Saintseneca is a young band from Columbus, Ohio led by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Zac Little. Following in the footsteps of heartland bands who have sought to twist the music of the old weird America into new shapes – from the Violent Femmes to Neutral Milk Hotel – Saintseneca perform songs that sound familiar and uniquely original, all at once. The group utilizes a wide range of acoustic instrumentation (balalaika, mandolin, dulcimer, Turkish Baglama, floor percussion) with more contemporary elements such as synthesizers and electric guitars to create a seamless blend of soaring vocals and vibrant post-punk energy.
While the group formed in Columbus Ohio, Saintseneca's songwriter Little hails from the rural hills of Appalachia. It is a solitary and dramatic landscape that has infused the band's songs with a sense of introspection and some striking narratives. “I was raised on farms in Appalachia,” Little explains, “And I think that my perspective on music was shaped by where I grew up. It was twenty minutes to see the nearest person. Being so isolated forced me to be introspective and resourceful. As a kid I would explore these abandoned houses and barns and wonder what had happened in those places.”
With a diverse assemblage of influences ranging from Animal Collective to Bob Dylan to The Beatles and The Cure, the band's poetic lyricism and folk instrumentation is consistently enhanced by elements of pop, post-punk and psychedelia. It is a sound that evolved from playing alongside an array of electrified bands at DIY house shows. “The scene in Columbus is really vibrant and diverse,” Little explains. “The connecting thread has less to do with musical style than a shared ethos. We were this quiet folk band playing with punk and hardcore bands so we would try to channel as much volume and power from those instruments.”
Playing acoustic also allowed the band to develop by playing in decidedly unconventional settings, purposely removing the barrier between artist and listener. “We played under a bridge and in a highway overpass which was like a huge concrete bunker,” Little says. “When we tour we never know where we're going to play. We perform in living rooms and basements. Last summer we followed a dirt road to this remote clearing where these kids had gathered and played inside a Yurt. At times like that there's this feeling that something really unique is happening.”
Saintseneca's latest album Dark Arc is informed by change. While previous records documented the band's celebrated live show, the new record is the result of both a revamped lineup and a dramatically expanded recording process. “We initially recorded in a friend's attic,” Little says. “I wanted to push that idea as far as we could. And after nine months the computer was so full it wouldn’t run anymore.” The band then reconvened at the Nebraska recording studio of renowned producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward, First Aid Kit) to mix and continue to refine the tracks. “We got to revisit the songs with a completely fresh perspective. It went from working in the attic of a house to a studio with every instrument at our disposal. I like that the recording pushed us as a band. There are more textures and sounds. I want us to be this minimalist acoustic folk group and I also want us to be a rock band. And I think both those feel true to who we are.”
Dark Arc conveys an exhilarating mix of darkness and light. Lyrics of disintegration play out against arrangements brimming with buoyant folk, post punk and pop. It is a combination powerfully exhibited on the song “Uppercutter.” Inspired by a harrowing newspaper story about delusional good intentions gone horribly wrong, the track features a melodic piano and vocal chorus that came to Little in a dream. “I've always had very intense dreams where I can taste and smell and feel heat and pressure,” Little explains. “At the time I had been having recurring dreams about tidal waves which is something featured in that newspaper story. And I woke up with this melody in my head and it became that song.” On another track called “Happy Alone” he sings “I'm not one to be three-fourths sore, when I crave a split lip I get it quick, I'd be alone, happy alone” over surging romantic post punk before his bandmates join for a stirring chorus. “I really like the contradiction of songs like that,” Little says. “Ideas of alienation and solitude set against this really uplifting pop. In spite of all the doom, I actually think there's a lot of joy in this record.”