Out Of The Holler: Saintseneca's Driving Punk-Folk

Mar 30, 2014
Originally published on March 30, 2014 5:59 pm

With a twang and a yodel, Saintseneca's new album, Dark Arc, begins on a foreboding note. "You're drenched in blood, still warm with with wear," frontman Zac Little sings before leading the band into a driving rock chorus.

It's a good distillation of the band's origins: Little was reared on Appalachian folk and its unique instrumentation, but fell into a more punk-minded crowd when he moved from rural southeast Ohio to the state's capital, Columbus. He spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about marrying the two styles and adopting the "play anywhere" ethos of DIY music scenes; hear their conversation at the audio link.

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SAINTSENECA: (Singing) You're drenched in blood, still warm with wear...


With a twang and a yodel, Saintseneca's new album, "Dark Arc" begins with this foreboding song. You can tell right away this is not your grandpa's Appalachia, but that's where singer-songwriter Zac Little is from. Before long, the music bursts into a driving rock chorus.


SAINTSENECA: (Singing) Wait on. Wait on. I'm gone in the night, gone in the night. Wait on. Wait on...

MARTIN: Zac Little from Saintseneca joins us now from our studios at NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us, Zac.

ZAC LITTLE: Thank you.

MARTIN: So, your band is based in Columbus, Ohio. But I wonder how your childhood in Appalachia ended up working its way into the scene that you found yourself in musically, the post-punk scene?

LITTLE: Yeah. Well, I grew up in a pretty remote area of Southeastern Ohio. And I don't know that it was something that had like a really direct impact in terms - I feel like people tend to think of it just, like, oh, you're from Southeast Ohio, you're from Appalachia - so, of course, you pick up the banjo or the dulcimer or something.

But I feel like it's probably something that crept in a more subtle and subconscious way. It instilled like a sense of introspection and resourcefulness in the way that I approach music.


SAINTSENECA: (Singing) You broke your ribs for this. I hope it was worth every cell split. What are we besides agree that of the sense...

MARTIN: I imagine in your music career, now you could choose to move somewhere else, maybe L.A. New York. You've chosen to stay in Columbus, right? Why is that?

LITTLE: I find Columbus to be a very, like, nurturing musical community. You know they're a number - it's, one, like, if you're, like, a touring musician, like, having a place that's affordable is really nice. But also, I think that there's just like a good sort of, like, spirit of, like, community there. People are interested in going to one another's shows. And when I moved to Columbus, like, we connected it to the DOI, like, punk scene right away.


SAINTSENECA: (Singing) Clove spurs in your lungs. Rasp over the phone. Serve to sharpen every groan thrown. You know you know you know. You know you know you know...

MARTIN: Saintseneca has made a name for itself by playing in some really unusual spaces. I mean underneath a highway overpass, in living rooms and basements. I understand you even played in a yurt at one point. I wonder what makes one space more conducive to music making than another. Do you think about that?

LITTLE: Yeah, certainly. But I feel like the, you know, maybe the most important thing is just, like, when you are in a space, like, addressing that space specifically. I was just thinking about this the other day and it really gets kind of like a gardener or something like that. To where, you know, if I were planting a garden in Ohio or something, what I would grow in that context or something is, you know, maybe I wouldn't plant - I don't know - like, an apple tree or something. I guess that's not something you grow in gardens.


MARTIN: Could be.

LITTLE: But I'm going to be, like, addressing the Ohio climate. I'm going to be, you know, thinking about the soil and thinking about the way that the sun shines. Whereas if I were growing something in Florida or California or something, you know, like that might be well-suited for, I don't know, an orange tree or something.

And I think it's similar with music. It's just like that craft and that, like, intention is something that hopefully can transcend, like, the individual context. But you address those things specifically.


MARTIN: I'd like to take a listen to this track from the album. It's called "Happy Alone."


SAINTSENECA: (Singing) Guilty pleasures at best gouge the floors in our chest and this the only vestige left. Next time will be better, I guess. When I'd be alone. Happy alone. I'd be alone. Happy alone...

MARTIN: There are some dark things on this album. But they are accompanied by these kind of strangely uplifting riffs and melodies. Is that a juxtaposition that is interesting to you?

LITTLE: Yeah, absolutely. I think in many ways, like, when I was approaching this record, like, I thought of it as a meditation on doom.

MARTIN: That's pretty dark, Zac.

LITTLE: Yeah...


LITTLE: ...but it was less about sort of like the tragedy of that or something, and finding a way, finding the joy and the transcendence in that. And I like the idea of, you know, taking, like, dark themes or something like that and setting it against this, like, uplifting pop structure.


SAINTSENECA: (Singing) When I crave a split lip, I'll get it quick. And I'll be alone...

MARTIN: Zac Little, from Saintseneca. Their new album, "Dark Arc" comes out Tuesday. Until then, you can stream the whole thing on our website, nprmusic.org. He spoke with us from NPR West.

Hey, Zac, thanks so much.

LITTLE: Thank you.


SAINTSENECA: (Singing) Call what you want and I'll be alone

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.