Chris Carrabba, DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL's unlikely sensitive type, tenders his credentials as singer-songwriter.

His arms are smothered in tattoos. He’s prone to shrieking. He’s got a punk-rock pedigree. Chris Carrabba — a.k.a. Dashboard Confessional — is not your typical downy-soft singer-songwriter. But to an expanding cult of fans who are turning his live shows into weepy sing-alongs, his songs are as tender as anything this side of ”You’ve Got a Friend.”

A lot of friends, actually. More than a year after the tiny indie label Vagrant released Dashboard Confessional’s sophomore album, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, word of mouth has turned it into an unexpected hit. Two venues that sensitive troubadours have come to fear the most, radio and MTV, are spinning the first single, ”Screaming Infidelities,” and the album recently strummed its way into the Billboard 200. Plus, he just joined the ranks of Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill when he taped his own MTV2 Unplugged April 24. ”I’m a little confused by it all, to be honest with you,” says Carrabba, 26, whose success helped stir rumors that the mighty Interscope Records might snatch up a stake in Vagrant. ”There’s something universal about the songs, although I didn’t know it when I wrote them. There’s this honesty that helps people look inward.”

Outward, too: Many of Carrabba’s new fans are young women smitten by his gushing sensitivity and GQ-ish cheekbones. The Boca Raton, Fla., resident, who earned his tats in punk bands like Further Seems Forever and the Vacant Andys, says he’s still adjusting to the adoration. ”It’s so funny because I wrote a lot of those songs about not being able to connect with women. I’m a rousing failure with the ladies.” If that was ever true — and something tells us it never was — the lonely-guy shtick probably won’t last long. Even as his last album continues to build momentum, Carrabba is at work on a new disc, expected by year’s end, that could broaden his fan base even further.

But don’t expect Carrabba to restyle himself for the TRL crowd. ”I wrote the last album thinking no one would hear it, trying to please no one but myself, and it’s doing okay on radio and great on MTV,” he says. ”So why change the equation?” And if that means he’ll never sell out Madison Square Garden, that’s okay with him. ”I could just be the next flash in the pan and this could be my moment that I cherish forever. I’ll have this article framed in my bedroom because I slumped next month and this was the last one. Everything else is gravy.”




N.E.R.D. The Neptunes sneak out of the studio and onto the bus with backing band the Spy Mob.

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