"When I was writing ‘A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’, I didn’t know that it was going to end up having a band on it, I just assumed it would be an acoustic record." - Chris Carrabba.
Today marks 16 years since Dashboard Confessional released 'A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’! Chris Carrabba recently re-recorded and self-released three iconic albums from Dashboard Confessional's history, including 'A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’, as part of his 'Now Is Then Is Now' series.
Rock Sound caught up with Chris to talk about 'A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’, why he decided to re-record and re-release three iconic Dashboard Confessional albums, and how the albums have evolved for him in the years since their original release.
What sparked the idea to start working on ‘Now Is Then Is Now’, and to revisit those songs in such a different light?
Says Chris: “I’ve been on a few labels in my career and have learned a lot from the people at those labels - both business-wise and creativity-wise. Because of that, I’ve tried to remain open to the criticism that I might get from people as I make records and as I make career choices.
"When I was writing ‘A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’, I didn’t know that it was going to end up having a band on it, I just assumed it would be an acoustic record. But then ‘The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most’ took off, and I just looked up one day and I had a band. When I got that band, I started thinking about the songs differently, and so they became the versions that you hear on ‘A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’, using mostly electric guitars.
"I started thinking about what would have happened if I had made that album as an acoustic record like I had originally intended to. While I was thinking about that, I found a box in my basement with the original lyrics to ‘Dusk And Summer’ and ‘Alter The Ending’, and I thought, ‘I guess I’m doing this now.’
"I did it to regain spiritual ownership of those three records and to find what I intended to. I guess I needed a roadmap, back to the start of my career and going forward, to get back to who I wanted to be. I never know whether people will like the songs that I release, but I know myself that recording this project was a good thing. It made me feel unsettled and apprehensive to show people, which is exactly how I felt when I wrote ‘The Swiss Army Romance’ and ‘The Places You Have Come to Fear The Most’, and I had longed to feel that on the records after those.”
With a 20-year history, and seven studio albums to choose from, how did you decide on the albums that you wanted to re-imagine for this project?
“After I had made ‘A Mark, A Mission, A Scar, A Brand’, a major label bought the indie label I was on in order to get that record and my contract. Because of that, when I went to make ‘Dusk Snd Summer’, half of the record ended up being purely resonant with me and my sound, and half became impacted by the constructive and instructive criticism given by that major label.
"I listened to the label because I was young and wanted to learn. They made me change arrangements on that album, and it took a really long time to make. I like making records fast and keeping those natural flaws that occur, I don’t like perfection, but they wanted to make the record more palatable to the masses. In a lot of cases they asked me to change the lyrics from first-person to third-person so that more people could connect with it, but that isn’t how people connect with my music, even though I didn’t realise it at the time.
"Then when ‘Alter The Ending’ came around, the same thing happened, and I made that record three times to try and please everybody. On my early records, I wasn’t trying to please anybody, I was just writing songs without worrying about pleasing suits, but with ‘Alter The Ending’ they had me change almost every lyric.
"I felt increasingly disassociated from those albums, and I started to realise that I don’t have a great experience with this period of my music, and I wanted to because I know that those records are some peoples' favourites. I felt like I wanted to be as connected to these three records as I am with my other work.”
Some of the songs on these albums are nearing 20 years old now. How did it feel to sit down and revisit those emotions and stories?
“It was a motherfucker. You work through shit in life and you’re supposed to grow. No one wants to ruminate on old emotions, that’s just not the human condition - you’re supposed to look for a way forward and escape those feelings. Yet here I was, looking at a bunch of shit that broke me in half and going back to feeling that. It was a fruitful thing, but I wouldn’t have called it fun.
"I made these sessions in my basement, and I had to quit drinking because I would finish, go upstairs and start pounding liquor, thinking it was a nice treat for finishing the day. I soon realised that wasn’t why I was drinking; I was doing it because I was feeling something that was too fucked up to bare. But in a way I think it was good to feel that again.”
When you were re-visiting the albums, did you find that the personal meanings of the songs had changed over time?
“When re-visiting songs you get analytical in a way that you wouldn’t have in the beginning. In the early days, a girl would break your heart and you’d just write a song, but this time I would play the song and I would be thinking about who that girl is to me now and wondering what the situation was like from her perspective. Even though she might have been cruel to me at that time, I wonder how she felt during these songs, because they weren’t put out to punish her.
"There are a few women that I’ve written about throughout my career that I’m lucky to be friends with and in one case, I released a song that was brutally honest and realised I never asked for permission, which is something I later felt bad about. I went to see her one day and I said, ‘I think that maybe I dropped a bomb into your life’, and she just said to me, ‘I’m proud of you, Chris’. I could never imagine a bigger act of kindness.
"We went through a really tough time, and we both had our own ways of getting through it, but she was still proud of me. So, I like to make sure that people know that there’s no villain in these songs, it’s just about how I felt trying to get through these situations. I had that to reflect on when I revisited these songs, and I wondered once again, was I dropping a bomb into these people’s lives. I felt a real compassion for all of the characters in the songs, the girls I was writing about then and the women that they became.”
Prior to this project, Dashboard Confessional had been releasing through Fueled By Ramen, but you made the decision self-release on this. Why did you choose to go down that route?
“With me, these things happen when they happen, there’s no real strategy behind it, just an internal demand that I can’t ignore. But, whilst all of my music is personal, these are especially personal records in the fact that I was trying to correct the whole machine of the music business and how it originally affected those albums.
"Fueled by Ramen are a whole different animal, they are uniquely artist-focused, I can’t go as far as to say that they don’t care about selling records because that’s still their business, but they really care about the artist making the record that they want to make, and if it sells then it sells.
"But in the case of this project, I didn’t really think that it needed the full major label push, and I thought that would be harmful to the records. I want this to be something that people discover organically, not something that’s forced onto their daily playlist.”
You’re going to be re-visiting these songs in a live setting over in the UK and Europe this Autumn. Why did you decide to bring these tracks into such intimate venues?
“I like intimate venues, and we really skipped that step out of our career in Europe. I remember when Dashboard Confessional were being called an ‘overnight success’, but at that point I had been touring 300 days a year for three years. So, a lot of people saw me do what I am coming over to Europe to do, and that’s where I made the strong bond that I have with my audience.
"By the time we started coming to the UK and Europe, we were a pretty big band in the U.S. and that’s the kind of band we thought we were, so I didn’t really do those small-scale acoustic shows. That was a mistake, because those audiences never saw what the heart of Dashboard actually looked like.
"I’m looking at my career differently now, and it doesn’t seem weird to go over and do these stripped back shows. I don’t have to worry about making money or making sure that the production is incredible. This is the kind of experience that is important to have with my fans, certainly for me and hopefully for them.
"It’s never too late to correct a mistake, and I don’t think this will be a one-off thing either. I play a lot of small, acoustic shows in the States and there’s no reason why I can’t do that everywhere. I believe that it’s paramount to what I do.”
Check out the re-recorded, re-released version of Dashboard Confessional's 'A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar’ below: