Dashboard Confessional will return with their first new album in over eight years, Crooked Shadows, on February 9th, and is the result of a near decade-long period of immense self-examination for frontman Chris Carrabba.
Crooked Shadows explores Carrabba’s reclamation of the simple yet extraordinary moments in life that long stood as the unsung heroes of his songwriting, as he reflects on experiences of his own and those closest to him. The result is a deeply cathartic body of work that traverses the complications and vulnerabilities of relationships while scrutinizing the possibility of self-improvement.
In our new interview, Carrabba details the making of Crooked Shadows, his perfect breakup playlist, why emo isn’t dead, and more!
In previous interviews you mentioned that you deeply connect with songs from your first three records. Are there any songs on Crooked Shadows that give you the same feeling?
Is it odd to say that they all do? I think they all do and the reason I say that is because I was really patient and wrote a lot of songs to make sure I felt that way about what I was putting together.
When you were prepping to return as Dashboard after a lengthy absence, where there ever moments of over thinking about what the right approach was to reintroduce the music to fans?
There wasn’t and I’ll tell you why. I did it without a record deal, I did it without telling anyone what I was doing and I did it without knowing for a fact if I would ever release it, so doing it in that kind of anonymity gave me a great freedom to just follow the path I believed in. I’m really excited that I made that choice so that I didn’t have too many prying eyes.
When writing songs for Crooked Shadows, did you have any self-doubt that the new songs you wrote would in some way impact the legacy of your past albums?
I didn’t worry that the album I was making would hurt by legacy but I decided before writing a note that the album had to be as good or better, at least in my mind, than the albums that came before it than I was not going to release it. It was a strict but good rule to follow.
How many songs did you write for Crooked Shadows?
I don’t have an exact number but I would tell you it’s somewhere between 45 and 60.
Wow. How did you end up choosing the songs that made the album?
It’s a difficult metric because a lot of it has to do with just going with your gut. I did that and I got it down to about 25 songs. Then you look at the song and say what kind of story is this starting to tell if you put these songs together and that got it down to around 15 songs. And then you wonder if there are more than song telling the same piece of story and that got me down to 12 songs. And finally the difficult choice of me saying that I wanted to release a shorter record because my first two records where short because I really wanted to capture that again, and that’s when I brought in some other people to give me their opinions and be very harsh and cut it down a little more.
What was it like to bring in other people to give you that harsh criticism?
It was exciting because in the past it started from the beginning of the record. This was during the last stage of the record, so we’ve been excited the whole time we were making the record and at this point we’re trying to wind things down and at some point it feels a little clinical. We eventually decided on a record label and they were instrumental in helping us pick the songs and they came with this exuberance that was very contagious, and I think that reignited our enthusiasm even as we were cutting songs we didn’t want to cut.
With Crooked Shadows, what kind of lyrical themes did you focus on?
I mostly touched on the life experience that I’ve had in the years since Dashboard’s hiatus, along with the sociopolitical and political climate of what’s going on in the United States because it’s just frightening and frustrating. All these things kind of just rolled into one.
How do you approach the songwriting process now versus as a 20-something?
I think what I draw from is probably different because I’m a different human being and a different person. But the methodology is not terribly different because I love writing songs, and the mystery of it all, and the fact that you have nothing and you might end up with nothing but maybe once in a while you play a couple of chords and a melody pops in your head and lyrics pop in your head and the whole thing is this frenetic chase you’re involved in and you’re just doing your best to stay out of its way almost and in that regard it’s very similar. Also, it seems to me no matter what that I write at two very specific times of the day and I don’t know how that came to pass. It’s either very early in the morning or very late at night, so I’ll wake up at 5am with this weird idea in my head and guzzle a ton of coffee and a song pours out. Or I’ll be in bed and I’ll decide to play guitar for a minute, which is always a mistake because I’ll be up for four hours chasing a song and I’ll love every second of it.
Lyrically, there seems to be more of a collective “we” feeling in the songs on Crooked Shadows than a “me” or an “I”. Was that intentional?
I didn’t know that until someone mentioned that to me recently. I’m in this weird spot right now where a listener might have a clearer perspective on that than I might have because you can listen and assess whereas I’m wrapped up in all of the experiences surrounding the song.
There are more people in my life now than when I made my first few records so I’m not entirely surprised that it’s not just a matter of “I” but it’s a matter of “we”.
How do you feel about your music being characterized as “Emo”? Is that something you tend to shy away from?
Nah, I think if that’s what our fans call us that’s fine. To me it’s like any other genre name where things like “hipster” start out neutral and then positive and then negative when it gets too popular and then neutral again. I maintain that I don’t name the genre we’re in, our fans tell us, and they tend to call us emo, and that’s okay with me. My favourite bands growing up were post-hardcore and emo bands. That predated our generation of emo but nonetheless I have deep respect for that genre.
The emo genre has enjoyed a revival in the last few years where younger bands embraced Dashboard and similar bands as the elder statesmen of the scene. What are your thoughts on newer bands building on a formula that you mastered?
I listen to it as more of a fan than opposed to an archivist, so I don’t think of it in terms of how it relates to me. I just listen to it and fall in love with the music. Phoebe Bridgers, or Sorority Noise, or Youth, these bands are digging deep into that scene for sure. They’re doing something I love, and I’m not going through and saying “how does relate to my music?” That would feel arrogant and it just doesn’t occur to me to code how I’m involved with that. It’s just music I love.
So you’re just looking at it from a fan perspective rather than a fellow musician?
Yeah, and as a fan of this genre I have the entire catalog of every band I’ve ever loved that made music like this, which is the music I love most, and now there’s a ton of new bands to discover doing this kind of thing and it’s a very exciting time for me as a music fan.
You started Dashboard as a side project from Further Seems Forever. How did you those early songs come to be? Did you keep a journal?
I didn’t keep a journal in the traditional sense but I had heaps of loose paper that I would wrote snippets of lines on. Some of these would be the spring board for what would become the first batch of Dashboard songs.
With your other project Twin Forks, what was the transition like writing for that versus creating the new Dashboard record?
There’s a glorious freedom in that band where it’s a different kind of collaboration. Dashboard is a band born out of there’s a story I must tell, or there’s a sonic landscape I must embrace. But with Twin Forks, it’s like here’s a bunch of my best friends and I really want to play with them and explore the music that I grew up listening to. And we come to that from different places so they’re both really rewarding.
With most of the Dashboard catalogue, the songs are infamously sad, but at the same time are great to get through a breakup. If you had to create a breakup playlist, which songs would make the cut?
I don’t know if most of the songs are sad, but I will say that plenty of them are. But what makes it work somehow is the juxtaposition of emotion where with songs like “Hands Down” or “Stolen” where it’s particularly joyous. So that’s why I’d say songs like “Letter To Elise” by The Cure, for example, but it’s juxtaposed in their catalogue with songs like “Just Like Heaven”, or “Friday I’m In Love”, or “Boys Don’t Cry”, where they are kind of happy.
Pre-Order Crooked Shadows here.