Chris Carrabba takes a look back at his first album for the 10th anniversary of The Swiss Army Romance, remembers his time in Further Seems Forever, explains why he’s never set out to write a hit, and updates what’s next for Dashboard Confessional.
Your new tour is coming up at the end of the month where you’ll be playing Swiss Army Romance in its entirety. A lot of bands have been doing those 10th anniversary tours lately, like Jimmy Eat World and New Found Glory. What inspired you to do it with this one?
Just the date of it, really. It was other people, like fans, who were bringing it to my attention that it’s been 10 years. To me, time flies so quickly that it doesn’t seem feasible that it’s 10 years, so it was at the prodding of some fans I was talking to over the course of the last run I did. “Are you going to do something special?” That’s how they phrased it.
I wasn’t sure how to answer it because I still play those songs, you know. I still play them live, so the only thing I could think of to do was something I haven’t really genuinely done in a long time, which is go out completely by myself. The last couple of acoustic tours I’ve had Johnny with me. I’m just going to go the way I had done it through the first days of this band, which is just by myself playing those songs. I guess I’ll play them in the order of the record because if I was going to see Jimmy Eat World play Clarity that’s how I’d want them to play it.
Have you ever played an album front-to-back before?
The only time I’ve done this, to be honest with you, Jonathan, is when I made demos for The Swiss Army Romance. I actually played them in the order they appear on the record because I wanted to hear how they would sound, so I just did it on a big two-track. I thought, “Oh, yeah. That’s a good, proper order for these songs.” That was probably the last time I ever did them in order.
When you hear this album now, and some of the other older material, what are your thoughts looking back on it?
Well, it’s obviously nostalgic for me, but it’s also difficult not to look at it with a really critical eye. There’s things that I enjoy about the noviceness of my approach, specifically on the first record. I wasn’t quite sure how to sing without a band and it kind of sounds that way, but it’s got a charm because of it. Mostly, it’s nostalgia, and it’s a bit of a time-traveling device for me. I can remember where I was when I wrote them, or where I was when I was recording them.
I did my own personal inventory tour last week thinking about this record. I drove around South Florida, where I’m starting the tour and where I wrote and recorded the record. I took a drive around to the places where I wrote the songs, and apartments I used to live in and crash at. That kind of thing. I just drove around and shot my head in the game, and remembered maybe why I’d come to do it at all, I guess.
You wrote and recorded this album while you were still in Further Seems Forever. What was that process like?
That was the thing. It’s amazing that we’re talking here, 10 years later, because there was no real goal with Dashboard. It was just I had these songs and they weren’t Further songs. I offered them to Further, to be fair, but they weren’t Further songs. They didn’t sound that way. I liked the songs, and I could tell there was something to them. There was something tangible to them. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted to record them. That was kind of the extent of it.
I think we were home from a short tour. I had some studio time still leftover that I never used from this band I was in before Further, so I used a weekend of that to record these songs. I remember the guys in Further were awesome. They were so encouraging about the work and it got us into the studio quicker to make our record, which I thought would be the only benefit of having made the record.
When I finished it and played it for them, they were excited about the way that it sounded and that it existed. We at that point only had an EP and were really dragging our heels on making a full-length. So here I had this full-length that I was able to play them, and we suddenly were like, “Let’s do it. Let’s get in the studio.” That was pretty exciting.
At what point did you realize you wanted to pursue that over the Further stuff?
It’s interesting because it kind of never came to that. It would probably be better off as a book if it did go that way. The way it went down is we were finished getting along at the time. We had hit a rocky road and our goals were different. Not just mine versus the band, but within the band all of ours were different from each other’s. So I decided I wasn’t going to do the band anymore, but I didn’t really think I was going to be doing Dashboard, either.
I had become addicted to touring between the bands I was in before Further, and definitely the time I spent in Further, so I just planned to tour as Dashboard for a fall tour. I thought I’d come back, and my musician friends who had gone away to college or wherever they went would be back, and I’d figure out who I was going to play with next. So I thought it was just going to be this one-month tour. That would be it, and I never really went home from it. It had its own thing. I resisted it for a minute, but I realized that it was what I was looking for.
You’re playing a show with Further next year, which is the first time that’s happened in a long while. How did that come about and will there be more shows or new recordings?
When Further split, there was all this tension. It was really short-lived. I think the first tour they had with Jason, who was the second singer, I believe their first show was with Dashboard. It wasn’t as if there was any kind of long-lasting issue.
Over the years, we all live in the same area. We’re all friends for life, so the weekends were spent barbequing and inevitably, eventually, somebody picked up a guitar. All it did was took a longer time for it to naturally occur. It took probably 10 years too long, but something was just very natural.
I think what it was was by the end of Further, I believe the only member of the original lineup that was still in the band was just the drummer, but the five of us were still hanging out all the time. So yeah, I guess it was a natural, albeit a long road to come, end. It’s been great to spend time with them with guitars, as opposed to without guitars. So we have this show booked, and I think we’d like to play more shows.
Going back to Swiss Army for a minute, obviously the song everybody knows off the album is “Screaming Infidelities.” Is there a song you feel is the heart of the album for you, or perhaps a most overlooked song?
It’s tough for me to answer that, to be honest with you, because I look at it as one thing. It’s not a very long record in running time. It’s strictly meat. There’s not a lot of fat or interludes, so I look at it as a whole. I don’t know what the looked over song would be. I like “Turpentine Chaser,” but if you ask me in 10 minutes, I’d probably tell you a different one. It’s hard to say.
Was there anything specific that influenced or went into writing the album?
There were so many things. I think the biggest factor for writing the record was that Further was very complicated, in terms of musical composition. It’s very complex. There’s a lot of cut measures. There’s a lot of odd time signatures. There’s a lot of key changes. That’s really what I found exciting. I still find it exciting, and it’s challenging and it’s different, but conversely maybe something’s not as raw.
I guess I was just looking for the other side of that coin, taking away all the dynamics. Obviously, not all the dynamics, because an acoustic guitar is a pretty percussive instrument as it is, but certainly in a way to its least amount of components. I think it was born as a mirror image of the complexity that was writing Further songs.
One thing I’ve always admired about your music is how most of the songs are about storytelling, sometimes on a very personal level. How do you think you’ve changed and grown as a storyteller since the early days?
There’s days I feel like I had it all right then, and there’s days I feel like I have it all right now. I’m not sure which pieces are the best pieces. The thing that I’ve tried to do as a storyteller is I’ve tried to be as descriptive as I can while embracing brevity as much as I can. Those are some diametrically opposed goals to have.
I think that I’ve been lucky more than once in getting that right. As a songwriter, how I’ve evolved I think is in terms of being able to recognize when I have it right and recognize when I haven’t done it right.
What’s the latest on new Dashboard material? Have you been working on that at all?
Kind of. I never really stop working on Dashboard stuff, so it’s hard to say I’m not working on it, but I’m kind of not working on it, even though I wrote a song yesterday that’s probably going to be a Dashboard song. The way it usually goes is I write and I write until there’s probably 20 songs, maybe 30 songs, to show for it when I stumble on, oh, here it is. This is the thing that makes it different from the things I’ve done in the past.
You’re only looking to slightly deviate from the course, or at least I am. I think I understand that albums need to have relationships back to the first albums. They need to have at least some kind of tenuous string you can follow back to the first record. It’s very easy to be a slave to that, so you look for the song that’s the quote-unquote “new path.” I guess I haven’t found that yet. The songwriting I’m doing now feels like a place I’ve been before, so I just keep writing.
In the case of the last record I made, Alter the Ending, I had written songs that I listen back to now and I think are very good. I can’t see why they weren’t the ones that changed the course, but nevertheless they weren’t until I had written a song called “Get Me Right.” I can’t point to what it was in that song, but it was new territory. So I guess I wait until I see that or sense that. That’s when the real work begins on the next record, where I would be able to answer honestly, “Yes, I’m working on a new record.”
Are you the kind of person that can write pretty much wherever you’re at?
I go through times where I get real methodical. It has to be a certain time of day, after a certain amount of coffee, in a certain place with certain weather. Who knows? I get caught in the cycle on occasion, and sometimes those yield great rewards. Other times you can be in the backseat of a van or in a hotel room, a basement of a club or at a friend’s house. It just depends. I think you wear it out, you know. You wear one method out, and then you move on to the next method.
I remember a few tours ago you had that tour release called The Wire Tapes. Will there ever be another Wire Tapes album?
Yes. I had quite a lot of fun doing that record. I’ve recorded tons more covers since then. I guess I could slap together another Wire Tapes. There was something about that one that I liked. It was akin to thinking, “Oh, I’d really like to make a mixtape for a friend, and show them what music I’ve loved over the years and what songs I like to play.” Anyways, that was a fun one. It got people interested and investigating some bands they’d never heard of. That was cool.
It seems it’s been a few years since you’ve had a quote-unquote “hit.” Is that something that weighs on you, or are you at the point in your career where you don’t put that much thought into those kinds of things?
Yeah, it’s tricky. I would say I don’t think I’ve ever had a hit. I’ve had some songs that got close. I would have thought they were almost hits. I guess it depends on how you define a hit. I think our last single got higher on the charts than any of our other singles, but I don’t think that defines hit. I think it’s somehow you move the needle of the scene you’re in, or the culture you’re from or something like that, and we’ve done that a few times.
It doesn’t weigh on me because I know I didn’t set out to do that. With the ones where it worked, that wasn’t the goal. Whenever I’ve tried to make it the goal, to make a successful song, I never like it. In the end, I never think it’s good enough to really make the cut. So, I don’t know. All those things are about timing, and somehow with or without radio success we’ve had this pretty rewarding career. I worry more about fouling that up with some ill-advised pop song or something.
One of your most well-known songs was from Spider-Man 2. Have you been approached to write more music for films and do you think you’ll do that again at some point?
As you can imagine, I got approached by every superhero movie that came out right after Spider-Man 2, and I said no. Once or twice I’ve kind of regretted saying no, for standing on my morals or whatever, because it might have been interesting.
I guess I hit a high point with that one. I got to see the movie before it was out. I got to see it before all the effects were rendered, and it was a really cool experience. The song was embraced by a wider audience than I ever imagined. It was a pretty good thing. I don’t know if you can do that again.
I’ve had songs in movies since then, but I don’t think we’ve had another superhero movie. We had one in Shrek, but that’s more of a fantasy film [laughs]. I kind of heavily considered it for that Superman Returns movie. I didn’t think it was a great movie but I did actually think that Brandon Routh was a pretty great Superman. But that’s not really what you were asking about. I guess I wouldn’t say no to it at this point, but for a while the answer would have been no.
So if you could give any advice to the younger Chris who was just starting out, what would it be?
Learn your lessons sooner. I guess that’s something I would tell anybody. You don’t have a lot of time to do things the right way, or the best way that you can, in this industry. You have to learn how you really want to carry yourself, and you have to learn it quickly. You also have to learn how other people are trying to get one over on you. You have to keep your eyes open.