Pompano Beach indie-rocker Chris Carrabba, whose humbly emotive music has taken his band Dashboard Confessional around the world, is returning to South Florida for a free concert on Aug. 29, his head spinning with new, mysterious inspiration and, at a time of great personal loss, his heart again worn prominently on his intensely tattooed sleeve.
Dashboard Confessional last week completed a North American tour of more than 60 shows in 2017, and September will bring concerts in Indonesia and Australia. Not bad for a band that hasn’t released an album of original material since 2009’s “Alter the Ending.”
That soon will the change, says Carrabba, estimating that he has written dozens of new songs, many already recorded and awaiting post-production tweaks. He can’t say when the album will be released — conversations with labels are ongoing — but he will say that this music marks a comeback for the kind of passionate, idealistic songwriting that filled Dashboard’s breakout albums “The Swiss Army Romance” and “The Places You Have Come To Fear the Most,” releases that helped define “emo” as a musical genre.
“It reminds me a lot of the way I wrote the songs — with a sense of urgency, in a van, in front of the building complex I lived in in Pompano — the summer before college,” Carrabba says. “I would go to Davie to my friend James — James Wisner, who would go on to become a very big producer [New Found Glory, Paramore], but at the time was a dude with a closet and a microphone — and I would record my songs there, without any expectation that anybody other than he or I or the few people that we would play those songs for would ever hear them.”
The former Boca High and Florida Atlantic University student, raised on a steady diet of music from the Cure and Jawbreaker, admits his youthful idealism and appreciation for nonconformity was distorted over the years by “prying eyes” and compromise. He’s not sure how or why he’s been able to rekindle the fire of his younger self in new lyrics and melodies.
“The way I express myself is still sort of a mystery. I don’t try to decode it,” he says. “My first couple of records, I knew, sounded and felt good. This one, I know, sounds and feels good.”
Carrabba was speaking from his place in Nashville, a few days after the Dashboard tour ended, but already looking forward to a free Fillmore Miami Beach performance on Tuesday, Aug. 29. (“I hate not playing shows,” he says.) The concert is part of the four-city Ford Front Row series, a partnership between Billboard magazine and the automaker. Admission is free with an RSVP at Billboard.com/FordFrontRow. Los Angeles folk-pop band the Mowgli’s are the opening act.
Carrabba still has a home in Pompano Beach and plans to arrive several days before the concert to meet with local friends to remember the life of Mike Hurley, dynamic frontman for the straight-edge punk band Tension and an integral organizer of the burgeoning South Florida music scene in the 1990s. Hurley, 45, died on July 18, two days before Carrabba lost another friend, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.
Each musician was chased by personal demons. Each died by his own hand.
Bennington was “not just a great artist but a great person, and a great voice for people who deal with addiction and depression,” Carrabba says. “I deal with depression. I thankfully don’t deal with addiction. He was empowering to those of us that felt a little bit, maybe embarrassed is how we feel? It was empowering to see somebody with such a powerful singing voice — frankly a superstar in our medium — to come out and say, ‘I deal with these struggles, and yet I’m happy.’ And that is the thing that people don’t understand. I’m a very happy person, even though I deal with anxiety.”
Carrabba says Bennington “had big, wide arms, you know what I mean? He could embrace everybody. Even if it was just the brief times we had together, he let me feel like I knew him well. I don’t know that I did, but he let me feel that way. … I’m having a lot of trouble with the idea that I won’t ever see him again.”
A GUIDING HAND
With Hurley at the helm, Pompano Beach-based Tension had a five-year run in the mid ’90s distinguished by live shows that drew a loyal army of admirers, the revered 1994 EP “The Sickness of Our Age” and an album, “Agent of the People” (Uprising Records), recorded in 1996.
Tension was named Best New Band at the 1994 South Florida Slammie Awards, an annual salute to local music that drew more than 1,200 people to the Edge in Fort Lauderdale. Tension performed on a bill that included headliner and Band of the Year Slammie winner Marilyn Manson, Miami’s the Holy Terrors and Load, Fort Lauderdale’s Jack Off Jill and West Palm Beach’s Raped Ape.
While Hurley did not achieve Bennington-level fame, his influence is imprinted on several South Florida bands with international prominence. Both as a performer and a “guiding hand,” Hurley took young musicians under his wing, Carrabba says, and empowered them with confidence and knowledge, from teaching them how to make an effective flier to adding them to his gigs at the local VFW hall.
“There’s a few people you come across in your life, right? I don’t think we’d be talking on the phone today about my music, because I wouldn’t be making music, if I had never crossed paths with him,” Carrabba says. “There’s a direct line that goes from Mike Hurley through [Carrabba’s original band] Further Seems Forever into Dashboard over to Marilyn Manson to New Found Glory and many, many more bands. Glasseater, Shai Hulud, many bands from that scene grew up thinking, ‘Now, that’s what a frontman does. And that’s what a scene leader does.’ ”
Tom Bowker booked punk and hardcore shows in South Florida in the mid ’90s and calls Hurley a “linchpin” in that evolving scene.
“Mike was a very intense, very fun guy to be around. He had lots of onstage charisma,” Bowker says. “Tension at one point in the early, mid ’90s [was] among the most popular bands in South Florida ... 300 kids would regularly come out.”
Carrabba says he and Hurley kept tabs on each other over the years, acknowledging that Hurley could be difficult to be around when he was drinking.
“He was a very kind person, obviously a troubled person,” Carrabba says. “In the couple years since I’ve seen him, from our common friends, I know that he was in a good place. That was what made it such a bit of a shock. We thought our friend had conquered his demons.”
Hurley, who was living in Vero Beach when he died, won a war with drugs that started back in his playing days and was holding his own in an ensuing battle with alcohol, according to his mother, Penelope Hurley, of Vero Beach. He had been sober for more than two years, was a respected member of his Alcoholics Anonymous group and had been making plans to get married, she says.
Hurley’s girlfriend, Sue Myerjack, remembers Mike Hurley as “the most loving and kind person ever. He was far too good for this world.”
Calling his death “totally devastating,” Penelope Hurley says her son was trying to find himself at the end. He channeled his creative energy into painting miniatures devoted to the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons.
“He was an extremely talented artist. Michael would build whole villages, painted to absolute perfection, and all the figures that went with it, down to painting with one hair of a paintbrush,” Penelope Hurley says. “The work is totally exquisite. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it all.”
Dashboard Confessional will perform 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave. The Mowgli’s are the opening act at 8 p.m. Admission is free with an RSVP at Billboard.com/FordFrontRow.