Photo: Nick Fancher

Chris Carrabba: “I’d been waiting for another record that felt like the earliest days of Dashboard Confessional”

In case you somehow hadn’t noticed, the emo scene of the early-mid ‘00s is back in a big way. Powered by the combined forces of elder-millennial nostalgia and music’s cyclical tendencies, a new generation of acts are emerging, channelling the artists that soundtracked their first steps, into emotive modern soundscapes that bring a tearful smile to an elder emo’s face. Emo it seems is no longer a dirty word, but rather a password to unlock intergenerational connections. If one man’s art seems perfectly suited to the moment, it is early ‘00s scene heartthrob Chris Carrabba’s works under the moniker Dashboard Confessional.

As luck or perhaps destiny may have it, the heartfelt acoustic-led project that made vulnerability and soul-crushing internal conflict look and sound so appealing are about to hit this new generation of emo appreciators in the feels, courtesy of Dashboard Confessional’s inspired new album All The Truth That I Can Tell.

A spiritual and sonic successor to their breakthrough 2001 scene staple The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most, All The Truth That I Can Tell is somewhat of a throwback offering from Dashboard Confessional, one that takes the delicacy, intimacy and emotional intensity of Carrabba’s early-mid ‘00s works and passes it through the filter of lived experience, resulting in a record that is more mature, yet no less affecting.

All The Truth That I Can Tell is both a remarkable renewal and a fortunate step forward for Carrabba, who had found himself at a distinct crossroads as the last decade came to an end, running on fumes and unsure if he’d ever release another album.

The songs eventually came, and though the project might’ve easily come to a screeching halt following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in the summer of 2020, All The Truth That I Can Tell stands among Carrabba’s finest and most fully-realised works, a strikingly potent musical look at himself through a rediscovered keyhole, both an achievement of vision and a vital burst of artistic clarity; less like reading someone’s diary and more like reading their eyes.

In the weeks before the release of All The Truth That I Can Tell we were fortunate enough to hop on Zoom with the still strikingly handsome and youthful Chris Carrabba for a deep and meaningful conversation about All The Truth That I Can Tell, the rehabilitative and connective power of music and the return of emo culture with more than a few detours to bask in nostalgia warm glow along the way.

Music Feeds: Mr. Chris Carrabba, the emo icon, you have a new album, All The Truth That I Can Tell, dropping on February 25th. How are you feeling about that?

Chris Carrabba: I am thrilled to get this record out. I feel like I’ve been waiting for a minute, you know, since we recorded it, and then COVID rolled in and I had the accident, so I’ve been sort of holding on to this, in various stages of completion, eager to put it into the world. But to be honest, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this record since The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most was finished being recorded.

I’d been waiting for another record that felt like the earliest days of Dashboard and hoping against hope that I’d find inspiration in that lane again, but recognising that it was indeed rare to be able to put songs together with a message that is clear without lots of production value.

MF: That’s interesting to hear you say that because there was definitely a marked change in the Dashboard Confessional sound on the albums that followed that record. I assume you’re still proud of them, as they’re home to your biggest hits?

CC: I also like that period of Dashboard and that period of creativity but felt it was certainly the more commonplace to find myself when it came to the inspiration and conception of the songs. The other one is a rare and kind of elusive scenario.

MF: Do you have any idea of what it is that conjured that, that form of creativity and inspiration to return to you at this point in time?

CC: I don’t entirely know. There’s a bit of mystery involved in all of this, accepting that can be really tough. Accepting that it doesn’t all come down to craftsmanship and ability, you have to have that in equal measure of course, but there’s this powerful current of something entirely intangible that sort of happens to you or at least happens to me anyway.

MF: I’m a songwriter myself and I’ve found that through talking with other songwriters that the experience of songs just appearing, almost fully formed, seems to be a relatively common, albeit impossible to predict experience. I’m not a religious person, nor are most of the artists I’ve spoken to about this, but it does have that sort of vibe to it, doesn’t it?

CC: Nor am I religious and yet, it feels like a higher power when it happens. The trick of the trade really is to be well practised, constantly honing your craft. That comes with just writing, even when inspiration is from a different place, and just trying to be as deferential to the influence, no matter which influence, which shape it takes.

MF: Many artists get quite frustrated by that intangible well drying up and lose themselves and their confidence in that process. They may worry that because it’s not striking, it means that they won’t ever be able to do something again. Did you realise that when you were writing your other records, you weren’t feeling the same sense of connectivity or inspiration to the material?

CC: No, I think that would imply that I felt disconnected from that material which wasn’t the case. What I did feel was that the material was different, the connection was the same, but it was drawing me to a different place that I hadn’t been previously, and in some cases that I wouldn’t be again. That’s all okay. What was less okay to me was that I had been somewhere that led me to two records that I felt deeply connected to, that I couldn’t get back to. You mentioned ‘Vindicated’ which is from a period of writing that I did find and that I do find easier to navigate back into, as it is present more often.

For me, it’s a luxury indeed. But there is less hand wringing about it. When you have this kind of experience, as a songwriter where you’re drawn into a deeply contemplative place, that is revealing things in you that you have not discovered and that you may or may not be prepared to reveal to others in the form of song, it’s powerful. You’re almost powerless against it. I can’t say that I liked it better, but I can say that I longed for it the entire time that it was gone.

MF: The first taste of this new/old sound of this inspiration you’d been longing for so long is ‘Here’s To Moving On’. Has the positive reaction to that track validated that process for you?

CC: I don’t know if it validated the feelings that I was having, but I felt like I had people to celebrate the thing that I was proud of. The choice of that song coming out first actually wasn’t mine. I didn’t feel that it was the wrong choice, it was that I didn’t want to make the choice, and I think it was a little bit of self-protection because I have feelings as a human being. I’ve poured myself into this, these songs have so much of me in them, so what happens or what does it mean if they are not liked?

MF: That’s a vulnerable place to be. Were you worried it would feel like they’re rejecting you, personally?

CC: Part of you would be saying, “some people don’t like songs that sound like this,” that’s what the enlightened person would say. But what I am doomed to do if they don’t like the songs is to think that it turns out they don’t really like me. That’s foolishness, but that’s what the benefit of having several records under your belt does for you, it means I can ask someone else to make that choice for me because otherwise, I’m going to be too precious about it.

MF: It’s good that you have people that you trust to make those decisions in your inner circle. That’s another thing that comes from being a bit of an industry-veteran it seems, is that something that took a while to get accustomed to?

CC: It did. You’re not insulated from getting that wrong, unfortunately, I have to say, not to insinuate that I have, at all, but it is a strange business sometimes.

MF: It is a strange business indeed, and we’re on the verge of a new technological era with the dawn of music-related NFTs. Does it feel a bit like the dawn of a new era of the industry?

CC: I don’t quite know what to make of where that leads the music industry. I do feel like I can see that it will lead industrious hedge fund managers to a really fun place for them. I can’t tell you what I know that will do to the industry. I will say that I do not hate the idea of an artist, whatever the art form is, having some continuing stake of ownership or possession of the art that they’ve made.

That would be a new and unique thing because throughout history if you were an artist and you painted a painting, you either hold onto the painting or you sold the painting and then it was no longer yours. So that not being the case is an interesting idea, but I’ll leave it to much smarter men and women to figure it out and then tell me what it all means.

MF: It’s pretty interesting that you’ve hit the creative well of inspiration that lead you to this throwback vibe, for want of a better term, at the exact moment that that ‘00s emo scene is having a renaissance in popular culture. A time when it is being looked on with a sense of nostalgia and love. Does it feel like a bit of a perfect collision?

CC: It is interesting indeed. I’m from that culture. I mean me, personally, Chris, I’m a product of growing up in the hardcore, punk and emo scene and a lot of that has shaped the human being that I’ve become and the friends that I’ve made, these things I’ve learned through this. This would be true had I never been in one of the bands that are being talked about right now. So I understand the sense of belonging and the sense of celebration that people might be having now.

It seems to be the same people that have been here the whole time, though, that are just celebrating that people are actually acknowledging them. When I say that, I’m specifically talking about the fan bases. Like they really haven’t walked away, but suddenly the lens came back their way and found they were cheering because they’ve always been cheering, and that’s what the lens caught. That’s how it feels to me. But it also feels like the professional guy in me is really enjoying the moment. As someone who’s had a long enough career to know a special moment when I see it.

MF: You’ve got many of those special moments coming up. You’re performing on the festival that sent the internet into meltdown, When We Were Young, and also doing an emo cruise and a few other festivals that all look like a lovely time as well. Are you looking forward to those?

CC: I think the most nostalgic thing I’ll be doing is the 25h anniversary tour of a tour we did in the USA called Vagrant Across America. Some of us will be getting back together for three of four dates this year and some of the bands are the ones I’ve been playing with consistently all of these years, The GetUp Kids, Thrice, The Anniversary, Hot Rod Circuit, Face To Face, Alkaline Trio, so that to me is the most nostalgic one. Nostalgia has to have a personal basis, and that’s the one that’s about looking back and saying “wasn’t that fun”?

MF: I’ve been listening to the Vagrant 25th Anniversary podcast and it really does feel like you’re all still so close-knit and so that tour does feel like it would be a great celebration.

CC: What a thing, to have stumbled onto your lifelong friends as kids through music and have those lifelong friends be your musical and professional peers to this day. Man is that unlikely!

MF: It’s about as likely as having a life-threatening motorcycle accident, being hit by a global pandemic and having to completely rearrange your life for two years and then sit on a record in quick succession, I’d say! It’d be a failing of me as a human being not to ask, how are you feeling, after all of that?

CC: I feel great. I’m grateful that you would ask. I woke up one day around Christmas and felt better. It’s hard to say I feel like I felt before or that I ever will, but I’m far more bionic now, so maybe in many ways, I’m better.

MF: I mean now you share properties with Wolverine, that can’t be a bad thing?

CC: Not just sharing sideburns?

MF: No, not just 90210 sideburns.

CC: I love those!

MF: I too am of this culture, of this hardcore, punk or emo scene, and it’s refreshing to talk to an artist as tenured as you that still sounds so energised. Often I find a certain degree of jadedness seems to creep in, but with you, that doesn’t seem present. Is that a fair comment?

CC: It does seem to creep in with your tenure. I don’t know why it hasn’t with me. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that I’ve enjoyed this more than other people, or been grateful in a way that they haven’t, but I don’t feel jaded, I still feel like it is a new experience that is happening, not an experience that is to be compared to something that has happened before. Maybe that’s why? Improbable that this is the case, but how could it feel so new still? But it does.

MF: That’s probably a sign that what you’re cultivating and creating is genuinely fresh?

CC: That’s a good point. I guess that’s what I should keep my eyes open for, that sort of thing, for the warning signs of when it is time to hang it up. I don’t feel like I’ve seen those warning signs yet. I stepped away from Dashboard between Alter The Ending and Crooked Shadows. I stopped touring, that wasn’t due to a sense of it being old hat, or not joyful, I simply was tired and it seemed like a good idea before I let anyone feel like they came to a show and saw me phone it in.

What I found was that I was only more tired without it. I didn’t know fatigue until I stepped away, this is my lifeblood, that’s what this is. Wouldn’t it be the best career ever if we were able to just be and remain in the wonder of it until it was over? So far, I have.

MF: That’s wonderful. Now, it’s always fun to take a trip down memory lane with people and you are uniquely positioned to answer this question. What are your top five Vagrant records releases of all time?

CC: The GetUp Kids – Something To Write Home About, Hot Rod Circuit – Sorry About Tomorrow, The Anniversary – Designing A Nervous Breakdown. Are we speaking of a time? Do I have to leave The 1975 off of the list? Just keep it to my graduating class?

MF: It’s your list, but yes, let’s keep it to your graduating class, so to speak, if we can. And I’m really sorry to make you choose between your friends!

CC: Hey Mercedes – Every Night Fireworks. Now it’s difficult because I’ll have to reckon with these people if they see it, won’t I? So I have to say that on any given day, any of these albums could be number one, although it is hard to see anything taking the place of Something To Write Home About. But if any album was to do it it would be Alkaline Trio – From Here To Infirmary.

MF: You can have an honorary sixth in The 1975!

CC: Great, because I would also put that in the greatest records released by anyone, anywhere.

MF: You can also hold a place for The Places That You’ve Come To Fear The Most.

CC: I mean, that’s implied, surely!

MF: Thanks for taking the time to humour me and my fanboy questions, Chris. I’m confident your fans are going to love the record because I am one and I do!

CC: It’s been great chatting with you, thank you for the great conversation.

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