It’s more than a feeling for Dashboard Confessional
Chris Carrabba is down to earth, but he’s not exactly ordinary.
Taylor Swift counts him as an influence. Jimmy Iovine, the record business giant, once implied that his impact could rival Eminem’s. He’s toured with U2.
Between 2001 and 2006, as lead singer-songwriter for Dashboard Confessional, Carrabba made three gold records, writing songs like “Hands Down” and “Screaming Infidelities” that became millennial equivalents of “American Pie” or “Go Your Own Way.” He made a classic MTV “Unplugged” when doing so held cultural cachet. He was the face of emo at its cultural peak. He is, if such a thing still exists, a rock star.
When reached for a chat with the Globe, however, in advance of a show Friday at the House of Blues, the 42-year-old wasn’t jet-setting with Bono. He was riding to his next show in a van full of strangers. Happily.
“We’re driving through Manitoba, admiring the prairies,” he says. “It looks like Texas, but everybody’s in galoshes instead of cowboy boots.”
Carrabba needed a lift after both axles blew off Dashboard Confessional’s trailer amid the Canadian swing of the tour behind “Crooked Shadows,” the band’s first album in nine years. He’s toured in the interim, with Dashboard and the Americana band Twin Forks, but “Crooked Shadows” marks the return of Carrabba as a subject of cultural intrigue. GQ, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times: These and more marquee media have recently waxed nostalgic for the ways in which he conveyed a new kind of interior angst at Dashboard’s pinnacle.
Still, Carrabba just isn’t the kind of celebrity who elevates himself above strangers, and he’s not about to let broken trailer axles cancel a show.
“The most important thing is playing tonight,” Carrabba says. “I’m going to make it because these people helped out.”
Carrabba’s comfort with strangers isn’t feigned. It was cultivated as a teen in south Florida’s punk and hardcore scene, where newcomers were treated like family and inclusion was sacrosanct.
“Our scene was racially diverse and pretty evenly split down the gender line,” he remembers. “Every faith seemed to be represented there, or people without faith. It was OK to be a bisexual or gay or lesbian or transgender teen there when it wasn’t elsewhere. Everybody was encouraged to be who they were.”
This cross-pollination meant that musical expression took myriad forms. Before Carrabba broke through with Dashboard’s acoustic torch songs, he fronted the punk band Vacant Andys and the intricate rock troupe Further Seems Forever, forged from the ashes of the Christian hardcore band Strongarm. An early Dashboard tour saw Carrabba open for Snapcase, which is more or less the equivalent of James Taylor splitting the bill with Pantera. Unironically.
“I still haven’t played a coffee shop,” Carrabba says, laughing. “Hardcore was the circuit for my friendships and booking shows. I was doing something different, but I knew I was doing it in a safe place. Hardcore kids never get credit for their breadth of musical taste.”
Carrabba’s concerts at the time were a wonder to behold: Young people with sleeves of tattoos, prolific piercings, dyed hair, and mosh pit bruises gathered around the dashing punk rocker and his Gibson to sing loudly about summer kisses and broken hearts, “breathing deeply from envelopes” and what it feels like to be a “trophy display of bruises.” These early shows had the gravitas of gospel performance: Kids left with raspy voices, smiling and less afraid to outwardly purge internal tumult.
The moment was right. At the turn of this century, rock music was being sucked dry by “post-grunge” bands like Creed, giving mainstream listeners the option of Britney Spears and little else. Into the void stepped Dashboard, My Chemical Romance, the Used, Taking Back Sunday, Jimmy Eat World, and more: bands rife with sensitive, edgy-seeming white males, primarily, who could conjure pop’s theatricality while retaining a sheen of underground purity. “Emo,” an umbrella term for these acts and prior waves of sensitive punk dating back to the ’80s, in Washington, D.C., could now pack arenas.
Carrabba rode this wave for nearly a decade, becoming a permanent fixture in the cultural firmament. Then he stepped back, moved to Nashville, wrote for other pop stars, and waited until he had something meaningful to say as Dashboard.
He found it, nine years later, in the form of anthemic songs like “We Fight,” “Belong,” and “Be Alright,” work from “Crooked Shadows” that’s the most hi-fi pop that Carrabba’s produced. He turned his inward gaze outward, mining the ways in which strangers, friends, and lovers lean on one another instead of returning to the baying sigh of a single broken heart.
“We earned what we could from the ground up, and we tried to lift the whole damn crowd up,” Carrabba sings on “We Fight.”
“Crooked Shadows” was released on Feb. 9, and less than a week later 17 students and teachers were gunned down at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., not far from where Carrabba lived in his teens. In the ’90s, a former girlfriend was a student there, as were Carrabba’s longtime friends Jordan Pundik and Ian Grushka of pop punk titans New Found Glory. Another friend lost a daughter in the massacre.
Without meaning to, Carrabba had written songs — especially “We Fight,” imploring the “bleeding and battered” to never go quietly — that dovetail with the real-time empowerment and protest exhibited by the student survivors and supporters who participated in March for Our Lives demonstrations last weekend.
“These kids are as savvy as any generation has ever been,” Carrabba says. On May 16, the songwriter will perform in Pompano Beach alongside New Found Glory and Yellowcard’s William Ryan Key to benefit the families of those injured or killed in the shooting. “These kids are saying, ‘We need your help. You need to save us.’ That’s powerful.”
Carrabba seemed to be communing with a younger version of himself: the populist forged in punk rock idealism not far from Parkland.
“The next wave of leaders need to be honing their chops now,” he says. “These songs are a reminder that there are things worth standing up for.”
At House of Blues, Boston, March 30 at 5:30 p.m. Tickets $33-$53, www.ticketmaster.com