Interview with Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter

Formerly of The Receiving Ends of Sirens, Casey Crescenzo began crafting material for The Dear Hunter in 2005. A mixture of indie rock/pop and progressive complexity and arrangement, he began the project with the ambition of telling a story through six “acts.” Now halfway through his tale, Casey took some time to talk with DOA’s Jordan Blum about his musical past, present and future.

Did The Dear Hunter begin as a side project to the Receiving End of Sirens? How did the band feel about that and how long after TDH began did you leave Receiving Ends? Why did you leave?

They were always very supportive of what I was into doing creatively. It wasn’t even as much a side project as much as it was just the title I assigned to the non- TREOS related material I wrote when I was home. There was never a desire to release it until the band suggested I show it to more people. The first show I actually played had the rest of TREOS playing the instruments. As far as deciding to leave the band, I never decided to leave. I was asked to leave, and after that happened, I knew I still wanted to pursue music, so I jumped headfirst into the Dear Hunter.

How does the music of the two bands compare? What was the reason to start TDH?

Both bands are pretty into polyphony, but where TREOS uses a lot of synthesis and utilizes primarily the layering of electric guitar and electronic percussion. The idea with the dear hunter was to take that same style of layering, and apply it to other instruments and voices. The reason to start TDH was as I said above – music that was coming out of me with no real outlet.

Did you receive any backlash from fans of Receiving Ends? How has the reception and success been for TDH?

The only real backlash came from the people who believed I left TREOS to start TDH. Other than that everyone was open minded, though I will say as soon as a good lot of TREOS fans heard TDH for the first time they decided it was not for them. It made sense; TDH and TREOS music was total opposites but they were different enough that I was expecting it, and it didn’t upset me. It’s better than them liking The Dear Hunter just because I was in TREOS.

The Band

TDH, while definitely having its own great identity and sound, has been compared to fellow pop/prog acts Coheed & Cambria and The Mars Volta. I can definitely hear a similarity on tracks like “City Escape.” Are you fans of those guys and did they impact your sound? Do you think the comparisons are accurate?

I enjoy The Mars Volta. I wouldn’t say they influence me, but it would be impossible to say what influences me on a subconscious level. I also love King Crimson, early Yes, Weather Report, etc. Those are the bands that inspire me to write Latin rhythms and melodies.

Act I was more of a family effort than the II and III, correct? How did you get your family to be so involved, what parts did they play, and why did they take a back seat after that album?

I wouldn’t say my family took a back seat. I recorded Act I on the west coast, and after I was asked to leave TREOS I moved to an actual apartment on the east cost with my girlfriend. That’s where I recorded Act II and Act III. My family lives on the west coast so it was tough to get them involved. My father did play banjo on Act II. On Act I my mother sang, and my father played keys. My brother played drums, and he still does.

How did you assemble the musicians you used for Act II and Act III?

Very randomly: the internet, friends, friends of friends, etc.

I love overlapping harmonies in music, and you do a great job with that throughout the discography. Tracks like the great “Writing on a Wall” and amazing opener to the whole saga, “Battesimo del Fuoco,” come to mind. How did you arrange those and who exactly sings on them?

As far as arranging vocals, I have the arrangement in my head and then I sing it. On “Battesimo” I sing it all, and on “Writing on a Wall” I sing most of it; the crowd was me and a few of the guys in the band.

How do the three albums of TDH differ in sound and tone/emotion? Which is your favorite and why?

I would like to think that the albums have naturally evolved, and that over time I am learning to close the gap between inspiration and creation. I would hope to say that from Act I-III my songwriting has become more interesting. As far as the tone of the records, there has been a natural movement towards a more somber and dark evocation. This is only really because of the story I am trying to tell, and while I draw from my own life and emotions, it isn’t a mirror imaging.

The Dear Hunter - Act I

I also love conceptual continuity in music, and you do it several times on TDH albums. For example, Act II ends with the melody from “The Lake South” from Act I. How do you decide which aspects of previous albums to reference in the next one?

As I write different songs and movements for the different themes and moments in the story, themes arise naturally. I try not to do anything just for the sake of doing it, so every time a certain theme is referenced or alluded to it has a meaning within the story being told (though it’s usually subtle).

How did you learn to play so many instruments and sing?

I really don’t play that many; learn the guitar and you can find your way around anything with strings for the most part; learn the piano and find your way on any keyed instrument, etc. I grew up in a very musical household and was constantly encouraged by my family to be creative, so nothing was ever off limits. There is a world I still want to learn.

Who did the arrangements for the orchestral sections on TDH albums?

I did.

What is the story thus far in TDH tale? Can you reveal any hints on where it’s going?

So far (by Act III) a boy has been born, lived his youthful years with his mother, removed from society. When she passed he didn’t really feel the restrictions she placed on him any more and ventured out to the city she tried to keep him from. Here, while simultaneously learning about her past, he also fell in love. When the love went awry, he decided to sign up for the military to get as far from what he had come to know as his home (though he had no real idea what he was in for). At war, he found himself changing drastically, and a much darker side of himself arose. By the end of Act III his past and his present are haunting him; He lashes out at those around him and then goes AWOL. The story will basically just continue to follow him through the choices he makes in his life.

When will Act IV come out and what will it be about? How will the music compare to its predecessors?

I don’t totally know when Act IV will be out as I am focusing on the color spectrum project. I can say that musically I would hope it just continues to evolve and portray a story sonically. At this point in the story things calm a bit more; as the last record was very grandiose, this record will be a bit more subdued and less centered around heavy orchestration.

The Dear Hunter - Act II

Can you elaborate on that in terms of concept, sound, etc on the color spectrum  project? Has any writing been done yet and what colors will be first?

The color spectrum project is basically a reason to stretch my boundaries musically. At the end of the day its still just music – the only difference is that I am naming the inspiration behind each aspect of the project. These songs are still coming from my heart, but this approach allows me to sort of compartmentalize these ideas and sequence them in shorter more concise form – EPs. The whole project is The Color Spectrum, but that is an umbrella term for the collection of 9 EPs; each EP is a project of its own, and I am trying to treat them all with as much individuality as possible.

What music influenced TDH and who are your favorite bands today? Who would you like to tour with?

I was heavily influenced by my parents’ music (the music they created) as well as the music they listened to: Jimi Hendrix, Weather Report, Chick Corea, the Beatles, and Beach Boys. I also grew up loving Bjork, Mike Patton, Oingo Boingo, Thomas Dolby, and the Police. Lately I have been listening to a lot of Cardiacs, Talk Talk, and Doves.

Can you discuss any upcoming tour plans in the USA?

As of right now there are no real plans to tour – the focus is centered on finishing the color spectrum project.

The Dear Hunter - Act III

What are your hobbies outside of making music and if you weren’t a musician, what would you like to do with your life?

Let’s see: antiquing with my fiancée, playing with my dog, the occasional video game, cooking. As for what I would be doing if I wasn’t making music, I really don’t know; I feel like 99% of the brainpower I use is devoted to creating music – which is why everything else around me falls apart usually. I would assume that if I wasn’t making music the rest would be a lot easier (laughs).

Well thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Casey.

No problem, Jordan. Thanks.