Friday, March 29, 2013

Interview With Casey Crescenzo (The Dear Hunter) (3/23/13)

When starting out in music journalism, I knew exactly what I wanted to do-- show who musicians really are. Music can say so much, but even if an album speaks perfectly for itself, its creator can, as Casey Crescenzo told me, come across as some "cloudheaded" figure. This is silly, of course-- musicians are just as human as we are-- but it can be hard to realize that, especially in this time of readily accessible music.

This is why it was such a pleasure to speak with The Dear Hunter's Casey Crescenzo. The man is honest and humble, and a wonderful conversationalist when it comes down to it.

Alright, Casey-- so with The Color Spectrum, The Dear Hunter was throwing a lot of ideas against the wall, and testing out its boundaries. And I can imagine Migrant, which is coming out next week, is going to be much more focused. Is that accurate? How would you say the album compares with what you accomplished on The Color Spectrum?

The fact that it isn't easily relatable to any past records represents what I accomplished with The Color Spectrum. Acts 1, 2 and 3 are fairly eclectic in terms of how genres go, but The Color Spectrum was literally eclectic, you know? So with that, I think it made it clear I don't just want to play one genre of music.

This record not being easily relatable to any other records is an accomplishment. This record is more focused, but it's more focused in a direction that hasn't necessarily been explored before. In the body of the discography, it's very different.

Yeah, there are a lot of things that have changed. With the Acts, there was a set storyline you went with. I'm sure the albums still had a blueprint in terms of the story, a constant you could depend upon when all else fails. This changes with Migrant, where there aren't necessarily any established boundaries. Do you feel like this has helped you with the process of creating the album, with you having the ability to create whatever you feel like creating at the moment?

Yeah, it's helpful in the sense of boundaries being gone. It's also not helpful because when boundaries are placed in the right way, they help you to focus. With this, it was clear that the goal was to write an honest record, but the refinement process was very confusing for me. The goal was more abstract, in terms of honestly expressing myself. That's a pretty abstract goal! A focused idea, like the concept of a concept album, is easier for me to do because it's already there: the blueprint's already there. It was easier for me to express myself for Migrant,  but it was harder for me to refine that expression.

Expressing yourself to such a degree definitely isn't what you're accustomed to. I can imagine you're used to working with a set schedule. So out of everything you've accomplished on Migrant-- Casey, the owner of MuzikDizcovery actually has a copy of the album, and has been taunting me about it for awhile now, saying "yeah, it's awesome!"

*laughs* I actually didn't know they were going to do any advanced copies!

I can't honestly say if I know if reviews help a band. Unless they're pandering reviews, like in Pitchfork, where it's going to blow a band up, since it's a part of a group of people where they eat it up and buy into it. The time we were a band where you would get cred for listening to us has passed. Now it's just that if you like our band, you like our band. I never thought the advanced record game made sense, because that's usually how it leaks! You give it to somebody, and they don't give a shit, and they send it to their friends.

I'll make sure Casey doesn't send it to anyone else, then! *laughs* So what's your opinion on reviewing/press coverage for music?

The only thing it really causes is bad-- it causes the artist to be angry at that person. Nobody can pretend it doesn't. If it's good, the writer ends up liking that specific journalist or writer, just because they complimented them. It only affects the artist/journalist relationship-- I guess if you care about a review, you're not really a fan of music. If you're a fan of music, then you want to hear it for yourself, and you want to judge it for yourself, to see if it's something you enjoy. If you go on the opinions of others, that lets you not listen to something, then you're not really that interested in music.

I think it definitely takes a certain type of thinking to understand reviewing, and to understand it's just a person's opinion on an album, as opposed to being an "objective truth."

And "professional opinions" has always been a funny idea to me.

You can go to a major music magazine and check out their professional opinions, and they can be pretty laughable. But I definitely think there's something to be said for reviewing that comes from understanding an artist. One thing I try to accomplish with music journalism is trying to write for people who are willing to listen to others' opinions, but not take them as fact.

I just wonder what use an opinion in a platform like that really is. If I found a record, or was told to review a record and I didn't like it, and I thought there was something bad about it, I wouldn't post a review about it. If the hope by posting a good review is to spread music you believe in, then it seems like the hope of posting a bad review is to stop music that you don't believe in. Otherwise, it's a very self-serving approach to being a listener. If I had my own publication, I would find the music I love, that I thought everybody would love, and I would try my best to get that music to their ears, instead of warning them against the music I don't like. I've always had a very low opinion of the album-- not the person that does it, but just the idea of the album review.

I do get that. I can tell you for sure that sometimes, it feels pointless to write negatively about an album. A lot of times, I might just not care for a certain album. It doesn't mean I don't want other people to listen to it. But ultimately, what ends up happening is that I might write negatively about it, but it isn't anything thoughtless like "oh, the album sucks!" It's definitely paying respect to the artist, and-

-I don't even mean unprofessional. I'm sure there's a professional way to say something sucks. But, what's the goal in saying that it sucks?

That's a very good question, and one I don't quite have the answer for!

One thing I like about MuzikDizcovery, though, is that it focuses on the highlights of music.

Which it should-- it totally should.

Right. And when we find things we really enjoy, we speak about them, and about why we enjoy them so much, and what that experience boils down to. For me, it's a personal thing-- I went through high school with the Act albums, and I've been following the Dear Hunter ever since. Every album has its twists and turns, and it's always been a rollercoaster I've enjoyed watching.

I'd say this is what music journalism is all about for me, being able to broadcast the music I'm passionate about to other people. I guess one of my goals here, and through any interview, is to show the human element to the music. When I was a kid and listened to all my favorite albums, it was hard to picture the people that made the album through the music, you know?

Yeah, it's really easy to think it was just willed into existence. You don't really think about all the arguments the people had to have to get a record finished, or whatever the specific person was going through. And sometimes that knowledge might take the magic out, but sometimes adding that humanity into it, and the flaws from the people who made it, makes it that much more enjoyable. It takes the artist down from this place of "mythological idea" to "it's just a person. They just chose to express themselves this way.

But for me, music is made so much more special when I am able to associate the creator, as a human being, and not just this alien that came down and dropped all of their music off, and that's it. I think that is important. And I appreciate you trying to show that, that it's not just contrived, cloudheaded music that shows up out of nowhere.

A big issue with music right now is that it's so easily accessible. I can log into Spotify, and I can find pretty much any band, and easily start playing them. At that point, it does feel like it's just conjured by "the Spotify beings." At that point, it's easy for the music to lose that intimate feel.

If you have to go through your own journey to where it takes you a bit of time to become an audience member, it is easier to put that in a realistic place, as opposed to a service like Spotify, or even iTunes. There's no journey to find music. The "journey" is just searching on your phone, and then it pops up. You press a button to pay, instead of even handing it to someone. It's a scary thing to me.

I use Spotify, though. I can't complain. It's terrible-- I mean, it's so easy. Any record I can think of, I just look for it and find it, and I feel better about myself because I'm not downloading it *laughs*, but still it's what, like a dollar per year? It's excessively low for the music I listen to.

It's interesting, too, to consider how little artists make from Spotify.

I think I read something about Lady Gaga being paid out only $1,000 from Spotify *laughs*. But I don't know! At this point, if you're in a band and are making music because you think you're going to make money, then you're making a giant mistake.

Especially through Spotify, too. The way I see the service is that it's not the way for bands to get paid. It's the way music is spread-- that word of mouth really gets around, and helps artists.

I agree. But it's only marginally better than just torrenting, you know what I mean? It removes a couple of steps, and it puts in place a payment that's more on principle than practical application that benefits the artists. The audience has to pay for it, but it's a face value thing. It's less about supporting the music through that platform, and more about, like, how I feel better when I pay for Spotify. Even though I know I'm not really going good for the music community! *laughs* It's at least a slap on the wrist for people who download a bunch of free music.

But it is a very good way to spread music. Many people are lazy, and need it to be easily accessible, or else they wouldn't find out about it. So many people now grew up in a time where they don't go to a record store-- you don't buy an album based on the cover, and then find out the band, and then look at everything else they ever made and stay for everything else they make then on. It's just not that time anymore. The closest you can get is using the iTunes thumbnails, but nobody's-- maybe somebody is, but I don't anybody does that.

If somebody asked me if Spotify is positive or negative, I'd definitely say it's positive. It's at least attempting to taek the unfortunate side of technology and find a middle ground, as to where it can be a) legal, b) beneficial to all parties, and c) somewhat innovative, in the process of the music industry's shift. It's a really good step, but hopefully it gets somewhere!

Yeah, it seems more a "means to an end" type deal to me, for sure. Back to the topic of leaking-- are you concerned about when the record leaks?

Not at all! Even if it didn't leak before it came out, it's going to leak when it comes out. I can't imagine that the people who download it illegally, who don't want to pay, just because it didn't leak before it comes out-- I don't think they're going to be like "Oh, shit. I guess I'll buy it on the day it comes out!" Because the day it comes out, it will leak. *laughs* So it doesn't matter if it leaks. People who want to buy it, people who want to own a physical copy are going to do it. People that aren't just aren't, and to have anything other than indifference would be futile to possess. So I'm indifferent to it.

So I'm sure one thing a lot of fans are wondering is about Migrant's sound. Would you say there's a particular EP from The Color Spectrum that most closely represents the album's style?

I would say that when I made the White EP, I felt like it was a sound I'd love to explore further. It's more shoegazey with ambient texture-- not a thousand tracks, but the tracks that are there are very full and lush. I'd say the production style-- especially since I produced it with Mike Watts, who I did the White EP with-- is similar to the White EP, instrumentation and all that.

A big thing for us in making it was that we didn't want to rely on a single trick in the book. We didn't want to do edits, and copying and pasting. I've never been a fan of tuning things, or correcting things, and it took a lot of time. It was tough, because even something as simple as "Okay, this take has been perfect, but there's this one little part with the guitar, and we could just cut it or move it, just a millisecond back. But it's like "No, we play it right and get what we get." That approach is really exciting. All things considered, that's probably the biggest part of the sound that is similar to the White EP. There's probably a little of everything, but it's mostly White.

There are definitely some trademarks from The Color Spectrum that left an impression of "well, it wouldn't be surprising for Casey to take this direction." Others felt more like blatant experimentation, like the electronics-infused Indigo EP.

I would love to make a whole record like that, but I think I'd like to do that as a project, unless if it's a statement, like "this is the next Dear Hunter album." I hope I do get time to do something like that. I'd love to make records like the Black and Indigo EPs.

Do you ever consider making a side project for those types of ideas?

I do, but then I realize "what would excuse it as being something in a side project? I already did it under the name The Dear Hunter." There's no style of music I could excuse as being a side project, because it would seem so arrogant to be the songwriter of this band, and then-- how do you legitimize "yeah, I just needed to go and do my own thing!" *laughs*

It'll probably be some limited-run thing, or maybe just online, but something that doesn't have the face of "this is the next Dear Hunter record. This is what we're going to be promoting for two years." It'll just be called The Dear Hunter. *laughs* I don't want to call it anything.

Overall, talking with Casey was a blast. It puts Migrant into context, and makes the album infinitely easier to appreciate. The album's actually available for streaming now on Billboard, so check it out at the following link:

Album Stream

And if you feel like supporting Casey Crescenzo and his musical endeavors, go pre-order Migrant on The Dear Hunter's website!



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