Don’t ask Chris Carrabba why his band Dashboard Confessional is making a comeback. Never mind the fact that he and his outfit have been on a self-imposed hiatus for the past six years and that they haven’t had a tour or a new album since late in the last decade.
“How can you call it a comeback when we never went away,” he replies, as if the very thought that the band was finished is absurd. “It’s a return. That’s the term we’ve been using, because we never disbanded. We’re not reuniting, but we are returning.”
It’s not that Carrabba has been inactive in the interim. Far from it, in fact. In 2010, he did a solo tour to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Dashboard Confessional’s first album, The Swiss Army Romance. He also started a new band, Twin Forks, a side project of sorts that veers into more acoustic terrain. In addition, he’s been writing new material, and he notes with pride that his song “Beautiful Life” was chosen by American Idol winner Nick Fradiani to clinch his victory.
Nevertheless, it seems odd that a band that was so successful for the better part of a decade, beginning in 2000, would opt to give itself a years-long break after releasing six successful albums and numerous emo anthems that won them legions of fans as well as ongoing critical kudos.
“There’s a little hyperbole, but not much,” the former Boca Raton homeboy insists. “From the time we started, and even when I was doing solo shows, we were doing about 300 shows a year. If there wasn’t a show, there was a travel day to some other country or hemisphere. So at the end of our last tour, we had a meeting. We felt it had gone really well and we were really proud of it. It was kind of like a top-of-the-mountain moment. We were astonished at how far we’d come. We weren’t there yet, but it was obvious to us that, at some point soon, we were going to be susceptible to falling into that trap where we would be up there performing the songs as opposed to being in the songs. I believe our whole reason for success was that our fanbase believed that everything we were doing was coming from an honest place, and I felt that if there was any hint that we were were phoning it in, that would be it. It would only take one tour, and that would be that. So we thought, Is it professionally wise to step away? Financially wise to step away? Could we ignore the need to stay in that all-important public eye? No. But it ending for good because we didn’t listen to our guts was a lot worse to us than risking that. So that’s what we did. We walked away.”
Still, the offers kept coming, and yet Dashboard Confessional refused to reverse course. “We kept asking ourselves, Are we ready to go back out? And the answer that kept coming back was No, we are not.”
Last summer, the band relented and opted for a one-off headlining gig at Riotfest. “We were very surprised at how well we went down,” Carrabba recalls. “It was illuminating, the way the audience sang along, had all that passion, and it also had this air of fantastic celebration that I wasn’t expecting. We walked off stage and kind of reveled in it, but we didn’t make any plans and didn't try to get ahead of ourselves. It was terrific. So the calls, which had never stopped, were now coming in full force. So we got together to see if anybody was ready to say yes to start working together again, and it turned out everybody was ready to say yes, and I was ready to say yes.”
With a slight shift in the lineup — drummer Mike Marsh wasn’t available because of commitments with the Avett Brothers and guitarist John Lefler had time to do only part of the tour — the band approached a return to playing live with reignited enthusiasm.
“Individually, we never stopped making music, but we were doing it on a much smaller level, which gave us opportunity to interact with our fanbase, conversationally, as opposed to ‘Yes, I’ll sign your album,'” Carrabba explains. “It was really rejuvenating, like it had been in the old days. That really helped me to say yes, and it made me think that if we do this, we still need to come up with a way to connect with our fans. So we do a show within a show, where we invite something like 100 people a night to join us beforehand and I do an acoustic show and hang out and enjoy their company.”
But even though he seems to have been refreshed by Dashboard Confessional’s time away from the stage, Carrabba is aware that he and the band took a real risk in retreating to the sidelines for all those years.
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“I was in a position where I didn’t have to worry about the consequences,” he says. “You gotta dance with who brung ya. I came into this thing saying, ‘This is my ethos,' and if I’m not paying attention to that, I think I would have been in a worse place. It could have turned on us. So now we’re coming back to find we do have an audience. So I’m really grateful, and that’s why we’re determined to be a better version of ourselves than we’ve ever been.”
Dashboard Confessional. With Third Eye Blind. 7 p.m. Saturday, June 6, at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $30.75 to $45.25 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages.