Dear Hunter fans who have an affinity to the band’s majestic aural presence are in for another treat with their latest effort, Migrant, out April 2 via Equal Vision and Cave & Canary Goods. As mainman Casey Crescenzo elaborates in the Q&A below, the new record is deliberately more personal and nuanced than its counterparts in The Color Spectrum EPs or the Act series.
Whereas the Acts I – III albums wax poetic through opulent rock and roll and Casey’s last effort, The Color Spectrum, was a challenge from which he broadened his musical vocabulary, Migrant is a more candid and introspective release. Though it is probably the most subdued Dear Hunter album to date, the true success of Migrant is that it isn’t so much a stripped-down version of the band as it is yet another stem from which a new incarnation may bloom.
Casey talked about writing songs en masse, producing Migrant and finally giving his fans what they want with the upcoming “Evening With…” shows.
We spoke after The Color Spectrum came out and, from our conversation, it didn’t seem like writing all 36 of those songs was that big a deal for you. So I’m wondering, are you a Rivers Cuomo type, where you can write 100 or more songs for each record? How much ends up in the scrap heap?
Do you mean a big deal in the sense that I felt the quantity was part of the accomplishment?
Well, when you decided to write 36 songs for your next release, was there any doubt as to how long it would take?
No. It’s weird. I don’t write a lot unless I’m in the mode of writing. I know people like Rivers Cuomo and a lot of other professional songwriters, they have that rule to write a song a day. I’ve never really done that comfortably. But when I’m inspired, I just won’t cut it off. If I’m really inspired, it will be as many songs as come out at once. It could be 10 songs a day; it could be one song a week. If I’m inspired by something, I just don’t want to cut it off. I never really leave the studio. When it’s time for me to write, when I’ve set aside that time from touring and I’m in that mode, I can write a lot and I like to write a lot.
For instance, the record we just finished, there’s 18 recorded, mixed and mastered tracks, but there was a good 10 or 15 other ones I’d been writing that I probably could have gone through and actually finished, but just because I was in the mode and inspired and I just love writing music so much when I get a chance to do it I don’t want to stop.
So you don’t practice writing songs?
Well, I’m not disciplined in the sense that I look at it as my job to write a song every day. I’m disciplined in the sense that if I feel inspired, I’m not going to just sit on it. I’m not going to let it just go away. I think that taking such a clinical approach to something that’s meant to be so creative, even if it is looked at as being disciplined, I think is a counterintuitive approach to art in general.
I think if you had a painter, or really any artist, who forced themselves to write or paint every single day and complete a painting, over time you would recognized that, you know—not to take a dig, but if you look at Rivers Cuomo, you see the quality of his work being depleted—it’s gradually degrading. I think that’s because, when you work against your natural inspiration, it can rarely have a positive outcome.
What do you do when you’re not writing? Now that I know that’s not all you do…
When I’m not writing, I’m usually on tour (laughs). But when I’m not on tour and I’m not writing, I really love turning my brain off, just hanging out with my wife and my dogs. I take the dogs for walks and [my wife] really loves going to thrift and antique stores, so we like to do that, just normal stuff. Anything really. I’ll rent a video game and try to beat it in a couple days because I get bored with them really quick.
I write a good amount because I try to be really active with the process. When I’m home from tour, I do like to be creatively active. Like at the end of the tour we’re about to go on, I’ll take a week and then head into the studio to produce a record.
When you started writing for The Color Spectrum or for Migrant, did you do so with that particular project already in mind?
Yeah, definitely. Less with Migrant because it’s not so rigid a project, it’s not a conceptual project, but definitely with Color Spectrum I set off with that in mind. With Migrant, my idea when I started writing was just what it became, writing music from the heart that wasn’t tethered to anything. I knew I wanted it to be part of a record transparently about myself. That’s as far as I really took the pre-conceptualizing this time.
So how did you know the songs weren’t for the Act series?
Because when I write the Acts, they are a sustained thing. I know when I’m setting off to write for those. There’s certain things lyrically and melodically that I will set out to do on those that I wouldn’t really set out to do on a record that isn’t about that story.
Since doing The Color Spectrum and incorporating all those different styles of music into one project, do you feel more empowered to use such otherwise disparate elements into what else you do?
Yes and no. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that I have to keep the music or the production or arrangements or anything like that in a specific box that was that rigid. But I think The Color Spectrum freed up my mind to do something like Migrant that was not so conceptual. Color Spectrum left a lot of room for a wide array of styles. I’ve always felt pretty open about having no boundary lines when I’ve been making records or writing songs.
Did your parents perform vocal harmonies on the album again this time?
Yeah. My mom flew out to Long Island when I was making the record and she sang a lot of it. Then I did some of the record out at my parents’ house in California and my sister sang the chorus of one of the songs [“Girl”].
Migrant is less rock. It’s more driven by piano than guitar, bass and drums like the Act records seem to be. Is that just because you were writing more on piano?
I think it was a conscious decision to maintain that initial song throughout the production. 99 percent of it was written on piano, so I think it felt right to keep that a focal point. But also, I think, it was a conscious decision to make it a slightly more stripped-down record, as far as the scope and the grandeur goes. The idea was to keep the tone in general a little bit smaller with not so many doubles and big rock guitar and heavy spots on the record. I think those are more minimal.
Yeah, listening to it the other day it struck me that a lot of the vocals don’t sound doubled, even in the choruses.
Yeah. If I was to go do an Act record right now, I’m sure it would have more of that sort of [big production with doubles and the like]. I tend to take more liberties when it comes to layering on vocal tracks to make it a more thematic, theatrical, grandiose sound. But aligning with the lyrics of this new record being transparently about myself, I think it was important to not dehumanize the performances by over-layering them or over-doubling them.
As you double vocals, they lose their intimate inflection, and whatever transparent emotion that’s trying to be conveyed in them is washed out, which can be a good thing. For this record, I think it was important not to do that.
What’s the setlist like for the “Evening With…” tour you’re doing?
I think the setlist is about 24 songs. We play about two hours. There are only three tracks from the new record that we’re playing. The rest of it is a really healthy dose of everything we’ve done so far, at least three songs from every record and a good number of songs from The Color Spectrum as well. It’s really varied, you know.
We’ve never really had the opportunity or the demand to do a tour like this, but it seems like tickets are selling well, so we’ll see. Hopefully people stay for the two hours of us playing. It’s pretty varied. It definitely runs the discography thus far.
To me as someone who’s been into you guys for just a couple years, these kinds of tours are what you should be doing, as far as the ground which you’ve covered over the span of your career.
Yeah. I’m hoping that this will be the first tour where people leave wholly satisfied because, for the most part, we’ve been victims of the schedule of the night and we have a really varied fanbase. It’s so hard in certain minutes, especially after a new record comes out, to give one person what they’ve come to see. Without fail, every single show we’ve ever played has been followed by people who were really happy to see the show, but were also like, “Why didn’t you play these five songs?”
It may be overcompensating. This is just really, really going at it, playing the songs that people ask for—not all of the songs, but most of the songs people have asked for and trying and mix in the songs that selfishly just make me really happy to play. I’m hoping this will be the first tour that people don’t walk away saying, “I really wish they played this instead of that.”
And hopefully for the next tour, they’re not so satisfied from this one that they don’t come to see you.
Yeah (laughs), that’s true. I don’t think about that too often, but it is true. Hopefully it doesn’t just give them what they need for life and then they walk away, never to see the band again.
I guess the hope is that the reaction to the record is good and that I can continue making records that people will enjoy. I guess if they stop enjoying the records and see all the songs they want to see from the past, that there would be no reason to come and see us again.
What does the live band look like these days? When I’ve seen you previously, you’ve had a six-piece, but I see that you had a small string ensemble for The Color Spectrum DVD.
It’s just the six-piece. I’ve been trying desperately to bring the strings out for the tour, but it just logistically doesn’t make sense. We’re not really at that point yet where we can play stages big enough to accommodate that. If we were to do that now, I think it would sacrifice the core band’s ability to actually enjoy ourselves on stage without knocking over someone’s music stand.
Hopefully in time we’re able to play stages that are all the size of the stage we played The Color Spectrum show and will free us up to do a little more.
Is there anything you want to add to the interview?
No, just thank you for doing the interview and I hope you genuinely enjoyed the record. Genuinely. Even if you can’t tell me that you didn’t enjoy it, I just hope you actually enjoyed it. And I hope people actually enjoy it. But other than that, just thank you.
The Dear Hunter will be playing at Union Transfer on March 27 and the Gramercy Theatre on March 28. Their new album, Migrant, is set to be released April 2. For more information, go to thedearhunter.com.