Columbus is getting a reputation. Lovers of the local music scene would argue that we’ve always had some incredible talent. But over the last 10 years, the city has proven again and again that we can make music that the whole world wants to hear. And one of the bands proving that point is bluegrass/folk band, Saintseneca.
Officially, Saintseneca got their start 11 years ago. Zac Little, the frontman and founding member grew up in Southeastern Ohio on the edge of Appalachia, playing in a rock band with his friends. When they first moved to Columbus for college, finding a space where they could practice was a challenge.
“We couldn’t really practice loud,” said Little. “So we began to experiment with bluegrass instruments.” That switching of genres, from rock to folk-inspired, set the band on a course that would change everything.
Saintseneca played shows around the city, but as time went on and they all got older, people moved away and the band began to change. Their first albums were meant to be an auditory snapshot of their time together.
“That is why we made our first record,” said little. “Because it was kind of like, let’s, you know, let’s really get this now, let’s document this thing. So we made Last.”
The title track from Saintseneca’s first album, Last.
After that album, the band sort of fell apart. Zac knew he wasn’t done yet, but he didn’t exactly know what would come next. But he started work on the next album anyway.
“That’s when we started making Dark Arc. And that was like a different kind of process,” he explained. “Because instead of being like, okay, let’s document this live thing. There was no live band to document.”
The album was admittedly a struggle for Zac, but it also challenged him as an artist. There were no rules anymore. He could write music and record it in an “anything goes” sort of fashion. The line up of musicians in the band, excluding Zac, has continued to change.
“It’s still changing, and even from tour to tour. It can be pretty fluid. It’s like, oh, somebody else plays in another band. They have a tour, so we’ll just restructure, figure it out,” he explained.
Saintseneca performing on NPR’s Tiny Desk series.
That constant evolution could break lesser bands. But it’s one of the things that pushes Saintseneca. Having a revolving door of sorts brings in new talents, fresh perspectives, and gives band members the freedom to create music how and when they can.
The band has put out four albums since 2011 and toured both the US and Internationally. I was lucky enough to see the band in one of it’s earliest iterations at Carabar, and I was instantly hooked. So you can imagine my surprise when Zac shared his story about the first time he heard one of their songs on the radio.
“We were in Baltimore. There’s a cool radio station there, and our drummer Matt told me like, ‘sometimes they’ll play our song.’ Sure enough, it came on and I was just like, that was pretty cool,” he said with a laugh. “Once you get to the point where you’ve worked on this thing forever, and you recorded it, and it’s done. I usually just kind of let it go. I don’t listen to it again. So then when you do hear it, it’s extra surreal. It’s really cool. You sort of think, ‘Oh! so that’s what that sounds like.”
When it comes to being a musician in Columbus, Zac admires the music scene here. “It’s nurturing. I feel that people are genuinely enthusiastic about stuff that’s going on.”
It would be easy to assume that with success comes ego. But that couldn’t be further from the truth when talking about Zac. When I asked him what sort of impact he wanted to leave as an artist, he didn’t even hesitate.
“I honestly don’t think about it,” he said. “For me, the priority is more of just trying to find a way of being in the present sense. It’s more of a way of existing as a person, in a day-to-day way rather than focusing on what I want to accomplish.”
That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have aspirations for the future. But he is aware of the fact that life doesn’t always go according to plan. It’s easy to get caught up in reaching your goals and forget that the whole time, you were doing the thing that you loved.
“Once you get the thing you’re working towards, you just want something else. It doesn’t fill you up. It doesn’t make you complete,” he said. “I feel like what has a greater capacity to do that, is just being.”
If you want to catch Saintseneca live, they’ll be playing Newport Music Hall on April 10. Grab your tickets here.
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