By: Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Saintseneca.
Not quite folk, but not terribly far from it, Columbus-based band Saintseneca crafts harmonies and layers that sound both organic and thoughtful. Their rich melodies offer a wide variety of instruments and a level of saturation that usually requires a full room of musicians. However, the band’s foundation lies on only four steady pillars – Zac Little, Maryn Jones, Steve Ciolek and Jon Maedor, who are flanked by a rotating cast of cameo artists that give each song a unique depth. Their 2011 album, Last, was met with enthusiastic reception, and their single of the same name became a word-of-mouth local sensation. Dark Arc, Saintseneca’s upcoming album slated to release on April 1st, promises a lush toned, singer-songwriter journey through timbre and texture that would get Brian Wilson’s stamp of approval. BTR sat down with Zac Little to spiel about their sound
What brought you guys together?
Well, the lineup has changed quite a bit over time, actually. From the original group of people, I’m the only remaining member. The original group started as people I grew up with and met when I was really young. We all played in bands together and eventually all moved to Columbus, OH. Before this we had all played in rock bands, and a big constraint of suddenly living in the city was sound restriction. We had collected all of these instruments over time, so we all kind of began to embrace the folkier textures. Since then, the lineup has shifted. Those people have moved on with their lives, and mainly I play with people in the Columbus scene who are part of projects I respect and who I want to join forces with.
Do you think those rock roots influence you?
I do. I feel like we always paid more attention to that style of songwriting. Maybe that was a stronger influence on how we put together songs, in the way that we use a lot of different instruments, acoustics, and sort of an inherent rock texture. But as far as actually crafting songs go, it’s more an eclectic range of influences.
Have you been playing for your whole life?
Pretty much. At 13 or something like that I started playing guitar.
Do you remember the first time you played live?
Yeah, oh yeah, definitely. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. It was with my high school band and it was a really special night. We had practiced a whole bunch and finally put together some stuff. We were just playing at a popular little coffee shop place, cause’ I’m from a really really small town. I didn’t even actually live in the town, we’d go and hang out at this one spot. It was one of those shows that everything just kind of came together, and I remember afterwards being like, “yeah, this is it”. It was something that stuck with me.
What are some of the major influences?
I’m not the kind of person who gets weird about listening to only one genre, but I think my all time biggest influence will always be The Beatles. Then after that it’s sort of rotating cast of other things I might like at certain times. Another huge influence for me as a songwriter is Bear vs. Shark from the early 2000s. I just really love their records and they’ve always stuck with me.
Oh man…I feel like I could go on forever. The Cure is something I’ve been into for the past couple years. I’ve seen live videos of him playing recently and his voice is still AMAZING. You can appreciate the voice in a recording because it has a distinctive affect, but when you see it live you’re just like DAMN. I also really like this band Why? I really love his songwriting. Oh, and Bob Dylan.
So the new album Dark Arc comes out April 1st, how will it be different from past projects?
Well like I said, I’m the only remaining member from the original lineup and that was a big part of how this record came about because the lineup for the band had sort of dissolved. Before, when I made a recording, we were really interested in making a documentation of our live shows and being really true to that, but when we were getting into this recording process I was like “we don’t really have a band to make this with.” So when it came down to it, it was just anybody that I could piece together at the time, it was more nebulous. So, essentially, it’s a lot more free.
Album art for Saintseneca’s 2011 release, Last.
Was it difficult to let the original lineup go?
I mean, yeah, it definitely could have been something that could have ended the band right there, but I tried to make myself see it as a new challenge and make the best of it. It’s cool too because the record now has a ton of people on it. It’s beyond what our live arrangement is now. Plus, it’s nice to bring all this community around me, and it actually includes people from the original line up. I think a huge goal was to have people on the record who I respect and who I think can do something better than I can. I like to surround myself with those kind of people.
What’s the writing process like for you?
On this record it was more me writing most of the parts, but still really open to the others. Maryn, Steve, Glenn in particular, who we recorded with, I trusted them and respected their ideas, though I might have the final say. Maryn is really really good at writing harmonies, as is Steve, and that was one of their biggest contributions. Steve would come in with these production ideas and say “yeah, but what if we did this” and I would just obsess on it. A lot of time we recorded before we ever played the songs live so it became this back and forth with us saying “ok so we’ve made this thing that is basically impossible to play (maybe with like thirty people or something), but how do you distill that to a live performance?” And then when we went back and recorded it and developed it while playing off those two approaches.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I don’t know that there’s a singular thing. I’m always trying to be open and aware and ready to take things in. I definitely think that when I am writing I try to be in a meditative state. When I’m trying to find inspiration, I try to let the song ‘find it’ – that’s what I call it – I don’t look at it as something that I assemble but rather something that I discover.
What was the recording process for Dark Arc like?
We recorded with my friend Glenn Davis in his attic. I chose to work with him because a) he’s really talented and b) because it was an understanding like “I will pay you this much and then we’ll work on this record until it’s done.” So we spent 10 months working on this record, established a connection with Anti, took that record to Omaha, and recorded in a studio for another month straight with Sean Rowe for the final production and mix. The final product became a hybrid of those two things – taking all those production choices and the embellishments that we’d made in the attic and then pushing them even further when we got to Omaha.
How has signing to Anti affected you?
I mean, thus far it feels like a logical continuation of what we were doing. It’s not like we signed and suddenly our worlds are different. But a definite tangible example of something that’s different is just having a team of people to help and be supportive. It hasn’t been something that has changed our approach, but rather just enabled us to continue with more support and resources.
What’s the music scene like in Columbus?
The Columbus scene is very vibrant. There are a ton of bands here that I really respect. It’s also a really nurturing scene, people really pay attention and care about what else is going on around them, and there’s a real interest in seeing other people’s bands. There’s also a really good DIY scene as well. Those were the first shows we played here because that’s what we wanted to do. You can play clubs, but that’s far less exciting.
You guys touring soon?
Yup, we’ll head out sometime in March and then tour through most of April, and then we’ll be doing some touring in May as well.
Where are you looking forward to playing most?
I’m really excited about going back to the West Coast because I haven’t been there since 2011. It’s really pretty there.
What, you don’t like this “arctic vortex”?
(laughs) I’ll be happy when it’s spring and we’re on the coast of Oregon.
Or check them out live at one of these dates:
March 6 – MOTR – Cincinnati, OH
March 7 – The Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
March 8 – 7th Street entry – Minneapolis, MN
March 10 – Czar Bar – Kansas City, MO