Chris Carrabba on Reuniting Further Seems Forever: Making Music is ‘Much More Precious’ Now – Exclusive Interview
More than a decade ago, singer-songwriter Chris Carrabba left the band Further Seems Forever, and before long, his career exploded with Dashboard Confessional. In his absence, Further Seems Forever continued on, enlisting two subsequent singers before finally calling it a day back in 2006.
As Carrabba’s raw, emotional, heart-on-sleeve approach to music brought him mainstream success, he always felt he had some unfinished business with his old friends. Further Seems Forever reconvened for a show in 2005, and that provided the necessary spark to keep the flame alive. In 2010, the band announced their official reunion and have been working on the follow-up to their 2001 release ‘The Moon Is Down' ever since. ‘Penny Black,’ due out tomorrow (Oct. 23), picks up where the band left off, promising a bright future.
Although Carrabba still has Dashboard Confessional to contend with, he has committed to a run of tour dates with Further Seems Forever and seems to be reinvigorated by creating new music with his best friends. Diffuser.fm caught up with him to get all the details.
It sounds like it was the reunion shows that initially brought everyone back together. How did those few shows evolve into the band staying together and recording a new disc?
I think that’s pretty true. That is what happened, essentially. We got together to do these shows. Actually, what happened first is that we got together just to mess around and play music because ... that’s just what we do. We didn’t have any grand design to do any shows. We just liked to play music now and again together.
For a long time, we couldn’t play together, because I was in Dashboard Confessional, and Further Seems Forever was a band with a new singer, and then another singer after that. By the end of that run, there was only one original member left in the band, touring-wise, anyway. So we didn’t really feel like it was our band. We might have done it sooner if we felt that we could, because I love these guys, and these are my closest friends. We’re together anyway, with or without guitars.
We would mess around and play music and occasionally play Further Seems Forever songs, but we didn’t have the attitude that we were playing to go play shows. After a couple of years of messing around about 10 times a year or so, those reunion shows came up, and we decided we were going to do them. But once we were learning ‘The Moon Is Down’ songs, during the course of that, all of a sudden, all these new ideas just started. It’s just the way we started as a new band all those years ago. We got in a room together, and we wrote a song, and the next time you get together to rehearse that song, and a new idea would spring up, so you’d chase that, and suddenly you have three songs, then 10 songs, and that’s just what happened on this run. Those reunion shows just got us together seriously, and originally, we were quickly learning the songs and thought, "Maybe we’ll do an EP," and every time we thought we had enough songs to do one EP or two EPs we just kept writing. Suddenly, it’s a full-length.
You’ve said that after the initial fallout when you left Further Seems Forever, you remained friends with the band but couldn’t figure out how to be close friends when you were in a band together. What has changed this time around? Do you feel like you’ve just all matured a little bit?
I think we’ve all matured, and I think that the opportunity to make music is much more precious to us now. When you’re younger, you take it all for granted, and now that we haven’t played music together for all this time, I think we look at it as a rare thing, and we understand it more. Everybody wants to be in a band, and we get to be. It’s incredible.
You’ve been writing and recording for Dashboard Confessional for so many years now, what was the transition like going back to writing and recording with the Further Seems Forever guys? Was there a transition period?
It was seamless. With Dashboard Confessional, I just write a song. I write it until it’s done, and then I put it in a pile of songs, and eventually a record appears. With Further Seems Forever, we get into the same room, and we chase the muse all together. Sometimes we walk in with no ideas and leave with a whole song, and sometimes we walk in with 10 ideas and leave with nothing. It’s a combination of these people -- you’re really writing to get the other guys excited. This band is a funny combination. We’re all in competition for two things: to make each other laugh really hard and to make each other react with astonishment to music. It’s like a constant goal and a one-upmanship that we’re all trying to do. We all want to be the guy that makes everybody else laugh; we all want to write the part that makes everybody else go, "Holy s---!" So it’s very spirited. It’s more reactive; maybe one of us will walk in with a part of a song, and it’s the rest of our reactions to whoever brought in the part. It’s that moment that shapes what’s coming up.
‘Black Penny’ is due out on Oct. 23. Obviously Further Seems Forever has their own fanbase, but for music fans who know you primarily through Dashboard Confessional, what would you tell them about the disc and this band?
That’s a good question. It’s not Dashboard Confessional, but I do think if you like DC, you may or may not like Further. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll like FSF, but I do think that if you like Dashboard there’s probably some chance that you’ll probably see what I see in the music that we make together. The same reason I get excited about the music these guys write might be the same reason Dashboard fans get excited about FSF songs.
You’ve said the band coming back together and writing and recording ‘Penny Black’ was closure for all of you. Can you explain what you meant by that?
We felt like we had unfinished business as a group of writers together, especially since we remained friends after that initial rocky period, that didn’t last very long, after I left the band. It really only lasted a couple of months, and then we were close friends again. I think the five of us left a big wide-open door when we made ‘The Moon Is Down.’ We all had visions for what the next record would be. Now, of course, three of the five of us went on to make another record, and then some of the three of those guys went on to make even another record, so they kept moving forward, but I think as a group, the five of us had left this big wide gap.
We had this intention of making more music together, and it never happened. As a matter of fact I think that the last three songs that we wrote for ‘The Moon Is Down’ are sort of indicative of where the band might go, and we were really excited about that. They were the most different on the record. I’m referring to the title track and ‘A New Desert Life.' They pointed to where we were going but never went there because we weren’t a band anymore. So I think there’s some closure in that now we’ve fulfilled and scratched that itch that we had for so long.
Watching the video for ‘So Cold,’ the first thing that struck me was watching you rock out at the mic without a guitar in hand. In the live environment, how does it feel for you to put down the guitar and focus all your energy on being the frontman? Are you excited by it, or do you miss having that old friend slung over your shoulder?
Absolutely looking forward to it. As a matter of fact, I play a lot of guitar on the record, and the guys wanted me to play guitar live, but part of my love for this band is that I get to feel untethered by a guitar. When I play guitar, I’m stuck at the center of the stage near the mic stand and can’t move around as much as I’d like. I love that feeling of no guitar in hand. Even though I love to play guitar, being able to move around and get closer to the audience. I love that opportunity.
The first song we heard from the reunited Further Seems Forever was ‘So Cold.’ Was there a particular reason you chose that track to reintroduce the band to the music masses?
I don’t think we had any grand design, thinking, "This is the song," because I don’t think we’re going to be on the radio or anything like that, so it wasn’t about picking a hit song. It was far from it. We are attached to that song because it sprung out of a void. We thought we were done with the record, and we were actually playing through the new songs for fun, and Josh started playing that intro riff, and this is very rare for Further, that by the end of that practice, we actually had an entire song. I think the organic nature of that song made us feel like that it was a culmination of all that work, that one finally poured out naturally fully cooked.
So we thought that was a nice moment for us. It was very indicative of the fact that we really are a band now. If it just pours out like that, without laboring over it, suddenly we have a song where there was no song earlier in the night. I don’t know about other bands; in Dashboard that happened, but in FSF, that just never happens. So that was the reason we felt it was a great song for us. It really tells a story for us and for ourselves.
The label, I think they just heard a specific narrative within the song that they thought would be compelling. I think there might even be catchier songs on the disc if that’s what we were going for, but ‘So Cold’ has a unifying nature for the record, and I think that’s what we were chasing.
‘Janie’ is a hauntingly beautiful tune that closes out the disc. Can you tell me where that song sprang from?
After we wrote ‘So Cold,’ we were nearly done with the record. We probably had enough to be done, but we were really excited about that feeling that I just described, and how it sprung out of nowhere and the rarity of it for this band. We kind of were hoping it would happen again. Josh wrote this beautiful guitar line. We were at the studio, and he picked up one of my acoustic guitars. Josh has this phenomenal touch with the guitar. I’ve really never heard any other guitar player like him. He just makes the thing sing. He came up with this progression, and I kind of freaked out. It was so touching and beautiful. I heard the whole melody and the whole song, and I think I even heard the whole story just in that phrasing, the simple 16 bars he was playing. Then we sort of just labored over the fact that it was on an acoustic guitar, because I was little nervous that it was Dashboard territory, and that they would think that I had written it. I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s Josh’s song. So we thought about doing it on electric guitars and making it a heavier song, but ultimately, we came to the conclusion that the song worked because it works. Why deny that moment just because people might incorrectly think that I wrote it, or that it’s ‘Dashboard-y? If you’ll forgive that term. So we got brave enough to say this is the song and we’re going to do record it as is.
Well I’m glad you did.
I am, too, because it’s a really different moment for us, but I think it’s one that encapsulates the strengths of the band in a way that I wouldn’t have expected.
You mentioned Josh [Colbert] and how great he is on guitar. I think it’s important to point out the overall musicianship that surrounds you in this band.
Its bananas. These kids [Josh Colbert and Nick Dominguez on guitars, Chad Neptune on bass, Steve Kleisath on drums] are sick. It’s all pretty much from the hip, too. These are not educated musicians, like some of the musicians I’ve played with in the past. I think they come from another planet or something, the way they interpret music. It’s so bizarre. I’ve never worked with anyone like them before.
Talk to me about the decision to produce the disc as well.
I produced it with a guy named Mike Fanuele and a guy named Jonathan Clark, successively. I think that was a big deal for this project because we had work with James [Paul Wisner] on ‘The Moon Is Down’ and the EP, and they worked with James on all the other records that they made, too. Then I worked with James for the first two Dashboard records. So the first inclination was let’s go to James, which would have been great. It would have been cohesive and sort of attached the record sonically to the other records in a different way, but then we began to think that that might be the reason not to. It might appear as if we’re trying too hard to sound like the band we were, so we decided that I would produce it.
I didn’t vie for that job. The guys kind of petitioned me to do it. I was entirely uncomfortable with that. I like to produce other bands' records, but if I’m in the band, I find it more educational, rewarding and expansive on the ideas to have somebody else with a fresh take produce it. But because it was collaboration across the board, I did have more insight. It wasn’t like I had written the songs from start to finish; I was still in a position where I could produce the record without it being redundant.
FSF is heading out on a short run of tour dates. What can fans expect from the set list? Will you stick to only the material that you wrote and recorded with them, with a focus on the new disc?
We’re going to play the whole ‘The Moon Is Down’ and the EPs we recorded together and definitely ‘The Sound,’ which I love to sing, even though it’s not one of mine. It’s a Jason song. I’m trying to convince the band to play ‘Light Up Ahead,’ but for some reason, we haven’t learned it yet, and I won’t say why, but I’m all for it. And then I think we’ll still have time to play a handful of new songs. We all want to play the whole new record, but at the same time, we all hate to go to shows and see a band we love play their whole new record, so I would say as long as we play every song that we wrote before this record, we’re allowed to play a handful of new songs. And for the first time, I think we have a full-length set in terms of time. Our record was short; I think it was 40 minutes, so the most we ever had was 45 minutes of music. Even when we did those reunion sets, we padded that set, trying to make it turn into an hour somehow. We’ve been practicing, though, and we’re steady at 80 to 90 minutes.
Watch Further Seems Forever's New Video For 'So Cold'