Music Features

Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba Reflects on 20 Years

Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional rarely sits around.
Mike Dunn
Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional rarely sits around.
If you think about it, one of the silliest terms we music writers apply to a genre is “emo.” Isn’t all music about emotion or capable of inspiring some type of feeling?

For over half of the genre’s existence, Dashboard Confessional have been among the most popular representatives of emo, consistently cranking out acoustic rock anthems brimming with sincerity.

Led by Chris Carrabba (who also fronts Further Seems Forever and Twin Forks), Dashboard Confessional have now reached the impressive 20-year mark, which they’re celebrating on the upcoming DC20 tour. The band arrive in downtown Phoenix on Friday, February 7, at The Van Buren.

We caught up with Carrabba by phone to talk about the tour, what he’s been up to, and whatever else struck the 44-year-old Florida native’s fancy. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Phoenix New Times: Last time we talked, you mentioned some collaborations you had been working on. Have you continued to seek out more?

Chris Carrabba: Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of my own music for Dashboard (Confessional), Twin Forks, and even a little bit for Further Seems Forever, which is one of my other bands. I’ve been doing some collaborative work with some bands that I quite like: singers like Corey Wells and a band called Kississippi, who were the opening band on Dashboard Confessional’s 2016 tour. I’ve also been doing a lot of work in other mediums.

Really? Like what?

This isn’t stuff that anybody will ever really see necessarily, but I enjoy it. I’ve been making clothes and hats, and I’ve been painting. I’ve also been taking decrepit motorcycles and turning them into cool street trackers and things like that. I’m just basically working with my hands to see if I can let my mind drift into that place and to trick it into drifting into that place where it’ll just be open to a song. It’s been work.

What made you start working with your hands? Have you always done this?

I think I’ve always been somebody that’s kind of handy. If there’s a break in the drywall, I’ll patch the drywall. I never really thought about fine arts as a medium that I could be good at, and “good” would be a stretch, I guess. But I do it well enough that I enjoy it.

I’ve always messed with things like engines a lot. In doing so, I’ve got no qualms about hacking off the back end of a motorcycle and then welding it back on.

I’ve started taking that mentality indoors. I started messing around with hats because my hair was getting long. I was getting lazy. I said, “I don’t like the way this hat looks. It’s so fucking new-looking.” I hate new shit, so I started figuring out ways to make it look like it was 20 years old.

Then, I started making clothes. I finally decided to make the big leap to painting, which was always hanging over my head because I’m colorblind. I thought I could never paint. Then I realized, “Hey Chris, no one’s going to ever see this, so why aren’t you doing it if you might enjoy it?” That’s how that all came about.

But now you’ve told me about it. People might want to see it.

They’ll have to get used to disappointment. They’ll either see it and be disappointed or not see it and be disappointed.

Painting is fun to do, isn’t it?

It is. It’s really great to get away from your normal medium if you’re a creative person. If you’re expected to be an expert at your craft, and you go into an ancillary craft and accept that you’re not good at this, you can just kind of be.

I made a lot of great music, if I can say so myself, when I was just allowing myself to be and when it wasn’t an expectation. I’m taking that experience of drawing, sewing, or what have you, and allowing myself to just kind of be creative and let that energy flow through me. The guitar is just like five feet away. When I’m in that place, sometimes I pick it up and see if the guitar has that magic in it. Often, it does.

I was listening to A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar as I prepared for our talk. Now I’m wondering if your new artistic endeavors led to revisiting those older songs of yours.

I think so. I think that was part and parcel with me trying to find new ways to connect with things that exist in my world already, which I think is important. It was not my intention for those recordings to supersede the definitive versions of the (previous) record. As a musical endeavor and experience, it was really fruitful.

It is great to look at things from a different angle sometimes. Does 20 years roll off the tongue easily?

It still feels like the early days to me. I think it’s always felt like this thing’s just starting. I’ve never really kind of lost that feeling. It does feel like a neat opportunity to stop and reflect and go ahead and be openly nostalgic about the earliest days of my musical experience with these fans.

Are you doing a retrospective set?

I think we should play songs that don’t skip any era. I think it would be really foolish to go out there and say, “We have these new songs.” Right now, I think it is the time and place to say, “We got some shit right. We were lucky to do that. How about we go out and play these songs we got right?”

Dashboard Confessional are scheduled to perform on Friday, February 7, at The Van Buren. The show has sold out, but tickets are available on the secondary market.