INTERVIEW: The Dear Hunter | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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When it comes to describing The Dear Hunter‘s musical output, ‘ambitious’ is something of an understatement. Not only does the Providence, Rhode Island band’s expansive sound encompass a wide range of genres, from lush orchestral pop to progressive experimental rock, but the very structure of The Dear Hunter’s releases form a complex, over-arching concept that takes on a life entirely of its own.

Initially formed in 2005 as a side project for front man Casey Crescenzo while he was a full-time member of post-hardcore band The Receiving End of Sirens, The Dear Hunter became Crescenzo’s main focus when asked to leave his former band in 2006. Thus both Crescenzo’s musical scope and the vision for his project were free to expand, birthing the concept of ‘The Dear Hunter’, the story of a boy that would arc across a six album structure, each labelled different ‘Acts’, and beginning with Act 1: The Lake South, The River North. “Initially, when I first was writing music for The Dear Hunter and the music associated with these concept records, I was still a member of another band,” explains Crescenzo. “So the creation of a theme and plot helped me focus my song writing in a specific direction – and helped me to musically compartmentalize my approaches to that song writing. When The Dear Hunter evolved past the stage of being a project of extra time, I continued with the concept after finding the liberation I felt when writing within it.”

The notion of the concept album is nothing new to rock music, but the sheer scale of Crescenzo’s ambition surrounding the story is astounding. Everything is based upon personal experience “just with varying degrees of embellishments, romance and the benefit of representing these experiences from a single perspective”, allowing Crescenzo to therapeutically process his life through the fantasy of the story. Given the complexity of the plot, it’s best to allow Crescenzo himself to summarise: “The most basic reduction of the plot is as simple as the full life of a central character. Diving into it just a bit, the story follows a man through his life in the early 1900’s in a setting that parallels history, but escapes anachronisms through a more fantastical approach to that history. Born as the son of a prostitute, the character was raised without knowledge of the most upsetting truths around him, all in the effort to protect his heart and mind. But when his mother passes, he loses his life’s compass, and is left to fend for himself with a fairly ignorant world view. The rest of the stories follow him through everything from interactions with a train full of oracles, a borderline oedipal love interest, the great war, and back to the city he calls home, but as a different person.”

the story follows a man through his life in the early 1900’s in a setting that parallels history, but escapes anachronisms through a more fantastical approach to that history

It’s safe to say that Crescenzo is something of a prodigy. Having committed himself to such an elaborate project it’s understandable that he has sought breathing space while embarking upon the journey of his concept albums, side-stepping away from these after 2009’s Act III: Life and Death to create 2011’s The Colour Spectrum and 2013’s Migrant. Migrant sees Crescenzo take the more traditional song writing route, writing more openly about his personal experiences. Clearly never one to shy away from an expansive project, The Colour Spectrum consists of nine EPs, each relating to a certain colour. “I don’t know if I really have a preference between writing concept and non-concept songs – it’s just a need to be creative. When I finished the Colour Spectrum, I knew that I needed a bit of a palate cleanser creatively, and diving back into the ‘Act’ records felt impossible to me. I had been writing music that didn’t feel like it belonged on Act IV, and I couldn’t just slap an ‘Act’ title on it. I wanted to make sure that every song or record I wrote was organic and honest, so when the time came to get back in the studio, it just wasn’t time yet. So I took the music I was proud of, and went to work on a record that could be more transparently autobiographical. Having that out of my system was necessary, and I don’t think I could have written Act IV without having written Migrant.”

This may all seem wildly fanciful and a little extravagant to some, but don’t let that put you off. If you’re feeling slightly mystified, it’s best to let the music do the talking. Despite the chronology of each Act thus far and the diversions of Migrant and The Colour Spectrum, it’s not necessary as a listener to follow in any specific order. Dip into any Dear Hunter record and you’ll find songs of passion and intensity, songs that demonstrate intricate chamber pop arrangements to more immediate bursts of alt. rock: a palette as varied and magnificent as Crescenzo’s story telling. At the core of each song is his heart and soul, all poured out in his astonishing, towering vocal. If you must pick a track for a means of introduction, look no further than The Kiss of Life on Migrant. One of The Dear Hunter’s more unashamedly ‘pop’ songs, it has the kind of life-affirming, soaring quality that has the power to reduce the listener to tears. The Dear Hunter are a worthy investment of your time.

So now we’re up to speed, September 2015 will finally see the release of the next Act of the concept albums, Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise, which finds the protagonist “returned to the city of his past under the assumed identity of the man he found to be his brother who died on the battlefield.” Though the sprawling concept is nearing its end, surely it’s been an exhaustive undertaking. Does Crescenzo ever tire of it? “I never tire of it. I feel compelled, but it’s all in my heart and mind, not external. At the point I felt like it was a chore, I would happily end it, whether it was premature or otherwise. At risk of redundancy, I have a serious adherence personally to staying honest and true in whatever it is that I am doing…it’s selfish, because those attributes are what bring me the most enjoyment.”

The Dear Hunter play Think Tank? Newcastle on Saturday 29th August. Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise is released on 4th September via Equal Vision.

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