Even if you were never a fan of the scene — emo, pop punk, pop rock, alt rock, whatever the hell you may personally call it — chances are you still knew of Dashboard Confessional and sung along to at least one of their catchy singles that dominated mainstream radio (i.e. “Vindicated,” “Hands Down”). To this day, the Florida-cultivated band remain a staple in said scene, and the recent release of their seventh album, Crooked Shadows, has not only reignited old fans’ flames, but has sparked some new flames as well.
A collection of modern pop leanings, heartfelt lyrical confessionals (see what I did there?) and emo-ridden hooks and riffs, Crooked Shadows delivers a contemporary approach to Dashboard’s signature style. One could say this is even mirrored in frontman, Chris Carrabba, himself. Still steadfast in his almost raw honesty, driven by a feeling “massive urgency” in creating the record, and in the face of the changes time brings, Carrabba finds new ways to mold emotions into lyrics that are universally felt.
During a rare day off, Carrabba discusses the pressures of expectations, singing about “feelings,” and the innate need to create music.
This is the first Dashboard album in over eight years. What drew you guys back into recording?
Well, some kind of internal demand. You know, when we came back as a touring act a few years ago, after taking hiatus, the pull was strong to make a new record because we were just kind of used to that combination of record then tour, so we felt like we should put at least a record out first. But, I really felt strongly that if I didn’t feel the strongest pull to make a Dashboard record than I ever felt, then maybe I shouldn’t just go and make a Dashboard record. And so I had to wait! I guess what it had to come to was just patience combined with a sudden onset of massive urgency.
Was it daunting for you guys at all? Did you feel any pressure to kind of mediate between expectations that diehard fans might have of what a new Dashboard record would sound like, and the fact that you guys have grown older and grown as a band, which naturally entails its own change?
I don’t know. I didn’t tell anyone that I was making the record. So, I had a lot of freedom to kind of just accept for myself that if it wasn’t the right record for me, then I was just not going to play that. I didn’t tell anyone I was making it, so there was no great expectation, but I have never once in my career had any success trying to anticipate what my audience might like, or what I might do. That’s a weird thing to say. [Laughs]
So all we could do was kind of…Well, I guess all I did was live in this place. I guess that the marching orders that I assigned were what I assigned for myself, you know? What if this is the first successful album that I ever make? And it still had the same connection with the same stories that I want to tell, but it’s also a part of the musician I am now. How is that combined in a way that was potent? And that is the question: would it? And I believe it did, and I can’t speak for the fans as a whole, ‘cause the ones that didn’t like it maybe don’t come to my shows. But the ones that are coming to my shows are really, really responding.
Absolutely, and I do feel like a lot of the themes touched on are pretty accessible through different walks of life, as well. Like, I would expect to go to one of your shows and see just as many people who have maybe been listening to you since Dashboard started as I would of people who are of a younger crowd, who are maybe still in high school and have just found you guys for the first time. I think that is something very special to do as a band, to draw people from all walks of life.
It is an interesting thing to see the familiar faces of people who have come to our shows for so long and then like you analog that. The time warp you’re in appears also, as younger people are coming and they are similar in so many ways to the original audience. And some of them are discovering us through our new music, some are discovering us through bands that are important to them now, as an increment of who they like. We have had the benefit of starting this band young, so I still feel like that we are developing…
I guess I was just saying that it is a real, powerful thing to see that, so even though we are writing about different themes, younger people are connecting with it. They might have found us through our new music, they might have found us through our past music, or maybe they found us through bands now that site us as an influence, but what I am proud of is that we are lucky that we started young. Even though we are singing about adult themes, we aren’t so far removed from youth that that is taken out of us.
I kind of defy that idea that singing about feelings and such doesn’t age well. I think it is really, really hard to do that, and so, yes, you might connect with a smaller audience, which is kind of my route in life — and I’m ok with it! I kind of just think that it is a much more deeply powerful connection that I think I am lucky to have. I am just so lucky to have it.
Going off of that, after this tour you, yourself, are going to be a part of the Parkland Strong benefit concert with New Found Glory, and William Ryan Key of Yellowcard. I know you are from Florida, but could you tell us a little bit about that connection and how that came together for you?
Sure. Well, I moved from Hartford down to South Florida in high school, I went to a high school just miles from Stoneman Douglas. My connections to that school are direct. My high school girlfriend went there, so I spent some time there. I walked the campus, I know the campus. I had a lot of friends who went there, as well, like New Found Glory did.
Years later, I worked for the school system. I was a preschool teacher, I was an after-school director, and I worked with special needs kids. So, I was a part of the school system in that county. And in addition to that, some years later me and my friends who I went to college with, they had worked there. Three of them as teachers and one of them as a counselor. And another friend of mine lost her daughter that day.
This strikes me deeply from pretty much every angle. I am shocked, I am dismayed, I am perplexed. I can’t understand how we, as a society, can live in a world — in a country — that will allow this to happen. I am actually an advocate for the right to bear arms, and I have never quite understood the necessity of these absolutely destructive weapons being something that is as readily available like a pistol or a rifle for hunting.
I am certainly no expert, but I like to go to the firing range and am perfectly happy with it; the limited rounds of rifles that have to be consistently reloaded to be shot. I just can’t figure out why we can’t find the simplest way to stop this absolutely destructive occurrences. Why can’t we decide collectively what can be used as a hobby or self-defense? It seems like common sense to me.
This predates any school shooting. I also have too many experiences, unfortunately, this is not my first experience with meeting young victims of a school shooting. I am really terrified that it won’t be our last. I know I said it a lot, but it really is close to home. It is home.
I understand. I’m from New Jersey, but I have family in Florida and one of them is a 15-year-old cousin who has leukemia. But Anthony Rizzo, who actually went to Stoneman Douglas, does this childhood charity cancer walk every year at Stoneman Douglas, so we have been going there for the past two years. When that came up on the news, that was probably one of the first times that I really had a connection to a place where this has occurred, and it is indescribable to picture a place that you have been with the horrors that those kids went through. But, what are you hoping to give back to the kids through this concert, or just your music in general?
I know people consider music a great healer, and I am happy to go play some songs, but I am doing it so I can talk to people like you and have a reason to sing. This has gone too far and we need to dial it back. So, yes, the show is important and I am eager to be there, but I am…this is one of my chances to use it as a pedestal, a soapbox.
Absolutely. Before I let you go, I know it is kind of hard now to switch gears again, but in terms of your tour prior to this and fans who might be coming out to see you at those shows, what are you hoping that the audience takes away from them?
Well, I hope they take away that we haven’t lost our deep appreciation for that audience. We are not a band unless we have that audience with us. I mean, I am sure we could go out and play shows, but I really don’t know how to articulate this…We started this band to connect with fans, we just feel so much connection that there is nobody that couldn’t feel it. I guess I would say that that is what I hope that they are excited about.
Like I said, I think that the album has truly balanced that connection and accessibility, so thank you for taking the time to talk to us about it. We’re really excited for you to come back and hit New Jersey and New York, and see you guys out again.
Well, you know, I’m a tri-stater, so that’s my home.
[Laughs] Thank you so much, Chris. Enjoy the rest of your day off, too!
I will! I’m going to go to a movie, I think.
Oh, really? Do you know which one? I can’t remember the last time I even went to a movie.
I don’t care what I see. I honestly can’t remember the last time I went to a movie. Wait, I think…hold on! In all fairness, I saw Black Panther four times in the theater and it was great. Other than that, it has been at least three years since I have seen a movie in a theater.
That’s ok! I think Black Panther is a great one for you to repeat on.
It’s so good!
Well, who knows, maybe you will end up seeing it for a fifth time.
Maybe! We’ll see, I wouldn’t skip it.
Catch Dashboard Confessional performing March 29 at Brooklyn Steel, and April 2 at Stone Pony in Asbury Park.