POZ Interview: The Dear Hunter
Senior Writer Jesse Richman had the chance to catch up with Casey from The Dear Hunter at SXSW for an in-depth interview. Jesse and Casey discussed SXSW, Equal Vision Records, getting away from concept records, tours, and much more. Check it all out below!
So Casey, how are you doing?
Doing good, how are you doing?
I’m doing alright! When did you get into town [for SXSW]?
We got in around 11:30 today.
You’re doing a showcase this afternoon. What else are your plans while you’re here?
We’re doing a Showcase and then at like midnight or 12:30 I have an acoustic show somewhere. Then tomorrow we’re playing on the roof of a Whole Foods, I guess. That’s about it.
Do you think you’ll have time to see other bands while you’re down here?
I’m sure I will have time, but I think I will be so overwhelmed that…
POZ: Was going to say, was there anyone you were trying to get to?
I don’t even know who’s here. I don’t know who’s here.
Alright. So let’s talk Equal Vision [Records]. You signed with them and then you formed your own imprint [Cave & Canary Goods]. How did that all come about?
Well. When the contract was fulfilled with Triple Crown Records and then they found out that we were going to do The Color Spectrum…
POZ: Yeah that’s tough to get a label to sign off on, doing that many EP’s.
Yeah. Definitely. So after that, we had in mind the perfect scenario and we set out to look for it. We talked to a few different labels.
POZ: So you approached the labels with, “We want an imprint.” ?
Yeah. So we spoke with EVR, and they liked the idea and liked the idea of branding it that way. So after meeting with them, talking with them, explaining what the music was going to be like, it was a perfect match.
So are the plans with the imprint bigger than just The Dear Hunter? Are you going to be signing other bands to it?
I hope to. But I don’t want to, just because it’s there now, go overboard. I would like to take time and let it happen naturally. But that is the goal.
POZ: Do you have an idea of what you want the imprint to be?
POZ: Yeah. Obviously if you were going out looking for it, you must have some concept…
I think I want it geared more towards people… It’s hard to explain… I really love vinyl and packaging and that whole world of things and I know that the fan base for that type of product is smaller. So I would like to approach it as more of a boutique label which also brings with it a slightly more focused musical spectrum. It wouldn’t be sensible to do Metal because that doesn’t really fall into place with the aesthetic of it. But, there’s band I’m on tour with right now. We brought out Naïve Thieves. They will probably be the first actual release. And they’re like a 60s throwback, vibe-y, somewhere in between The Clash and… I can’t remember the name but 60s garage rock. But they’re a great band. And I think they’ll be the first non-Dear Hunter release.
In terms of The Dear Hunter, you guys just did The Color Spectrum DVD. You’ve done a lot of The Color Spectrum. How did the DVD idea come out of it? Was it always a part of the plan?
No. Early on in the touring cycle, I had mentioned that I had wanted to do a start-to-finish The Color Spectrum show. The initial reaction from the people that run the business was that it doesn’t make sense, it would be too much, and that’s asking a lot for people to sit through, and I agree. But then as it picked up steam and people liked the record and they liked different parts of it all, not just one thing or the other, the idea seemed a little bit better and we re-approached it. It was like, “If we’re going to do this, we can’t not film it. If we’re going to do just one show of this, ever…” So it kind of just fell into place and then eventually it was like, well I guess we should just release this. So now it’s this three-hour-long DVD.
The Dear Hunter Fans, they’re obviously a specific breed. They’re the kind of people that would be into a three-hour full DVD. Do you think you see yourself doing anything that ambitious again anytime soon?
Not soon. Just because I think what made that project really special for me was that when I initially thought of doing it and to the time I was actually able to do it, was a span of about five years of waiting to jump in and actually make that happen. So I think that in maybe another five years from now, I might do something that extensive, but I’m enjoying doing things like the record we just finished.
Right, so Migrant comes out next month right?
POZ: Did you purposefully step back to just make a single album, straightforward, no-big-concept thing?
Yes. Definitely. I think it was just that, the music from all of the records that I’ve done in the past, I try to let it be as extensive or as varying as it is naturally going to be. But I felt that, especially after doing such a big concept, that I felt like the most exciting thing would be no concept at all.
This is the first time that The Dear Hunter has done something that isn’t part of a concept, right?
Yeah. So it’s more exciting. It’s less of the same. It’s a challenge to me since I’ve been in the rhythm of writing conceptually. It’s a challenge for me to be more transparent and more honest and more directly from the heart and not filtering it through something. So I think that was really exciting; it was really refreshing.
So I think that when The Dear Hunter started, people thought of it as the concept as well. Has it morphed into “anything that Casey feels like putting out as The Dear Hunter?”
Well, the problem is that there have been so many styles of music released under the name The Dear Hunter that, what style of music would ever excuse a name change? Or a solo record? What’s the difference? It would just be a façade change. There’s no real point. So at this point, that’s what it means. That whatever we or I feel like putting out, that’s The Dear Hunter.
POZ: Do you think you’ll revisit that original The Dear Hunter concept at some point?
Yeah I think so. But I don’t think it will necessarily be like records that the band tours off of. I think it will be a separated, more… I don’t want to say ‘art project,’ but a more project of its own. It will become almost its own thing.
POZ: If it becomes a recording project, I’m just curious; do you think a recording project is something that’s feasible in the industry now when there’s so little money in recordings? It seems like everything is about the touring and the merch and being on the road…
Casey: I think it’s feasible in that it will be fulfilling for me. But whether or not it will be fulfilling financially for anyone involved, I can’t say it will be. But I think that’s one of the reasons why I have really tried hard to learn how to record, how to produce, how to mix. And so I could go off right now and I could make Act IV. If I took my time with it, I could make it for the cost of my rent. Then if somebody wants to put it out or not, I could put it up online… I want to reserve the records or the projects that The Dear Hunter does that I force the band out on tour for two years of their lives; I want it to be something more like Migrant and less something that’s just a stubborn concept that I force on everyone else.
Let’s talk about Migrant. You’re obviously very prolific. Were those songs written in advance?
No. We stopped touring and I let my manager and the label know that I wanted to take time to write and I wanted to get into the mode of writing and not touring. I can’t write on tour. So it’s all one thing. It’s all writing and then recording. I can’t do them too separated; otherwise I become too detached from them.
POZ: Is the band part of the recording?
The band is part of the recording. My brother [Nick Crescenzo] played all the drums, Connor Doyle and Rob Parr played 70 - 80% of the guitars. Then our bass player, Nick Sollecito came and did some of the bass, I did a lot of the bass, everyone is involved.
Do you write collectively?
No. I write but this is the first time I didn’t write everything and just hand it over and say, “This is what drums, bass, all of the guitars, ‘this’, ‘this’ and ‘this’… Here you go.” I wrote on a piano. I wrote my lyrics and my melodies, and there’s a healthy amount of suggestion, but I…
POZ: Is it hard letting go of that control?
POZ: Is it because you’ve been on the road so long that you finally trust them?
Exactly. That’s exactly why. It was because playing with them every night and feeling at home with the way they approach their… The two guitar players approach their guitars completely different than I do. And I love what they do. So I wanted that to be represented. And it really is represented on the record. So it was very hard for me to let go of it, but it was so rewarding to do that.
Did you record it on your own?
No, I actually… 80% of it was recorded in Long Island at this studio called Vu Du Studios with Mike Watts. And he and I co-produced the record; he engineered it and mixed it. That was hard to let go of too; a lot of the production. But yeah, and then I actually recorded some of it actually in my parents’ house in California.
How do you feel it came out? It’s obviously a different sound than where you guys have been before. Not that it’s easy to pin down your sound at all…
I’m really happy. I think that it’s the most fulfilled that I’ve felt at the end of a record. Lyrically, musically, everything feels really comfortable and really right. It paralleled the way I feel about music and about myself at the moment, and I feel like that’s the best thing that can happen.
How have people been responding to what you’ve put out there so far from the new album?
From what I’ve heard or what I’ve seen, I think really, really, really well. But obviously there’s going to be people that were initially into the band based on it being a conceptual band and when that element is taken out, they’re going to… I’m sure we will lose some of those fans. I feel that we will lose them out of the fear that they think we’re making some ‘change’ completely, or ‘genre-swap.’ When we really never had a genre to begin with. I think it’s been really good, but don’t know. I don’t want to say I don’t care about that, but my fulfillment’s already happened. Making the record. If people do or don’t like it, it’s completely up to them and I couldn’t fault anyone for not liking it. I am definitely grateful to anyone who does.
So you’ve got this tour with Naïve Thieves coming up. How did you connect with them?
I played a show at the University of California at Riverside, randomly, just an acoustic. They were just the band that the promoter threw on to open it. I watched them and it was love at first sight with their band. I went up to them, we talked, and at the time I lived about an hour away. I said, “If you guys ever want to come down, I have a studio. I’ll record you for free; I’d just like to hear what you sound like.” Then we kind of developed this really wonderful friendship. I try to bring them everywhere I go.
Do you have future tour plans, beyond this tour with them coming up?
I don’t think we necessarily have any plans, but we’ve only done two shows into this headlining tour and it’s been the most amazing thing we’ve ever done. Right away it’s like, we don’t want to support a band again, we only want to headline. This is so much more rewarding. Hopefully we headline more.
POZ: Is it the plan to spend the next year or two out on the road?
I think that to spend as long as is natural, as long as there is a demand from people on this and not over-saturating things. We’ve never been to Europe or Japan. We’d really love to go there. But I just hope there’s a demand. That’s what I hope more so, is that there is a demand to hear the music.
Is there a certain venue size where it does or doesn’t make sense to do shows anymore?
We’re really in the 250-6 or 700 range. So I would say that if we play the places that we’ve always done amazingly and for some reason we’re playing in front of fifty kids; I’d say that’s the point that you should not go out on the road. But I don’t know. We’re taking some chances with this tour, playing some bigger rooms than we’ve ever played. I’m interested to see how it goes. But like I said, if the demand isn’t there and people aren’t coming out to shows, we’ll maybe retire to a studio band. The Death Rattle.
In the meantime, you’ve connected with Equal Vision. You’re on your own imprint, but that’s still part of the Equal Vision family. That’s a label that has a really diverse roster in terms of the sound. Do you feel like that was a selling point for you because you’re such a diverse-sounding band that dabbles in so many different things? Do you think you fit in well there because of that?
I don’t think anyone fits in well there. And I think that’s the best thing. I know there are some more ‘scream-y’ kind of bands, like the Peirce The Veil and… is Chiodos on that label? I don’t know. But then there’s stuff like Eisley and Say Anything and so what was really attractive was the fact that there were these different kinds of music and the people at the label loved it all and were passionate about it all. It became clear that they weren’t necessarily trying to cater to anything; they just were passionate about these bands. They wanted to help them achieve something and that was where it ended. That was the most attractive thing about them.
Finally, I have to ask: There were those Receiving End Of Sirens reunion shows. Is that the end of the end? Or is there the possibility that a couple more of those might happen?
If I’m being completely honest, there was an opportunity that we had late or mid last year to go and do a reunion tour. Big money, all that stuff… And something stopped it from happening. And then everyone got really weird, and now I feel like it was a very symbolic move. Someone had to be the one to say, “Hey, we’re not a band anymore. This stuff is stupid.” Playing a reunion show every year just means that you’re a band that doesn’t play a lot of shows. You know? We had that moment where it was like, “We’re not really a band. These people are so far detached from each other.” I would love to, but I can’t imagine it happening just because everyone is in such a different place. I wish I could be 19 and really stupid again. I do.
POZ: Do you want to pull those songs back out on your own?
I wouldn’t feel right. I’ve played, every now and then, maybe once every two years if I do an acoustic show, just for fun I’ll throw in a song. But even then it doesn’t feel right not having them with me. Like I said, it would be a dream come true, like re-living a dream. It’s weird. It’s like time traveling; going back to being 19 and stupid again. It’s really fun for a night and then you walk away from it and you’re like, “Wait a minute, I can barely stand after that set.” But I can’t imagine it happening. I hope it happens. I don’t know.
What have you been listening to lately?
I listen to a lot of Elbow and Doves and there’s this band called The Cardiacs. Recently, when we were in Australia, I saw on a TV station, this band, kind of a punk rock/post rock band from the early 80s called Scientists. I saw them late at night and I was like, “This is awesome.” Luckily they’re on Spotify and I’ve been listening to them. But it’s really mostly what anyone else puts on. One of the guys will turn on Tom Waits or D’Angelo and another guy will throw on The Stooges or a lot of punk rock. We listened to The Ramones last night. It’s all over. My brother will listen to the worst 80s, like Kajagoogoo. It’s like, “I hate you make this stop,” and he’s like, “Listen to the bass line!” It’s all over the place.
Does any of that seep into your writing?
Kajagoogoo? If it does it’s some weird subconscious masochistic part of me that wants to torment myself.
Any final thoughts? Where should we look for the new stuff or find you online?
Online. I think that’s the only place you can count on finding our stuff.
Is there vinyl coming for the new album?
by Jesse Richman
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