“I did. I found it. There is necessity inside me to write Dashboard songs.”
Ending a nine-year gap between full length albums, Chris Carrabba’s journey to 2018’s “Crooked Shadows” was an eventful one, to say the least. From lost music, to expanding and revitalizing live shows, to landing on a dream label, each critical moment is captured here, told by one of rock music’s great storytellers. Other highlights include the backstory of “We Fight” and how his recent crop of cover songs came together.
Interviews: Chris Carrabba, Mike Easterlin (Fueled By Ramen, President), and Colin Brittain (Producer, Mixer).
Jesse Cannon: Hi. My name is Jesse Cannon and I’ve devoted my life trying to go deep and figure out what goes into making great records. I’ve produced over 1,000 records, written two books and recorded hundreds of podcasts pursuing the hidden secrets of how great music gets the world’s ears. Now I’m proud to present to you Atlantic Records Inside The Album podcast, where we get to go deeper on how some of Atlantic’s artists have made the amazing albums in their catalog. You will hear firsthand from the artists and the team behind them that helped craft these amazing records and get to know the little secrets that go into making an amazing album. First up is Dashboard Confessional and their new record, “Crooked Shadows.”
It’s a common theme today that fans buzzing about an artist on the internet can take them from empty rooms to a huge buzz band packing clubs with thousands of people in just a few years. But in the year 2000, the middle of the Napster era, this wasn’t yet a common theme to see the power of people sharing the music they love on the Internet, elevating an artist to a huge fanbase. But down on the eastern coast of Florida in the college town of Boca Raton, Chris Carrabba was playing with the now legendary act Further Seems Forever.
He decided to pick up the acoustic guitar and do his own thing, which would be called Dashboard Confessional, a name he got from a lyric in a song “The Sharp Hint of New Tears.” Bolstered by fan enthusiasm, Dashboard would release “The Swiss Army Romance” on Fiddler Records, a release that would see two different reissues on prominent indie labels and see its most viral songs placed on its follow up LP, “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most.” The single “Screaming Infidelities” would get major MTV play and begin to have its lyrics tattooed on teenagers across the world.
Soon after “Screaming Infidelities” success Chris began to cement Dashboard Confessional as a staple in the lives of teenagers going through the awkward emotions of their early lives. Colin Brittain, who ended up producing and mixing Chris’s latest record, was one of these teenagers.
Colin Brittain: I’ve actually been a longtime fan of them. I would say they were one of my influences growing up. I remember certainly when I was a teenager and I was in bands. We used to cover some of their songs.
Jesse Cannon: Moving on to a major label, Chris released “A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar” and “Dusk and Summer.” Both went to number two on the Billboard Top 200, which many credit as one of the turning points in emo’s breakthrough. After that Chris released two more genre defining LP’s. But then something happened. While writing the follow-up to 2009s “Alter the Ending,” a technical mishap gave him pause to reconsider whether he should keep doing Dashboard Confessional. I’ll let him tell the story from here.
Chris Carrabba: I lost that record after “Alter the Ending” and it was really fortuitous because I was just writing because I was still in the mode of like, I’m supposed to write these songs. We’re really worried that in our exhaustion, our physical exhaustion, a bit of our mental exhaustion, the reserve was just tapped out, that we’d be better off blowing up from touring. Otherwise we were in danger of phoning it in. And I don’t think our audience is going to forgive that. They’ll forget a lot of things. Not everything, but I don’t think they’ll forgive that.
We don’t have that kind of thing where we like as a songwriter and somebody that sort of dreams about being on the radio, I have a little bit of jealousy to bands I love, like The Killers, they just kind of crush it at radio constantly without losing a shred of their dignity or what seems to fuel their ethos or whatever. But we have songs that meet the cultural needle that’s not quite the same. What we do have is this agreement with our fans that we’re gonna go out there we’re going to deliver everything we have in the moment and that we’re going to have a lot to deliver in that moment.
And I just thought we were dangerously close to not having a lot to give and I just thought, oh that’s a [inaudible] ring. But this was still my lifestyle. I would write songs for this band. I’d record songs for this band. I’d play shows for this band. I’d talk with people like you for this band. It was my job. It was also my passion. So, it was a slow withdrawal from that arena of work. So during that time, as we were coming to the conclusion, but weren’t there yet, that we should be walking away from touring for a bit I just started making a follow-up to “Alter the Ending.”
And the songs were, they felt good in that as I wrote them I would be, this hits all my criteria for criticism of self-criticism and all that stuff. And I recorded a lot of them and then the drive went, all the drives went. It was kind of this cataclysm where there was somebody in the studio was backing up all the drafts together so that there would be quite a lot of safety measures. But something was corrupted in that process and I lost everything, and I lost things that I recorded that are out now.
I don’t have the some of the other records that I had, the multi tracks too and all. It was a bum out. A lot of those they got back through rigorous work on the drives and we tried that with the record that was lost. We tried to get the data back. It wasn’t coming back. So I said, “Okay, let’s get fresh. Let’s get right back into it.” And I realized I don’t believe in these songs. I just didn’t want to record those songs again. If my record right now was ruined, the record we’re here to talk about today. I would run ups – I think they have a studio in this building. I’d beg to let them use it and I’d chase that down. I believe in these songs with everything I have, and I would not let something as simple as a hard drive malfunction stop a record from happening. But it made me take a minute to assess, are these songs are great. And I thought they were very good, and I hate very good. That’s really useless to me.
Jesse Cannon: After Chris decided that he would not make another Dashboard record for the time being, he pursued his other musical pursuits, Twin Forks and made a fantastic new record with his old band, Further Seems Forever, but then something changed you wanted to scratch the Dashboard itch again. I first asked how he knew what he was writing Dashboard Confessional songs instead of a Twin Forks song or Further Seems Forever song.
Chris Carrabba: Just like you know the difference between a blue pen and a black pen. I don’t know why. It’s just like yep, they’re both pens, they’re both ink, but I know that in this scenario I need a black pen, or I’ve used a black pen. Whatever it is. I don’t know. That’s a terrible analogy, but in any event, it’s just as basic as that though, for me. It’s not a mystery. I just know it. But I was actively avoiding any time the inspiration snuck in to write a Dashboard song. If the inspiration came to write a Twin Fork song or Further song I would sit down and do it. And if I felt like writing and I didn’t know what I was writing for, I would do a thing that I can’t do with Dashboard, which is decide I’m writing a Further song right now or I’m writing a Twin Fork song right now and just get to work on it. And that’s never been available to me as a writer when it comes to Dashboard.
So, we come back from a hiatus of touring first and so all the sudden the songs, the catalog of songs becomes very alive. And also we’re in this place of kind of sheer disbelief of the numbers of people that seem to want to see us play live. We thought we were coming back into clubs and thought that would be appropriate, having left at like amphitheater, an arena size. We thought, “Well, I’d love to get back there. Let’s get to work and let’s go to play clubs.” And the tickets would sell and then they would sell more, and we’d move the room up next thing you know, we were in amphitheaters.
And I’d look over the audience and they were singing with real conviction and I’d look at the audience and I’d see the same thing I saw before we left, which was an audience that was really hard to define by looking at them. It was not, some of the knocks on our scene are appropriate. Some of them are unfounded, but one thing that I did notice was that it got homogenized a little bit in the look of the bands and the fans and that just didn’t never really apply to our little corner of our music scene. It could be a woman who looked like she might be a hippie and then a dude with a giant beard and neck tattoos. Then it looked like a golf kid. And then it looked like maybe what was stereotypical emo kid and then you’d see just what I called just a guy.
Just a guy is my favorite. And this is not gender specific, but just a person and that’s somebody that kind of dresses like I do. There’s no costume involved. It’s just a guy. But I saw the age range was the original fanbase, then the attendance of people that, I mean, the original fanbase at that age, the age they are now. And then the same sort of number of people that were there analogs of younger people from earlier in our career. And I’ve began to figure out that they would say to me, “I was too young to go to your shows when you stopped. Right when I was able to come to your shows you stopped and now here we are.”
So all these things invigorated me and lit the flame. And I thought, “Oh, I’d better write something.” And I stopped. I stopped myself. Whoa, buddy. That reactionary approach is just not going to work. We were bold enough to leave that for a reason. Let’s be bold enough to not appropriate the moment. So it wasn’t until after the second, it was two long summer tours and tours in between, but after the second summer tour, a song came to me one morning like almost immediately. When I was finished, there’s like runner’s high. Something similar to a runner’s high when I finished a song.
I finished the song and I said, “I did. I found it. There is necessity inside me to write Dashboard songs.” Because I just did one and I feel euphoric and all the feelings that are indescribable that happen when I write a Dashboard song. The reason this band is so special to me beyond all the wonderful things it’s given to me. It starts with this feeling I get when to write a song. And I said, “Dammit Chris, don’t do this tomorrow. Do not try to do this tomorrow, because if it’s not there, you may believe it won’t be there again.” And so the next morning I woke up and I ran for my guitar and I absolutely sat down and found another song and said the same thing at the end, “Don’t do this. It’s going to run out. You can fool yourself kid.” I was a foolish kid in that moment. I felt like a foolish kid writing this record and after I realized, after it was evident that I was actually writing a record and I made this decision in the moment like, “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t shop to labels. Don’t look for an outside producer. Produce it with my friend. Don’t go to a studio. Stay in the house. And the minute you finish writing the song, start recording the song.”
Jesse Cannon: Tell me more about that.
Chris Carrabba: In times past every year of Dashboard one thing has happened for sure. On every record there’s a song set that I’ve recorded moments after I’ve written it. Usually with my – in the old days with my limited access to recording gear. So no matter what, even though the producer would say, “We just can’t beat it. Whatever the thing is, we can’t beat it.” I would still hear it as an inferior production. Maybe that was part of the charm, but I don’t think so. I think they were just talking about the evident connection I had to the moment, to the song and I realized that I better learn how to record well.
So I did. I shadowed producers. I essentially acted like an intern. I’ve built a studio within my house. So the idea is that I will learn to sing the song with more skill. I might learn some stronger melodies along the way through repetition of singing the song and the evolution, of that natural evolution of how a small rhythmic changes and melody changes that might enforce the song a little bit better, but I might never be as connected to the subject matter in the song and the emotional undercurrent of that song as when I’ve just written.
I just go straight from the couch and the coffee table to the microphone and track the song and then I sketch it out for the band, and they come over and they listen to it and their job then is to also just react. Sure, we shape and hone the thing later, but we’ve captured the heart of the song on the day it was born. I mean, there were cases where I just sang to the quick with no guitar. There were cases where I recorded the guitar and more instruments. No. Usually when the latest vocal would happen would be second and the guitar I would record, generally speaking would be like this throwaway track. It wouldn’t probably be the guitar. I’d try for it, but I wasn’t caring about that so much yet.
I was more caring about that song to me, no matter what, this is just my opinion, is the lyrical content and the melody. Now, rhythm and dynamics and counter melodies and all that stuff. Now, that can impact the song and make it sustain beyond its original power, I guess. And that really is frustrating when you write on occasion like I do when I write all the music first. Sometimes I’ll play old instruments and I’ll be so psyched and I’d realize, “Well, I just did that. Now [inaudible] and I don’t have anything to say about this. I’ve never written the lyrics. I’ve never written a melody. I trusted they would be there. They’re not. So what a waste of time.”
Jesse Cannon: While we’re on the subject of what was different about “Crooked Shadows,” I realized one thing I noticed that really returned was Chris’s falsetto. In the later Dashboard records before this one I had noticed he had all but forgotten it when it was one of the trademark sounds of what really made him a special singer when he first burst onto the scene. So I asked him why it came back.
Chris Carrabba: I like old stuff better and I like things from our later moments and songs from our later era of recording. But as a whole body of work I like everything up through a half of “Dusk and Summer.” And then I was kind of pushed, nudged and even shoved when I came to a fork in the road, down the path that I went down and I instantly, in the moment and have since wondered, felt I should have gone down the other road. The push came from a creative place and I’m sure some commerce was involved in that. Interscope’s thinking, “Maybe he’ll write that massive hit that they look for in every band if we push him into a different path.”
I don’t think I needed to be jolted into what I regard or I don’t think I could have been jolted by what I regard as a conventional approach to songwriting. I’ve always worked better with the less convention. And so I set out with this record to say what if? What if I go back to take that other fork and see where that leads, which I plan to do for the rest of my career. Not only that, what if I hadn’t made any record ever in my life and was inside this, of course I’m a different person because I’ve grown, but parts of me that made me make the places. I mean, “The Swiss Army Romance,” the very first record. What if I had never made those, but I knew everything I know about music, playing instruments and all these things now that I didn’t know then.
What if I could use all those tools? Tap into what I could tap into inside when I was doing The Places and go down that other road, a less conventional writing and production model and good, bad or indifferent with the result of it, I think I succeeded in the endeavor. I believe. It’s for other people to… No. No. That one’s for me to say. I think that one I get away with. Yeah. I succeeded in the endeavor. Will people like the result? I think they are going to. They seem to so far, but all I can do is kind of hope.
Jesse Cannon: With all this talk about label pressures, you would think he would go the DIY route. So I want to understand why he chose to work with Fueled by Ramen. I thought it would be interesting to turn this to a conversation with both Chris and Mike Easterlin, who A&R’ed this record, while also being the president of Fueled by Ramen. So I talked to them about how they came to work together and what some of the decisions were that shaped this record.
Chris Carrabba: We talked a bit about the label pushing me into a conventional pathway, with the intention of me, my previous label, I mean, maybe finding a way to have the hit that they’re looking for every band to have. And that, as I said before, that’s just not a fruitful plan for me to be on. I don’t work well with the convention. So I very quietly made these, began the process and the label I wanted to be on was Fueled by Ramen.
I grew up in an era where label identity was important to me and if I saw a no idea badge or a revelation records badge to a Vagrant Records label logo, whatever it was, on a record I would blindly just buy it. They basically are curating music I will like. And Fueled by Ramen was, from the very beginning when they were a Florida-based label, was a label that I trusted and bought the music and that continued on and there was a period where I think Vagrant got a bunch of bands from our world and Fueled by Ramen got a bunch of bands. Both were interested in what we were doing.
I never talked to Fueled by Ramen at that time because it just by happenstance, none of my circle of friends ended up over there. I wanted to go to camp with my buddies. So they went to Vagrant and I followed suit. I was hopeful that Vagrant would like me. They weren’t interested and then one day, out of a clear blue sky, they called me up and said, “We want to put this record out in two weeks.” “Okay, I’ll record one then.” And I have had a relationship with the people that run Vagrant ever since. Even when I left to be on Interscope, it was the shepherding hand, guiding hand of those people still.
After the hiatus my circle of friends actually began to be people on Fueled by Ramen and people that worked at Fueled by Ramen and I was paying a lot of attention to Fueled by Ramen and just knew that if I ever was a band again, well I wanted to be on that label. And that’s a pretty lofty goal because it was, I think when we talked about how, when I came back as a touring act, I expected by rights that I should be a club act at best, and instead ended up much luckier than that. I probably should have had the only opportunity in that moment, it’s likely a self-release. But I set the goal and I chased it. So that’s where Mike Easterlin comes in. We brought some songs; my manager brought some songs to… I don’t know. Mike, did the discuss with you first the idea of it or first the songs?
Mike Easterlin: They were initially sent to me by Steve Robertson, who does A&R for Atlantic and he kind of said the same thing that Chris just said, which was, “I really liked these songs. What do you think? He kind of only wants to be on Fueled by Ramen.” And I initially, being just completely honest, I was somewhat concerned on a couple of levels. One was, it had been eight and a half years. It was, I think, understandable concern. Even Chris sitting here right in front of me would say that because when one of the first thing is when we said, “Okay, let’s go do this.” Was, “I really appreciate another chance at this.”
And I think that statement alone says that he was very realistic. And then my first conversations with Chris – who I didn’t know – over a nice breakfast, where it wasn’t really courting each other. It was just getting to know each other just from sheer appreciation for each other. And what each other had done was just felt really easy and I just genuinely liked him. So we got a couple of things out of the way. The songs that I first heard from Steve Robertson were really good and the person was really great.
Some of my fears maybe or my reluctance slowly was diminishing. And I think talking to some of the FBR staff, the interesting thing was that it all kind of came back to, “Well, it’s going to be hard.” And that’s not a reason to not go try. And then I just came down to, “Well, do you guys like the music?” And they did. And I said, “Well, then let’s get past it. We work hard every day. So that shouldn’t be a reason to not do it.”
Jesse Cannon: Since Chris had already recorded these songs, how did they narrow them down to the nine you hear on “Crooked Shadows” and what was the process to make them seem relevant today?
Mike Easterlin: Initially, in listening to a few of the songs, one of the things that I felt like we needed to do was that he had done them with a friend of his or producer friend in his house. And they sounded really great, but I thought one of the things that we needed to do was hand them to somebody, tweak them a little bit to have them still be Dashboard songs, but be Dashboard songs for 2018. We found a really good guy in Colin Brittain, who Chris, the first time he heard the mix was like text me, “I’m in. This guy is amazing.”
He was a piece to the puzzle, mixing, co-producing I guess is what ultimately we called it. He definitely got a lot more hands-on and to Chris’s credit. He let Colin kind of, with every song play around a little bit and take some chances and some of which he really loved and some of which he was like, “Whoa.” But I think the trust got there very early on with me and ultimately with Colin, where it was kind of the three of us just kind of doing this thing together. And we wanted to push the envelope. We wanted to try different things and I think when you hear the album, whether it’d be some of the artists that we got to perform on it, we just took some risk and we tried some different things.
Chris Carrabba: We did take some risks in, but the thing that was great about, Mike is dancing around this. I think it was just one moment that I remember where I was aghast at what happened with the song. It was just… the song in that moment. And of course this ends with like if I’m sitting here today being honest that’s my favorite one. It didn’t make the record, but it’s my favorite mix. But it was really just jarring. It didn’t feel like it connected the emotionality of the song and I was wrong about it and I was indignant. I was really upset and probably wasn’t necessary to express it. It didn’t help the process much, but it was born out of that-
Mike Easterlin: Can I just say that I disagree with you on that?
Chris Carrabba: No.
Mike Easterlin: I disagree with you because I think it did help the process. Because I think it happened at a moment in the process where we learned a lot about each other and it made Colin step back a little bit because he definitely was taking more risk than I think even I was comfortable with, but I was kind of pushing him that way. And I think it was a good reset in my opinion.
Chris Carrabba: I guess you’re right. And then we found the level at which to work, I guess. When we were talking about Interscope pushing me down a path of convention to see if it would challenge me. Well, what I’d like was being on an unconventional path and having it challenge me and bring me to a new place. So at least this happened on that road. It was weird. It was totally unconventional. It was out there and it’s what probably every song is going to sound like in two years. Not my songs, but this guy’s so ahead of the curve, Colin is, that I wouldn’t be shocked if that’s just what the landscape of music sounds like in two years.
Jesse Cannon: One of the other elements about Colin’s contribution to the record was he really felt passionately about the band. At the start we heard how his band used to cover Dashboard songs. He talks about here what he was doing on his end.
Colin Brittain: I actually did this one a little different. I did this because it wasn’t really just a mixing process. It was quite a bit more than that and I think that that’s kind of took the whole summer and really dove into this, which I usually don’t take that much time, but I was so sort of emboldened by the process here and I was fascinated by the song so much that I kind of took most of the summer and just did it song by song actually. I kind of that’s how I came to work on that instead of going back to songs and stuff and doing it all as a big piece. I just sort of dug in one song at a time. Some took longer than others but I felt like that way I was able to fully kind of obsess over every little detail of every song and not get overwhelmed by the larger picture.
Jesse Cannon: That obsession wasn’t only with the composition of the songs. It also came down to the choices of the countless demos Chris recorded and which ones they would put on the record to make up the nine songs on “Crooked Shadows.”
Chris Carrabba: So here was a period where I was like, “Okay, Mike, I want you in.” You’re in for a penny, in for a pound here because I’ve just have these pile of songs and I can tell you that I believe in all of them because the ones that seem like they should be in the pile. I could not discern between which ones were great and which ones were excellent. So I needed help to understand which songs the record should be comprised of and which songs needed a little more work too and which songs to leave for another time.
Mike Easterlin: I think that was 24 songs that first day. We got it down to 17 or 18 that day and then that’s what we sent off to Colin to start mixing. We mixed all 18. There are a lot of songs that could have easily made the record but let’s hold these.
Jesse Cannon: The record is a little unconventional, having only nine songs and yet they had 18 to choose from. This wasn’t from slouching, as Mike would explain.
Mike Easterlin: As I drove around and listened to the record and ultimately Chris called me one day and he was like, “Okay, you know what? I actually like this too.”
Chris Carrabba: I felt myself wanting more at the end and that felt really good to me. It wasn’t as easy for him initially because he’s like, it’s been eight and a half years and I have 25 songs we started with and now we’re at nine. But trust me when I tell you, it had less to do with quality, because we had plenty more and more to do with just kind of the first step back in the door. It felt like let’s come in with a bang and let’s leave them wanting more. And just the record genuinely feels that way to me.
A good friend of ours, Jason Martin who works for us and in the radio promotion department. He was one of the first guys, because he’s also very opinionated. So I wanted to get him early. So towards the very end of the mixing phase I sent him the kind of what I was thinking as the nine song record. And he called me like, “I’m just blown away. Every one of these could be on the radio.” And I was like, “That’s all I need to hear from you.” Believe me. He would tell me if he didn’t think so because he doesn’t hold back and it’s been nice to have some of the people who I really trust in the business reassure me that what we did together feels like Dashboard, but again feels like Dashboard in 2018.
And that’s the greatest compliment as a person who just kind of sunk my blood, sweat, tears, heart into this for seven or eight months trying to get this to where it ultimately it made him happy and we felt like we had an amazing record.
Jesse Cannon: While we were taping this, everyone in the room was going on and on about how in awe we all were of Chris’ songwriting abilities. So I want to go a little bit deeper about how some of these songs came to being on the record and some of the small changes that have happened to his sound throughout this record.
Chris Carrabba: Maybe we start with “We Fight.” Because there was a moment of writing that, that turned the tide for everything is in such a way that I realized just about everything I’ve written up until then, which I thought was the record and this was the last song I was writing, was maybe going to have to be revisited by comparison to this song or, and what came to be true for the most part. I had now started writing a record with everything that came after that song for the most part, with a couple of exceptions.
And I always have lyrics written everywhere, notes, paper, notes on my phone, notes on my iPad. And I had essentially the story of “We Fight.” Not the lyrical presentation, but the story of “We Fight” amassed in these various notes and I began to write the riff that starts the song and I really liked, it starts in a minor key. So it has a tension and I reacted to that tension and realized this story. I know this story. What’s this story? This is the story I’ve been writing and I went to the notes. There was just one or two lines that would end up in the song. And I just cherry picked them and started playing and singing.
And that’s usually how I write, is stream of consciousness and almost in a direct line. Intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus. End of the song, maybe a solo, maybe another bridge, maybe… but basically that’s, if A is the start and C is the end. I don’t start at C. I start at the A and I end at Z. And that song was, when I was finished I knew it spoke to a couple of things. I knew it spoke to the story of the scene I was brought up and given value as a human being, given a safe place to be despite the fact that I was an outlier, an outsider from polite society.
And I knew it spoke to the scene that developed around us, which I can’t speak for other bands, but I worked very hard to make a safe place where you were safe and valued irrespective of your gender, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, your race or religion, your political views. I felt like “We Fight” was reflective of that and that being also a thing worth fighting for and can only work if you’re fighting to keep it working, to get fighting together to keep it working, knowing no man or woman can just lift it up by itself. All we can do is say, “Let’s do this together.” And do the best we can.
And then there was the factor of when I write, I have one or two things going on in the background because I have a couple things working. I think strangely has an advantage to me and that is like I don’t have OCD, but I struggle with anxiety and it manifests itself sometimes same symptomatically as OCD might or maybe ADD might, maybe more to the point, more specifically. And I have a learning disability. So to stay focused I’ll often put on one of two things. Sports Center because after the first hour it repeats and by the fourth hour you’ve heard every bit of news and it’s just a white noise machine. Or I had CNN or MSNBC on in the background and until became white noise.
But first the information is slipping in. And so this is right around presidential campaign coming to an end and the whole record speaks of, not just We Fight, but specifically We Fight. And there’s the foreboding realization that our country is going to be led by Donald Trump. I instantly knew that was a change we needed to fight for. Starting now. Starting before he was inaugurated. And at the same time, I’m priding We Fight and then singing We Fight and producing We Fight. So all these things seep into the message within the song, shape the song, shape the recording of the song and certainly shape the song as it lives on now, so we perform.
Jesse Cannon: I asked Chris if this is the only political song on the new record.
Chris Carrabba: It’s most overtly, if anything. I think that I happen to be very wonky. So I believe there’s probably other moments. I have a tendency to make everything sound like I’m singing about a girl by choice, but often I’m singing about untenable situation or a lovely situation, but I’m making it sound romantic or tense when it’s really not about a woman or a relationship. Another great memory. I’ll just pick another one out of the hat. There’s a song called “Be Alright” and my friend Corey Bost, whose sister Sarah is in Twin Forks with us was staying with me while he was looking for a house. So he stayed for a while.
And he’s a great songwriter. Really, really fabulous songwriter and he had like a germ of an idea one day and we had been drinking and we were sitting there enjoying each other’s company, “Let me show you this little idea I have.” And he shows it to me. And next thing you know, we’re writing the song. Now we’ve done a co-write. He says, “This is going to be great. It’s going to be great for my record.” I said, “Awesome.” And I felt proud. We’ve really gotten it over the finish line. I find myself humming this song. Then he sent me the recorded version. It was very good and he was very excited because he thought it was going to be sort of the centerpiece of his record. I sat with it for a couple days. I called him up, “Corey, man. You should say no to this if you want to, but I really feel like what we wrote that day is a Dashboard song. Not in its presentation now, but if you just stripped all the music away and heard the melody and the music, it’s a Dashboard song. Is there any way you let me take a crack at that?” He goes, “Absolutely. You give it a shot.” It’s our 50/50, just like it was when it was going to be on your record. And it landed hard and we’re both really, really proud of that song.
The story told was powerful in that it was a mix of two people’s perspective of the same shared situation. This came from us talking about relationships experiences that we had that applied to the situations that we both understood because I’d been in that place and he was in that place. And we were just discussing it. And I literally think I said, “That’s a line.” And wrote it down in just a conversational moment. And he goes, “You know what? Let me show you this little idea that I had that might work with that line.” And then the song took off from there.
Jesse Cannon: One of the thoughts I’ve heard expressed about Chris’s new record is that the cover songs he released shortly before this record obviously out of impact as he was covering some pop songs and perhaps those were what shaped this really poppy, hooky sound on the new record that has all these fresh new elements, but I found out that wasn’t the case.
Chris Carrabba: Okay. So that one came after we were well into knowing we had a Dashboard record and still making sure not to tell anybody. And the reason that came about was, which started it. The 1975 song. I love that song. I love that band.
Jesse Cannon: It’s one of my favorite band of recent years.
Chris Carrabba: Very, very good band. Really wonderful people who I hadn’t met yet. I’ve met them subsequently through their reaction to the cover, which was wonderful. It’s a nice way to meet somebody. And I just recorded it because I had written a song that day. I also just like playing and singing sometimes. So I did it and then Cam from Sorority Noise called me up. He’s, “Chris, I’m in a tight spot.” “What’s going on?” “So here’s the deal, my headlights…” I guess maybe he had headlights like they flip up, his car’s like 100 years old. They just weren’t coming up.
So he says, “I can’t drive at night.” I said, “Where are you going?” He was come in from his home in the Northeast in Philadelphia I think, unless he was at his folks, which is even further away. I think was in Philly though and he was heading to Memphis to work on Julian’s record to help her with some ornamental pieces.
Jesse Cannon: Was this the first record or the second record?
Chris Carrabba: For Julian’s second record. Julian had just stayed at my house and Cam stopped by and we’d spent the night and we went for coffee, all right, but he gave Julian and that’s, anyway. And I found myself just sitting there like, “I’m jealous. These guys are in the studio hanging out together, my friends.” So I decided I’d send them a cover, each a cover of their own songs and okay, just thinking of you. And then the next day I was just messing with this open tuning. And I was playing this melody in the open tuning and I thought, hey, that’s “Love Yourself.” Which by the way I think is a really, really fantastic song that, it impresses me that Justin Bieber was able to finally reach people like me, who recognize and respect his talent, but his instincts as a songwriter, his taste for production, for his songs don’t draw me in traditionally. Though I recognize they’re incredible, because he’s Justin Bieber, I mean.
But this song, it really cut me pretty deeply in a way that I thought, and there’s been a handful this last year and a half that I like this feeling although it drives me crazy. I wish I’d written that. I wish I’d written that line.
Jesse Cannon: Could you tell me some more of them?
Chris Carrabba: Some more of them? Yeah. Phoebe Bridgers, incredible record. We’ll just start with that. The record. You could just take any line, but the You Missed My Heart, the lyric that you miss my heart, but also the conceit that she uses to deliver the line. All the buildup because it could just be like. That’s a great line. You could write any kind of love song or break up song in a traditional way and have that line and you win. But the story she weaves in and out and away from that line, glorious.
Another one though is one that I find, I think this might be the most romantic lyric ever written by anyone ever for people that love music the way I love music. People that obsess about music that it becomes part of their lives. I don’t mean my music, the music I listen to. And the line is, “And may all your favorite bands stay together.” It’s a lyric by Dawes and it is the kind of wish for somebody that says like, “I don’t know where life’s going to lead you and I hope everything works out well.” Times a million jabs into your heart, straight into your heart. May all your favorite bands stay together.
I like pop music, but I don’t feel like a burning love for pop music in the way that I think it’s, we have just to find it. But I am a fan of grabbing instruments that are unusual to me and seeing what they’ll do to the song. Where can they take the song. I’m really interested in taking a song and deconstructing it and reconstructing it into something really different and powerful. So anyway, with the new record I guess I explored that with a delicate hand with “Catch You” and with a heavy hand by deciding to work with Cash Cash on Belong and with a heavy hand from Jonathan, the producer Jonathan Clark on the song “About Us.” Where I wrote it with an acoustic guitar and I said, “Jonathan, what is this song without an acoustic guitar?”
He said, “Let’s find out.” That was a deep dive and he did and he was like, “Let me make you uncomfortable here.” And then I got so excited. I think you know you go to that thing of like, “I don’t like this. Oh, I love this.” And then you really dig in. Get your hands dirty. We put out those covers just because I recorded them and my manager said, “These are good. You’re putting these out.” No forethought. I was like, “But I, but I, but…But I would have done a better job or I would have done this or I would have done that.” No. We’re putting them putting them out. I was like, “Well, what about the fact that we haven’t told anybody we’re making a record?” He said, “Do you think this means you have to tell people you’re making record?” And I go, “Well, no. I guess not. Let’s do it.”
Jesse Cannon: I noticed a big difference when I was doing my research for this interview of Chris’s old catalog versus now, that while he was doing a returned form of the early records in many ways, what had changed is, he was no longer writing from an insecure place. His older material was always this insecure kid hoping he was good enough for things, but now he was talking about lifting others up and bringing them there. This is what Chris had to say about that.
Chris Carrabba: That’s the version of who I am now. I’m not operating or coming to songs from a place of like trepidation or pain, although I do think I explore some moments in the record that are not the loveliest moments of your life, but I don’t think I came to them in pain. And I do think that I’ve become, in the years since, someone whose job it is now to take care of a whole lot of people. At that time in my life I was trying to figure out how to take care of me. But that has a surprising depth of emotionality, exploring that, that responsibility and desire.
But I guess possibly the fact that I was like thrust into a position at a pretty young age of like employing people, for one that probably starts with that. Having a relationship with an audience that would say to me things that could be translated into, “You were taking care of me here.” A lot has been said about the lyrical content of the scene at large in retrospect and I think what I am proudest of with my songs was I was writing about a woman, not women and not some fabrication, not some amalgamation of a bunch of different women that I could then throw darts at. I was just saying like, “This happened. It was shitty. It hurt. And I’m telling you that it hurt.”
Or, “This was beautiful. It was important and lovely and wonderful and powerful and I want you to know that.” The result of which I think was that the audience, male or female, singing to that song was able to be the protagonist. So for example if I’m singing a song like “Screaming Infidelities,” which shines a light on these little moments of how you get through readjusting to your maybe social circle or your own life, adjacent to the person that hurt you, that you still want somehow. Well, if I’m singing to a room that has women in it, I don’t think that they felt that they were the subject. They felt like the protagonist singing even though it was written by a male and performed by a male. But they were performing it themselves that night. I’m pleased with that. I’ve never had success with thinking about the listeners experience later, what the listener’s experience will be later when they finally hear this. Sure, I assess it when I’m in the moment and I’m with them and I’m singing that. We’re performing it together or they tell me how it feels, but when I’m sitting there just by myself, it’s really just my own song that I’m singing alone.
Jesse Cannon: Thank you for listening to this podcast. If you enjoyed it, please share it on social media. To hear other episodes and more of Atlantic’s podcasts head to AtlanticPodcasts.com. Dashboard Confessional’s new album, “Crooked Shadows” is out now on all streaming formats. Thanks and stay tuned.