Interview: The Dear Hunter's Casey Crescenzo Talks 'The Color Spectrum'

When your first three albums are the first three "acts" of a massive six-part narrative, and you decide to take a break from it, an EP sounds like a reasonable route to take. Or in the case of The Dear Hunter's Casey Crescenzo, nine of them.

Earlier this summer, The Dear Hunter released a sprawling nine-disc, 36-song body of work titled The Color Spectrum, with a 4-song EP dedicated to each of the seven colors and the two tones -- black and white. The recording on the project are as varied as the colors, with everything from the heavy, psychedelic riff in "But There's Wolves?" to the charming acoustics of "The Canopy" taking the listener on an aural journey through a proverbial prism of music.

We recently caught up with Casey while on the first leg of The Dear Hunter's first ever headlining tour to talk about The Color Spectrum, and what massive project he might have next...

How’s the tour going?

It’s going really well. We just played the night before last in Pittsburgh and now we have a week off. My brother is actually getting married so we have kind of like a week break in the middle of the tour and then we start back up on the 9th. But the first half of the tour has been pretty amazing.

This is your first headlining tour, right?

Yeah it’s the first legitimate national headlining tour. From time to time we’ve done a few regional headlining tours, mostly on the East Coast and I think once in five years we did a couple weeks on the west coast, but never one that actually went around the entire country.

So how does that feel to get under your belt?

It’s amazing. Its not like we’re playing in front of thousands of kids every night, but to have a hundred or two hundred or three hundred people come out that are really excited, and for them to come out all over the country and sing along... It’s been pretty shocking. But aside from that, playing for five years now and never having done it, to be able to do it feels like a right of passage.

Your latest release The Color Spectrum, which is the 9 EPs that cover the seven colors and the two tones. That’s a pretty massive undertaking. At what point in the creative process did you set out to do that? Or did it just kind of become that?

It’s actually an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while now. The first time I felt inspired to do it was while I was writing Act II. Someone just asked me what I wanted to do once I was done with the other set of records that I’m working on. It just felt like a very natural response that I wanted to try to do a series of records based on the color spectrum. It kind of just sat around a while.

You know, going through the 18-month touring and record cycle and doing the first three albums I did and I didn’t know when I would have the time for it. And then the time just presented itself and I thought that it was the perfect moment to do it all at once, and spent the last year just writing and recording the 9 EPs. The idea from the beginning was approaching it that way. It wasn’t like I had written 40 songs and said, “Oh this one sounds kind of blue, and this one fells kind of yellow.”

Yeah and its cool how each color has a distinct feel to it. How did you go about assigning a different style or mood to each color?

I tried with every aspect of the project to really try not to overanalyze things. All that it really is was my creative instinct from that color ended up being and I didn’t want to labor over it and go to far. I just didn’t want to over think it. It's just natural, it was what it made me feel and the tonalities and genres that naturally came out of that inspiration is what I tried to run with. Instead of overanalyzing things and trying to represent what those colors would be to everyone it’s really what those colors mean to me personally.

Kind of a left field question, but I’m really curious. Something like 1/20th of the population has synesthesia, which in its most common form means that you associate colors in your mind with everything from sounds to numbers and letters. Is that something that you have, or have talked to fans that have this that would be able to comment on that?

I don’t exactly know what having synesthesia would be. But I know that I do associate color with sound. And I do have a very visual response to sound. But I don’t really know what it would mean to have it for sure. I have talked to fans that definitely do. Its pretty cool because some of them will say, “Oh I heard this song and you totally messed the mark,” and then I will talk to others that have it and they will say “Oh you perfectly represented the way I see music.” I think that’s just for one it shows the subjectivity of inspiration. Isn’t synesthesia across synopses or neurosis?

Yeah, it usually leads to really strong memory in people because it creates another synaptic connection with things in the mind.

And sometimes you can see sound, or smell sight. So many different outcomes of that. It’s very interesting. I don’t think I actually have it as much as I just have a visual inspiration from sound. Although very fascinating.

Talk a little bit about your song writing process.

For the most part, I just sit down at a piano or a guitar and I try my best to be as detached as possible. I do look at it the act of song writing as working. Like with any muscle or anything you have to practice and work hard at it. You can’t just sit around and wait for that inspiration to strike, or expect it to come out of absolutely nowhere; you have to at least make yourself available to that inspiration.

It's not like I painted the room red and sat waiting for inspiration. But for this specific project, I tried my best to open myself up to the colors internally or at least use them as inspiration. I started like anyone with chords, and basic structure. Like sculpting, once you see the basic form it’s easier to fill in bigger details. And by the end of it the small details present themselves as naturally as possible.

For the most part I write lyrics and melody after I’ve completed the song as chords. A lot more often I do them simultaneously, from the natural instinct of singing over whatever I’m writing; it’s actually quite chaotic. Its almost like I have a rolodex in my head of everywhere I could possibly want to go for the next chord once I’ve played the first. I simultaneously go through them all until I play it and it feels right.

So talk about some of the guitars used on album. I’m sure with 36 tracks there were quite a few...

I know on Black I ended up using my cousins Les Paul -- I can’t remember if it was a Studio or Custom. But it was a fairly standard Les Paul because I wanted the guitars to be really meaty and throaty and dirty. But there were a couple of clean guitar parts that I used the American Jaguar issue.

On Red, since it was recorded at Manchester Orchestra's studio, I ended up using everything they had there. I think they had a few Gibsons and more custom Telecasters. My favorite guitar I used was the Fender '70s Strat reissue which is the obvious Hendrix mock guitar. I used that for all of the Orange EP. I think was the most obvious choice because I wanted to go down the dimed out Marshall with the Crybaby Wah and the Olympic white Strat route. I mean I think pretty much anything a part called for I tried to make sure I had the right tool to make it work.

And a few specific songs that really stuck out. The track "But There's Wolves?" -- I thought had one of the coolest guitar rifts on the whole project. That sounded like a Les Paul?

Casey: No that was actually the Strat. It was all front pickup Strat, trying to get it as meaty as possible and then it was also doubled with a Jazzmaster."The Canopy" had some my favorite clean guitar sounds on it. I'll venture another guess -- that's the Tele?Yeah actually it was, and the acoustic used on that was the co-producer's acoustic that he had actually built. So are you thinking on what’s next? Or are you just taking a sigh of relief that this is finished?It's kind of that same feeling that you are out for summer vacation. That I was so deep inside this project that now that its over I’m relieved but I have no idea what I want to do next. I don’t want to try and one up it and say I’m going to make a hundred records at once. But I don’t know what that will be. The massive new project from The Dear Hunter, titled The Color Spectrum, is out now. For more information and the latest tour dates, head over to the band's Facebook page.

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Josh Hart

Josh Hart is a former web producer and staff writer for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado magazines (2010–2012). He has since pursued writing fiction under various pseudonyms while exploring the technical underpinnings of journalism, now serving as a senior software engineer for The Seattle Times.