There's absolutely no shortage of ambition with The Dear Hunter.
This is a band that mapped out an ongoing storyline over the course of three albums — with a fourth one now in the works — along with a conceptual nine-EP collection, with songs based on each individual color in the visual spectrum. They're no strangers to string sections and have garnered themselves a dedicated fanbase around the world.
At the heart of the group is Casey Crescenzo, a musician who grew up on a diet of Weather Report, The Beatles and an unwavering obsession with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. He first gained attention serving as vocalist and guitarist of post-hardcore band The Receiving End of Sirens. The now-defunct band's music is heavy and anthemic at its core, but the band's predilection for unexpected song structures and tasteful music styles points back to Crescenzo, who was always tinkering with songwriting and searching for new directions. This ultimately lead him to pursue his own project that would be called The Dear Hunter.
Ever since their first album Act I: The Lake South, The River North, The Dear Hunter has been Crescenzo's baby. Initially starting out as a solo project in 2005, with a little help from his family of musicians, he established The Dear Hunter as a full-time band where he's been touring and making music ever since with several musicians — most notably with his brother Nick Crescenzo, who has held fort behind the drumkit since the first album.
The Act albums tell the tale of an unnamed boy, known only as the titular Dear Hunter, and his journey during the early years of the 20th century, to find out more about himself after being born and raised by his prostitute mother — all with the backdrop of a looming Great War, which he eventually ends up getting tangled in. The albums are theatrical and wonderfully opulent in its execution, featuring plenty of prog-rock sensibilities in crafting out grandiose concept albums, while the music itself remains relatively accessible — Crescenszo's ear for striking songwriting never gets bogged down by excess.
With three Act albums in the bag, Crescenzo and co. are readying the release of Act IV: Rebirth and Reprise, which follows the nine-EP collection The Color Spectrum and the non-Act album Migrant. We got to speak to the man himself about the upcoming record, writing a crowdfunded symphony, looking past genres along with his five favourite albums.
What can you tell us about Act IV so far?
I can either tell you a little bit or I can tell you a lot, but I guess generally it’s the continuation of our set of concept records that were sort of put on the back-burner since 2009. But as far as specifics, it continues the story of this specific character who, last we saw him, survived the war in Act III kind of affected, mentally and physically by it. Now he's piecing his life back together and I guess being someone manipulative with his experiences. Musically though, it’s… I’ve always hated it when somebody say it’s a return of form or something like that, I don't really feel necessary that the music I write is ever with the purpose of happening like this "preset form".
Musically, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s not as extremely varied as a group of songs like The Color Spectrum, and it’s not as much of a leap left of center of the band's trajectory like Migrant. It’s definitely a lot more in line with the Act records than any of the records since Act III, but at the same time there’s a natural organic reminiscent of both The Color Spectrum and Migrant that seep into it just because they’re parts of my personal growth as a songwriter, a producer, singer and lyricist.
There is this orchestra from Berkley California called The Awesome Orchestra that's involved in the album. There are heavily orchestrated moments and I don’t mean it’s bombastic, but there are moments where the soul of what it is being told and the focus entirely rests on the orchestra. They're the shining stars of the album. Even my girlfriend and my mother sang extensively on the album.
The album art for Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise.
By doing The Color Spectrum and Migrant, how did it affect your focus when you returned to the Act series?
It made it a lot easier to be genuine and to be excited about what I was doing. I think that, with the music of all the acts so far and also with all of the sort of intensity of being the person in the center of everything, as far as the band was concerned — from the politics to business of the band to the politics of the business of the band. It was definitely weighing on me pretty heavily, and right at the beginning, sort of a false start to The Color Spectrum, was when everything came to a mayhem.
There’s always been drama in every band but it’s just with the construct of this band being centered around its root as a personal project, and then growing into the sort of guys of a group, I think in that point of my life, I couldn't do Act IV without just being something else and then slapping the 'Act' label on it. I’ve been so worn down with my experiences with the members who have been in the band up until that point, that I would need something to be a complete change of pace. That’s what set me off to do The Color Spectrum, which I would say about 85% of it was completed in sort of forced solitary confinement. With Migrant, I wanted to make the whole band more involved, not so much in the songwriting but in the overall production of the record.
"I think most people who write music, for the love of the music, would agree that it doesn't matter if what they're doing is classified one way or another."
Did you think it was necessary to do those albums first in order to begin working on Act IV?
Once Migrant was finished, I sort of teetered back and forth on whether I would do Act IV or not. But then — I forget exactly what the moment was — but I had a very defining mental moment where I went “Of course this is what I need to do”. As soon as I got that, regardless of what the project was, it’s sort of what I have to do, which led me to do Migrant and The Color Spectrum as well. In the end, they were very necessary for me to come back and do Act IV as a legitimately inspired and organic record, and not just forcing something just for the sake of it.
'Whisper' is a cut off Migrant, which provided Casey some time away from the Act storyline.
Could you tell us a bit about recording your first Symphony?
Yeah that was almost like a challenge for myself. I had been slowly getting more and more into writing , or understanding the necessity to prepare charts for musicians, if it was for a live tour, where we would bring in a string quartet. It was actually having musicians coming into the studio who would expect to see charts and not just me sort of singing the melody I want to play. I needed to get better and better and more comfortable with the technicality of the preparations for music scores. I really just fell in love and I still know nothing but the tip of the iceberg, but I fell in love with the language of orchestra music and how you have to ask the composers in the orchestra and the arrangers, how you have to accurately describe what you’re hearing in your head.
I really do like the meticulousness of how much you can really describe verbally or otherwise, to get the sound that you’re looking for. So I was getting more and more excited about that, and then we did Migrant, I was really burned out on rock music in general and I told my manager I really wanted to do something different; something that was ambitious again, but I wasn’t ready to do. He asked me what I wanted to do. With me not really understanding what I was saying, I said I wanted to write and record a symphony. He told me to think about it and I went to do my research, to learn more and more and more. When I came back and said I really want to do this, that was when we figured out the sort of logistics behind it.
Were you surprised when it got fully funded on PledgeMusic?
I genuinely did not think it was going to be funded. I think that was my test of whether something I should or shouldn't do. I was shocked to the point that, where I got a little afraid and realised “Okay Casey, now you have to get your shit together and you have to learn how to write for brass and you have to learn how to write for woodwinds, learn everything that you possibly can within this time frame."
But it was awesome because I do so much better under that sort of stress, and I’m just so comfortable with the anxiety that if I don’t necessarily have that stress or anxiety, I get too comfortable so it really lit a fire for me. Then the process from there — the actual process of making it — was so incredibly inspiring and fulfilling. My hope is to do more and more. Just looking at all of these ambitions that I have and wanting to make sure that I never do one half-assed, it’s tough, especially how magical that first experience was for me. It was genuinely an amazing time for me. I’m not gonna make any conjectures on what I think of the quality of the symphony, because that’s not my job, I will say it’s, as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of my favourite things that I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.
Casey documented the journey writing his first Symphony, which involved the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic.
Do you feel The Dear Hunter has been unnecessarily pigeonholed into a certain genre because of your post-hardcore background?
There was an interesting period of time when The Dear Hunter began, where fans of The Receiving Ends of Sirens would come out and they saw that it wasn’t anything like that band. They were turned off immediately. I remember conversations back like by the bathrooms of gig venues when The Dear Hunter was just starting out. People were saying, "You know, I appreciate what you’re doing but there’s no two step parts."
I don’t even know what that meant. It’s interesting but whatever category the band is put into, it’s a futile gesture because it’s really irrelevant. I think most people who write music, for the love of the music, would agree that it doesn't matter if what they're doing is classified one way or another. So, being put into the post-hardcore room, while it doesn't frustrate me at all, it's definitely something that I just find some humour in. But it's also worked to my benefit, having toured with many great bands in that respect.
TOP 5 INFLUENTIAL ALBUMS
SMILE | BRIAN WILSON
I’m obsessed over Smile and the documentary DVD that came out with it, so all of that stuff is so ingrained in me. There’s a lot of things I would like to see in myself that I see in Brian Wilson. I truly idolise him. I see in him the things that I thrive for, I’d say that’s really it.
The way that he puts his music together and the way that he arranges his harmonies; the way that he can represent such blissful glee and staggering defeat in sober tones, all in the same piece of music, is something that I’m incredibly inspired by. His selflessness with his music is something that’s very inspiring to me — the fact that he just wanted to create. He didn't want to go out to feel that ego stroke that musicians get to feel every night you’re on stage, it didn’t matter to him. He just wanted to create these amazing things and give it to the world and sort of the fame of it was it relevant, it’s just the creation is all that matters.
HEAVY WEATHER | WEATHER REPORT
It’s the record that my parents had playing in my household when I was growing up.
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED | THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
There was a period of time between age 9 and 13, where I religiously studied Jimi Hendrix and only Jimi Hendrix. I was that weird kid wearing that Jimi Hendrix shirt who didn’t listen to anything else. During forth grade, there was like some assembly and I came out dressed like Jimi Hendrix and played The Star Spangled Banner, even with the guitar behind my head, with my teeth and everything like that. In my head, I was in total rockstar mode but I’m sure if somebody recorded it and if I went to listen to it now, it would be laughable; this ten year old with a guitar behind his head just plunking along trying to be Jimi Hendrix.
THE SELDOM SEEN KID | ELBOW
I heard them for probably, I don't know, a year or two. Prior to that, it never really struck me, then it was just this moment where I understood what’s happening and it floored me. Then from there it’s just every one of their records I’ve just obsessed over.
CALIFORNIA | MR BUNGLE