After taking a break from cult favorite Dashboard Confessional, it would've been easy for Florida musician Chris Carrabba to keep playing to thousands of people thanks to name recognition alone—after all, he's an elder statesman of early-2000s emo. Instead, in 2011, Carrabba started the folk-pop band Twin Forks. Turning away from the strong emo tendencies of Dashboard Confessional, Twin Forks has been a reboot of Carrabba's musical career.
It's also proven to be a reboot of his public persona. At concerts, "some people would realize halfway through the set that it was me. Others would talk to me after the show, telling me that I looked like Chris Carrabba. I sure hope I look like me," he jokes.
The five members of Twin Forks came together with the goal of creating communal live shows through their fun, high-energy take on Americana. And the new style of songwriting gave Carrabba a fresh creative outlet to express himself. To the casual listener, that may sound ironic, given the personal, emotive nature of Dashboard Confessional, but it's clear that Carrabba is reinvigorated with Twin Forks' lively neo-folk sound.
While it might be easy to accuse Carrabba of jumping on the folk bandwagon, Twin Forks is a genuine expression of a love for folk music that stems from his childhood. His earliest exposure to folk greats came from records he inherited from his mother, by legends like Townes Van Zandt, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and his personal favorite, Steve Earle. "Earle was my first introduction to a counterculture figure," Carrabba says. "He was a badass on every front."
Twin Forks reflects Carrabba's desire to return to those musical roots. While Twin Forks' 2014 self-titled debut album includes all of the Americana prerequisites (dueling male/female vocals, stomping, whistling, finger-picked guitars), Carrabba doesn't feel like classic folk storytelling is that far from Dashboard Confessional's stirring tales of love and heartbreak. But it was difficult for him to find his songwriting voice.
"I've always been a storyteller, but with the beginning of Dashboard, it was a reaction to listening to [my original influences] and bands like Fleetwood Mac, but I also wanted to be as unique as possible," Carrabba says. "I had a massive respect for the music I listened to, but I felt as if I needed to do it justice, the art of being a troubadour."
But even though Carrabba wasn't ready at that point to devote himself to being a folk troubadour, that didn't stop him from making music. He stepped away from folk and instead melded hardcore rhythms with acoustic guitars in Dashboard Confessional, which evolved into a pop-rock band over the next decade and had its own share of national success. And with those successes, Carrabba felt he'd proven his songwriting mettle and was ready to try tackling making music that paid homage to his earlier influences.
"After years of proving that I paved my own road, I then felt a strong draw toward the challenge of trying to excel in folk, which at the time wasn't popular," Carrabba says. "I thought with the years of dedication and uber-focus of my craft, I could indulge myself in chasing these song structures that I really love." His dedication to folk drove him to study relentlessly in developing his finger-picking technique ("it's deceptively difficult") and allowed himself to write from a point of view he hadn't yet explored.
Still focusing mostly on love songs, Carrabba blasts any misconceptions of emo hysterics with the infectious joy of Twin Forks' self-titled album, headlined by the cheerful "Back to You" and the rollicking "Scraping Up the Pieces." While Carrabba is still going strong with Dashboard Confessional, Twin Forks is the sound of a man who's reinvigorated.
"I was starting to feel like I was forcing myself to write Dashboard songs that had that 'emo' quality," Carrabba says. "I had to ask myself, 'Am I writing for who I am, who I was or who I'm thought to be?' So I buckled down to write from the point of view of who I am now."