Dashboard Confessional Returns To Houston Refreshed

Dashboard Confessional will bring their emo sounds to House of Blues.
Dashboard Confessional will bring their emo sounds to House of Blues. Photo by David Bean

In 2001 when someone handed me a copy of The Moon is Down by Further Seems Forever, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little blown away by the sheer energy on the album. It would be later that year when I'd come across The Swiss Army Romance by a band called Dashboard Confessional, also led by singer and guitarist Chris Carrabba, and again I'd get a little mystified by their sound. I've always maintained that there weren't too many bands in the second wave of emo that had earned the right to go by that moniker, though Dashboard Confessional seemed to have started with that right intact. After an eight year hiatus, the band has returned with their seventh album, this year's Crooked Shadows. Founder and singer Chris Carrabba sat down with the Houston Press to discuss the band's past, what he's been up to for the years away, and what we can expect from their show here on March 20.

The last Dashboard Confessional album, After The Ending dropped eight years ago, a lifetime being away in the music industry today. While the band toured in 2015, still that's a long lapse between releases in a time when artists are dropping tracks on a regular basis. When we asked Carrabba about the time off and when this album was written, he responded "so, I think we started writing after the 2015 tour. I'd be surprised if any of it predated the tour. Being in a band is a 24 hour game and you love it, but when you're in it, you don't see the spin out coming."

Most people, would see the time off as an impedance for a band that toured as relentlessly as Dashboard Confessional does. When we asked if it was hard to stay away for so long, Carrabba replies, "it was. I was aware it was necessary and the draw to come back was relentless. I toured almost as much with my other bands though. They were different, short tours with a van instead of a bus, and in smaller spaces. I was just burned out on what it took and what the fans deserve to deliver a Dashboard Confessional tour."

The new album has an almost anthemic feel to it, which was recorded in Carrabba's basement. It seemed like an interesting path for a band on this level to take over going into a big studio, something that Carrabba says was the point in doing so. "I don't like studios, they're clinical. I wanted to record a song within minutes of writing it. I realized that within a month, I'd know the song better, but in that time I won't be as connected to it as I was when I wrote it. So I think all of it was done in my basement."

In other interviews, Carrabba has said that the new album was written with the idea of what would happen if the band had taken another path musically. "I meant that in two ways. Our first three and a half records in, I was at a fork in the road where I was taking advice from label people. It was advice I was happy to get and to learn from, but it also went against my own instincts. So one goal was to go back to that era and going a less conventional route. Something I can connect to on a deeper level. Back then, Jimmy Iovine (Interscope Records, Beats) gave us so much of his time, and he's a legend for a reason, and I might not get that again. But I only listened as an eager student without establishing my own instincts in the process."

That led to where the band is now with Crooked Shadows. With as a passionate fan base as the band has, we asked if it was disheartening that fans wanted more of the old stuff rather than new material and new sounds. "That's okay, I kind of want it too," Carrabba said. "I can't manufacture that place, but I'm willing to be patient and get there again. Of course, I'm attached to music I first heard from a band I love too. We aren't gonna' please everyone, we never have. And when I get there, some people won't like that either. In a live setting though, we have to let those songs live now."

Of course, with the emo tag, the band has grown so much more than just another emo band. I remarked about how cool it was that former Promise Ring bassist Scott Schoenbeck was and still is a member of the band. "It took me a long time to come to grips with being called emo. Those bands we loved and had so much respect for, sharing the name with them was tough for me to take in, like we didn't deserve it. I grew up listening to Promise Ring, so having Scott in the band is really cool for me. When I needed a bassist, he was the only person I asked."

Catching Dashboard Confessional live has always been a treat for anyone who sang along to their music in the car. Full of passion and energy, the band always brings their best to every performance. We asked how the new songs are working with audiences, and what the band has in-store for us when they come here in March. "The new songs have worked and they're the spirit of what the live show is. The metric for us is to never over do it with new songs in our set. We play a lot of old favorites as well, and if we just played the new stuff, that wouldn't work," Carrabba said.

You can stream Crooked Shadows in all of the usual spots, and purchase it from online retailers here or directly from the band here. You can catch Dashboard Confessional in person when they return to Houston at House of Blues on March 20. The all ages show has support sets from Beach Slang and Kississippi. Doors at 5:30 p.m.; tickets $33 to $60.
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David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.