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Despite the painful melodrama in their music, Dashboard Confessional?s guys are game to have fun with their fans
IN THE CROWDED activity center of Glorietta 4, Makati, we learn something peculiar yet pleasant about Dashboard Confessional?s Chris Carrabba: He?s a funny, funny guy.

?Which album?s our most personal?? Carrabba repeats a fan?s question, scratching his stubble. ?Uhhh. That?s hard. They?re all personal. Well, there?s the least personal one.?

?Which one?s that??

?I don?t know. They?re all personal.?

His comeback creates ripples of laughter. Carrabba, the crafter of ballads of loneliness and longing, beams. The guy is smiling. A lot. The whole band, though obviously jet-lagged, is positively glowing?except bassist Scott Schoenbeck, who looks grimly in need of coffee. His sepulchral aura would be the butt of Carrabba?s jokes later (?Scott?s lost his voice.?). It?s a refreshing antidote to their image as among rock?s most self-inflicting musicians.

Singer-songwriter Carrabba, Schoenbeck, drummer Mike Marsh, and guitarist John Lefler make up American emo-alternative icons Dashboard Confessional (DC), and are on tour for their latest album Alter the Ending. They?re meeting media and delirious fans a day before they play at Trinoma, Quezon City. The mall organizers decked the ?open press conference? with sofa cushions for the band and an LCD screen for the fans. Forming a dense sickle around the activity area, girls clutch signs that say ?YOU?VE STOLEN MY HEART,? and ?CHRIS YOU?RE OUR HERO.?

Passers-by riding elevators scream overhead. They draw Carrabba, and he waves. ?Hi guys!?

Through all this, the band fields questions from media and fans through the emcee, RX 93.1?s deejay Francesca.

What started out in 1999 as Carrabba?s side project and ?diary? has evolved into a phenomenon. Its front man?s provocative lyrics and vulnerable posturing elevated him to demigod status in the eyes of smitten ladies.

After much prodding, Carrabba shyly reveals the inspiration for ?Belle of the Boulevard:? ?I knew a girl who fell on hard luck. One of the most beautiful girls I know. I was sad to see how far she had fallen. I wasn?t planning on making a song of it. I just went to the piano, played a few chords, and suddenly the song was just there. In fact I met her the other day, but she doesn?t know the song is about her. And she?s heard it.?

Every girl gushes. ?We?d never fail to show appreciation for something like that.? ?You?re so sweet!?

Carrabba continues: ?I spent three days on one demo but couldn?t get it right. On the other hand, I wrote ?Hands Down? in 20 minutes, ?Vindicated? in 10 minutes. It?s better to have our finished albums raw than totally polished. The more you pore over music, the more bad it sounds.?

The ladies flip when Carrabba effectively says their biggest hits took less than an hour to write.

The band trades music writing notes (and quips) with guest emcees Steve Badiola of Typecast and Miggy Chavez of Chicosci.

Chavez: ?What music do you guys listen to, to feel sad??

Carrabba: ?Well, when we feel sad we don?t listen to music that makes us sadder. It?s kind of hard to feel sad when listening to The Beach Boys.?

Chavez: ?How about Whitney Houston??

Lefler: ?You listen to Whitney Houston when you?re sad??

Chavez: ?No, when we?re happy.?

Dashboard Cultfessional

Starting as a one-man act, DC eventually drew in friends and former bandmates of Carrabba?s. In an online interview, Carrabba said ?Alter? felt like ?the first ?band? album,? in that during production, it felt like the chemistry of friends playing was finally there.

?It takes a lot of playing together before [you learn the band?s chemistry],? says Carrabba. Their chemistry is palpable, especially between Carrabba and drummer Marsh when the former talks about the band?s origin. ?I got kicked out of this band, then brought in Mike.? ?Let?s tell them the real story?? ?Don?t tell them the real story!?

If DC were a cult, Carrabba would be its dual-natured guru, singing about distance and despair one moment, grinning goofily the next.

A fan asks the band which song they wish they?d written. Lefler scratches his head. ?We finished touring with Jon Bon Jovi. And when they played ?Livin? on a Prayer??

?People lose their minds when they play that song!" Carrabba interjects wildly. "Even in crappy bars, the kind full of old women, if there?s a jukebox and you play that song, everyone loses their minds.?

Another fan asks: have you played Hands Down on Rock Band? Carrabba nearly jumps off his seat. ?Yes! I?ve played that!? Have you gotten one hundred percent? ?No!?

And where would they be if not in a band right now? ?Gainfully employed. I used to be a teacher,? reveals Carrabba (who holds an Education degree). What kind of teacher? ?Of awesomeness.?

Another question: Every album you?ve had, except ?A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar,? has a song named after that album. Why not that album? Carrabba exclaims, ?That?s a good question. A really good question. I never noticed that. I guess I blew it!?

Among the final questions was if any of their tattoos have any significance. Carrabba shares this gem: ?I was 14 or 15, my friend got this tattoo gun and asked if I wanted [a tattoo]. I got it!? The fans clamor to see the tattoo. He cups his face bashfully. ?If you come to the show, I?ll show you!? How about the other members?

Marsh: ?Mine?s by an Austrian artist.?

Schoenbeck: ?It?s all bullshit. Nothing cool.?

Lefler: ?None.?

Marsh: ?Clean living.?

Carrabba: ?He?s an adult.?

At the end of the Q&A, the band poses for photos. Hugs all around, as fans cue up to them. I ask Carrabba, former elementary teacher, if the quality of teacher makes a difference in a child?s future. He answers, briefly: ?Yeah!?

Good to see levity coming from these maestros of heartbreaking paeans.

Dashboard Confessional?s ?Alter the Ending? is available through Interscope Records in all major record labels.