Shaky Knees 2016: The Dear Hunter X Vinyl Mag
What started as a solo project of frontman Casey Crescenzo eventually turned into a full band with over a hundred songs to their name. Progressive rock band The Dear Hunter features a wide variety of instruments and sounds and is known for their creation of immersive concept albums. Vinyl Mag got the chance to sit down with Crescenzo at Shaky Knees to talk inspiration and the strategic writing process behind each new creation.
Vinyl Mag: You guys have such a huge back catalogue. How do you narrow it down when you’re playing a set at a festival?
Casey Crescenzo: It’s really hard, honestly, especially because we always want to just play new songs. The one’s that we’re the most fresh on, and excited about. Represent us the most in the moment. But I think that’s a little too selfish to do it only that way. So it’s just a mix. What songs do we really really want to play right now and what songs do we think people who already know us might want to hear. If they aren’t super up to date on all the new stuff. But it’s pretty chaotic, the act of making a set list.
VM: I love the idea of you doing concept albums. Can you tell us a little bit about the writing process behind it?
CC: Yeah, I think it’s changed per record. The first few records were really just me, in a room writing for hours on end. And this last record is the first time it was really kind of, I gave the band a treatment of the story and concept artwork that no one else would see and just—nerding out on it—but just so they would have a frame of reference of where my head’s at about it. Cause I think of track listings before there’s a note of any of the songs, just to spell it out. So lately it’s been me coming with a few skeletons, and then everybody in the band, I don’t want to say putting their mark on it, because that sounds like they’re forcing it, but it’s like everybody with the story in mind and with the concept in mind kind of working together to complete a song, or a record.
VM: So when you’re writing, do the lyrics normally come before the music?
CC: No, I think the meaning comes before the music. But the lyrics usually are the last thing I do. When I’m writing music I sing with it, but it’s mostly just phonetics and gibberish, and I get my melody really comfortable. And this is going to sound really clinical, but it’s almost like painting by numbers, because I know the cadences already, I know the rhythms and the melodies, so it’s kind of like I know the rhythms, I know the melodies, I don’t know the lyrics yet but I know what I want to say with them, so it’s an easier process than to write lyrics from scratch. With no melody and no idea. But that is usually the last thing to come. Curiously enough with a concept album. I’m not a poet, so I don’t just sit and write poetry.
VM: So if you were describing your sound to someone who has never heard your music, what would you say?
CC: No idea, I hate when people say we’re just music, or it’s eclectic or something like that. Usually when people do ask I say it’s a rock band because I think if you took the widest cross section of the band that’s the element that’s shared amongst all the varying genres, but honestly there’s everything from Latin folk, to dark industrial rock, to ambient, kind of shoegaze music, to just pop. There’s plenty of just stupid pop songs that I’ve written. But it’s really all over the place, so instead of it being just kind of like, oh there’s something for everybody, it’s more like there’s everything for people who want to hear everything. And I think that’s why it doesn’t really appeal to a wide audience, it’s more just people like me who just like music, and aren’t necessarily genre specific. They don’t really have an interest, or exclusively listen to one type of music. So that’s the people I think it appeals to, and that’s what I usually describe it as, rock music that can be pretty much any type of genre.
VM: People that enjoy the meaning behind the songs too.
CC: Yeah I think it goes both ways. I think some people get really into the story, and then some people don’t think about the story at all and just think about the visceral pleasure of it. Some people cast the story away and the lyrics still have meaning. I mean there’s some songs that are really plot-driven, concept record songs. But there’s 90% of music I believe has a meaning, and can be enjoyed void completely of a concept. It is still identifiable and relatable without being over arching, 30 hours, space odyssey music.
VM: When it comes to playing something like Shaky Knees, do you have a different way of choosing your songs, as opposed to playing a smaller venue?
CC: Yeah, I think it’s just knowing that we’re not a headliner here. And knowing that while some people might know us, it’s not necessarily satisfying people who might know us at a show like this, it’s more of what do you choose that you think might be interest-catching for people who have no idea who you are. I mean we arrange a set the same way we would if we were supporting a bigger band, like going on tour as a supporter. I think the headliner sets we do are usually a little more selfish, a little bit more what do we want to play and what would our fans want to hear. And not even thinking about what might be interesting to someone who’s never heard us.
VM: So what’s next for the Dear Hunter after this? Any tour dates you’re looking forward to, or anything new you’re working on?
CC: We actually do this and then two days off , and then we start a three week tour with O’ Brother and Rare Futures. But we do that until the beginning of June, then we have a few months off and I don’t really know what’s after that, but those are the immediate things.
VM: An exciting few weeks ahead it sounds like. Staying busy.
CC: Lots of friends, that’s the best thing is we’re friends with all those people. Mini vacation.