Feb. 3 2016 02:47 PM

Ohio indie rock group’s music is in a constant state of flux

From left: Steve Ciolek, Jon Meador, Maryn Jones, Zac Little and Matthew O’Con
Photo by Nick Fancher

Saintseneca’s Zac Little says he finished making his band’s 2014 album Dark Arc not once, but twice. Little and his bandmates in the rising indie-folk-rock group recorded their sophomore full-length in an attic in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and when they were done, they fully believed they had something ready for public consumption. And that’s saying something.

“That’s a hard thing to do. It’s really difficult to get to that point where you say, ‘Alright, this thing is ready to be shared with the world,’” Little says in a telephone interview from a tour stop in Texas. “And I believed that it was.”

Before releasing the album, however, Saintseneca signed to powerful indie label ANTI- Records, and with that came an opportunity to work with producer Mike Mogis, best known for his work with Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley and a hefty chunk of the Saddle Creek Records roster. The band took advantage of that opportunity, ultimately spending another month in the studio with Mogis re-recording some songs and tweaking others.

The extra work paid off, as Dark Arc was a breakthrough for Saintseneca, garnering positive reviews from outlets such as American Songwriter and NPR, which called the album “the product of intense care.”

So when it came time to record a follow-up, Little jumped at the chance to draw from Mogis’ expertise from day one.

“It was really exciting to work with Mike and to realize that we had really similar attitudes and philosophies about recording. And he respected the work that we had done making (the first version of ) Dark Arc,” he says. “It wasn’t like, ‘How do we take this thing and flip it on its head?’ It was like, ‘How do we serve the work and the songs that we’ve already created?’ So I thought that going back into the studio with him from scratch would be an exciting prospect. Rather than having something to feel a little bit precious about, we could start with a clean slate.”

The result of their second collaboration with Mogis is Such Things, Saintseneca’s excellent third record, which takes the artisanal acoustic stomp-pop of Dark Arc, punches it up significantly and pushes it through a filter of warm, weathered fuzz. If Dark Arc is a peek inside a promising band’s cloistered world, Such Things is the sound of that same band reaching skyward and blasting through the roof, tethered to Earth only by a network of cords and effects pedals.

That’s not to say that buzz is Such Things’ only good quality. Multi-part harmonies play a huge role here, particularly in the undulating choruses of “Sleeper Hold” and “Rare Form.” Songs like “Estuary” and “House Divided” pull back a bit and give Little’s distinctive voice space to slither around his lovely melodies. “Bad Ideas” is a funky little number that sets twinkling guitars and keyboards against a strangely dry beat and bassline, while closing track “Maya” features Eastern sounds and psychedelic strings echoing off into oblivion.

But buzz is everywhere on Such Things, and that’s by design, according to Little.

“I wanted crunchy, distorted tones,” he says. “A lot of the production decisions we made were based upon being really inspired by ’60s psychedelic rock and pop and wanting to kind of conjure up that tonal palette without resorting to throwback stuff. I’m not super interested in writing a song that sounds like a ’60s song, necessarily, but I am heavily inspired by that music and I’m excited by the prospect of creating something that feels contemporary (but) also finding a way to…use that motif as a way of giving the recordings their color.”

Saintseneca plays February 5 at The Casbah

While making Such Things, Little pushed himself, he says, to find a particular groove, lock in and build songs up from there. It was a different way of working for Saintseneca, one that not only contributed to the album’s undeniable drive, but also tends to lead to a place of pure joy.

“It’s fun to just get to do a little bit of psychedelic rock drone jams sometimes. Those songs are really fun to play,” Little says with a chuckle. “I think I would become bored if that was all we did and there were no twists and surprises, but it’s exciting to find the intersection between those two worlds.”

Now, the band is out on the road, finding new intersections and watching the old ones move around and mutate.

Where Dark Arc was created in the studio without much thought of how its songs might someday be interpreted onstage, Saintseneca kept future live performances in mind while making Such Things.

Little might’ve thought he completed Dark Arc twice, and Such Things once. But that’s simplifying things, as any artist knows.

“I’d argue there are literally infinite versions of any of these songs,” he says. “You have to allow for a certain degree of spontaneity and I think ultimately, no matter what, you’re not necessarily authoring the song as much as it’s revealing itself to you. So I think you have to kind of step back and let it come out into the light a little bit sometimes and let it be what it is.”


See all events on Friday, Dec 9