Chris Carrabba, front man for the popular rock group, Dashboard Confessional, has been living an acute modern duality for the past year. When scholars and scientists look back on 2020, they may be able to sum up what, exactly, was lost during one of the most tumultuous years in global history. But, with hope, they will also be able to calculate what improved, what we gained or what evolved in a positive sense, too. Carrabba, who has been at the center of both loss and gain this year, understands that balance. At the start of 2020, he and his band were poised to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut 2000 album, The Swiss Army Romance. But then the world turned upside down. Later, in June, as the COVID-19 self-quarantine truly set in, Carrabba was in a motorcycle accident, which forced him to lay up in casts. But the result of the isolation created a renewed sense of appreciation for what he’s worked to achieve over the past two decades.
“It’s not just that I made a career,” Carrabba says. “What’s more important to me is that I’ve had true, real connections with people that I’ve met along the way and they are and have been lasting. This year has been so strange. I was in this really horrible accident – you think that you’ve slowed down when COVID hits and everything is pulled out from under you when you’re a touring musician and you had plans. Then when I was actually able to slow down, I was bedridden for months.”
Carrabba says he remembers just staring at his ceiling for hours on end, contemplating everything from the temperature in the room to the expanse of the universe. During that time, though, one theme kept recurring in his brain. He wasn’t even supposed to be here. That he’d achieved such success in music was, in fact, due largely to the help and support and collaborative efforts from others, mixed with a bit of good fortune, too.
“I don’t sit back and think we’re a big band,” Carrabba says. “That never crosses my mind. I’m still like, ‘Wait, so we’re definitely going on tour again, right guys?’”
While some people may have gone mad laid up in a band covered in casts, Carrabba might have had some extra fortitude built up from his younger years as a celebrated skateboarder. As a kid, Carrabba liked music enough. His mother would play records in the house (Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty) and also play piano. It was around. But as a teenager, he discovered punk rock and hip-hop, which further blew his mind. But it was thanks primarily to a hang out spot in an old skate shop that his appreciation for songwriting really began to germinate.
“Watching the skateboarding DVDs or VHS, there would be all this great music,” Carrabba says. “Then, trying to figure out which songs were playing. There was no Shazam, you had to wait until the end of the video and see what’s listed.”
Carrabba’s family moved from their Connecticut home to Florida during his youth. He began to take skateboarding more seriously. He was sponsored by a local shop and in the back of that shop, Carrabba and friends would hang out and watch the videos of people doing tricks (and falling). Also hanging in the shop were some dusty old acoustic guitars. Carrabba remembers picking them up and strumming. In Florida, it often rains in the summers, so a lot of time is spent indoors, which is perfect for an aspiring musician. Other days, the skaters would learn whole songs together (like Green Day’s “Welcome to Paradise”), taking turns on the different instruments. Soon, the “script flipped” and instead of playing music between skateboarding sessions, it was the other way around for Carrabba. But even then, he didn’t want to be a front man, only a craftsman.
“I was interested in songwriting,” Carrabba says. “I was not interested in singing. I screamed for some hardcore bands but I wasn’t interested in singing. I was terrified of singing in front of people.”
As Carrabba would write, though, he would teach the songs and melodies to the front people who did want to sing. But, one day, future bassist for Dashboard Confessional, Dan Bonebrake, took Carrabba aside and told him to sing them himself. That he was good enough to do so. Though it took a long time for his voice to develop into the strong example of clarity that it boasts today, Carrabba kept at it, inspired and buoyed by his friend’s complimentary assurance.
“I believed in the songs,” Carrabba says, “but I also felt extremely empowered by the fact that I looked up to much to him as a musician. That he believed in me enough to stay constantly on me about it was a big factor. The people who come into your life and see things in you that you can’t see for yourself that will then become so obvious in retrospect are so important.”
Even though Dashboard Confessional has, like nearly every other band, ceased its vast majority of their plans for the year, Carrabba has continued to look back on the best of the past two decades. Carrabba, who has been in other successful music projects, like Further Seems Forever, thinks fondly of his fans, many of whom he considers to be friends. They are the people who have long buttressed his music, allowing him to have a career. It’s their floors he slept on during early tours, their comments he reads on social media and their faces he’ll see again one day.
“I feel very hopeful for the future,” Carrabba says. “I actually feel hopeful I’ll see more of [my fans] in the regular world, which is a strange thing to say during a very divisive moment in American history. But I am looking forward to be out in the mix of people that also feel hopeful after many years of not.”
To help stay connected with fans (and perhaps stave off cabin fever), Carrabba recently released a cover of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” and has partnered with a canned wine company, Canvino, which any concertgoer drinking wine in a plastic cup may appreciate. These are but two of Carrabba’s many creative pursuits. Indeed, it’s the constant pursuit of creativity that he enjoys most in his career. It’s the sign of a mind always at work, staying curious and hungry.
“If you want to keep trying,” Carrabba says, “you’ll never stop having things that challenge you. If you’re a true music fan, a die-hard, which I consider myself to be, then that voracious appetite is never truly satisfied.”