Culture Shock 2012 Interview: Zac Little of Saintseneca
By: Bari Finkel
With Culture Shock 2012 just a few days away, I had the pleasure of talking with Zac Little of Saintseneca over the phone. Saintseneca is an acoustic folk band from Ohio, known for their unique instruments, touching lyrics, and memorable melodies. They will be playing Culture Shock at 7pm on Saturday. From their tour, to Saintseneca’s upcoming album, to facial hair, our conversation moved through many different topics of Saintseneca, and here it is for you to read!
It always fluctuates. Sometimes I’m really surprised, people are gracious and they come out to see the shows. But you know, I would still consider us to be a pretty obscure band, so there are some nights where the attendance is pretty slim. But yeah, I feel like the more we hit the road, the more people that we meet and build relationships with, and I think it’s become better.
Great, that’s really exciting for you guys. Although you’ve only had a few days on the road so far, what has been one of your favorite moments (did you play in any unique venues, did some fan do something crazy, did you eat any really good ice cream)?
Indianapolis was a lot of fun. We played at this old church; it was a really cool and interesting space. And it’s always fun to hang out there, really cool, great people.
On top of touring and your latest album, you also have been doing really wonderful Internet performances like Pink Couch Sessions and Daytrotter, how has that been? What are those experiences like?
It’s always fun, it’s another facet. It’s a good platform to extend the live performance into that realm. For our set up it seems to work particularly well. We’re an acoustic folk band, and it seems like something that lends itself well to be captured or documented in that format. It works out well for us, it’s fun.
I know that you actually make jewelry and tailor your own clothes, do any other members of the band have any artistic expression other than music?
Yeah, Maryn makes some visual arts. She does some text work as well as performing solo. She has her own sort of project, and I think everybody keeps pretty busy with an array of different things. Saintseneca has kind of become a loose collective of a number of people, so everyone has their musical project, things like that, that move in and out of one another.
For you, do you think that making jewelry, and I’m pretty sure, sculpting, influences your music? Or, do you think that the music influences your jewelry making at all?
I don’t know, it’s interesting that you should ask that. I don’t necessarily think that there’s a very direct correlation. But maybe this would be a belabored answer. On one hand I think that the musical experiences of traveling, and meeting people, and being in parts of the country, and those sorts of things, maybe that inspires the things that I do as far as making physical objects like jewelry and things like that. I feel like they are certainly, whether conscious or otherwise, there is some connection between the two. I would imagine that they work back and forth whether it is intentional or not.
How do you usually write your songs? With so many different instruments that Saintseneca plays, is it more of a collaborative process?
I’d say the recipe is sort of a format where generally I will start with a song. Generally I will write words and a melody, and might start on an instrument, say, guitar for instance. Then I kind of will write that song as a finished format in the starting stage. Then I’ll take it apart again, and strip it back down to something that is a skeleton to the extent that, even though I may have written a song on guitar, or I may have written a song on a bouzouki, or mandolin or something like that, sometimes I’ll even end up playing a different instrument than I originally wrote the song on. And then everybody writes their own parts. We’ll have a handful of instruments lying around the room and people pick different ones up and try them. Maybe someone will start off on ukelele and then end up playing percussion or vice versa. They’ll write their vocal parts, they’ll write their instrument parts and then the whole thing at the end of the day ends up being something, at least ideally, that is the sum of parts that everyone has creatively contributed to. That goes too, to the arrangement of the songs. Sometimes I’ll be like, “Oh, this is sort of what I’ve been thinking,” and when it manifests as a collective creation, a lot of times the arrangements change in dramatic or subtle ways too.
You are working on a new album; can you give us any hints on what it will be like, what themes it will center around, or any new instruments you are experimenting with?
Sure, yeah! I feel like one of my missions for this record is definitely to incorporate some instruments that aren’t necessarily on the first record. I know at least for one, I’m planning on using the baglama, which is a Turkish instrument. It’s going to be interesting because this record is a very different process than other recordings Saintseneca has generated. Rather than writing songs like we generally do, as I was explaining, this album exists more as a recording to begin with. So, rather than being like “Okay, here are the songs that we wrote, here are the arrangements that we wrote, now let’s create a documentation of those things that is in some way, loyal to that.” Instead of having an accurate documentation of that, I think that now, more than ever, we’re open to the possibilities of the recording existing as it’s own sort of autonomous thing. It’s kind of exciting because it gives us a little more room to experiment with things, with all the textures and sounds, because there isn’t the pressure of, “Okay, we’re going to do this on the recording but how do we figure out how to play this live?” It’s going to be a process of working backwards. We’re going to make recordings that feel interesting and exciting to us and then I figure afterwards we’ll write arrangements of the songs again. Which, in a lot of ways, stems from the process we’ve undergone here for a while. We have a lot of lineup changes, a lot of people coming and going, and different numbers of people, anywhere from 2-5 people. So, we’ve had to go back and re-imagine the songs on our first record, so now that we’ve learned how to do that, those possibilities can be really exciting. We’ve done a technique that has woven its way into making the second album.
That leads right into my next question. Do you typically go into the studio and record an album in a day, week or months, or do you record at home?
We did that for Last. Our first two EP’s were all sort of done in houses with a more professional house set up. When we did Last, we went into what would be conventionally understood as a professional studio. One other important distinction [about Last] is that before, when we were making our albums, we basically tracked everything live. Like I said, that album was a documentation of arrangements we had already created. So, we were basically going into the studio, micing everything and playing together like we would in a live setting and trying to capture that. This album is actually a process of multitracking. It’s going to be more layered, more textured, and it isn’t recorded live. We’re doing it piece by piece, it’s like trying to imagine what each song holds. We’ve finished two songs already and we’ve demoed out at least ten or twelve others.
It’s like creating a puzzle that you don’t even have a finished picture to look at.
Right, exactly. We’re building something as a recording rather than building a song and trying to capture that. It’s a pretty exciting thing to be trying. I’m pleased with the results thus far.
What do you enjoy about recording? Do you ever find it difficult to transfer your music from the studio to a live audience?
Once you allow yourself to understand that recording and live performance are two, while connected, distinct components, then you’re sort of free to allow each of those to exist as their own things. I think it sets you up creatively because I just want to make something that’s exciting to listen to on a record, and then also, rather than having to be like, “I need to exactly recreate this thing on this recording, or vice versa,” I’m just going to make each of these things an interesting and exciting experience in and of themselves. I think that’s a lot of fun. One of the things I began to realize when we were working on Last, which for some reason never really struck me before, was that we did a lot of takes because we were recording them live, and so we were kind of looking for “the take.” Some of those songs we were playing through, at least the instrumentals, forty times, over and over again. There would just be subtle things, and what was funny was that we might play for something that, technically, had all the pieces in place, but then you begin to realize that there are infinite variables and that the song is a static thing. It’s kind of a plan that exists in flux, and manifests differently every time, even if it sounds exactly the same, it’s different air vibrating differently. It was interesting to look at it like that, and let go of trying to force it to be something and just allow yourself to be excited about the present tense of possibilities as recording and as live recording.
Well that was more the serious part of the interview, and I always like to have a sort of silly question in my interviews. So, particularly with Saintseneca, you guys have a great array of facial hair. I was wondering if you have any tips to your fans and our readers for maintaining great facial hair.
Train, not trim. That’s my piece of advice. Don’t trim it; you can’t harness it that way. It’s like parting your hair the same way, it doesn’t matter where the hair is, you can train it to grow a certain way. That’s a valuable piece of advice that was departed to me and continues to serve me well.
If I had facial hair, I would definitely take you up on that advice, thank you.
It applies to the hair on the top of your head too. If you decide, “I would like to part my hair in the middle, I would like to part my hair to the side,” you can train your hair to do that.
Great! Well, my last question is: what are you most looking forward to at Culture Shock 2012?
Oh, I can’t wait to hang out in Bloomington. There are a lot of fun people there that I’m really looking forward to seeing. I think it’s going to be great. It’s a place that I’m excited to visit.
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