Dashboard Confessional’s Scenic Route

Frontman Chris Carrabba reflects on the beloved emo band’s first record in eight years.

Chris Carrabba (David Bean)

While the bedrooms that first played host to Dashboard Confessional posters may now be vacant — their former occupants now off to college or settling into marriages and first careers — fans of the emo rock outfit anchored by Chris Carrabba are returning to the flock. Since 2003’s A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar moved the band an early aughts staple for lovesick teenagers around the world, a lot has changed.

With the 2017 release of Crooked Shadows, Dashboard Confessional is entering a landscape where Taylor Swift namechecks the band as a personal favorite and peers like Brand New’s Jesse Lacey have become the focal point of sexual misconduct allegations that have some demanding a thorough reevaluation of the emo scene at large. The world the band left in 2008 with Alter the Ending may feel like a lifetime ago, but it’s one that Carrabba is now returning to full force with a new summer tour.

“It does feel nice to be back,” he confirms. “I don’t know if we felt like we were gone, but we do feel like we’re back.”

On the phone, Carrabba’s soft, thoughtful voice hasn’t aged. It’s the same ponderous whisper now trapped on many high school iPods, still ready to launch into favorites like “Hands Down” and “Vindicated.”

Mostly what one gathers from speaking with Dashboard Confessional’s creative center is how authentically grateful Carrabba seems. Like the lovers that linger across the band’s discography, he’s asked his fans to trust him once again — and like a crashing chorus ripe with hormones and longing, they’ve obliged with punch-drunk aplomb.

You’ve mentioned that you treated the process of making your latest album like you were making your first record. How did you return yourself that headspace?
How do I explain it? Clerically, the process worked like this: When I would sit down and write a song, as soon as I’d finish it, I’d walk right into the other room and record it right away. I wanted it to have that same immediacy. When I made those first records, I didn’t go around singing those songs or rehearsing them for months and months. I would write them and then I wouldn’t sing them again until I went into the studio — “into the studio” being a very relative term. At the time, it was quite literally a closet. So I wanted the methodology of the new record to work like this: I wanted to capture the song as closely as I could to when I wrote it or when I finished writing it, knowing full well that it wouldn’t be the best performance. How could it be? I still didn’t even know the song all the way yet. It barely existed, but I knew at that moment I was the most connected I might ever be to the song itself.

I was drawn to the headline of a recent New York Times feature with you. They called you “Emo’s King of Pain.” Is that a fitting moniker for Dashboard Confessional?
It’s the first time that moniker has been used. I always think of it as tongue in cheek. It may well not be. It is also one of my favorite Police songs, so that’s what I think of. It’s all context, I guess. I don’t, at all, shy from the term “emo.” As it applies to the music I love, I don’t think of it as a joke or a snide, snarky kind of thing to say — though it is used that way. I’m not foolish enough to think that it isn’t, but I’m really comfortable with who I am. I write some really, really happy songs. I write some really heavy songs, and I write songs that are political, and I write songs that are everywhere in between. My most popular song is probably the happiest song everybody ever wrote in the world, but I think that my original connection with people — my first introduction — was through a break-up song. Well, it’s the first impression that lasts.

You’re currently on tour with Beach Slang. I think it’s a pretty perfect pairing.
For one, I’ve known James since we were teenagers. We were cut from the same cloth. I think we both represent, as songwriters, two ends of the spectrum of what punk rock is supposed to sound like when it grows up. Also, I get to watch my favorite band play every night. That’s a pretty good gig if you can get it right there.

In an interview you did recently with GQ, you talk about how the band didn’t get “sucked into” the trappings of fame or popularity. Was that something you and the band had to actively try to avoid?
That’s a good question. I think it started out organically, because it isn’t appealing to us. It remains unappealing to us. That isn’t to say that going to a movie premiere or something like that isn’t awesome. There’s some fun stuff that comes with this job that is, like, out-of-this-world. We certainly do that stuff when we get an opportunity. Why wouldn’t we? It’s incredible.

I’m talking about all of the nonsense. That doesn’t appeal to us, so eventually we actually had to actively say no to this or that thing because it just didn’t feel like us. It felt like something that a band who was trying to be famous would do. We’re a successful band and we’re lucky to be so, but we’re not the world’s biggest band. We’re not even the biggest band to come out of our scene, but we’ve maintained this loyalty with our audience and get that back from them too. That sustains us. It sustains our career. I think if we had just been a haircut, I don’t think that you and I would be talking right now.

Thinking back on the entirety of your catalog, now that you’re happily married, has that changed the perspective of the “I” in your songs at all? Do they gain new context being performed by you as you are today?Yeah! Certainly. However, sometimes they’re just like a weird time machine where you’re transported back to who and where you were when you wrote the song or who or where you were when you had the life experience that caused you to write the song. Other times there’s the factor of — and this is a big factor — the audience in the room bringing their attitude towards each song. It is palpably different from night to night. I can feel that undercurrent, and the song takes on a new meaning. The truth is, yeah, of course I’ve written songs about girls that I was with before my wife, but it’s not like I have to relate to those songs in the context of how I feel about my wife. Those songs weren’t about this relationship, and they’re not forced to be now.

As an individual, I think I’ve changed and will change and so will the meanings of the songs. The subjects are so malleable. I think that’s why we love songs for so long — anybody’s songs. I’m not talking about my songs. Culturally, I think that’s why music is so important. Once a song gets its hooks in you, it can deliver over and over again. If it’s only saying the same thing that it said to you and who you were the first time you heard it, it wouldn’t work. It changes with you.

Dashboard Confessional with Beach Slang, Tuesday, Apr. 17, 6:30 p.m., at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd. $43.10; 415-346-6000 or thefillmore.com


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