“I use my gut, and my gut don’t lie to me” is more than just a lyric in Twin Forks’ exuberant “Something We Just Know,” it is a kind of mission statement for the quartet. If you’ve ever been to a musical performance that made you lose all sense of time and place and give in to the cathartic feeling of clapping and dancing and singing along, you’ve already visited the sweet spot where Twin Forks have made it their mission to reside. “Whatever makes the audience stomp their feet and sing at the top of their lungs, that’s what I want to be doing,” says singer/guitarist Chris Carrabba. “I want to be generating that spirit from the stage. And there’s gotta be a way to do that whether the audience knows the songs yet or not.” Carrabba, mandolin player Suzie Zeldin, bassist Jonathan Clark and drummer Ben Homola are already well on their way, rousing crowds with their electrifying chemistry and anthemic folk-rock.
Carrabba figured out the guiding principle for Twin Forks before he even knew exactly what the project would sound like. During recent solo tours, Carrabba — whose Dashboard Confessional grew from an intimate solo-acoustic affair to a bona fide arena rock band during the mid ‘00s — says he was reminded how important that audience connection had always been to him as a performer.
He also knew he wanted to craft a sound closer to the music he’d loved as a kid — classic folk, country and roots music. Growing up outside Hartford, Connecticut in an area he describes as “half-rural, half-city,” Carrabba developed an early fondness for acoustic singer-songwriters he heard on the radio — Cat Stevens and John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot — as well as the more obscure Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Guy Clark LPs he found in his mother and step-brother’s record collections. “At the beginning of Dashboard, I wanted to write an acoustic record, but every time I played a D,C, or G chord — which are called the ‘cowboy chords’ — I would think about how Tom Petty or Cat Stevens or John Denver or Gordon Lightfoot did this already,” says Carrabba. “That’s when I started tuning my guitars all to hell and back, just so they sounded weird to me. I was probably playing DCG anyway, but I didn’t know anything about guitar, and that was how I could get myself feeling like I was in new territory.”
“When I started playing acoustic-based music, I wasn’t trying to avoid traditional folk because I didn’t love it — I just loved it so much and didn’t wanna do an injustice to it,” Carrabba notes. “And I had other influences and I thought, why can’t I combine this punk and hardcore feeling with this classic folk feeling — because they were both such massive loves of mine. But right now I’m more excited about utilizing the age-old, time-tested thing and trying to excel within the parameters of a traditional template.”
He still wanted to be in new territory, though, so when he started writing songs for the project that would evolve into Twin Forks, he wanted to add a new twist. So Carrabba spent three years teaching himself traditional fingerpicking technique. “There’s magic in that kind of playing, where you’re managing two guitar parts,” he says. “I have always found it fascinating and it just seemed like it was calling to me.” Equipped with that new set of skills, Carrabba started writing his most delicate, musically articulate compositions yet, temporarily setting them aside for he-didn’t-know-what. In the interim, making his 2011 covers album, “Covered In The Flood,” gave him the chance to explore his relationship with songs by some of his favorite folk and country artists, both classic and contemporary, including Clark, John Prine, Justin Townes Earle and Corey Brannan.
The covers LP was also the vehicle for Carrabba to start working with a few musician friends with whom he’d been wanting to collaborate: He asked Zeldin to sing back-ups on his cover of “Long Monday,” and Clark to help him record/produce it in his small studio. He and Homola had been talking about playing together for awhile, so he invited the drummer to join the developing project, as well. Last fall, Carrabba, Clark and Homola performed songs from that covers collection and a few of Carrabba’s new original tunes — those delicate finger-picking songs — at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The experience was a major awakening. “Onstage at HSB, I realized, I have all this delicate stuff, but I like to party. I like the feeling of release and drive onstage. We only played it as a trio and we weren’t called Twin Forks yet, but as soon as we got offstage, we talked about all the ones we should have played that were closer to the ones we play now. It was instantly evident. We were elated. All we want to be is elated. Why else should we be getting onstage? We’re not up there to be some good-time charlie band, but we are not hiding the fact that we are elated to be onstage with you and we’re choosing the songs that are giving us the best edge to be able to do that.”
After Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Carrabba returned home with a new sense of purpose and a clarity of vision for Twin Forks. In the previous two years, he had been sticking to a temporary rule he’d imposed on himself as a songwriter: “I had made this rule that I would not say ‘love’ or ‘heart’ in my lyrics,” he explains. “I would talk about those things but I wouldn’t say them. So when I came home from that festival and I did write the first song and it did say both ‘love’ and ‘heart,’ they felt like the right words, after not having used them for so long. I let the songs happen and found a tempo that suits what Twin Forks became.”
“Something We Just Know” came to him first, and then, the flood — another eight songs in the following eight days. Twin Forks began tracking the new songs whenever they could, between tours with other projects, in a multi-purpose space Carrabba had converted into a studio. Over the course of several weeks starting last fall, they managed to record more than twenty tracks that they plan to whittle down to eleven or twelve for the debut LP they plan to release later this year. “We tracked everything live, and I have this tendency to get really excited about what everyone is doing and I’ll make a little hoot or shout, and you can hear all those things in the final versions of the songs,” says Carrabba. “On ‘Scraping Up The Pieces,’ everytime I listen to it and hear Suzie laughing, I’m dying to remember what could have been so funny. Then we additionally multi-track, which we figured was a thoughtful way of approaching the record. You get the error-prone thing that has all the magic in it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chase a little more precision. But the goal is always to do our best to get it right in the same room with each other, looking at each other, laughing with each other. I think you can feel that all over the songs.”