Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba; a conversation akin to the openness and expressive freedom on anticipated new album All The Truth That I Can Tell.
New-millennium-emotional-rock-pioneer and genuinely lovely human Chris Carrabba recently squeezed in a digital sit-down with Wall Of Sound on the cusp of an impending tour to support Dashboard’s eighth studio album, All The Truth That I Can Tell (our review here). Evidently excited and grateful for a slice of pre-pandemic touring schedule normalcy, Chris was as customarily courteous and honest with his responses to both the stories and feelings behind the band’s latest release, and musings on the creative process in general…
Hey Chris! Last time you and I spoke, it was in a portable out the back of Good Things Festival, Melbourne in 2018. You were headlining simultaneously with The Offspring playing Smash in full on the main stage.
We just couldn’t watch each other at the same time! I live down the street from one of them. We could hang out during the day, but could never watch each other’s whole set. Though I’d rush over for their last song or vice-versa depending on the night. It was super fun, what a great tour.
Back when we could actually tour.
Back when we could tour… that was one of the last ones I did (before Covid).
So what are the prospects of touring now? I know you recently performed a streamed Valentine’s Day gig.
So we go back in the real world touring, not just the Metaverse, as they say. We’re off in about a week and a half doing a co-headliner tour with Jimmy Eat World.
Yeah, I saw you were playing that amazing Caverns venue in Tennessee.
They are amazing. I was there before for another tour (as a fan). It’s a destination, and quite the sight to see! I immediately knew it was somewhere I’d love to play one day.
Any plans to stream that one too?
We did think about it. We just haven’t got permission, but it wouldn’t be… actually, now you’ve got my wheels spinning. I just wanted to see it myself, but also it’d be great to see what the audience is seeing on the other side.
That’s the unique thing about playing live; it’s very much happening in the present, and rarely an artform you can enjoy later like say, a painter or sculptor can.
Yeah, and you know the other part of that, which is specific or peculiar to my tastes is that I don’t think the song you hear on the record is the finished product. I hear what you just described as the finished product. Whatever tonight’s performance is, that’s the finished product, and same again tomorrow and the day after. I’m always sitting in wonderment of “When is a song going to be the finished product?”
I feel the same about everything with every band I’ve ever been in. You hear a song from five years ago you’ve played live countless times since then and think “That’s not it! Ugh, the version now is way better!”
You know this, that’s part of the journey for any artist. Though I will say the thing I’ve learned over a very looong time, every once in a while you get it right, and you’ve been doing it wrong since! (laughs) You go back and hear it, like “Oooh, it was the right choice. I’ll go back to that.”
Well, if you’re critically, commercially, and globally revered and admired for your song-writing for the last twenty years, I guess that must definitely clarify that you’ve gotten some things right from the start.
Yeah, I guess. Doesn’t always change that artistic temperament though!
Do you subscribe to the belief that a song isn’t really yours once it’s released? That it belongs to anyone who listens to it in their own personal way of how they experienced it?
It only belongs to me for a short time and that’s right up until the record is coming out. It doesn’t mean I don’t get any ownership over the song, but it’s actually rewarding because that shared version and energy really goes both ways. It infuses your meaning and mind of the song, and it’s now imprinted on the song when we sing it live. I mean, it could be that what you got from the song is really profound for me because I hadn’t ever thought of it, or couldn’t, in a certain way. Or it could be the implication of you putting out that energy changes it.
I really wish I was a bit more of a stars and crystals kind of guy, but sometimes it’s a bit like that; a bunch of people in one room putting a bunch of feelings out? It does combine into something new.
So your new album, All The Truth That I Can Tell. I really liked the title, and interpreted it as a bit of a subtle double meaning. It’s like all the truth you’re able to speak from within, but also all the truth that you alone perceived while making it. Is that a fair assessment?
Like all the truth that is revealed to you. All the truth that you can personally tell, yes. The real kick in the guts is when you’ve been looking at that truth for a long time and then it reveals itself to you as something totally different, and the realization that there’s probably a lot more you don’t know and a lot more to be revealed about. There certainly was a duality in the title, and I’m heartened that you picked up on that.
I heard you finished writing ‘Burning Heart‘ and almost immediately played it live on stage in the UK, completely unrehearsed.
I wrote the first half sitting right here, but the end wasn’t available to me. I kept searching and searching, finding nothing. There was a lot of reasons for that, but that occurrence usually means that there’s not really a song there despite how good the first half may be. I don’t know why I wasn’t willing to give up on this one even though all the signs were pointing to it not happening.
The first half was written in short order in a few hours in this chair, and it’s really verbose and probably has more words in the first half than any other of my whole songs! So it wasn’t a surprise to me when I ran out of gas, because I’d said a lot. It was a surprise to me – after having tried and failed for a few months in between – that I found myself somewhere in England.
I’ll tell you what, the moment was special. We just came off stage from soundcheck, in Manchester, we were going to go and get some ramen noodles, I was excited, and I picked up my guitar for a second. That became me not going, me still working when they were saying “You’ve gotta go on stage!”. Shit, it’s showtime, I started at one o’ clock, it’s now nine o’ clock, I’ve got to get up there! I took the lyrics up there and I think because I wasn’t finished thinking about it. Seemed like I wanted to keep working, so I thought “Y’know what?
One way to cement that I have finished this song is to play it for people. If there’s anything unfinished about the papers laying in my hand, maybe they’ll become finished when I try to sing that line. Maybe the line will become better”, and so on. And it was just all there!
It was a huge eureka moment unique in my career. I’ve only had a few moments like this ever. As powerful as you dream a song could be to yourself, then to have that moment happen in the sight of other people made it truly unique.
That sounds amazing. What a cool way to do a bit of live emotional market research with a brand new track!
Haha, yeah. You have to be willing to fail in front of all those people as well. That’s probably why I’ve only done it once (laughs). I had this fun exercise I did for a while where I would write a little bit on stage with the audience and take it to the next show. But that’s a whole different thing, that’s about us all writing together.
Do you think you need to feel happy to write a happy song, or sad to write a sad one? I only ask because I feel Dashboard treads in melancholic territory; a place where you can remember sad things happily, or happy things sadly, such is melancholy’s way.
I think you may hear a sad song of mine and also feel that it begins to maybe make you feel less sad. I think that maybe happens because I’m probably writing it to feel less sad. There’s the simple thing of me not knowing why major keys make me feel somber in a good way, but they do and I know that’s inverted. Most people will feel a minor key and feel they’re gonna write from a meaner or darker place, and I don’t know why that makes me joyful, but it does! Something about my dial is a little bit ticked to an alternate side, because that’s where music makes sense to me, I guess.
As a very successful and respected member of the music and creative industries, can you tell when writing a song that you know it’s really going to be a hit with fans?
Man, I don’t really know the answer to that. I think… probably yes? The reason I say probably yes is because it doesn’t take me long to forget it though. I think it’s enough that it makes me excited to write the next song. Like, when you’re in the writing process of a whole record, it becomes twelve songs instead of one like “Woah, this is galvanizing”, and maybe if I think it’s in such a way that I think the audience is going to respond to it about one song, I forget which one by the time the album is released. Any of them might!
It’s been said you wrote this album ‘selfishly’, not being a jerk but rather that you didn’t really consider what people would think when they heard the finished product.
I felt this drive. It’s a feeling you’re powerless to, I think. You have no choice in the matter. I do wonder though, if having sung ‘Burning Heart’ brand new to the audience that day and the huge response it got in that moment made me move forward with two things; I’m certain they like it and so now I can just be in service of whatever other songs come, but also I know they at least like one of them because they showed me and told me so in that moment. The writing process felt selfish to me, but it’s not a loaded word how I’m using it. It was like accepting a process that may result in other people enjoying it, but hopefully write something that is truly only mine.
There’s a limiting effect you can find yourself in while perceiving the finished product of any song, even if it’s a final production thing way down the line. Those things have a time for them to be explored and important, but in the writing stage for me – and maybe specifically for writing this record – the song is the only other thing in the room. Just the bones of the damn thing. They’re all that you can be concerned about. Not how it’s going to be dressed later, not what lighting you’re going to shine in its direction, just what’s there at its most basic.
Sometimes they’re really chill to spend time alone with, and other times they’re a complicated monster you can’t stand.
Oh yeah, the worst company you can have sometimes.
Did you listen to other music while writing this album for inspiration?
Oh, no. I can’t do it. There’s three or four artists I can listen to because their influence is already so evident in my songs already like The Cure and REM. The Descendants for melody phrases and those types of things. It’s a longer list than that, but I’m careful not to listen to music for fear it will… those old influences are just part of your vernacular, but the new stuff is exciting music. It’s deeper than that too, it’s like a language in a way.
So no, but what I do is I do the writing for hours and hours, and then listen to podcasts. That’s what I do for a break.
Well, with a massive actual tour coming up for you guys, and Australian borders reopening for international visitors this week, it must be asked. When are you next headed down here for some shows?
Yes, an ACTUAL tour. Got to string some guitars and pack my bag. I’m literally packing my bag tonight! It’s a real tour, and it’s actually happening. We were going to do the US leg of our tour in 2020, then Canada, then we were announcing Australia! Never got to happen, obviously, but I was looking forward to it so much. Maybe our chance will come soon! I surely hope so.
We all feel the same way down here, mate. It’s a sign of the world healing when a bunch of international tours can happen again safely.
I’m ready for the world to come back myself. We all are.
Absolutely. Thanks for chatting today. It’s been an honour and a privilege as always.
Thanks Todd, it’s good to talk to you again. I look forward to next time, and I hope it’s in person.
Interview by Todd Gingell
Dashboard Confessional release All The Truth That I Can Tell this Friday. Pre-order here
Dashboard Confessional – All The Truth That I Can Tell tracklisting:
1. Burning Heart
2. Everyone Else Is Just Noise
3. Here’s To Moving On
4. The Better of Me
5. Southbound and Sinking
6. Sleep In
7. Me and Mine
8. Sunshine State
9. Pain Free in Three Chords
11. All The Truth That I Can Tell