As the frontman and creative center of Saintseneca, Zac Little has many talents as a songwriter. He’s as adept at crafting a clever turn of phrase as he is at arranging rousing folk-punk harmonies. But what sets him apart from so many of his peers is his knack for mixing the metaphysical with the mundane.
“Thirty-eight dollars on The Book Of The Dead felt steep / Oh, but then again / How do you put a price on ancient wisdom,” he muses on 2017’s “Book Of The Dead On Sale.” Saintseneca know how to bring transcendence and theology down to earth.
Formed in 2007 in Columbus, Saintseneca has gone through a few lineup changes over the course of four studio albums and three EPs. Little, an earnest and laconic storyteller who makes jewelry in his spare time, has been the nucleus of the ever-shifting group. Over the last few years, a core group of collaborators has solidified around: All Dogs/Yowler musician Maryn Jones, Steve Ciolek of The Sidekicks, Jon Meador, Matt O’Conke, and producer Mike Mogis (whose been an old hand behind the board for groups like Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Faint, and Tilly and The Wall).
At times, Little’s voice is reminiscent of The Decembrists’ Colin Meloy. But while Meloy comes off as the world’s biggest theater kid, Little’s vibe on record casts him as the misfit who cuts out of class to smoke cigarettes in the stairwell and talks your ear off about Ouija boards and Alan Watts paperbacks. Aside from Little’s voice as the band’s lead singer and songwriter, one of the other constants behind Saintseneca is their ragtag blend of electronics and folk-instrumentation. Synths chime alongside bouzouki, hammered dulcimers, violin, cellos, strings, percussion, and guitars.
Saintseneca albums often have metaphysical imagery and themes. In past interviews, Little has cited The Tao of Physics and its vision of the universe as a “cosmic ocean” whose energies are constantly in flux as an inspiration for 2015’s Such Things. For 2018’s Pillar of Na, Little drew inspiration from fruit.
"I liked the idea of how fruit generates so much energy and effort into attracting animals to eat it,” Little says. “It’s a part of its reproductive cycle. It’s interesting: they’re so bright and appealing, and yet it’s those qualities that’s calling to creatures to come destroy it. Seduction and destruction are a part of the plants.”
That theme of things enticing their own destruction runs through the songs on Pillar of Na, especially on songs like “Beast in the Garden” and “Timshel” that reference the greatest fruit story of all: The Garden of Eden. It probably also inspired the album’s evocative cover of a heart-shaped strawberry floating in an archway: Like a sweeter, stickier version of the flaming sacred heart.
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Like folk-punk compatriots Titus Andronicus, Saintseneca songs can have a ramshackle, off-the-cuff quality. But that loose energy belies the patient craft the band puts into the song. Little has likened his songwriting in the past to being a lot like digging for dinosaur bones: carving slowly and steadily through bedrock until some form begins to take shape.
“Sometimes you dig up the whole thing and it reveals itself all at once,” Little says. “But there are moments where the thing is slowly revealed through testing — through a lot of time and energy. I think that creating something isn’t so much about you making it, but rather a process of discovering and recognizing combinations of potential that’s already there.”
Pillar of Na is sonic archaeology: The sound of Little and his bandmates trying to liberate the bones of angels and giants buried in the grooves of their record.