The Dear Hunter is an amibitous fellow. Under his recording artist alias, 27-year-old Casey Crescenzo released a nine-part EP series titled The Color Spectrum which devotes each disc to a color, totaling 36 songs spanning indie-folk, searing rock, anthemic epics and every shade in between. (The complete collection will see a deluxe release on Nov. 1.) Now opening on the road with Manchester Orchestra, The Dear Hunter talks ambition, his recent inaugural headlining tour and the elusive Act IV in his planned five-act concept album series. (Like we said: Ambitious.)
PureVolume: You had your first big headlining tour over the summer. How was it?
Casey Crescenzo: It was surprisingly awesome. We’d never done a national headlining tour. Done small, regional things, but had never done a national tour, so after that many years and not knowing how it would go, it was awesome.
PV: Was it something you had aspired to?
CC: Definitely. There were periods of time in the last few years when we started planning and routing a tour, and we would get an offer to go out with someone, like we got an offer to go with Thrice, and we were like, "I guess we should go just do that." So we’ve been trying to do it for a few years now, and the timing kind of just lined up perfectly.
PV: What was the experience of headlining like?
CC: It was just a totally different thing to be playing opening or supporting somebody else and trying to win most of the crowd over as opposed to most of the crowd being there for you and singing your words and standing through the night to watch you. It was confusing because I had gotten so used to addressing the audience a certain way and having to sort of stop the clamor out in the audience that’s usually there when you’re supporting. Having to try to get the attention is the biggest hurdle of supporting, and once you have that it’s pretty comfortable to deal with it. But in this case the attention is there, so that was kind of jarring, trying to calm down and realize these people were actually going to listen. But it was exciting.
PV: Was there a recent big pillar before the headlining tour?
CC: Definitely the release of The Color Spectrum, probably the biggest thing for me in my life musically.
PV: Yeah, that’s huge, I think that would be a pinnacle in a lot of careers. Do you think being a lesser known artist helps you pull things like that off?
CC: I think that maybe one of the reasons why I’m still or might always be a rising artist rather than an on-top artist is because of approaching stuff that way. And that might be kind of like a cop-out to making more popular music, if I didn’t try and be as ambitious. But I don’t know, I think I just don’t tend to think about that too much. I think I just was brought up that way.
PV: Do you have to push yourself to be this ambitious?
CC: No, I don’t think so. I think that most of the time if there’s any pushing, it’s pushing myself to be more realistic and that sort of mindset rarely wins. I kind of fall back to being detrimentally ambitious sometimes.
PV: A lot of people wouldn’t think that The Color Spectrum sounds realistic.
CC: A lot of people definitely said that it wasn’t realistic and didn’t think that it would happen at all, let alone all at once.
PV: What’s the origin of that musical ambition? Where’d you come from?
CC: I grew up in southern California and my family is a very musical family, not in like “The Partridge Family, we would go out and play together” kind of way. My parents met at a studio in San Francisco, my mom was like a studio vocalist and my dad was a producer/engineer and an instrumentalist. When I was growing up they were making music together...literally making music together, not romantically. The best way to describe it is like being bilingual from birth. I was brought up with this being another form of expression from such an early age, that it became really comfortable for me to express myself melodically or rhythmically. So having that sort of an upbringing, and also a really open-ended upbringing as far as politics or religion was concerned. Both my parents are somewhere between being full-on hippies and being very nose-to-the-grindstone kind of workers, and that sort of mentality of being very creative and very open, but also being very hardworking, rubbed off on me. So musically, that’s always been my approach to it...just working very hard, not looking at it as a job, not seeing anything wrong with the work that was being created. That attention to detail, taking your time with something, or at least not being afraid to take time where you should or not being afraid to let go of something when you should.
PV: So, tell me: Some rich, famous act that has all the backing in the world -- easier or tougher for them to be innovative?
CC: I think when you get to that point and the success of so many other people are relying on you maintaining that level of success, I think that it’s really hard for anybody to achieve or maintain that giant level of success by being ambitious. I think it’s a lot easier for me because the consequences are much smaller, you know? Even though we all put a lot of money and promotion and marketing into what I do, it’s a totally different thing, and I don’t think that it would be that easy to sustain that high level of success by being ambitious. I think that’s usually when artists kind of curb the ambition and start to become a little more digestible.
PV: How does it feel to be a solitary guy with a group name, like Iron & Wine or Bon Iver or EELS?
CC: Only with the last release did I embrace it, and I set it up a certain way, and for a really long time I tried to use having a band name as sort of a disguise, a way to take the eyes off of me personally and just widen the scope away from me for an audience. That sort of mentality of doing all the work myself, and writing all of the music, and producing it, engineering it, mixing it, and trying to have such a heavy hand in the business side of things -- but not wanting any of the focus to be on me -- that definitely didn’t really work. Just embracing the fact that if I’m going to do all of these things then I should personally be there to answer for it. It was a really big weight lifted off of me to just embrace that. I don’t think I would ever tour or I’d be very comfortable being just Casey Crescenzo, and having that being the name of whatever I was doing, but I definitely am comfortable now taking on that side of it, and embracing that it is kind of just me.
PV: What’s up for you after the Manchester Orchestra and White Denim tour?
CC: I think we actually have the rest of the winter off and I’ll probably just be writing, and I know I’m working with a couple of bands in my studio at that time.
PV: So is there a next move for The Dear Hunter?
CC: I don’t really know. I think The Color Spectrum has been going so well that all of my attention and focus has been directed at that, so where I usually have the next thing lined up in my head, I don’t really have that yet because it’s been going so well.
PV: Anything new you can tell us about Act IV?
CC: It’s tough because I’ve enjoyed so much doing something outside of that thought, but I’ve really been itching to get back to it. I think that whatever the next thing that’s going to happen is going to be so reliant on whatever I headspace I’m in right in the moment that someone says ‘you should go make another record’ that it could be just Act IV, some random record or it could be another overly ambitious thing. I don’t know, but I definitely want to get back to that at some point in the future.
PV: When was the last time Act IV popped up and what made you think of it?
CC: We were watching Mad Men and I noticed a lot of strange similarities between that show and the story I had written so far, so it was kind of funny because I was wondering after the point in that show where the similarities ended, just seeing where they went with it. I already have a pretty firm grasp on where I should go with it, but it kind of just pops up every few days in my head. It comes up all the time for sure.
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