. Ultimate, you can call them troubadours or you can call them troublemakers or you can call them truth-seekers, guys like Woody Guthrie and Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt. Conversely, things like Simon and Garfunkel or Paul Simon, Lindsey Buckingham, specifically, but Fleetwood Mac altogether, where it’s the other end of the spectrum lyrically, but there’s a lot of prowess on display, which I love as a musician.

I think, yes, all those things I stated are probably reasons why it’s not unusual for guys like you and me who grew up on some of the bands that I talked about, who grew up on this pop-punk and hardcore scene, to look to the Billy Braggs and the Steve Earles and down to the Frank Turners and the Chuck Ragans and find the commonality very, very easily.

Guys like that do something so punk with such a simple setup that it makes the punch that much harder. And I think the number one guy that I can think of that does that is a guy named Cory Branan. He was at the house yesterday and we were working on a song together. We’ve been friends a long time. We’ve covered each other’s songs. We’ve toured together. But even just sitting there and chatting with this guy and you realize the level of intelligence this guy has is in rarefied air.

I think of Walter from Quicksand. There’s musical styles that I like, but one commonality is this powerful intelligence and brazenness and powerful ability to reach inside you with its hooks and kind of get you for life. You’ll be a lifer.

Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. WHOA. Of all time? You’ve got to let me take this slow.

Can you print at least this part? “I reserve the right to change my list 30 seconds after we hang up.” That’s all I can say. We’re going for the five best American rock bands of all time. Can I say it in no order? Does it have to be in order?

Absolutely!

I would say Green Day. Fugazi. These are rock bands, right?

Yep!

This is so much pressure. Green Day. Fugazi. Wilco. Pearl Jam. Nirvana.

Twin Forks will open for Ryan Bingham and Lucero at Iron City on Thursday, Feb. 26. Doors open at 7 p.m., while the show is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $27.50 at the door.

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