Interview with Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional: The Ending Is The Beginning

Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba has a habit of making lemons into lemonade. Known for bringing intense and personal emotions into the light and onto the stage—best evidenced in the band’s breakout hit “Screaming Infidelities”—Carrabba’s most recent demonstration of turning a negative into a positive came when a fall tour in support of the band’s sixth record, Alter The Ending, was cancelled due to a family situation: he picked up his guitar and his bandmate John Lefler and went on an acoustic tour with longtime friends New Found Glory.

And so an otherwise disappointing situation turned into a special, intimate set of occasions—an environment that Dashboard Confessional has always thrived in. Having long perfected the art of speaking directly to the listener, Carrabba and his band are often pointed to as leading men of the emo movement but the genre always better suited their lyrical content than their traditional singer-songwriter songwriting roots.

Their strong songwriting and dedicated touring helped them weather the flavor-of-the-month experience, and the band is now solid, matured, and opening for a Jersey legend in the flesh, Bon Jovi. Carrabba took some time out before playing at Detroit’s The Palace to geek out about opening for Bon Jovi as well as talk about the new album and the impromptu acoustic tour with NFG.

So you’re on tour with Bon Jovi, eh? Not bad.

Yeah man. Pretty damn badass, I gotta tell ya. They’re blowing my mind every night. I’m trying to get every doubter I know to come out. You know, my friends that are too hip and too cool to actually like anything anymore? You go from being young where you love everything to being a little more discerning and then when you get old and crotchety, you simply hate everything? I’m trying to get all these cats out to shows to remember why rock and roll is awesome.

How is it going for you personally? I imagine some of the fans in attendance are not familiar with you.

I think most of them are not familiar. So it’s just kind of an opportunity to do what we do in front of people and see if they’ll take it home with them. Strangely, we’re selling a ton of records, and I don’t know if that means they want a keepsake from the show or if they are interested in embracing something new. But our demographic doesn’t buy CDs anymore, it’s just not the habit, so it’s telling me that at least there’s some different audience gravitating toward it. Some of ‘em must like us.

Is the vibe for the off-dates totally different?

Oh, completely. We put one or two songs in our set in [the] Bon Jovi [shows] that we weren’t necessarily expecting to play, and there is not a ton of forethought going into ‘Well, what do we play on these shows?’ We get out there and play what we feel like that night and it’s ‘Hey, these worked. Let’s try some more different ones tomorrow night.’ And eventually you boil it down to what seems to flow nicely. I’d say there’s a big difference between what we play on the headlining shows versus what we play on these support shows for Jovi. But I do think the ones that are in both sets, we bring a little bit of how we’ve done them for these arenas [to the club shows].

Of course, we have to play differently for an arena versus a club or a theatre. When we’re playing those few carryovers that are played in both settings, I think we lean a little more performance-wise toward the grand approach that you would bring to an arena. In other words, a lot of bananas showmanship just for the sake of having fun, and it’s so much more fun in a club to do that kind of thing. Like stand on a piano, or something like that (laughs).

Also just the way the rooms sound…

It’s night and day. But we’re so pent up to play, because we play every night—and I’m talking in terms of minutes of play time—just to the point where we’re really excited to play, and then we get off stage. That’s how it works, and that’s not a knock, [cause] then we get to go up front and watch Bon Jovi. It’s a fair trade in my opinion (laughs). I was a fan of Bon Jovi, and it was legitimate fandom or I wouldn’t have said yes to the tour, but now I’ve become an uber-nerdy fan, like ‘Oh dude, he didn’t play that guitar last night on this song.’ Debating the sonic qualities of a bassline from song to song and getting really nerdy.

So when we get to these headlining shows, we’re like, ‘Let’s play 12 songs, 15 songs,’ and we end up playing 25, 30 songs. Cause we’re allowed to, I guess (laughs). So we’re kind of going for it. There was a point the other night when I looked at Johnny on stage, and I was like, ‘Maybe somebody should get the hook for us because I don’t think we’re coming off on our own here.’

Back in the fall, the tour when the record came out, it ended up getting adjusted.

Which was a total bummer. We were pretty bummed about having to put that tour off, so Johnny and I, we just went out and we played with just the two of us, which isn’t the same, but our opinion was, ‘This is better than nothing. We do this well; let’s go out and sort of try to start making it up to people.’ But of course we couldn’t hit every place that we had meant to play on the original tour. So on these off-dates we are getting to a lot of those shows and making up for missing the shows that we had planned in the fall last year.

I would argue that you turned something that could be a really disappointing situation into an intimate little tour.

I think just by a stroke of luck, the fact that people seemed to want to see that, it became more of a memorable thing as opposed to a stopgap, or something. And it was for us. I do the solo shows a lot, and for some reason—maybe I don’t do the same rooms I played when I was really by myself. I don’t know what it was that made it feel like my first endeavor since Dashboard, but it was reflective of that kind of feeling, and I honestly didn’t expect to be that high off of it. I just thought, you know, we’ll go out and do this and we’ll enjoy it and we can play, and playing is always better than not playing, but when all is said and done I didn’t want to be home. I wanted to be out.

I guess it helped because you got the New Found Glory guys to do it as well.

(laughs). It was like sweet revenge. ‘You know, you guys always talk about doing this, you’d better put your money where your mouth is now.’ When I first when out as Dashboard, among the first tours and certainly the first tour that was really attended well, was the New Found Glory tour that they gave me early, early on. So to be out on tour and having them play with me kind of acoustically and then afterwards shooting the breeze and sort of being able to understand how I had felt at that stage. It’s a different feeling; they’d never done that, I don’t think. They’d played acoustic here and there. And they wouldn’t have done it I don’t think. It wasn’t planned that way. Actually, when I called them up to do the tour, I called Chad [Gilbert] and said, ‘You’re never going to do this, but…’ They said they would do it more, that they would do this from time to time. They were really good at it.

Was that when the idea germinated to do the Swiss Army Bro-Mance split?

Actually, it came up when we were going to do the original team-up. They were my main support act for the tour that we pushed back with Nevershoutnever and Meg & Dia and Single File. So that’s when we decided we were going to do the split. And then we were rushing to get it done for the acoustic tour, which we didn’t get done in time for the acoustic tour, but it’s out now. Chad told me the other night—I went to see them with Saves The Day and Hellogoodbye—and he told me that they had gotten theirs in a day or something like that. I haven’t gotten mine from the record company but when I do I’ll start selling them too to see if I can get people excited.

That was really fun. We do covers all the time and it’s kind of a long standing tradition of ours that if a band’s taking us out or we’re taking a band out. It’s a great feeling of respect you can give I think to a band you love. For example, Weezer, who took us out when we were really small and helped us to get big. We’ve covered a couple of their songs and I think it’s a nice way to say thank you. This was a nice thing to share with your old, good, good friends. How many times have we been on stage together, how many times have we played together? I even played guitar for New Found Glory for a while to fill in for Chad at one point. But we’d never done this. We’d never taken songs of each others to a separate place and worked them out and performed them ourselves. It’s really fun. You get to really get deeper inside the minds of your friends as you kind of pick apart their songs to learn yourself.