The Dear Hunter
By Dave Schwartz
Photos by Sally Schwartz

DaBelly: Congratulations on the new record. I havenít received a copy of yet, but I have listened to it online through your record company. This is the first time that Iíve heard of The Dear Hunter and Iím very impressed. What can you tell me about the new record?

Casey Crescenzo: I hope this record is what every band hopes for, a maturing of the music and concept. This all started with me making demos on my computer. Eventually this grew into a full band and a more fleshed out project. This is the first real record done as a band, by the band and not just me recording with the help of friends. So this record feels the most complete to me of anything that weíve done to date.

DB: In research for this interview I read some of your past interviews. You commented that working as a solo artist is functional, but that working as a band was more fulfilling.

CC: Absolutely. Itís really easy when youíre working alone to let almost anything get by, not to have any quality control, itís a good and bad thing. When you have other people around, you can get a more realistic opinion of what youíre creating. With the group approach itís easier to be coherent than it is when youíre alone. Especially when the people around me are my friends.

DB: Itís been two years since the release of "Act II, The Meaning of, and All Things Regarding Ms. Leading," that seems like a long time. There was eight months between the first record, "Act I: The Lake South, the River North," and the second record, "Act II," but a two year wait for the "Act III, Life and Death." What was the reason for the delay?

CC: "Act I" was an EP. When I convinced the label to let me do an EP before a full-length, it was based on the fact that I really just wanted to do an "Act I." I already had a good portion of "Act II" written, I just wanted to have a shorter record that was musically a starting point. I wanted to spend a little bit of time developing a sound. I was coming from a different band and it was a little shocking being on my own. I didnít want to just jump into something that the record label was going to put money behind. I just wanted to have something that helped me discover what kind of music the band would be about. I did the EP pretty quickly while I was still in The Receiving End of Sirens. Once I was out, I finished it up with my family playing some of the extra instruments. I assembled a band right at the tail end of making the record. I think "Act I" was released in September and we were back in the studio working on Act II by October. We were jumping in and out of touring and recording.

So "Act I: was really all about finding the sound and starting from the ground up. And for "Act II," five or six of the songs that ended up on the record had been written years before. It really didnít take that long to come up with the extra material. And the other thing-- for better or worse on "Act I" and "Act II," I played about 80 percent of the instruments on the record. When you do that you kind of define your own timeline. You find yourself sitting there 20 hours a day recording it so it didnít take that long to get a record finished.

When it came to "Act III," I started writing the record four or five times. Finally about a year after "Act II" came out, I had six or seven songs. I was really excited about them but three months later I sat down to listen to them again and didnít like them. Thatís why there was such a big gap. Also, "Act II" caught on pretty well and that enabled us to tour off the record for a while. Even though I donít like the whole two year record cycle thing, touring presented itself and we have a real caring and hard working booking agent who got us on some great tours. So it was a combination of all those things: False start recording, touring and funding from the label.

DB: I understand. I suspect that touring gave you time as a band to feel each other out and mature and that resulted in"Act III" being more of a band record.

CC: That funny because the band for "Act I" was my brother playing drums, me playing basically everything else, my mom singing all the female vocals and my dad contributing a good amount of the piano stuff! "Act II" was me doing all of the piano and bass and a good amount of the guitars. I had another guitarist doing the rest of the guitar parts and a drummer and as bands always go, drama and politics ensue.

Three of the guys in the band, a touring bass player, a piano player and the drummer left during the tour. We ended up having some friends sit in for a little while. I ended up talking to my brother and asked him if he would like to be in my band full time. I was having trust issues and so I started looking for people that Iíve known the longest and really trusted.

So after all the upheaval I ended up searching out people that I knew and trusted. I hired my brother and Andy from The Junior Varsity whom Iíve known for five or six years. All of that is what I think pushed us into becoming a band. It forced me to open up a little bit. I was very closed off at first and stubborn because I didnít musically trust the former members in my band. And then when I had these guys join I felt humbled by their talent which helped me make a record as a band instead of making the record as a guy who calls it a band.

DB: Performing your music must be a bit of a handful. The songs are extremely layered, as you know, and complicated at times. How do you make it all work on stage?

CC: I donít know. There have been a few different ways weíve tried. I think we havenít figured out the best way. Thereís the part of you that wants to recreate every note and represent the CD so specifically. Then thereís the part of you that recognizes that playing live is different that recording. Thatís not to say you donít care about the live show. Iím just saying that just because a band has an orchestra on a record doesnít mean that you should expect that the band would be touring with an orchestra.

Playing live is all about finding ways to represent the music in the best way possible. There have been times where weíve toured and used samples. We did that on two or three tours. It was very upsetting for us because it felt kind of phony. All of the bands around us were doing it. The last band I was in was doing it. So it seems to be a pretty standard thing, but to me it just feels better to just leave some of those things out. I would rather have the band on stage feeding off of each other than the band feeding off a backing track. To me, the goal is to be as live as possible.

DB: I can imagine that youíre robbing the spontaneity out of the performance whenever you chaining yourself to samples. And conversely, if youíre not playing with samples and the music takes a little twist or turn you can follow it.

CC: Yes, that is definitely what weíve found. Weíve actually had discussions as a band and thatís the one reason weíve decided not to use samples anymore. Weíre not interested in being a jam band, but there are times when, as a band, we feel something without having to say it. If youíre chained to an iPod or a sampler you donít have a choice.

DB: Absolutely. The other challenge that you seem to face when performing live is to maintain the musical concept of the story youíre telling. Youíre not doing a concept record, you are a concept band. You have six records that youíre planning, with three already realized. Obviously you can play every song from every record in order. How do you maintain the integrity of the story live?

CC: Itís very hard. I can only be honest and say that the ambition definitely outweighs the ability sometimes. Itís also a question of how much do you want to separate yourself from being a band in favor of being a concept band. The way I feel lately is that I donít just want to do these six records and stop as a band or maybe start a new concept. Itís just that I made a decision to do these records and that Iím going to stick to it.

As far as live, there are many things that we want to do but it comes back to our ability. Weíre very limited due to financial constraints. There are things that we would really love to do like animations and projection mapping as part of our stage show, but we really can't make that happen right now. We can't afford to get a projector or to spend a month animating videos to sync up to our music. And the other thing about that is the animation because just like samples, we would be chained to it.

DB: You have a very interesting perspective on music. You seem to have the ability to conceive complete projects long before actually sitting down to realize them. What do you think influenced your perspective or understanding of music?

CC: It was completely from my parents. Theyíre very analytical. They really do have that ability to think of something and to follow through. What I do isnít necessarily the most technical or challenging, but I do believe that I have the ability to feel something and then to sit on the idea until it fleshes out. But itís definitely from my parents. They were both musicians and visual artists and emotional people. It gave my brother and I a good schooling to understand creativity.

DB: In reading some of your past interview, you come across as having a bit of an obsessive personality-- youíve already gave an example in this interview. Youíve conceived a six-album project and youíre going to complete it one way or another. Do you have a sense of what Iím talking about?

CC: Youíre referring to work? Do you mean in a hermit perfectionist kind of way?

DB: Iíll give you an example. Mike Portnoy, the drummer from Dream Theater, heís a complete-ist. If he watches a movie by a director and he likes the movie he will do everything he can to have all of the movies that director has done.

CC: I donít know that I would take it that far. I definitely have a real respect for depth and I think that whenÖ You know, maybe I would! If I saw a movie that I really loved I would search out that director. A good example is Terry Gilliam. Heís by far my favorite director. I fell in love with him after seeing the movie "Twelve Monkeys" when I was really young. My dad was a big Terry Gilliam fan too. He told me that if I like" Twelve Monkeys," that I needed to see the movie, "Brazil." Since then Iíve followed it up by watching every single thing that heís done and without questioning it, loving it!

I think what Iím really obsessed with is just a dedication to, without an ego, a dedication to one's self as far as honest creativity is concerned. Itís important to be less concerned with the perception of a project as much as to the dedication to a project. Not in a perfectionist kind of way and not in a stubborn idealist kind of way. Just in a way when somebody is able to lock themselves out of other people's opinions, especially those that are not beneficial, thatís what really attracts me.

I guess I get a little obsessed when I work. One thing is that I really canít listen to any other kind of music. I choose to not listen to any outside music when Iím doing a record, whether itís my own record or producing one for somebody else.

As far as other obsessions, Iím not sure I have any. I guess Iím just obsessed with working! I was telling my girlfriend just yesterday, which is kind of sad, when I see that I have time off from working I get really excited because I see that I have more time that I can fill with work. Itís exciting, itís inspiring but then when you sit and think about it, itís a little bit strange. Iím so excited about not having work so I can work more.

DB: Iím sure that conversation scored some pretty big points with your girlfriend too.

CC: Yeah, it was great!

I want to thank Casey Crescenzo for taking my call. The Dear Hunter is currently out on tour and, having seen the show, they are great live. Donít miss them. For more information check out their Web sites.

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