The Dear Hunter: InterviewBy Brian McConnell
After an amazing show at The Glass House in Pomona (read the review), BeatCrave was lucky enough to sit down with Casey Cresecenzo and Erick Serna backstage. What followed was one an in-depth discussion of how the band came to be, where the band is going, what about the music industry they would both like to change and quite a bit more. Throughout the entire interview, it was quite apparent that both Casey and Erick absolutely love what they do and are extremely (justifiably) proud of the of the vehicle they’ve created to present their work.
The Dear Hunter is a band who is going to be around for quite some time and with such amazing talents as Casey, Erick and the rest steering their artistic direction, they’ll continue on a path of great music worth paying attention to: this is a band that gifts its listeners with albums that take them on an odyssey through layers of sounds and lyrics ever changing and ever engaging.
Take some time and get to know a band that has only just begun to leave their heavy imprint on the history of sound.
Let’s start where all things should: the beginning. What was the genesis of The Dear Hunter.
Casey: It started out as a side project without any real ambition to be a band. When I was with The Receiving End of Sirens it was just something I did for fun. Then, I started getting a little more serious about it: with no intentions of forming a band or touring with it. Because of the fact that it wasn’t initially so serious is one of the reasons I wanted to make it so grandiose because I didn’t think I would have to do it live, I could just make a record.
When my time with The Receiving End of Sirens came to an end, the same booking agent and label expressed a real interest in my “side project” and told me to put a band together. Eric was the first person I called, he was a friend of The Receiving End of Sirens, mostly a friend of their bassist, who is actually in our band now. While I was still in The Receiving End of Sirens, Eric and I jam in Nick [Crescenzo’s] (Eric’s brother and band mate) basement. When I was thinking of the caliber of musician that would have to be in the band to accomplish some of the goals Eric’s the first guy I called.
Erick: I was actually out in California at the time going to school for audio-tech with Josh, who’s also in the band.
Casey: Yeah, so I gave him a call and he was tired of the music scene here: he wanted to play music again instead of engineer and go to school with a bunch of hip-hop people. So, Eric moved back out to the east coast, where I was living, and we kind of assembled the first beta-version of the band: just Eric, me and another guy and we basically borrowed the bassist and drummer from As Tall as Lions.
Through the course of a couple years band members came and went and we’re now the version of the band that you saw tonight: Nick Crescenzo on drums, Eric on guitar, Andy Widrick, who used to be in The Junior Varsity, playing keys and guitar, Josh Rheault, Nate Patterson, who was originally in The Receiving End of Sirens, and myself. It’s kind of a weird twisted web of people.
How did you come up with the name, The Dear Hunter? Were there any other names you were considering?
Casey: Ummm, no. Honestly, it goes hand in hand with the idea that I never really thought to make The Dear Hunter a really big band, it was just a name for the project. It’s a name I gave to the music I used to do when I was in high school which was heavily electronic music and I just kind of kept the moniker. Also, because I wanted it to be a kind of theme-based record that name kind of worked with the themes and stories I was writing.
What is your inspiration for doing six “Acts?” Was it always in your mind to do six or was that an idea that evolved?
Casey: It definitely evolved as the first one was written and then having people come on board with the second one and sitting, fleshing out a more grand idea and through conversations with the band. It was definitely an evolution, it didn’t start out as a six act idea where everything was planned; I had this one story that was loosely based on something I went through and romanticized and I thought, ‘how can I turn that into a record?’ And, from that first record we thought ‘this is really inspiring, how can we turn this into something more?’ The idea for the six acts definitely happened nearer to the formation of the band after Act I had been completed.
How does Act III correspond to the first two with regards to theme and the overall story presented in “Act I: The Lake South, the River North” and “Act II: The Meaning of, and All Things Regarding Miss Leading?”
Erick: Well, the first one was pretty much an introduction of what the story would hopefully become. Act II was basically about the main character falling in love for the first time and then finding out that this first love was a prostitute, which is awesome. The main character in both acts tends to run away from his problems so, at the end of Act II, he sets off to go to war. So, Act III deals a lot with war and how it changes you as a person. The war in this particular story is less to do with what is going on now and more or less mirrors, without being directly tied to, World War I.
Casey: Yeah, Act III is definitely about this character running away from his problems and getting himself into bigger problems. At any point in this character’s story he could have turned around and faced things head on which would stop the chain of events but, in running, he creates more and more problems. It’s a good character to use as a vehicle for expressing a lot of ideas and situations.
Do you have a general idea of where things are going for the protagonist or are you going to let his story organically fall into place?
Casey: I think it’s a little of both. Musically, I don’t think we have any idea where it is going and that’s the most exciting thing: not writing everything all at once and then knowing what the next three or four years of our lives are going to be musically. We all grow with every record, we want to give ourselves time to mature before we go back to writing music, the same with lyrics. As far as the general story is concerned, however, it’s all there: these certain events that need to take place and how it is going to get to the end. But, the little details, for me, I would like to live a little more before I go and continue on with the fourth act.
With regards to your writing/music process, is that a collaborative effort or do you work seperately and then come together when it’s time to lay down the album?
Erick: Act I was Casey. Act II was mainly all of us in a townhouse/apartment in Boston. It was mainly just Casey sitting at a keyboard in our makeshift studio hammering stuff out and everyone throwing ideas around and trying to figure out how we were going to go about things. On this record, Casey was at a piano, a real piano this time, in a studio we were renting and it was basically all of us sitting in a room, Casey sitting at a piano throwing ideas out and putting them on the table and it all being sifted through by the rest of us. This third album was definitely a really rewarding experience for all of us: just the caliber of musicianship really played a huge factor in this record. Everyone was on the same page musically and it definitely helped a lot.
On Act II, Casey would get frustrated a lot in that writing process because there weren’t too many people to bounce ideas off of. This time around, when an idea was thrown out, everyone could feel out where they think that particular idea would go. Because everyone was on the same page ideas just came out the way they should have very quickly. We wrote the record in less than three months.
Casey: I remember we tried, when touring with the second album, to write songs for Act III and it wasn’t working. We tried, however, because, like for a lot of bands, the scary thing is absence: feeling like your audience is going to stop caring if you’re gone for too long. It’s hard to feel relevant. Now, I think we realize that it’s ok to be gone for a while and, when you do come back, you have something fresh to share with your audience.
I read somewhere that you will be working on nine albums representing the spectrum of colors with white and black as bookends. Can you tell me more about that particular project?
Casey: A lot of people have been asking us about that lately. Basically, I had this idea, I talked with the band about it and we all agreed that it would be a really fun and challenging project to take on. At the time, we had a very small fan community online and we liked to stay really active with them so I posted one comment in the middle of a huge thread saying, ‘here’s a project we are thinking of doing, what do you think?’ Then, suddenly, it became a factual project we were doing.
It will basically be the kind of thing where over time we will compile nine recordings/sets of recordings and at some point release them. It’s not going to be a parallel where Act IV is released and then there are three color records and then Act V and then four more color records; it’s going to be something that happens sporadically.
One thing to note is that, with the color idea, it’s not going to be nine full length records, they are going to be more of a challenge for us that we happen to record; they will be more EP length.
Some people may say it’s overly ambitious but, at the end of the day it’s not like we are a band, a movie studio, a clothing company, a restaurant; we are a band and writing music is what we do for fun, for hobby, for a living, for relaxation, to get excited, it’s everything we do. The idea of saying that we are going to have nine short recordings is not that extreme: over the last few years we’ve put out three “Act” albums and the next three will likely come out a lot quicker than that so. I can understand saying it is overly ambitious but the reality of what those recordings are is not such a preposterous undertaking.
What draws you to the idea of the concept album? Do you like that label applied to The Dear Hunters work?
Casey: No, I don’t really like that phrase. I don’t really like too many concept albums. I don’t liked The Who’s concept record. I never really listened to Rush. The thing that draws me is that I like stories and, lyrically, it might sound like a cop-out, but it’s a lot easier to write something when you have a visual in your head; that paired with the fact that I don’t really like writing about me. I feel like everybody writes about themselves and no one is that interesting. I like romanticizing things, that’s more interesting to me. We all love the visual aspect of music and concept records/theme records lend themselves really well to the visuals. We strive to paint a picture sonically and lyrically for the listener.
What, outside of music inspires that which The Dear Hunter creates?
Erick: Definitely movies. Just look at Act II, the lyrics for that album was written in five days. You [Casey] were just watching old movies and writing the lyrics. So movies are a huge inspiration. You can break down a movie and look at it the same way you write a record: the stories are there, there is a template there for what could potentially become a record.
Casey: Movies, definitely. You look at the pace of a movie, a really good movie, it starts with a title sequence: that why we like to start our albums with an intro. There’s the rising action, there’s the climax of the movie but there is also just the story which doesn’t attempt to make you jump or anything: there is all this pacing with a movie that I think inspires us and is parallel with a really good record. A good record flows like a ride: you have to have a good flow, a good story.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Erick: What a question. I don’t like the fact that the music world is so single-oriented right now. A record is a record. We were just talking about the flow of a record: you try and find the best way to get across, on an entire album, what you are trying to get across. Labels, however, just pick singles like these random things. It takes away from the work. You need historiography, a background in order to get a whole entire record. So, when labels pick singles, it’s not representative of the album.
Casey: It’s strange: you look at evolution all around: the way that humans have evolved, films have evolved, every single format of art has evolved and yet music has devolved. Just look at what it took to construct music hundreds of years ago, look at the lengths people went to, the type of mind people would have to have to create symphonies and such. That’s one thing that I really admire about classical music, classical operas: there is music out there that tells a story with no lyrics. The understanding back then of instrumentation, of melody, counterpoint and all of those things so, you look at the devolution of music and you go from these operas and symphonies to the digestible format of music. The attention span of people is, sonically, three to three and a half minutes. I feel like we are one of the, proportionally, few bands that like to write records: long form art. The single format is killing what music is about. If music is about self-expression than there shouldn’t be a time limit.
Erick: Right. Could you picture someone telling Beethoven, “Hey, dude, you have to make this song three minutes?”
Casey: The average was closer to nine minutes and the audience was able to sit and listen to the music, the symphony, whatever, from start to finish. Back then people didn’t have to be driving somewhere or doing something else. Music was enough entertainment for them. Now, it’s like background noises to people.
I’m not a political type person or an idealist type of person but music is a very commercial thing now and it’s certainly tough when art becomes so commercial. The commercial form of any artwork is the more digestible format and when every artist, when every label, when every venue, when every radio station is pushing the more digestible format, it becomes a standard. The standards, like fashion, are what dictates what the masses do: when a radio station tells them, “this is music” and it’s just a two-minute piece of garbage, not enough people care enough to seek anything else out because music for them is a background thing.
It’s really upsetting for us and people say we’re pretentious. People did a lot more than we were doing hundreds of years ago: a long time before we did it. We are just trying, with respect to music, to do something more with what we are given as far as our abilities. To be called pretentious is silly. If we’re pretentious than I can’t imagine what those same people would think of classical composers, opera, anything.
It sucks because the band I idolize the most, The Beatles, are the reason for most of this. The Beatles were like giving up the ghost for music. It was like, here is the best pop band you’ll ever have and from here on out it’s only a decline.
If you could only listen to five albums for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?
- The Beatles, “Revolver”
- Jimi Hendrix, “Axis: Bold as Love”
- Muse, “Absolution”
- Radiohead, “OK Computer”
- Bjork, “Vespertine”
- The Beatles: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club”
- Jimi Hendrix, “Axis, Bold as Love”
- Mr Bongo, “California”
- Brian Wilson, “Smile”
- Sufjan Stevens, “Michigan”