In the music video for "Happy Alone," Saintseneca lead vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Zac Little engages in the activities of a normal-ish day: waking up, eating cereal, driving around to do errands, playing a game at an arcade, taking a swim in a public pool. But he does it all with his head contained in a large, soft, translucent orb, as if to say that while his body might be moving through the world, his mind is in a sphere all its own.
Little finds himself in his own head a lot, especially when creating music. Growing up on remote farms in Appalachia and spending a lot of time alone "instilled a sense of introspection for me," he says. "I think that that is something that continues to a play a large role in how I approach making music and my sensibilities."
And even though Little was frequently surrounded by a group of musicians during the making of Dark Arc—Saintseneca's second full-length, released in April—he often drew upon his inner life while coming up with lyrics and components of the music.
Dark Arc is the product of a lot of recent changes for the Columbus, Ohio-based band. After Saintseneca released their debut album, Last, in 2011, the lineup dissolved, and Little was the sole original member when he began bringing musicians together to create the new album. But he didn't build a new band right away; during the making of Dark Arc, the group was more of a "loose assemblage" of about 13 various friends and past collaborators, he says.
And in the studio, the huge variety of styles among the many musicians made for a dynamic recording experience, which they approached intuitively. "It was just about being open to experimentation and incorporating a lot of little textures and trying to make an interesting and well-considered recording," Little says.
When it came time for Saintseneca to begin playing the new material live, the core lineup that shook out was Little, Maryn Jones, Steve Ciolek and Jon Meador, who "all played a really important role in defining how the record came to be," Little says.
Unsurprisingly, with the band undergoing so many shifts in personnel, a dramatic shift in sound occurred as well. In its previous incarnation, Saintseneca was purely acoustic, which allowed the band to play in unconventional locales including a yurt and even a highway overpass. But Dark Arc features Saintseneca toying with electric sounds for the first time. Little wrote several of the songs on the electric bass, an instrument that had never had a presence in the band, but "since the lineup had kind of shifted and I didn't necessarily have this format to adhere to ... it was a natural process to pick that instrument up," he says.
Incorporating the electric bass into what had been an all-acoustic band took some sonic maneuvering. "It was this weird moment where I kind of had to reconcile this new sound, this new idea of incorporating an electric instrument," Little says. But with the addition of electric guitar and synthesizer, the electric presence in Saintseneca slowly grew to be an important component in the band's present identity.
Along with the stirring vocal harmonies between Little and Jones, the crux where electric meets acoustic gives Saintseneca's music a certain magic. On one hand, an eyebrow-raising variety of acoustic instruments (including dulcimer, saw, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo and many more) invoke the textured folk-music roots of the part of the country the band calls home. But on the other, moody electric guitar and echoing synth atmospheres reflect '80s pop. Saintseneca's music is a lot like the woods in fall: beautiful when the sun's out, but chilly and a little gloomy when the light fades.
The eerie music's creation was often mysterious, too. Little was inspired to write album highlight "Uppercutter" partially because of a "shocking" newspaper article. He was so moved by the story that it "haunted my thinking and served as a big part of making the whole record," he says, and even caused him to have recurring dreams about it.
Little's dreams influenced the arrangement of the song as well. While the bass riff of "Uppercutter" came easily to him, for a long time he "couldn't figure out what to do with it," he says. But after dreaming about a new vocal melody and recording it, he found it fit with the lone bass part. He dreamed about the tune's twinkling piano as well after being stuck on it for a time.
The creative spark can come from multiple sources; some give credit to an outside spiritual force, but others, like Little, can find inspiration in their inner selves, if they're quiet enough to listen.
Songwriting, Little says, isn't something that he has "total authority over." Instead of setting out to write about something specific, he says, "oftentimes, I'll begin to understand what the song is as I am in the process of finding the song."