In February, fans of Dashboard Confessional were ecstatic with the release of the band’s first album in almost a decade, “Crooked Shadows.” It was a time of celebration for the band, a return to the music, but for frontman Chris Carrabba, it was also a time of pain.
On Valentine’s Day, a former student walked onto the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland with an AR-15. He shot scores of students, teachers and staff, killing 17. Carrabba knew the school well—he went to high school at neighboring Boca High and was at the MSD campus often to see friends.
For the teacher-turned-musician, South Florida isn’t a far away place where people vacation. He moved to the city at 16, fell into the music crowd, then worked at two elementary schools before pursuing music full time. He’s performed under the name of the band or as a solo artist, becoming the poster boy for emo and teen angst.
“I immediately fell in with the music scene that was vibrant and accepting and challenging and, honestly, very skilled,” he said. “It turned me into the musician that I am today and the person I am today. I feel like if I never moved to Florida, I wouldn’t have become the person I am.”
The first line of “Heart Beat Here,” the second single off the new album, is, “Come on home and let yourself heal.” And on May 16, Carrabba is coming home. He will be performing a benefit concert #ParklandStrong with New Found Glory—who are MSD alums—and Ryan Key of Yellowcard.
Carrabba was kind enough to spare a few minutes to talk with Boca mag while he was on the road promoting his latest album.
What connection do you have to MSD?
I dated a girl that went to Douglas, so I spent time there, and then of course my friends in New Found Glory went there. Years later, I have friends that are teachers there. This is not my first experience with a school shooting or meeting victims of a school shooting
About 10 years after Columbine, there was another shooting about an hour from there and the victims’ families very shortly after that—I mean, the next week they came to our show. It was astonishing that they have the feeling that they wanted to celebrate, because they had all bought tickets to that show and several of them were killed. I just remember thinking, this can’t happen again, it won’t. And look at us now. This is my viewpoint, I don’t think we’ve seen youth activism like this since the Vietnam War and I believe these kids—and they are kids, they’re children, they’re extraordinary and they’re still kids—they are going to affect that change that is needed. They’ll either succeed now or they’re destined for activism for the reason of their lives.
With your history of teaching, you know what it’s like to be responsible for the care of children.
Absolutely, and the the truth is that [mass shootings are] just so massively avoidable. I don’t think that you can completely mitigate the situation of somebody wanting to harm other people; you can’t eradicate that but you can mitigate it. And it just takes common sense. I’ll be honest with you, I like to shoot guns. I go to firing ranges but I don’t use any automatic weapons and I feel no thrill or need to do that. I think it doesn’t seem to be something that is imperative, that’s commiserate with the right to bear arms. I think there can be commonsense. There would have been so many less victims if weaponry like that was impossible to get their hands on it, and it should be. Now that being said, I believe in the right to bear arms. But I heavily believe even more in commonsense.
How did the benefit concert come to be?
Let’s give all credit to the New Found Glory guys. They immediately called me maybe the day after and said let’s do it. I’m sure I would have done something as well, but they jumped immediately into action. They’re incredible people, they are activists in their own quiet way, and they believe in using whatever soap box they have for good and we are alike in that way and I was happy to be invited and i said yes immediately. These are my best friends and to do this together with them makes it all the more meaningful. But certainly it’s not about any of us. Frankly I feel like we’re all just there so we can collect people, we’re just providing them a spot to be together.
At the show, you’ll be performing an acoustic set, do you have anything special planned?
Honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t know what the spirit of that audience will be, so I’m planning nothing until I can feel what they feel. I think that’s the only way to do it.
Your early music has resonated with the emo scene for nearly two decades. Why is that?
I don’t really know! Except, I think if you write something, like, I hate to sound so generic, if you write something you honestly mean, people can connect with that sentiment. I don’t think people want to hear fluff, I think they want to hear something that is true.
You’ve played songs like “Screaming Infidelities” countless times over the years, does it ever get old?
I never feel like that, I never feel like it’s old, every night the audience brings something new. And sometimes it is whatever they bring, sometimes it’s a time machine and I’m right back where I was when I wrote it, or further back to the life experience which lead to it. Songs are a living thing, they just keep evolving and they have resonate to who you are right now.
What are some of your favorite haunts when you’re in town?
Lion & Eagle Pub is my home away from home. Right next door to that is V&S Deli, which is the single best—now I travel the world—the single best deli in the world. And then down to Fort Lauderdale, Poorhouse is another place for me where I feel like it’s a mainstay for me. I feel very comfortable there; I love the people that are there.
Chris Carrabba will be playing at #ParklandStrong with New Found Glory and Ryan Key of Yellowcard on May 16 at the Pompano Beach Amphitheater, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano. Get your tickets here.
(Photo of Chris Carrabba by David Bean)