Dashboard Confessional, Emo’s King of Pain, Rises Again

During the nine years Dashboard Confessional singer and songwriter Chris Carrabba took a break from the band, emo experienced a resurgence.

In 2009, Dashboard Confessional released what its frontman Chris Carrabba felt might be the band’s sixth and final album, “Alter the Ending,” a capstone to a decade-long run that saw the band go from emo innovator to genre standard-bearer to elder weathering the end of an era.

The group’s 2003 album, “A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar,” and “Dusk and Summer,” from 2006, both went to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, perhaps the symbolic peak of emo’s pop breakthrough. Mr. Carrabba’s songs — scarred wails pulsing with nervy punk energy — were among the genre’s most recognizable, but all that wailing took its toll. By the time of “Alter the Ending,” Mr. Carrabba was tired, and the scene he’d helped build had seemingly run its course.

In the down years, Mr. Carrabba, 42, worked on outside projects including the bands Twin Forks and Further Seems Forever. But a few years ago, emo began to experience a revival. Younger bands embraced him as a touchstone. Some, like nothing,nowhere., asked for collaborations, bringing Mr. Carrabba into a modern sound that built a hip-hop hybrid on his emo foundation.

The zeitgeist has come full circle, and on Feb. 9, Dashboard Confessional will release “Crooked Shadows,” its seventh album and first since 2009.

Last month, Mr. Carrabba spent a quiet evening at the Palm steakhouse in Manhattan, where he ordered fish and spinach. His hair was swept back with pomade, as it long has been, and he was wearing a hoodie advertising a Bethlehem, Pa., bakery called Vegan Treats. He was contemplative.

Over three hours he talked about retreating from the spotlight, the persistence of emo and accusations of sexual assault that have roiled the genre. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Is Dashboard Confessional a specific mood, or a sound? When you write a song, how do you know it’s a Dashboard song?

It’s the elusive nature of it, which in this case caused a seven- or eight-year delay between records. That it comes from some mysterious place is a little bit of an overstatement. That it comes at unpredictable times is probably the better way to place it.

So it’s almost like... “It’s cominnnng?”

Yes, yes, it is. An unrelenting urge that sends me in a metaphorical dead sprint for a guitar. It’s coming on and I’ve just got seconds to catch it, or it’s gone.

Did that pose a problem when Dashboard reunited: “O.K., we’re ready as a band. The fans are ready. But, is the thing ready?”

Yes, and it wasn’t. If you were to have been my accountant at that time, you would say there might never be a better time than right this minute to release a record, but it just doesn’t work for me that way. So the waiting game began. We did our tour and a year passed. I wrote, like, snippets and then I would stop. I’d physically stop. I put the pencil and the paper down and said, “Stop it. You’re just eager, you’re eager to deliver.”

Then one day off tour I woke up one morning and I walked downstairs and I wrote a song, and it was evident from the first melodic idea that this was a Dashboard song. And the next morning I woke up and I bolted for my guitar. I realized, “I’m there.” After all that time I’d begun to wonder if they’d ever come back, and when they came back they came back in rapid succession. The whole thing was a cavalcade and I just surrendered to it.

If they hadn’t come and you just continued playing your back catalog in amphitheaters, would you have felt that something was missing?

No. I had decided that the worst thing that could happen was that I write an album that would hurt the legacy of the albums I’d made already. But now that I have this record, I can say it’s because I’ve gotten in touch with that place again and there was more to be found there and I’m willing to risk the whole legacy because it came from the same place.

When someone like Joe Mulherin from nothing,nowhere. says there’s a home for you in what he does, does it make you feel the zeitgeist has come back around?

I feel like it’s emblematic of the concurrent paths we happen to be on. I haven’t stopped being an excessive consumer of music, old and new. There’s nothing better — or frankly, worse — than I wish I had written that lyric. Phoebe Bridgers, she’s the real deal. Dawes have that lyric which I think might be the most romantic thing ever said in a song if the listener that hears it is a massive music fan: “May all your favorite bands stay together.”

That’s good.

Those are the moments I’m looking for. And with Joe, he’s got a mountain of them. Phoebe’s got a mountain of them. Julien [Baker]’s got a mountain of them. I love that other people’s songs can make me say, how much deeper can I go?

You don’t really talk about your personal life, but you are married.


You’ve been married to the same person all these years?

Yeah. My wife and I have navigated this really well. She’s interesting and she loves me and she cherishes our relationship but she doesn’t need me. She is self-actualized. She’s a strong enough woman to handle the rigors of distance. If anything it was a difficult thing to navigate coming off the road.

I feel like on this album I heard the word “we” more than on previous records.

I did, too, and I didn’t know it until the record was done.

Maybe this is a naïve or oversimplified way of talking about Dashboard records, but I experience them as “I,” not “we” records.

Well, I was navigating the world by myself at that moment when I was writing most of the Dashboard songs. I’m now not only navigating the world with my wife, but I’m looking back, I’m holding on fiercely to what I realize is so rare with this really strong circle of friends that I’ve been lucky enough to have. Previously, I was at a point where I thought I was going through things alone. Now I’ve just been in a place where I’m no more certain about anything that life’s handed me and the reasons for it, but I’ve never been less alone.

Have you come across any of the feminist reassessments of emo — stories about how women were marginalized in the scene as participants and also how the music often reduced them to objects?

I would say that I was never really that satisfied with the limited amount of women that were in the scene. Two of my favorite bands, Jejune and Rainer Maria, had women coleads. And I had women singing on all my records. But I’m not deaf. A lot of the bands that followed our era, they were like degraded copies every six months, where I and everybody thought it was almost like hair metal or something like that, costumes some of them put on. And the stories and the feelings beneath them were incidental. I didn’t relate to that. I think at that point it got pretty much, like, by the numbers and it was like, “O.K., you pick on a girl.”

Did you reject it in the moment?

Yeah. I felt like it was gross. I thought it was opportunistic. I thought it was degrading.

Were there bands you wouldn’t tour with?

Yes. And it bummed me out and it broke my heart a little. And in that time, beforehand but especially once I started to notice it, I made a rule of trying as often as possible to have a female-led band or a band with a woman in the band on tour with us.

You toured with Brand New. What was your reaction to the allegations against Jesse Lacey? [In November, the singer was accused of sexual improprieties by a woman who said he solicited nude pictures from her when she was a minor. He released a statement apologizing for his behavior without directly addressing the allegation. No charges have been filed.]

I think it is abhorrent, shocking.

Were you surprised by it?

I was surprised by it, because in this case, I never saw anything that would indicate that. I haven’t spoken to Jesse about it, as we haven’t really spoken that much in years. As part of the scene — I don’t mean outside of it being a band they looked up to, I mean being one of the kids in it — I don’t know how to not be offended by it. First, I was a fan in that scene, then I was somebody that people were fans of. I remained a fan in that scene too. We had a trust.

There was a morality to it.

I felt that’s what made us different than other scenes. We were the answer to the rock ’n’ roll cliché, I thought.

Have these topics been an active subject of conversation between you and your peers?

Well, between me and my friends.

What about people who are in the scene in some form or another?

No, it seems uncomfortable when I’ve tried to talk to some of them about this. They seem as concerned, but I think that nobody knows how to come to grips with the idea that our scene was a place that something like this could happen. It’s shameful. I don’t want to believe that my part of the circle of fans were treated that way or felt that way at shows. I feel like we’re there to take care of each other.

That’s what the ethics of a scene really should be.

Like if I see a fight break out, I’ll stop the show and say, “Stop the fight. Is everyone O.K.?” It’s our responsibility — not just the bands, anybody that’s proactive in the scene — it’s our collective responsibility to say, in all situations, “Are you O.K.?” I just didn’t know I had to say it about this stuff. I didn’t know.

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