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Music inspired by tints and tones is a pretty obtuse concept, but the Dear Hunter's latest outing works surprisingly well in practice. Over the course of nine EPs — and an album that samples the best of the batch — the experimental rock act's founder, lead singer, songwriter, and all-around mastermind, Casey Crescenzo, has crafted a series of songs dubbed The Color Spectrum. Yes, they're recordings that match melodies to specific hues.
Crescenzo describes it as simply another result of his creative conceits. "The basic concept is creating music from a very fundamental inspiration," he patiently explains. "The songs — and this project as a whole — allowed me to let the inspiration influence me as naturally as possible and without placing any boundaries in the way. Musically things tended to jump around. 'Blue' obviously suggests different emotions and tones than 'red,' and the idea was to explore those many different vibes."
Although offerings like "Filth and Squalor" and "Deny It All" (representing black and red, respectively) take a heavier tack and often venture into prog terrain, other tracks like "Things That Hide Away," "Trapdoor," and "Lillian" (which represent green, blue, and violet, respectively) are surprisingly serene. Inevitably, though, any colorful interpretations are left to Crescenzo alone. "It's just another cross section of a moment that's part of what I would like to believe is my personal evolution as a songwriter," he maintains. "At this point, I am very confident in what was created and the amount of heart and soul I poured into it. But if things continue as I hope they will, I will replace that sense of accomplishment with each new release."
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Crescenzo's conceptual designs generally inspire the Dear Hunter's songs — rather than the other way around. "I think working the other way would be faking a concept," he insists.
In fact, that careful plotting has guided his output from the beginning. Originally a side project launched in 2005 while touring with his previous outfit, Boston band the Receiving End of Sirens, the Dear Hunter gestated when Crescenzo began writing songs on his laptop and recording them in his spare time. His first collection was dubbed the Dear Ms. Leading demos, and only ten copies were created to distribute to friends and family. Although he had yet to form a group, he decided to offer the music for online downloads and eventually devoted full-time attention to his solo efforts. (Strangely, his ex-bandmates in the Receiving End of Sirens were initially recruited as his backing band.) Triple Crown Records called soon after and offered to release his recordings under its aegis. With enough material to complete a debut album, he filled out his band.
Soon, Crescenzo found himself cultivating a catalog, with his first three albums — Act I, Act II, and Act III — providing a fictional account of the Dear Hunter's evolution. The band's lineup fluctuated early on, but it eventually coalesced with Crescenzo (vocals, piano, guitar, bass, and arrangements), his brother Nick (drums, percussion, and vocals), and Maxwell Tousseau (guitar and vocals). "It's still a revolving door," Crescenzo admits. "But since this band has always been my child, it's nothing that bothers me."
Likewise, when it came to recruiting outside collaborators for The Color Spectrum album and EPs (Manchester Orchestra, Mike Watts, and members of the Receiving End of Sirens are among those who lend their talents), Crescenzo says the choices were fairly random. "Early on, I had a few ideas for guests, but after a little reflection, it became obvious that those choices would seem forced. The actual guests who appeared on the recordings are good friends of mine who I admire musically and personally. So that was about the only real criteria I had in approaching them for the project."
Still, don't confuse Crescenzo's nonchalant attitude toward his fellow players for any lack of intent. Born into a musical family — his father is a songwriter, as well as a musician, engineer, and producer, and his mother is a singer and lyricist — he was encouraged to pursue his creative ambitions early on. Growing up in Southern California, he cites David Bazan, Björk, and the Cardiacs as early influences but says, "The immediate love for music is what inspired me to pursue a career.
"The responsibility for this band has always been on my shoulders, for better or worse," he continues. "Actually, I wouldn't want it any other way. I have a very clear vision of what I want to accomplish, and I don't expect anyone to jump in blindly and simply align themselves with my creativity."
After occupying Crescenzo's attention for the past several months, The Color Spectrum provides testament to that creativity. Each of the nine EPs in the series was geared to one color, with White, Violet, Orange, and Green completed in early January, followed by Black, Blue, Yellow, Red, and Indigo this past June. Crescenzo also set up a website, tdhcolors.com, to keep fans informed about his progress.
As for his next project, Crescenzo won't say. Whether he'll continue to document the band's saga with a rumored Act IV or open The Color Spectrum up to a new artistic palette remains to be seen. For the time being, he's only looking forward to touring. As for what fans can expect when these colors come alive, he opts to state things simply.
"Expect a good time... and a lot of sweat," he says. As one might expect, that's a colorful description indeed.