There are few bands in today’s independent music scene that I follow with such excitement and anticipation. The Dear Hunter is a band that I’ve watched, listened to, and followed, since almost the beginning of their career – in fact, The Format was still around, touring, the first time I saw The Dear Hunter, when they opened up for them in Hackensack, NJ, at the School of Rock. They left an indelible impression, and have done nothing to diminish my excitement for them from release to release. Their current headlining tour is aptly called An Evening With The Dear Hunter, and gives the band the time they deserve to fully explore their complex, genre and era spanning catalog. I’ve seen them in rooms that hold less than 100 people, with a wide variety of bands and musicians. So (for me) the opportunity to see them in a great room like The Madison Theater, playing a set that promises to be full of tracks from their already deep catalog, as well as from their new album, Migrant, is something not to be missed.
I was given the chance to talk to The Dear Hunter’s vocalist/guitarist/creator, Casey Crescenzo, about their career so far, and about all of the things that have lead to this tour. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Migrant is on the verge of release – it’s certainly the most straightforward album in The Dear Hunter catalog, but it still has a lot of the qualities of past Dear Hunter albums that fans have all grown to appreciate, and to a certain extent, expect. The usage of storytelling/concepts was left behind for this one, but it’s certainly not a musical departure. What prompted the decision?
Really, yeah, I think the decision was to not decide on anything and to just let things happen as… naturally as they could. I think the purpose that was served by going in to this and just letting things happen would have been diminished by going at it and saying, “Okay, I want to make a non-conceptual record, but it has to sound like this.” So I think approaching it with no boundaries and no preconceptions at all is what… that was the real point of it. And that’s why there are some bits of music on that are… I guess a little bit out of the norm for what we do, but for the most part I think the boundaries of the band are pretty wide reaching as far as genres are concerned, so it’s kind of tough to consider anything a real departure musically.
So did you find that freeing, in a sense, or more restrictive, as you were writing and recording everything?
I would definitely say more freeing, but at first… it was tough. I wouldn’t necessarily say “restrictive,” but at first it was definitely foreign. But, as time went on and I got deeper in to the record, it was a very liberating record to make, for sure.
With fan expectations what they are, and the internet armchair critics so… involved in the music scene these days, how is it trying to handle balancing what the fans might want with where you want to go creatively? Has that ever been an issue?
No… No. I think that fans… I’m trying to think of how to say this.
Fans of a band should want that band to do what comes honestly to them, and shouldn’t just want what records they want to hear. Because for the most part - or at least, from what I’ve seen - when people wish that it was another this record, or another that record, it’s always so funny to me, because it’s as simple as being able to go and listen to that record if that’s really what you want to hear. And I think the thing that, or at least, I feel, has been one of the most attractive qualities of the band has been the honesty and the natural, organic side of the band and the music and that goes back to the sort of… the lack of boundaries where genres are concerned. Especially on something like The Color Spectrum, and even before that… but, it’s such a wide range of music that it would be kind of naïve to be waiting for a new record and expect or hope for it to be any one thing. So I feel like the fanbase that we’ve carved out has been… is a really open-minded group of people. And that’s why this band is succeeding. Because some people just like music. They aren’t necessarily going to one genre or the other. And while it might be foreign territory for them, as well as us, I think that that is exciting, and it’s definitely more exciting than rehashing the same, old stuff.
For me, your “sound” is what has kept me interested and excited, and , to me, it has a basically indefinable quality. It’s ambitious, spanning multiple genres and eras of music. How do you think things have changed since The Dear Hunter first started out, musically, within the independent music scene, and maybe for you, musically? How do you think you – and other bands – are able to manage and maintain a noticeable, positive presence in an economically, diversity, and saturation challenged musical market/landscape?
Well, one thing immediately that separates bands - kind of the oil and the water separating - is we really do work very hard. I think that a lot of bands jump in to it, and they have song that people like, they just expect things are gonna catch, and then when they don’t, they get upset. For me, and I know for us as a group, there has never been really, until recently, a point when it seemed like a 100% certainty that this is something that could be successful. And that really deterred me from working hard because this is something that I love. So I think that’s one thing that a lot of bands, or artists that might be in the same position, it separates them. They work really hard, and it’s the only that they can see themselves doing, because it makes them feel alive. It’s not about the rush of performing, or anything like that. You can’t really explain the feeling that you get from just being given the opportunity to be creative.
And then I would say, you know, I don’t know, I think so much of the other end of it has been luck. There’s plenty of bands and musicians who haven’t been given a shot at all who are the best songwriters who ever lived. I mean, so much of it is luck, but I think it’s also taking advantage of the luck that you have and the opportunities that show up and not taking anything for granted. But to be honest, I really don’t know how we’ve managed to grow and build in this sort of climate of the music industry in the last decade. I feel very lucky.
The indefinable quality of The Dear Hunter has helped you tour with a wide variety of bands and musicians, and various parts of the independent music scene, and has had you involved in some surprising projects. How has that shaped the evolution of the band, or maybe, how you have experienced music?
Well, I think that one really fun thing that we can do is that whenever the opportunity to support a band comes up we can sort of pick and choose the songs that we might play depending on the fanbase we might be exposing ourselves to. So, for instance, on a tour with a band like Coheed [& Cambria] we’re definitely going to choose a heavier set. We’re going to choose songs with more of a kick, with more of that grand, epic sound that some of the songs have. And then, if we’re touring with a band like Circa Survive, or Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground, or other bands like that, we will do more experimental music. Or, you know, with softer bands we have songs that we can play that are more folky, or, I guess for lack of a better phrase, poppy. That’s been really fun, to be able to sort of… I guess it’s almost like having multiple personalities and just being able to choose which ones you are when it fits you best.
It’s definitely been amazing to be able to a part of so many different things, and to be involved in different genres, and in different scenes within the greater music scene. I mean, I never expected any of this, so do anything… Whether I’m given the opportunity to sing on a black metal record, or if somebody wants me to arrange strings for some weird song, or write a folk record, or rap – someone asked me to rap – I don’t know… It’s all been a lot of fun.
The band, as it is, has changed over the years, with a lot of different musicians recording and taking part in the live show. While you’re the creative director of The Dear Hunter, do you think working with such a large number of musicians has helped take The Dear Hunter, either by song or by album, in any directions that were surprising to you?
I would say that the best thing I can take from that experience, or the way that that has gone, is the refinement of myself as a musician on a technical level. Being able to play with so many different musicians who approach their instruments so differently from the way that I do… It’s like travelling to a different country and just learning the language by being around it. So being able to be exposed to that many different musicians and being involved on a creative level is definitely refining for me. And, you know, it does present a different experience live. But I don’t really know if I can really say that it pushed things in any direction externally.
The Dear Hunter has been around less than 10 years, but your output is… prolific. The tour you’re heading out on is going to be a longer set, comprised of songs from your already deep catalog. What was the catalyst for this kind of headlining tour? What are you most excited to share with the audience? Will there be any songs that haven’t seen a lot of live exposure that you’re planning on?
Yeah, we’re so used to just playing for 30 minutes in front of people - and fans of ours who really want to see us having to pay high ticket prices to see us open for much bigger bands -that I think it was just as soon as there was an opportunity to go and to put on a show where people could really leave satisfied and hear music that they haven’t had the opportunity to hear… I think that was the biggest inspiring idea for this tour. We are playing a lot of music that we don’t play, and a couple of songs – more than a couple – that we haven’t played in years, and just trying to be as mindful as we could of the requests that people have had during tours over the past few years.
I think we’re most excitedly, naturally, about exposing the audience to the new music that we have. Btu the whole night for us is very, very rewarding.
So, any plans after this tour? Anything coming up for the summer, or the rest of the year, that you’re excited about or looking forward to?
It’s all kind of open right now, we don’t really know. We’re waiting to see how things go before we commit to one thing or another, but I know we’ll just be hopefully touring a good amount more.
Is there anything else you want to add or mention?
No man, that’s it. Just thank you so much for doing the interview.
You can catch The Dear Hunter at The Madison Theater Tonight with Naïve Thieves, as they play an extended set featuring a wide variety of fan favorites, and tracks that they’ve not played live in years, or maybe ever. Thanks so much to Casey Crescenzo for taking the time to chat.