Saintseneca multi-instrumentalist Zac Little might have grown up on a farm in Noble County, Ohio, but don’t take that to mean that his youth was that much different than that of a typical teen.
“From the time I was a little kid I was making up songs and stuff, just dumb little things,” he says via phone from “somewhere in upstate New York.” “I started skateboarding when I was a teenager and that got me interested in weirder music and cultures that are outside of the norm. Being opened up to that, even though I was living in a remote area, gave me a connection to the outside world too. I became more interested in writing songs and playing in a band.”
He says he always liked the Ramones. But rather than “going down the trail of punk bands,” he then started listening to the Beatles.
“That ended up being the most pivotal musical moment for me,” he says. “For a lot of people, you hear that music and it’s either too early or too late. You think it sounds corny or something like that. I feel like it was fertile soil for me. It was the right moment to have my mind blown. Ever since then, that’s been my No. 1.”
Saintseneca formed while Little was still in high school. The band eventually relocated to Columbus. Much like the Decemberists, it offers a distinctive blend of folk and indie rock as the group utilizes a range of instrumentation, including balalaika, mandolin, dulcimer, Turkish bağlama and floor percussion. The band performs at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Grog Shop.
“I wouldn’t portray myself as an expert on any instrument,” says Little when asked about his ability to play so many different instruments. “I just hack my way around on a bunch of stuff. I learned guitar first and was self-taught on that. I applied a similar mentality to learning more and more. After you learn four or five things, you begin to recognize the commonalities between them. I picked it up pretty fast. For me, it’s more of a tool for writing songs and stretching my mind across the different territories."
The band signed to ANTI- Records in 2013. While it had already started to record Dark Arc
, the connection with ANTI- enabled the band to complete recording at ARC Studios in Omaha, Nebraska, with producer Mike Mogis.
“We made Dark Arc
ourselves and they liked it a lot,” says Little. “They wanted to release it and after the fact. We were able to keep recording that record with Mike Mogis and we worked again with him on the new album. The label introduced us to him. That was a direct outgrowth of working with the label.”
That experience was such a positive one, Saintseneca recruited Mogis to produce its new album, Such Things
. Little has said the songs are linked because they’re about consciousness.
“[The album is] about consciousness and physics,” he says. “It’s about the intersection of those two fields. It’s about meditating or thinking about the existence of thoughts and what manifestations they have as physical things. On the most fundamental level, it’s about chemical fluctuations in your head and the resemblance that might have. I was reading a lot about it. I wanted to make a pop record about it. That intersection of neuroscience and physics is a big frontier and question for this era. I think it’s an exciting time to learn about that kind of stuff. There are certain philosophical implications for it as well and that’s maybe what I’m thinking about in terms of pop songs.”
The title track features ringing guitars and exuberant vocals while “Estuary” features woozy vocals and an ornate arrangement. The band tones things down for the sparse “How Many Blankets are in the World?” It's a terrific album that features a wide range of instrumentation.
“I had done a demo of ['How Many Blankets'] that was similarly sparse,” says Little. “It felt like it worked. I just sat down and played the song, and it was done. It felt complete in that state. Personally, I like to have that wide spectrum of songs on an album. I like to have a wall of sound where you don’t place any constraints upon yourself in terms of what you’re going to track. And I like to do other things where you use those constraints to respond creatively. That one felt like it worked that way.”
The band is often described as a folk group. Little says that description isn’t entirely accurate.
“To be fair, the band started out as almost a bluegrass band," he says. "It was like writing pop songs through that idiom. People still think that about us because that’s what we started out as. I don’t want any limitations placed upon me. I don’t care, I’ll still play a bluegrass song and I enjoy it if it’s an inspiring medium through which to write a song. I think it’s fun to add a bass drop and drum machines. Most fundamentally, I don’t want to feel as if something is off limits.”