The Dear Hunter | The Story So Far

DearhunterThumbOn any night, we can be a folk band, a pop band, a prog band, an industrial band, a shoegaze band…”

 

 

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In the span of two series of releases over the last 10 years, the Dear Hunter has ascended to the pinnacle of achievement when it comes to musical narrative. In that time frame, concept albums and thematic EP releases have become something of a staple in indie rock. Bands or solo artists use them to inspire themselves, or find a comfortable creative routine. This helps them lock into a story arc or song cycle via prompts to direct their creativity. It gives some artists a means to release product on a more frequent basis to support their craft, and for others, a justification for longer periods of gestation to orchestrate the continuity of their works.

Some of the more theatrical releases of this sort have provided career peaks, or resurgences for the artists involved, like Spring Awakening, American Idiot, The Black Parade, or Once. In some cases, the songwriters in bands have chosen to orient the entirety of their individual output as the band, or as side projects toward concepts like Smashing Pumpkins’ Tear Garden… series, Jon Foreman’s Fall, Winter, Summer, Spring, and The Wonderlands, or Andy Hull’s Right Away, Great Captain.

Some artists reserve overarching themes and concepts for a single release such as Thrice’s The Alchemy Index or MAE’s The Everglow

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Great songs and great albums have come of these efforts, but they all pale in comparison to the quality and quantity of material the Dear Hunter has released over the course of Acts I-III, and now the outstanding Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise, released September 4—four albums of what’s slated to be a six-album narrative. 

Following Migrant‘s release, Casey Crescenzo, the driving force behind the Dear Hunter, composed and recorded a four-part symphony with a full orchestra.While releasing the Acts, the Dear Hunter somehow found time to release The Color Spectrum, a series of EPs later collected as a box set, each inspired by a hue of the visual spectrum. No other artist rivaled the musical and conceptual achievement of The Color Spectrum in the time since its release…until now. Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise follows 2013’s Migrant, the only Dear Hunter album thus far not to adhere to an overarching theme of some sort. Migrant was a solid album that, somewhat contrarily, felt more of one piece in regard to production and arrangements than possibly any of the others. In contrast to The Color Spectrum, it was a study in subdued, complimentary hues.

 My expectations for Act IV were aligned with a continuation of the wonderfully composed, yet restricted horizons of these last two works, but what I found instead was an expert balancing of every release that has preceded it. Act IV feels as vibrant as pyrotechnic display at the turning of the year. It’s truly a feast for the ears—so much so that, when not listening, Act IV inspires conversing so that it, at the least, is heard of, if not heard. In that spirit, let us converse.

 

I can only but wonder how long these songs, their lyrics and arrangements both, have been in some for of development?

Crescenzo: Writing started, in a very small way, in the spring of 2014. After that, we did a little touring, and dug into the album in a more focused manner from September 2014 to March 2015.

What is the normal writing process for your songs, especially given the overarching narrative? Do the stories drive the arrangements or vice versa? Are their plotpoints outlined mapping the progress of the album? Has the writing and composition process changed over the years in any ways that you would not have expected?

For the most part, I start with the story, making note of the moments in the narrative that I would like to portray on the record. I don’t think its possible to aptly convey every detail in the albums without becoming a bit stale and technical, so I start by exploring what ideas and points would lend themselves to the narrative of an album first. After that, a song can come up through any number of ways—a melody, a chord progression, a simple lyric—and from there, I like to take whatever the most organic approach is to completing it, whether that means fleshing the song out on piano, or bringing the raw elements to the band to work out as a group. On this album, more than anything in the past, I would bring the skeletons of the songs to the group to see what everyone’s individual take was.

When bands make music as dynamic and robust as you have, translating it to the live setting doesn’t always come across. That has never seemed to be a problem for the Dear Hunter, but does the pressure grow as the sound and scope of the albums expand?

I’ve never felt the necessity to be a carbon copy of the album in the live setting. The album is there for anyone to listen to at any given moment, but a performance is about a fleeting moment. A lot of what some people may consider flaws, I consider to be contributions to the uniqueness of any particular night. That isn’t to say that we don’t take our performance seriously, but it is to say that there is a recognition of the disconnect between a performance and an album.

While I would love to be able to tour with an ensemble capable of performing the record in all of its polyphony, we approach our live show with a bit more reality in mind, and settle a bit more into the “rock band” persona.

Building off the previous question, what’s the current touring line-up for the Dear Hunter: How big is the band, who’s contributing? What’s it been like on the road this year?

At the moment, the band is six, including Andrew Brown on keys, Nick Crescenzo on drums, Rob Parr on guitar, Nick Sollecito on bass, Max Tousseau on guitar and keys…then, of course, I am playing the ukulele and theremin while doing slam poetry.

This year has been incredible thus far. We had our first trip to Europe and the U.K., and it couldn’t have been better. Now we are on day one of our U.S. tour in support of Act IV, and it’s looking pretty wonderful.

You all toured this spring and just got back from Europe where you played songs from all four Acts… “and more.” Now you’re going coast to coast, north and south behind this release. Just how on earth do you select a set list for this tour? The amount of quality material the Dear Hunter has released in these nine years is hard to rival—and bridle, for that matter, I’d imagine.

I think it goes back to the admission of being a live rock band. Given the amount of material, and the conceptual nature—it would be possible to design some sort of night around the concept—a stage show maybe? That just isn’t what we are interested in at this moment.

The decision of what music to play comes from a few different factors: what do we want to play, what have we played too much, what haven’t we played, what makes sense to play from our new record, what have we played but always goes well. Though that may sounds like an overly logistical approach, the truly most important factor is the first: What do we want to play? One of the reasons I have stopped performing a few songs is that I just lose interest in performing them, and I know that if I am up on stage, half-assing my way through a song that people can tell I’m not interested in, it will translate heavily to their experience at the show.

Since the albums have a range of emotional and musical tones to choose from, do you ever vary sets to hone in on a particular vibe? Did you all have a preference or notice a distinct change going from the Act II and III sets to Acts I and IV, and more?

One of the interesting things about being in this band is how we can chameleon our way through different types of tours. On any night, we can be a folk band, a pop band, a prog band, an industrial band, a shoegaze band. With a discography as varied as ours, you have a large palette to choose from when designing a night.

The difference when you have a set playing a record from start to finish, is that everyone’s anticipation is relatively dead on. If you know the track listing, you know exactly when you will hear any given song—and you also always know what is coming next. When we play a normal set, it’s a bit of a grab bag.

Do you put as much thought into musical compatibility when choosing tour mates as you do with album continuity, especially when you’re headlining?

No. I think a tour serves a different purpose than an album. We definitely want to create an atmosphere with a night on tour, but that is more of a curation than anything else.

At some point, might we ever see “An Evening with…” tour, where the Dear Hunter plays sans opener for the duration of a normal concert, inclusive of opening sets? Your vast library of releases almost demands that much to satisfy a longtime fan.

Actually, we have already done that. A few years back we did a tour with one opener who played 25 minutes, and then we did about two-and-a-half to three hours of material. It was definitely a marathon. Maybe again in the future, but I think we are enjoying a more traditional touring schedule for the time being.

The band has been touring for the majority of the year so far, literally spanning half the longitudinal lines on the globe. Once you’re off the road for this U. S. tour, what’s next? Everything you seem to do is epic, so I can’t help but be curious.

I have a few projects at home that I am working on, but nothing of note just yet. I am hoping we can get back out early next year, and would love to continue finding new places the band hasn’t been. | Willie Edward Smith

The Dear Hunter plays the Ready Room in St. Louis on Wednesday, September 16, with Chon and Gates.

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