On his recent tour stop in Cincinnati, Ohio, I got to sit down with Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter. We talked about his history with The Receiving End of Sirens, his current progress on the multi-part saga of The Dear Hunter, and how growing up in a musical family has shaped his life and music. Read on for what is hopefully an insightful read and look into the world of one of our scene’s most inspiring figures.
Okay, so since this interview is actually taking place after your set, I want to start off talking about some of those aspects. So first of all, why the hell did you guys play before Meg and Dia tonight?
Casey: I guess truthfully because they are a bigger band, I think? I think that they were put on the tour when it was booked, and we were picked by Chris [Conley] and Max from Say Anything agreed to it.
You guys go on tour with Saves the Day a lot, right?
Casey: Actually, we went on tour with just Chris before – this is our first tour with Saves the Day. So, we did a week and half or so with him, but he traveled in our van, so we kind of had to get close and uncomfortable, so we ended up getting really close and became friends. So then our booking agent told us they were going out on tour, and we called up Chris and told him we had submitted for it, and were trying to get on it. So we got in on this tour, not because the booking agent thought we would have any draw or anything, so we just open the shows. So we are not on the tour because we draw or anything – we are on the tour basically because we got lucky.
Well, when I went to the venue’s web page, it made it sound like you were the special guests, and Meg and Dia were added at the last second.
Casey: I think what happened was that Meg and Dia were on a different tour at the time, and the way it works sometimes is that they won’t announce it. The same thing happened in Chicago at the Metro, and they always make up these really cool custom show posters for everything they have there, and they made this awesome one that had Say Anything, Saves the Day, and The Dear Hunter on it, just because they weren’t allowed to announce anything. It kind of made us look to be a bigger part of it than we are. I don’t think anyone is bothered by it or anything. But it was weird – the first night we showed up, we assumed it was just going to be local openers, and they came to us and said, “You’re first, and you only have 25 minutes to play.”
I am guessing that 25 minute mark is the answer to my next question. You guys seemed to kind of breeze through your set with little to no breaks – is that why?
Casey: Originally, a similar set we would play would have a three and a half minute jam between the first and second song. Then before we played “The Pimp and the Priest” we would play another new song off the new record, and we were playing “Red Hands” before that. We love jamming and transitions, but I think at this point, it is more important to show people things as far as songs go, instead of getting up on stage and playing two songs because you just jam forever.
I am kind of disappointed you didn’t ask us all how we were doing, what we all ate for dinner, if we were having a kickass time – all that stuff.
Casey: Actually, for our first show in New Jersey, our label and our booking agent came out to see us, and I said maybe ten words the entire night. They were like, “You have to start talking more.” For me, when I went to and go to shows, I always just wanted to see the band perform. But they told me I had to talk more, so now it gets to this awkward point where I am supposed to say, “So how is everybody doing tonight?” And you know they are not going to respond because everybody in the audience is thinking, “The guy next to me will clap.” You know? So, you say, “Oh, ok so nobody…um…nobody…um…okay, we are going to play. Cool – we’re The Dear Hunter.” And then we go on.
But if you don’t talk to people, they think you are antisocial and have instrumental tracks, so you are just pretentious.
Casey: Either you are super pretentious, or you’re just idiots. And I guess we are just idiots. (laughs)
So there is obviously a theatrical element to your songs. When you guys are the biggest band in the world in another year or two, would you want to incorporate some of those items into your live show like interpretive dancers, or moving pictures on the wall?
Casey: I would definitely like to do that, but I don’t want it to be like the “man behind the curtain” kind of thing. I think the top priority should always be the songs or the music, and I don’t want to put something up there that is just a misdirection, which doesn’t make the songs better or anything.
You’re not going to be the next Panic! at the Disco?
Casey: No. (laughs) I think what they do works for them because the sound they have on that record, I would never call it a gimmick, but it is so specifically that. It is so incredibly dramatic – each song is like a burlesque song. So, it makes sense for them. Plus their lead singer is such a frontman – I am not a frontman. I can’t get out there with a cane and a tophat and like dance around, or else people would probably boo us off stage. (laughs) I think before we are going to add any ridiculous visuals, I would much rather spend more money to bring out more musicians to make our band sound more like the record does. I would much rather have that than us playing the exact same live show, except with some penguins dancing with giraffes or something.
You guys did some dates with The Format a while back, and I know when that band toured with Anathallo, they did some collaborations to get to that full-band sound. Did you ever think about trying to do that with them?
Casey: Everywhere we go we are, well, not the baby because “baby” implies that people care about you. (laughs)
So you are more the bastard child?
Casey: (Laughs) Yeah, the bastard children. Not that we are all drunks or anything. When you are the band with the guy that shreds on guitar, and you have two keyboards on stage, and your drummer has earphones on, people automatically assume you are a jam band or something like that. We don’t necessarily have the catchiest songs, or whatever. So I feel like we – I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s just hard to get personable with people like The Format – not because of the people they are, but because the bands that we are around have been touring so long and have been together so long that they aren’t at the stage where they want to hang out or walk around the show or whatever. Totally cool, totally kind, but understandably they didn’t want to hang out.
So they didn’t come up to you asking to do gang vocals or anything?
Casey: (Laughs) No, no. I think one of the nights we played with them, one of the guys came up to us and was like, “Good show. It was awesome, you guys were great.” So, I was like, “Thank you so much.” I forget who it was – I think it was one of the guitarists who plays saxophone – he was shaking our hands and I went out to shake his hand, and he just kind of walked by me.
Did he do the old school thing where he pulled his hand back and ran it through his hair?
Casey: (Laughs) No, it was even worse than that because that would have signified that he had actually seen my hand. Instead he didn’t even acknowledge me! So I kind of made this “argh” sound just to be funny and awkward, and he looked around and was like, “Oh yeah – hey!”
(Laughs) Wow, okay. So, back on track…it seems to me that two of the potentially bigger singles from listening to Act II would be “Red Hands” and “Dear Ms. Leading” – is there a reason you didn’t play those songs during your set?
Casey: Well, for me those songs are very important for the record, but I really don’t want that. As soon as the label and the booking heard the album, they were like, “If we do a single, it is going to be ‘Red Hands.’” The booking was like, “You have to put out ‘Dear Ms. Leading’ first.” I wanted to put out something else that was a little more interesting, because the reason they are on the record is what they have to do with the story, and the lyrics. It might not necessarily be my favorite musical part of the record, but for the few people that know The Dear Hunter, they know those songs. And how boring is it if you have been waiting two years for a full length, and the first songs you hear are the ones from years ago?
But you have to figure that a lot of people on our site, for example, might not have ever heard your music, so those are pretty good samples to get people interested, no?
Casey: I would say that 98% of the people on that site, if not more, have never even heard of the band.
I don’t know – I think you underestimate your popularity on our site. I mean, hell, when I posted a link to your cover art, that got like 2,000 hits or something. It looks like you’re becoming a pretty big fish on Absolutepunk.
Casey: I don’t know, I guess I just wish it could have been something else. The first song you hear from a band, it is like a business card. You’ve heard the record – do you feel that “Dear Ms. Leading” is a good representation of the record?
I think it would be a great single. I mean, when you look at a Mars Volta record – they plunk down something like Frances the Mute in front of their label, and they have to try and find a single out of it. Not an easy task when a record is cohesive, and you are really supposed to be listening to the entire thing. I appreciate “Ms. Leading” more when I hear it in the context of the album.
Casey: I think the thing is, I would much rather get fifty people get into the band because they love a song like “The Church and the Dime” than I would for five hundred who might dislike the band because they heard some sort of screaming in “Dear Ms. Leading” or something, or because of a lyric that is kind of emo in “Red Hands.” You know what I mean? I would much rather have people love the band, and not worry about it happening so fast. I love Triple Crown, but I think any label now is so worried to the point where if they hear any glimmer of a hook, they think that is what they have to do. It’s not like, “Oh, let’s put money into something different” because then they have to try and change music television and radio to try and play this kind of thing.
It is kind of ironic, then, I guess. If you were going to pick a single to send to MTV or radio, then yeah, those two are ideal. But when you picked a song to give us on AP, you could have really given us a ten minute track, now that you mention it.
Casey: Exactly. I wanted to do one every few days until the record release, but that didn’t fly. I don’t know – I am not a businessman, but I have all of these ideas I want for the release, but the label will be like, “That’s not necessarily smart.” I don’t really know what I’m talking about anyways. People don’t want to go into things blindly anymore. I think nowadays, when people buy an album, I think they really do it because they feel they are rewarding the band. When people buy an indie record, they are often consciously doing things like that. Unless it is a band like The Academy Is or something like that.
I am not so sure I would consider them anywhere near “indie” anymore.
Casey: Yeah, exactly. For bands whose music could be perfectly interchangeable with a GAP ad – whether or not they write good music or not, I have no opinion on that matter. For some bands, they are almost burdened with the fact that they were born looking good. Lucky for me, my band does not have that problem.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you know. I think there were some girls next to me touching themselves during your set.
Casey: They were probably fixing their hair. (laughs)
Okay, so what were we talking about? Oh yeah – sales…I guess now, kids are computer savvy to where it is just as easy to download a record as it is to buy it. So then it comes down to an issue of conscience and admiration for a band.
Casey: I download records constantly – everyone does. And some bands out there flip-flop. I will see it where some nights a band will say they hate it, and then the next night they don’t care. I don’t think it matters anyway; I don’t think a band is going to make a living off its album sales. I don’t know any bands that have ever recouped their recording costs, personally. So, I am not really worried. Fans come up to me all the time and tell me the downloaded the EP, and they’re really timid about it. Then when I tell them I don’t care, as long as they like the music, they act like I am trying to trick them. So next time maybe I’ll be like, “Why not come over to the van and hear something new? Sit right there.” And then I’ll lock the doors. (laughs)
Okay, so…what was it like growing up in a musical family? Was it sort of predetermined that you were going to grow up and play in a rock band, and then you were going to start a prog band, and all that?
Casey: No, it wasn’t like there were just guitars everywhere, and my parents both walked around in hippie clothes or anything like that. My dad, I think, is an incredible musician, and my mom is an incredible singer, but at the same time my dad has spent most of my life as an electronics engineer working on feature-length films. So at the same time, I grew up around a million things. So, I grew up around computer animation, video editing, electronics, and my mom is an astrologer. The thing I learned from them is just being well-rounded since I basically grew up in a renaissance home. For me, it was never just about learning music. They never told me to just go be in a band, and when I was in a band, my dad would always say not to get too serious about it. Not because he didn’t support me, but because he was just being honest. So it’s not like they were just burnout barbies telling me to strap on an acoustic guitar and tour the country. So for things like when I told them I wasn’t going to college, it was hard for them because to them, they had already done the starved musician thing, and had pretty much decided when they had kids, it wasn’t a matter of selling out or anything – it was a matter of taking care of their family. So they went and did other things – equally creative, in my opinion, but still different. Growing up, I guess I just learned more how to be realistic with it. I would go from band to band without being overbearing about it. You get out of school and you realize there is a world beyond that. You play in LA and you realize that whatever you do can be nothing. So, long story short – growing up in a musical family taught me to appreciate everything and helped give me a sense of direction since I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.
In press releases and blurbs about the Dear Hunter saga, it says the story is set around the turn of the century. It almost seems to be to be a little out of time in a sense – when I listen to the music, I hear renaissance or medieval moreso than something more current. Actually, to be honest, it reminds me more of something that would be a soundtrack in an alternate universe. I don’t know if that sounds really weird or not.
Casey: Not at all. Actually, when I write, the only way to describe it is a parallel universe. It’s like reality, but at the same time surreal. I’ve said this to my band before, and I don’t know if you even want to quote this. (laughs) I see certain scenes where if there is a carriage going by, the horses have human heads. It’s almost like a dream, but without that stupid dream twist in the movies where someone wakes up. It’s surreal without paying too much attention to the fact that it is. It’s a surreal place and a surreal state of mind, and that is kind of why nobody has a real name.
Have you ever read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series?
Casey: No, but when we went on tour with Cartel…
You guys went on tour with Cartel?!? (laughs)
Casey: Well, not recently. (laughs) It was like two and a half years ago – I think it was right when they had redone their EP. It was with TREOS right after we had finished recording Between the Heart and the Synapse, and we went out with As Tall As Lions – it was called the Lions, Sirens, and Bears tour. It was the first time we had met As Tall As Lions, and Cartel was on it too. Their bassist at the time was telling me all about the Dark Tower series, and was telling me that it was not like normal Stephen King at all. I guess the world that is created in all of the books was pretty expansive.
It is. And I could almost see your records as a soundtrack to that world. It is this alternate world where it is this combination of the old west, and this post-apocalyptic future.
Casey: I think the reason I wanted it to be set in that time because as the story goes on, things will coincide with world events where starting at that point is really important. The architecture of the time, the colors – all of that influences the songs, but at the same time, it is not supposed to be anything beyond fiction. It is supposed to be surreal – it is not like I am writing a concept album about some prostitute that I read a book about. The only reason I guess I can’t see it in the future is because there just isn’t a single element of technology or anything. But I really want to read those, because everyone is telling me how great they are.
Yeah, they really are. It changed my perception on Stephen King completely. For the longest time, I had him lumped in with Danielle Steele and Dean Koontz – those types of writers.
Casey: I think the problem is that when people read a Stephen King novel that is almost borderline “Goosebumps” or something, they think he isn’t a good writer, and they don’t get the fact that exact story is the one he wanted to tell. Think about The Shining – you read something like that and you see how talented he is. I think he just likes telling stupid ghost stories most of the times.
So essentially, when I listen to the records, I do not see people driving around in Model T’s or whatever.
Casey: Well, they’re not. It’s more carriages and that sort. It will make more sense as time goes on. The character – The Dear Hunter – is not a hero at all. I do not think he does a single good thing or smart thing in any of the stories.
Do you have the story done, or are you making it up as you go?
Casey: No, the entire story is written as 1-3 page story treatments. The intense, small details are the only thing not in there yet because those come with time.
How autobiographical is this saga?
Casey: The reason I originally wrote it is obviously because I was bitter. The demos were almost all thematically interchangeable with one another. They are all kind of bitter and about a guy falling in love with a prostitute and stuff. When people call those demos an album, I just think it is a little ridiculous, because if I was to release that, I would be ashamed of myself. There is nothing to it – it’s just one subject. I went through something with a girl, and like most immature artist people, you write about it and complain a lot.
That’s very emo.
Casey: Yeah. It was. And that is why I didn’t want anyone to hear those.
So you didn’t release those then? There was some speculation about how those got out.
Casey: I didn’t release them myself, but at the same time, I didn’t necessarily do anything to stop it. I knew if somebody had it and somebody else wanted it, they were going to give it to them, and I wasn’t going to be stomping on the ground telling them no. But originally, I made 10 CDs with this little drawing on the front of a robot, and I gave it to the guys in the band and some friends. So they gave it to their friends, and eventually, it went beyond our circle. Then it kind of spread a little bit, and finally Flee the Factory asked me if they could post it and I said sure. So it is not like I was against it, but it wasn’t the plan. Plus, at that time, I was still pretty intensely into TREOS, so I didn’t have plans to do anything serious with it. It was just something that I wanted to do. Like you might sit there and draw some pictures and say how you want to write a comic book, but you might just not get around to it. I made these songs, and they had something to do with what I wanted to do.
So, if you were going to play the records for any of the “characters” in the story, would they know they are being referred to?
Casey: Yeah. It’s like this. It is completely and loosely autobiographical. It is completely romanticized. I didn’t fall in love with a prostitute – I fell in love, or at least thought I did, with someone, and it went really bad, and I just got bitter about it. So, in my head, that was this person. Instead, I would never claim that she never did that to me, because I was still at the most immature part of my life. Where I am now, it’s not that person. I think I did what any writer does – they include themselves in their work to an extent as much as they can, since that is your only real link to humanity – what you experience. So if I am going to try to make anything realistic, all I have to go on is what I learned on my own. So if I am going to take a character like Ms. Leading – someone who takes everything for granted, I could draw from this person I know. At the same time, though, I can draw from other people, and also some things that I have done as well that have been disrespectful and unappreciative. It is more that every character is a collection of experiences and feelings I have had about people in the past. And 50% is just for the sake of writing a story. I would never claim it as autobiographical – I think that would be flattering myself to think I have led a life that interesting.
Alright, so after you were done with TREOS and you decided you wanted to make this your full time gig, how did you go about getting buy-in for a six-part concept album?
Casey: The thing is, they have nothing to do with that. All they have to do with it is the fact that I am a band on their label, and they are going to release it. I think to them, it is just something quirky and weird with a story that they are going to try and work with. I have no idea if they’ll be around still, or if I’ll be releasing Act VI – you know what I mean? When the whole thing with TREOS happened, they heard the Ms. Leading demos, and I was working on the EP before I left TREOS. I recorded all of the music for the EP because I had so much free time. They just called and said they wanted to put out the album. It really had nothing to do with it being a concept. I can guarantee that nobody at the label has any idea about anything or any insight into the story. If you were to going to ask people, no one probably cares. I would be flattered if they did, but there is no chance. I think they only want to think about what they have to, and the details about whatever stories I have in my head are irrelevant to them. I think it is better that way – they are a business.
I think that the fact that the label can look at it just from a business standpoint is a leg up for anyone because Triple Crown has been amazing enough to let me be in charge of everything for these records. They didn’t question it – they didn’t even ask for demos. I just turned in the final product and that day they sent out advances. I think they look at it as being what I am going to do and what they have me on their roster for. They hear what I have and what I give them, and they then work on what they are going to do with it. If they were like I am with it, I don’t think it would be very productive. I am the creator, and they are the business side. I have no business; they have no creativity. And it is good that way because when it leaves my hands, it becomes a product to be sold. I know that sounds strange, but when I am doing it 100%, that has nothing to do with how it is going to be marketed, or how it will get into stores. For them, it is no longer contemplating songs, lyrics, or artwork. For them, it is what they have and what they need to push. I think I would be a little bit annoyed if the label was questioning and giving tips on what I was supposed to do on the albums because they don’t know. If an A&R guy was able to write a song, he would be writing songs, you know? If a secretary could draft novels, they would probably be doing that. If I could sell records, I would be selling records.
So when you went in then, you didn’t pitch the whole thing as one cohesive unit – you said let’s take this one step at a time, and if we can get the story out there, great?
Casey: I know I am going to get it out there even if no one will sign up for it, and I just have to put them up for stream or something. It is better that way because pitching the whole thing with Triple Crown – it’s not like they can do the book, they don’t do vinyl, but they make records. As far as I am concerned, I am in the center of what needs to be done, and the record label is needed to release the music. I am still working on solidifying a publishing company to release the book and then I am working to see how I want to release everything else. To me, the record label is just one of the things I need. So to go to them, and to even open myself to them to let them be in charge of anything beyond the records is something I don’t want to do. I want to be in charge.
If you had unlimited funds, what would your grand vision be for releasing the story?
Casey: I just think that I might take it too far – that’s what I am worried about. I can say that in my head, I can see it as getting through all the records and I would like to have a book with every record or every other record. I just didn’t have time to do one with the EP, or the money. I feel like now if I do one for the EP, it would look like I am just copying Coheed or whatever. I think once people see what we are planning for the book, they will see it is nothing like a comic book or an action sci-fi or whatnot. I really, really want to do movies for them that would not be musicals. They would not be ridiculous or anything, but I have been doing animation for a little while, and there are these animations I have been working on for a while that are going to be a part of the new website that revolves around the album artwork, and I would love to do like three movies that do two acts per movie. Something really just surreal and amazing that you could watch without having heard the record.
Would they be complements to the stories on the record, or what?
Casey: They would be the same stories.
So, they would be the same storylines, just told in movie form instead of music.
Casey: And it would be kind of the thing where I would like to do more cinematic renditions of the themes from the records and use songs with different instrumentation and no vocals, and if there are vocals use choir vocals, or whatever. You know what I mean? I would really like to do something like that because the point is not just to do a series of concept albums. I don’t want to just be a prog band. I really love music, and I really love storytelling, and I really just want to tell a story. As far as the records go, the music comes first. I am not just going to strum one chord and sing a narrative over it. If I had unlimited funds, I would finish the records, do books for each one, and do three movies. It sounds ridiculous, I am sure.
I wonder if it is just something you could do on your own on a smaller scale? For example, if the label said, “We aren’t going to finance a two-hour feature-length film, but here is some money to make a 15 minute animated cartoon.” Would you do that?
Casey: I would much rather spend three years doing all of the animations, and when I say animation, I don’t mean cartoons or Pixar or anything like that. It’s like the music – it’s layered – kind of hard to explain. You can tell everything that is going on, but it’s not all done in a clean-cut way. It is more like where everything going on has something else going on with it.
So you have this all figured out already then?
Casey: Yeah, I definitely do. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get it out – I don’t know if anyone will even give a shit in a year. And at the same time, I would like to do it any way I can, even if it would be me in a cave with stick figures or something. (laughs) I could draw it on the walls, and then be like, “It’s complete!” and then I just lie down in a pool of my own crap. (laughs) And then I can be like, “I finally told the Dear Hunter story!”
That’s very emo, too!
Casey: I don’t really mean it to be. I just mean that I really want to do it, and I hope the situation allows me to because if I can get what is in my head out in the right way, with no credit or flattering to myself, I think that it could be something really interesting and romantically entertaining. Not like sexually, but just really inspiring.
So is it frustrating to you to think that it could go halfway or something?
Casey: It’s frustrating, but for me to expect that people around me should support it – it is kind of selfish and egomaniacal to think that I deserve people around me to put all that trust in me. Like, “Oh, okay we are going to do six acts, and some books, oh yeah then a movie, too.” I appreciate the fact that someone would even allow me to do one.
But at the same time, you have people interested already, so you have to assume that it can only grow.
Casey: I would like to think so. I guess the concept of getting four acts into it and not being able to do any more, or not having a record company to back it, but still having people that care and legitimately want to hear it without me having a way to get it to them – that’s frustrating. I think if I didn’t finish it in some way, I think I would go insane that the biggest thing in my life would go unfinished. I would feel like until I finished it, I would never be comfortable, but at the same time I understand there is a chance it might not work out. As far as I’m concerned, the work I need to do to get it finished will be done without a problem, but if someone else is going to support it, I have no idea. I can’t demand it or expect it either, but I appreciate it for what it is so far.
How was the dynamic changed since you have gone from a solo act to a full band venture?
Casey: It has changed completely.
So, it is not just you running the show and Luke and the rest of the gang getting you coffee is it?
Casey: (Laughs) It is funny that you say that, though because Luke always gets me and him coffee. I get us coffee too, but I just immediately pictured being back at the apartment and having him wake up before me and go to the Dunkin Donuts across the street to get us coffee. So, I just pictured that and him saying, “Your coffee, sir!” (laughs) I guess it is a little strange, though, to go from being in a band, and being one of the people trying to better the band and silencing yourself and being silenced, and then being kicked out of a group for being the kind of person that you are. And then, finding yourself months later in the same exact setting where you’re in a band again. Part of me thinks how these people, who are all good people and who were just as dedicated to music as I was decided I had no place in their group of people. So then I’m like, am I just not a good person? Am I going to do the same thing here, and are these people just going to end up hating me? After all that happened with TREOS, I did a lot of soul-searching. It was needed – I became a really volatile person and not in a drugs or drinking kind of way. Just in the way that I was always so bitter, so I knew I had to fix some things about the way that I acted before I was going to invite anyone else in. It would be really shitty of me to be like, okay kick me out because I am a dick, and then all you guys come in my band now and deal with me.
So before I did anything like that, I had to make sure I was over everything that happened and wasn’t bitter anymore. And then, I was ready to do The Dear Hunter without any past upset. Then, having a foundation like that – bringing everyone into the band has been amazing. Going from being one guy sitting in front of a computer being like, “That’s awesome! That’s the end of that song! That vocal take was great!” I almost had to develop multiple personalities to be both the songwriter and the producer and the singer. Going from that to have four other extremely talented people who support you in what you’re doing, but still have no problem being like, “Dude, that was no good – do it again” – that is exactly what I needed. I knew I could do it on my own, but me doing it on my own is nowhere near me doing it along with them. So, the addition of band members and making The Dear Hunter an actual band – not like Dashboard Confessional is Chris Carrabba – that was awesome. It is exactly what I needed, and what the music needed to give it more depth. If it is a story, and I am doing everything, it has depth, but it doesn’t really have three dimensions. When you have all these people bringing their individuality and their experiences into what they’re playing and singing, it just makes it feel more real. I welcome the change greatly.
You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to. For me, I heard the TREOS album, and I enjoyed it well enough, sure. But then when The Dear Hunter came out, I was like, “Holy shit – this guy is really a creative force. He must have been behind so much of the creative aspects that were in TREOS’ music.” And I find myself wondering how TREOS is going to make a decent record now that you’re gone. Is there a part of you that honestly thinks they are screwed now that they don’t have your input? Or at least that they wont be the same band?
Casey: No. I think that whenever I see people say that, I feel kind of funny because they don’t realize everything. I would never say I am elitist, but I am stubborn enough to say I know what a talented musician and artist is, and I would have never gotten involved with those guys if I hadn’t felt they were the most talented people I had ever met at that point in my life. When I got in and I heard the songs they did with Ben, I thought they were amazing. Then they told me they wanted to get a bit more experimental, and at that time, I was doing just electronic music with vocals, which no one has heard, and I am proud of that!
Your techno club jams? (laughs)
Casey: (Laughs) It was like Pedro the Lion meets Postal Service. So I showed them that, and I got in, and that began the most creative period in my life. I give 100% of who I was to the music, but that music is a collection of all of us. It was completely collaborative, and I think that a lot of the things that might be noticeable because they are not present in other bands like the electronics or the vocal harmonizing, that might stand out a little bit. But even if you take that stuff away and you just listen to the songs, I think they are really creative, inspired, intelligent, and heartfelt songs. And that wasn’t me – that was all of us together. So for me to think that taking one piece of the puzzle away would screw the band, it would be really self-indulgent. I wanted to join the band because they were so creative, and because they were such amazing people, musicians, and writers. So me leaving doesn’t change how talented they are. I think that the fact that one member of the band can go off and do something people think is creative like I have done, it should be taken as a testament to how creative the other band is, and how each individual is too.
But most bands certainly aren’t like that, though.
Casey: Most bands aren’t – you’re right. But I can assure you that from the second I got into that band, we all wanted to be collaborative. We started out with our practice space a few miles down from the two bedroom apartment that the six of us were living in. And we would walk there, we’d practice and write with no boundaries. I won’t say that no one has ever used a laptop in music, and I wouldn’t say that no one has ever has three guitarists or three vocalists. But as far as we were concerned, we thought that we were doing something new. And at least as far as post-hardcore goes, I would say that Between the Heart and the Synapse stands out because it is different. So, I know most bands don’t work like that, but that is just because most bands simply aren’t talented enough to do so. Most bands have a guy that can write songs, a guy that can play bass, a guy that can play drums, and a guy that can play guitar. But in this band, we could all write lyrics, we could all play guitar, we could all understand percussion and arrangements. And that is what made the record good – it’s not because of me, it was because of everyone. So, you know, I have tried not to respond online to any of that and get heated. As much as it would be great for me to think it is just because I am talented, the real reason is because it was five dedicated individuals. And I think their next record is going to be amazing, because they are incredible, incredible artists. It would be so ironic for me to be in that band and be 100% into it, and then leave and be like, “I was the reason that band was good!” If I was the only thing that made that band, then what was I doing there – I could have been anywhere else, and I wouldn’t have been kicked out. The reason I was kicked out was because they understood like I do that I didn’t make the band. If I could take credit for it all, I would, but it was all of us.
So are you tired of answering TREOS questions by now, then?
Casey: No, no. I don’t mind it at all. What is strange to me is the fact that people always seem so timid to ask them.
Well, I would say the only reason I might be timid about that would be because in past interviews, your answers on the matter seemed to be extremely vague and apprehensive.
Casey: The reason I was vague for a long time was because at first, I didn’t really know how to approach it. I had never been part of something that had some kind of notoriety and some public image to the point that people actually cared what you’d say in regards to a situation like that. So, you know – there was this really vague press release that said I wasn’t in the band anymore, and I felt like it was an obituary because it had like two lines about the whole thing. I was definitely bitter for a long time, but I was more bitter that I had devoted myself to an artistic cause and four other guys for that long. Not because I got kicked out – that’s trivial. But more because I lost a big part of my life, and didn’t know what to do then. When you get down to it, I mean, you’re just not in a band anymore – is that really that big of a deal? A band decided to go on an make record without you? For me to be bitter about that would be such a waste of time, especially when I have been given the opportunity to keep making music. So, I didn’t know what to say at first. But now that I have been given some time to relax and think about it, I don’t have a problem talking about it.
When you were re-recording the demos, did you feel like you had to outdo yourself from the original versions to the LP versions?
Casey: I forget what the kids of Flee the Factory call it – I think it is demo-itis. I was just scared that I put so much more into this, and got more comfortable opening myself up. So, the idea of someone being like, “I like the demos better” when the demos were just recorded so carelessly, I knew I had to put everything I had into them, and give special attention to them. What was wrong with them, and what could I improve from the demo? That’s why songs like “Evicted” sound so much more open. I didn’t just want to record the same thing again. It’s minute things like making the chords in an opening more wide and jazzy than they are on the original. There are a few lyrical adjustments too. I feel like sometimes people say they like the demos more just because it gives them cred or something. I don’t understand that because if you want cred, you shouldn’t give a shit about anything, and you should just say what you think. People have been saying the whole “I like their first album better” thing for a long time now, and it is the same people, usually. There is no way that you can only like the first album of every band you have ever liked! I remember it happened when I lived out in California with Incubus when they came out with Make Yourself, which I think is an amazing album. Then, all of a sudden, people are saying they like Enjoy better. And I am thinking Enjoy is awesome, but it is like high school funk. So then they come out with this amazing record, that kills everything, and even then being like 15 years old, thinking that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. So, when we went back in, half of me wanted to treat these songs like I had just written them, so how would I approach them now that I have learned more and matured? Then the other part of me was trying to make sure there was a reason to re-record these, other than to pull the mp3s off my demos and slap them on the record. There needed to be a sonic reason beyond the story that I put them on there. I was really scared – I was freaked out.
So going along with the public perception thing, how often do you go onto the interweb and sites like Absolutepunk to see what people think? I remember talking to you right after the EP came out and you said you were scared of AP – why is that?
Casey: I think that slowly it is becoming that artists are beneath the fans, and the fans almost feel that the artists owe them things. And that’s not to say I don’t appreciate them, but it’s the same ideology as going online and downloading everything without guilt. They feel like it is owed to them, so if you do something that isn’t amazing, they almost feel taken for granted or something. So on that site and other sites too, needless to say, there are just people that go on who like one band in the entire world, and go online for the sole purpose of bashing every other band. I think it is also incredibly arrogant of people to think they understand every band. When you’re not a critic and you’re not doing an official review, and you aren’t backing anything up, nobody should take you seriously. I am afraid of that site because it is the biggest site like that as far as I know, and I am afraid because I put so much into what I do. Anybody that says they don’t let things like that bother them is lying because when I see people say they hate it or they think it is crap, it hurts. As far as I know, I am being honest and genuine, and I am just trying to create a seamless transition between what I feel and what is recorded. So to see someone say basically the way that you feel, and about what you are making is trash, it is tough to see. So I guess the fact that it is the biggest one, I am just afraid to see what people think about it.
I think around the time of the EP, I was in a heightened sense about it, because I saw a lot of people asking what TREOS was going to do, not what Casey is going to do. So to come out of that is a frightening thing to do, I was so scared. I could just picture releasing the EP and having people be like, “Good thing he got kicked out, because he sucks!”
So, you still have some instrumentals on Act II. Is that because you are pretentious? Does it mean you think you’re better than everyone else? (laughs)
Casey: (Laughs) Yes. I am so good, why even bother singing! I don’t even know what “pretentious” means anymore because people use it so much. They use that and “genius” way too often.
I think “pretentious” is now synonymous with something people don’t understand.
Casey: That’s the thing I don’t get. If it is anything beyond what someone is used to, it is pretentious until ten years later, and then they go back and listen, and suddenly it is “ahead of its time.” If everyone was just more open-minded nothing would be pretentious, nothing would be ahead of its time, nothing would be genius. Everything would just be enjoyable to a certain extent. There’s no doubt there is music that just sucks, and there is no doubt there is music that is better than the rest. But people spend so much time trying to categorize it around what card it would be behind at Barnes and Noble, and above that to have to always say if something is smart, pretentious, or whatever. It’s the same thing as saying something sucks. No one gains anything from that.
Okay, so in summary, you do think you are better than everyone else.
Especially TREOS, right?
Casey: Much better than them! (laughs)
Listening to your songs, both on the EP and the LP so far, the songs seem to be a really good compromise between being intelligent and challenging on an artistic level, but at the same time, if you wanted to put on “Red Hands” for a 13 year-old girl, she would probably rock out to it. Is that something you actively strive for?
Casey: You know the song “Smiling Swine” right? That’s just a retardedly happy song, and it’s my favorite on the record. For me, I think that I am at the whim of my influences. I have listened to so much that I am confident that I am well-rounded in what I am influenced by. I think the best music is a good mix, and it is accessible. But it’s like a doorway – it needs to be accessible but once you enter, it needs to have some depth. I like Stevie Wonder just as much as I like Steve Vai, you know? So to incorporate technicality with accessibility is just the way that I grew up, especially with my parents. My dad was a jazz musician and my mom was a pop vocalist, so to grow up with that mash-up, and always being exposed to bands like The Police and The Beatles. A lot of people wouldn’t think that The Beatles are very technical, but once you get into it and see what’s going on, you hear the music, and the chord structures, and the instrumentation and everything - once you get into it, The Beatles are one of the most technically pleasing bands in history. Just like the Beach Boys. Every stupid surfer from the ‘60s knows them, and not because of the genius vocal harmonies or the unmatchable arrangements – they like it because you can sing along to it. But for someone like me that gets so much out of technicality, I just try to figure out how they do it. So yeah, it is both conscious and not – people who I respect have done that, so I at least want to attempt to be in that realm. So there will be a guitar solo right before a crowd vocal, or hand claps before an a capella part. I think it just makes for a better listening experience.
When you were recording the LP, you went right up to the CD’s 80-minute time limit. Did you feel constrained by the medium?
Casey: Yeah, of course. Originally we had written 120 minutes of music, and we didn’t even know it because we were just writing and then we put it together with all of the transitions. Then when we realized it was 120 minutes, everyone was like, “Fuck! What are we going to do?” I think I made a joke to the label about a double album, and the band made the comment that we were going to struggle with being called pretentious the way the record was planned – do we really want to do a double album? Well, what I really want to do as stupid as it sounds, is when all of the records are finished, I want to remix them in 5.1 surround sound and add elements and release them as a box set. Think about orchestral music, or any music that was around before there was a format you had to release it on. There were no boundaries. So now, in the rock band realm, I had to adhere to the limits that are defined, and that is right up to the brim of the CD. In all confidence, there is not a lot of bullshit on that record. There is not a lot of needless noise or stupid jamming. It was tough – what was really tough was when we were putting together the transitions, and there was a few other things I wanted to do. There were also two other songs that I wanted to do and put on there as well, but we demoed it out, and made the decision we were too long already. What we want to do – I am talking to a friend right now about putting out a vinyl, and you know those gift cards where it has a code and you go download a record? I want to do a vinyl, and then when you open it up, it has a card where you can go download the EP for free and the other songs we did for the record. It’s tough having time constraints.
That sounds awesome. So, any closing words?
Casey: You know, I never know what to say to that.
I know, it’s the most awkward part of the interview, isn’t it? That’s the reason we ask it!
Casey: (Laughs) It’s even worse that it’s the last question of the interview, and it is going so well, and then this comes along. I don’t know. Check out the album?
(Laughs) Excellent – you dodged the bullet there. Thanks a lot for your time – I appreciate it so much!
Great interview. And yeah, The Dear Hunter live is just about the most amazing thing ever! I've been lucky enough to see them twice and they are simply mind blowing, and you really want more and are sad when the set is over.