Dashboard Confessional, one of the musical pioneers who helped set the tone for popular music of the early 2000’s, was instrumental in defining the genre of Emo music. With songs like Hands Down, they became the soundtrack for a movement, and served as an inspiration to so many artists to follow them. In anticipation of their upcoming performance with The All American Rejects at San Francisco’s Masonic Center on Friday, July 14th, we spoke with Dashboard Confessional’s lead singer and founding member, Chris Carrabba, to ask him a few questions about his music, and how it has impacted his life.
Dashboard Confessional has continued to stay relevant and successful where so many of your peers have decided to quit. What message do you still feel you have to get across, and what is the secret to your success?
Well, let me take the later part of your question first. I have no idea if there is a secret, but I do think that we have a passionate fan base who cares about our songs, and what we care about. I can’t speak for any other band, I assume every other band feels this way, but we are so lucky to have an audience that cares. I don’t know if that’s the secret to your success, but that’s the reason we keep doing it.
I think that songs have a life. They’re not captured in amber when you record them, they continue to grow and change. They mean something different today than they meant yesterday. Some days they they mean, surprisingly, similar things to the day they were recorded, and some days they mean something vastly different. So much of that has to do with who you are as a person at any given time, and who your audience is and how they seem to be interpreting the song. There’s great life in that.
How do you relate to your fans through your music?
Well, I think there’s a give and take. Our live show is a co-performance, I think. In a unique way, our audience becomes a part of the show. Every audience becomes a part of every band’s show, but they (the audience) really are driving our show. They’re outsinging us in volume most of the time, which creates a sense of, at least for me, I almost feel that awe you feel when you’re watching a band for the first time, but from my vantage point on the stage, every night.
How does it feel to know that you helped shape how so many people see music?
Have I? I mean I feel really honored to know that. The bands that I listened to that made me love music, or when I was discovering a deep love for music, really hold a deep place in my life. They remain my most favorite bands, and it’s not a memory or nostalgia, it’s a living thing where I still listen to their new records and those ones that I first heard with the same kind of sheer awe that I did then. It’s amazing how those bands, those records, influenced me well away from music. It seems they shaped the kind of person I want to be, the way I see the world, and how I interact with it. Maybe it’s too much to say, but it almost gave me a value system, but it certainly gave me self value when I probably needed it most. I just assume everybody is deeply affected by music and musicians, or art in general.
Who were some of the bands that influenced you growing up?
The list is long, and it varies, but I’ll just give you a few ones that just kind of jump into my head now, and if we talk 10 minutes from now, I’ll probably have a different list. Everything from Jawbreaker to Paul Simon to The Cure, REM, Metallica, Fleetwood Mac, Jawbox, Fugazi, Led Zeppelin, Steve Earle, and we could talk for hours, I’m pretty sure, before I get stumped.
So you’ve been in the music scene a long time, which artists, younger than yourself, have come up from the woodwork in the time since you started your career that you’ve drawn inspiration from as they have done their part in changing the industry?
The 1975 is a tremendous band, it’s a band that combines this immensely powerful rock and roll music with some of the best lyrics I have heard in ages. Sorority Noise is a band that I think is just pushing the boundaries in a really great way. This wasn’t after me, but it was definitely parallel to me, but Regina Spektor is incredible. Frightened Rabbit is another one that I just am in awe of. And an influence to me, in the early days, but someone who has recently put out a record, someone that I find incredibly inspiring is Bob Mould from Hüsker Dü and Sugar, his latest solo records have just been the kind of thing that make me want to run and make 100 songs immediately. It’s a good time to be a music fan, that’s for sure.
How have you seen Dashboard change over the years, especially after coming back from the hiatus?
I think we came back after the hiatus with more of a band identity as opposed to a solo artist mentality, and I think that happened a bit with the small lineup change where Mike was busy with other bands he was in, so we had to find a drummer, and the person we found was the drummer from my other project, Twin Forks. For so long, people were rightfully confused as to whether Dashboard was a band or a solo act, because so often I would go out and just play by myself, and our first couple of records were just me and an acoustic guitar, and later we transformed it into presenting ourselves as a band, but I think the bandmates saw it as (them wanting) me to step out of the way because of the relationship I have with the audience being reciprocal, but somehow when we came back, something about it made them feel their connection to and from the audience. I think that this particular lineup is able to play with the audience the way I always have, and in so get the reward of getting that connection in a way I’m not sure we felt as a band. Also, I feel that we’re better. Is that a weird thing to say? I feel that with time you can do one of three things; You can get board, you can get stagnant, or you can get hungrier. The time away has given us an appetite for finding the best way to play that song tonight, whatever that song is and wherever tonight is.
If you had known how big you would get when you first started your music career, what would you have done differently from the start?
Nothing, I wouldn’t change anything. I would take every bit of this the same way, because all of it has been this terrific surprise. Growing up playing the kind of music that I played, or liking the kind of music that I liked, generally the bands I liked weren’t famous. It didn’t matter, they were the best bands in the world. They were popular with me and my friends, but they were not famous by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not comfortable with that word in reference to my own career, but I recognize that it’s true to some extent. (When I started making music) I hoped that I would have a job that would allow me to continue making music with my friends, and hopefully finding people that would like that music, and if I was the manager of a grocery store I would still be coming home to play guitar every night and be satisfied because I got to make music. (When I was young) That seemed to be that if you attained that, that was the near impossible dream, to never lose passion for doing, the ability to do music, so all of this has been this incredible, lovely, shock that continues to amaze me.
You recently released a cover album, so that got me thinking. If you had to pick any one of your songs, and any artist to cover that song, which song and artist would you pick?
I wont pick the song, because I wouldn’t even know what to suggest, but there’s this hip hop act called Nothing, Nowhere. This kid is just incredible, and I would love to see him reimagine one of my songs.
(Editor’s Note: Chris Carrabba and Nothing, Nowhere have since collaborated on a new song, Hopes Up, which debuted earlier this month.)
What is some advice you would give to those who look up to you?
If you’re a songwriter, finish a song every day. Finish a bad song too, because the hardest part of any bit of songwriting is ‘how do you finish’, and it gets harder as the song gets good because you start to get worried, but if you’re in the practice of not just writing, but finishing, that part comes a little bit easier, and the song doesn’t get away from you.
If you’re a singer, you got to remember that it’s a craft and an art. Those are two different things. I wish I had known that. I never took lessons, so I had to do all these big work-arounds to finally realize that. I had to do all the boring fundamentals that are part of a craft instead of just being an artist that just has some unique connection. Because you always have to deliver every night, learn scales and practice with a metronome, and that is a really basic and unexciting thing to say.
The other thing I like to say is if you think you know who you are, you’re right. Don’t let somebody change that by telling you that you’re wrong, but when you decide that you’re wrong about that and you change, because you will, don’t be afraid to change.
What’s next for Dashboard Confessional?
Well, we’re heading out on this tour with Social Animals, The Maine and All American Rejects. It’s going to be a super fun summer. We’re already looking past the summer into the rest of the next year and a half, and we’re super excited to have a lot to share with our fan base soon.
I know you and the other members of Dashboard are very passionate about charity work, but so much of what you do flies under the radar. What causes are you most passionate about and how do you go about your philanthropy?
Everybody daydreams about being famous, having a big career, what have you, but I don’t know that anybody daydreams about that allowing you to help other people. It’s another part of this lottery win that is getting a career as an artist. We partner with a lot of people, we do do a lot of shoe giveaways with Toms, we do a lot of hospital visits, and we do a lot of shows to benefit children’s hospitals or Make-A-Wish. This year we focused part of the year on animal rescue. Also, kind of in line with that, pet therapy and bringing pets to people with PTSD. Most of what we do is not as Dashboard, its as the members of Dashboard, and often what we do is we’ll just go as people and volunteer at those shelter. I don’t know if you can call this one a charity, or if it’s just an awareness group, but there is this one group that is just starting off now in a moment where it seems that the political climate and the societal climate has changed suddenly be much less tolerant in a time when we were making such great strides in the LGBTQ community. It’s an incredible thing you get to do when you become successful in whatever field you go into. People start to ask you to help, and they help direct you in a way that allows you to be more helpful than you would have ever been on your own. I’m really lucky for that.
Tickets for Dashboard Confessional’s San Francisco show are still available here. Don’t miss this chance to catch them as they play with The All American Rejects at the Masonic Center Friday the 14th. BAM will be ready in the front row, and we hope to see you there.