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Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional

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Sting did it – so why not Chris Carrabba? Just like the former Police frontman, the singer and founder of the sensitive-guy pop-rock group Dashboard Confessional was once a teacher, who thought his passion for music would merely help him “entertain my friends in the living room.”

Safe to say the living room has grown a tad bigger. The Connecticut-born Carrabba, 28, has emerged as an enormously popular (and hunky) figure in the much-analyzed “emo” rock genre, turning his one-man band into a full group with his critically hailed new album, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, which debuted at No. 2 on the charts. The disc was a follow-up to Carrabba’s 2001 breakthrough, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, and an MTV Unplugged album that launched a million campfire singalongs.

Carrabba recently spoke to PEOPLE about his past as a teacher, stage fright and his future as … an office temp?

You’ve been touring for some time now. Do you still get nervous before hitting the stage?
It’s like clockwork, it’s amazing how I can just feel it in my body. I warm up like a mad man, I pace a lot. My train of thought starts to suffer a little. But then I just do it. It doesn’t go away, it becomes part of my energy on stage. It gets buried a little. And if you look really closely, you can see it flash on my face every now and again.

Couldn’t have been more scary than a classroom full of kids. Did you enjoy being a teacher?
I would have been really happy if I ended up staying a teacher for the rest of my life. And I really thought that’s what I was going to be. I didn’t think I’d have a band. I thought I’d just sit at a piano and entertain my friends in the living room or something.

How did you end up pursuing music full time?
Some of the people at the school (in Boca Raton, Fla.) really believed in me. Like this woman, Deborah Nash, the vice principal, she was my boss. And she was a huge, adamant believer in what I was doing. I had this break period and I had an office, so I would just play my guitar and write songs. And she would eavesdrop and ask me to hear my demos and stuff.

She finally gave me the ultimatum. She said, “You’re doing a wonderful job here. We love you. And because of that, we will guarantee you a job here. But you should leave and follow this through.”

Are you surprised by the reaction when people sing along with your lyrics?
People reacted well, right away. In the beginning it was just because they were all my friends and they were all there when I was writing it. They all knew the songs. Immediately, it grew.

What do all your former students think of this?
They call me Mr. Chris. That’s what they’ve always called me. A lot of them have bands and stuff now. Some of them are in college. There’s a group of them, they’re probably seniors in high school, and they have a band called No Reply. I have their CD, it’s good.

Would you ever go back to teaching?
I think I’d go back. But there are so many other things I want to do.

Like what?
I want to write songs for other people. I know that it’s not a skill that I’ve honed yet, but I think I will figure it out.

Anything else?
I’m becoming a good typist. I decided, when we had that big debut on the charts (No. 2), that’s gotta be the death knell. I didn’t even think it was going be in the Top 10. That’s gotta be the pinnacle of our little flash in the pan … so I figured I’d pick up a marketable skill. So I’m all set for my temp work.