It has already been a decade since Chris Carrabba began his solo side project separate from seminal emo-rock band Further Seems Forever. At first, Dashboard Confessional was simply private venting for the Boca Raton-based singer/songwriter. But his first full-length collection, The Swiss Army Romance, became a coveted item after the smash success of "Screaming Infidelities," which also appeared on its follow-up, 2001's The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most.
Carrabba eventually opted to leave Further Seems Forever, and his little side project is now his calling card. Over five studio albums since The Swiss Army Romance — three of which hit gold status — he's slowly reworked his sound and his image from emo poster child to a leading indie figure, retaining little more than his trademark moans in subsequent albums.
The former skateboarder and punk who played "rock star" instead of cops and robbers as a kid is headlining a show at the Fort Lauderdale club now known as Revolution — the spot where he saw Fugazi, Smashing Pumpkins, and many others during his formative years. On this occasion, he'll celebrate the tenth anniversary of The Swiss Army Romance by playing it start to finish for the first time.
New Times caught up with the soft-spoken 35-year-old to discuss the limited-edition Swiss Army Romance reissue and a return to another aspect of his past via a Further Seems Forever reunion.
New Times: You've mentioned that Dashboard Confessional is sort of like a journal for you. Do you still treat the songwriting process that way?
Chris Carrabba: I think in the same sense that I treated it as a journal in the beginning, which was less literal and more a way to illustrate my approach to lyricism. I still do that. It wasn't literally like, "Oh, I'm going to write a journal and cherry-pick from my entries." [laughs]. It seems like when you're writing in a journal that you know no one's looking at it. It's yours, so you have the freedom to say things the way you want to say them. And that's kind of the approach I took to the lyrics with Dashboard. In the very beginning, it was true. No one was gonna hear it. I was just kind of messing around. I wasn't even planning on putting out a record.
Are you a bit more guarded now?
Now I have to try to not think about it. There is a difference, but when I succeed, I get a good song.
I heard you were in the studio last week. Are you working on a new album already?
No, just producing something for somebody. But the calendar's full all the time. I think I'm just beginning to start to think about the next Dashboard record. Almost beginning to think about it.
So what exactly will you be playing for your set at Revolution?
I'm gonna play the record I released about a decade ago — believe it or not — called The Swiss Army Romance in its entirety. I've never played the record straight through from front to back.
Are you going to throw in some stuff from the other albums too?
Well, I get a little bit excited, so I'm sure I'll play other stuff too. But I would like to play the record in the order it's meant to be played — or rather, the order you got to know it in. It's not the way I got to know the record, because of course I didn't listen to the record [in the order] you listened to it, since I was in the band. It was my record, so I played them in whatever order it occurred to me that night. But I know what it's like when you listen to a record so much that it's almost jarring when it's out of order. I've never done that before, so I'll give it a shot.
What prompted the limited-edition boxed set reissue of The Swiss Army Romance?
Someone presented me with the idea of how to do it — making it look like it was a Swiss Army knife, where each blade came out with a record in it. Before seeing that, I really had no intention of releasing anything to commemorate the ten-year anniversary. But that just seemed like such an unusual thing, and I kind of wanted one [laughs]. So I figured if I'm gonna make one for me, I might as well make a few.
Playing an anniversary date for the local crowd must have a little more significance for you.
Yes. Especially playing at Revolution. Many, many years ago — before it even was Revolution — I saw some shows that were very important in my musical rearing, you know? I saw Fugazi there, and it was a moment that changed my course of how I was going to do things. Saw Smashing Pumpkins there. Obviously if they're playing there, I'm talking about many years before they were playing arenas and so on. So the venue in and of itself is something that I romanticize in my head. I have a kinship with everyone that's gonna be there. It's one of those shows where you get more nervous. Say I was gonna play some city, I might know like five people there personally, maybe 20. But in South Florida, there's a good chance I will know 85 percent of the audience personally. I'm absolutely certain I will do something that I will hear about for the rest of the year — or for the rest of my life.
Tell me about your reunion with Further Seems Forever.
Well, we're gonna do something. That's what we've decided. We don't know what we're gonna do because we haven't decided that yet. We know we're gonna do one show, but it's overseas. But that's not good enough. There's no way we're gonna be playing together and not play down here. This area's been too good for us and too important for us to go without spending time here. These are the people I grew up with and never stopped spending time with. It's just a natural progression after all these years of barbecues and what-have-you to finally pick up guitars. It feels great to me too because I'm not the only one from the original lineup that wasn't in it by the end. So the original lineup has a real freshness. Many of us haven't done it essentially since I left, which is, what, 11 years or 12 years or something? We've done one show in all that time. It feels right, but it also just kind of feels natural.