Despite Dashboard Confessional’s status as one of the most beloved rock bands of the new millennium, Chris Carrabba believes their success has come from luck. “We’ve done it all without ever having a proper hit,” Carrabba says over the phone from Nashville. Carrabba never thought that there could be a hits compilation either, but he did reach the stage in his career where it was possible. “At this stage of my career, I can assess my own work and make some choices, if I had some help,” he says. That help came from fans. He also thought a compilation could serve as “an invitation, song by song, for people who have only listened to a little bit, or never listened to us at all.”
Then, The Best Ones of The Best Ones was born: a love letter to the longevity of Dashboard Confessional and to the fans who have remained devoted for over two decades. With Best Ones, Carrabba tells the history of the band through 20 pivotal tracks including “Hands Down,” “Screaming Infidelities, “The Best Deceptions” and more.
Since its formation in 1999, Dashboard Confessional has released seven albums in addition to the recent comp. Over the past two decades, frontman Carrabba has, for many people, become the face of emo, as Dashboard Confessional’s music remains a source of catharsis for its listeners. He still isn’t fully sure why they’ve become so comforting to people, but he has a few guesses: “Maybe they can feel the honesty of intention in the song. Maybe that gives them a chance to have a little ownership, to take themselves as the person in the song. And then they too can feel that catharsis.” He also believes there’s a universality that stems from Dashboard Confessional’s songs, even though they’re specific to his own life experience.
In addition to Dashboard Confessional, Carrabba also has his folk-rock project Twin Forks and is a founding member of Further Seems Forever. And when he’s not focused on his own projects, he’s supporting rising artists in the indie rock and emo space like Julien Baker and pronoun, for instance. “From the get go, I felt like this, some sense of responsibility, but mostly just excitement, to share bands I believe in that [fans] hadn’t heard yet,” says Carrabba.
However, when Carrabba is making music he doesn’t think in terms of his specific bands or projects. “I think every songwriter lives in fear that the last song they wrote will be the last song that they’ll ever write,” he says. “And so, I live in hope that there’ll be another song. And if you were to ask me, ‘Do I want it to be a Further [Seems Forever] song or a Dashboard [Confessional] song or Twin Forks song,’ I want it to be all of them. But I’ll take any one that comes down the line.”
With the release of Dashboard Confessional’s The Best Ones of The Best Ones compilation, Carrabba reflects back on his favorite songs and hits.
That song is a strange thing. It can have effects on me that are completely unpredictable. I can be playing the song and sometimes I just take on what I feel is like the emotional undercurrent of the audience, what they’re feeling. And I can almost sense what it’s about to them. But I couldn’t verbalize it. And so, I’m having a moment where it’s being sung to me, where I’m listening to it. There’s times where it applies to who I am right now, in subject matter. There’s times where I am standing on stage, and in the sense memory of it, I’m right there at the Unplugged. There’s times where I’m in the van, parked in the lot where I wrote this song. And then there’s times where it’s like all the way back to the life experience that led me to write the song. So it’s a very fruitful song in that regard. If it wasn’t that, I could see how people would get tired of playing any song for a long time, for many years. But because of that experience I have with my music where it vacillates between so many different sources of emotional response and brings me to so many different places from night to night, the song remains unfinished. The songs remain unfinished.
I have no idea why it became an anthem, [but] I’m so glad it did. I really don’t know. I’m better off not knowing. But it is one. It just feels ferociously potent. It’s so full of shared emotion and that is a unique thing. It’s not just like having a big old hooky catchy hit song. It’s like having an emotionally supercharged shared moment. I think a surprising fact I would learn as I had more and more life experiences as the years go by, you have plenty more best dates. It’s impossible to choose the one. But it is sort of a measuring stick by which I can compare other best dates. And so, sometimes when I’m singing that song, it really is about that day, that night, that party, that walk to her house, and the literal inspiration and experience for that song. And sometimes it’s about who she and I are now, and how many incredible moments we’ve had.
“The Best Deceptions”
Here’s the thing with “The Best Deceptions”: If you read the lyrics, they might read as a condemnation of your significant other’s choices or behaviors. But to me, it’s a song about how fiercely I wanted to hold on, and how begrudgingly I let go. And so, the, “Kiss me hard, this will the last time that I let you,” it’s not to say this is a punishment to you. It really is a punishment to me. It wasn’t set out to be hurtful to the other person in the song. It was to be hurtful enough to me that I could be empowered to begin to let go of something that was clearly gone. And as is the case often, you’re the last one to know, or the last one to let yourself know that something’s over.
I would say that that song, along with “Dusk and Summer,” to me, are the centerpieces of that record. I basically wrote the whole song playing drums. It’s kind of an unusual way to provide a vocal melody. I was thinking about ends and beginnings, the lasting effect of life experience, how it’s perpetual. I was thinking about, very specifically, the beach town that I had lived in, and the kind of disparity between the haves and have-nots, and I kind of was on the latter end of that spectrum. And the thing was, you weren’t allowed entry into, say, the parties of the people that had money and grand life experience. And there was moonlighting going on in there. Like, ‘I don’t belong here, but god, it’s beautiful.’ But it’s like I don’t want to belong here. I don’t mean living in the past. I mean living in the now. Like making sure you’re present to let the life experience at hand really resonate in the now.
“Swiss Army Romance” and “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most”
I really like that those two songs take, midway through the songs, I sort of realize I’m not blameless. And I hang myself up on the hook. And I like that. I’m often misperceived, I think, as just sad. But I’m just introspective. And I think those [songs] show that I’m far from perfect and I’m far from blameless in this situation.
“Ghost of a Good Thing”
[This] is one that means a lot to me because, well, I like the song, but also, it’s the version I recorded on my little four-track in my laundry room in my building. And we just could never make it better. And there’s something I like about the fact that that’s a magical little moment that just never could be replicated quite as well, even when we had a few bucks to afford a good microphone.
“Heart Beat Here”
To me, it’s like a present-day analog to “Hands Down.” In “Hands Down,” you’ve got two very young people discovering their very earliest feelings, and most powerful, very, very powerful feelings of love and chance, and possibility. And then “Heart Beat Here” is adults understanding how to take real love and apply it as grownups and how profoundly important it is to support each other in each other’s dreams and endeavors. And that expression of love is very different than just possibility. Whereas “Hands Down” is about the moment that kicked it off, “Heart Beat Here” is about remaining in love, and what it takes to do that in a relationship that’s well past its early days, but still vital and enthralling. And emotionally paramount to you, to me, to us. It doesn’t hurt that it’s about the same girl, either. You know what I mean?