Winter's miserable post-holiday slush has enveloped Columbus, Ohio, and Zac Little really ought to be hibernating. The mustachioed singer-songwriter behind the indie-folk outfit Saintseneca spent the better part of the past two years fleshing out the tracks for his band's much-anticipated Anti- Records debut, Dark Arc. But with the record not due for official release until the robins fly home in April, an uncomfortable holding pattern has set in. Some musicians might twiddle their thumbs in anxious anticipation. Little is keeping busy.
"My goal is to have two records' worth of material done by the time [Dark Arc] comes out," Little says. "I like to stay ahead of myself, so I wanted to set a fairly ambitious goal of what I'd like to do before the release date. And it kind of keeps me sane to have to work on things. I like work. It makes me feel better."
It should come as little surprise then that Saintseneca is also hitting the road for a good chunk of January — a time when most bands are daydreaming about festival season rather than driving their van to Boston in a blizzard. For fans of the more psychedelic and soft-spoken segments of the neo-folk pie, however, seeing this band in the "offseason" could provide a pretty rewarding preview of big things to come. That's because Dark Arc — backed by Anti and re-recorded with famed producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley) — has the early scent of a cult favorite.
"When the idea was first proposed about reworking some of the songs with an outside producer, my reaction was basically, 'Eh, I don't know. I think we're good. I feel like we've got this,' " recalls Little, who had spent a solid 10 months recording an earlier version of Dark Arc in Columbus. "But obviously, I was interested once I heard that we'd be working with Mike [Mogis], because I really respect his work. He's made a lot of great records that I really like and that have been influential on me. So that was exciting. And then when I actually spoke with him on the phone and got a feel for his approach and his philosophy, it felt like a good fit. I didn't really have any question at that point."
And so Saintseneca headed to Omaha and re-emerged as something far more dynamic than a troupe of Appalachian folk revivalists (as some had labeled them in the past). On Dark Arc, Little's once minimalist compositions seem to miraculously twirl from sparse acoustic arrangements into layered space-rock jams that Built to Spill would be proud of. For every quiet back-porch ballad like "Fed up With Hunger" (a duet between Little and bandmate Maryn Jones) there are radio-ready sing-along anthems like "Happy Alone" and "Only the Young Die Good."
"I suppose we're pushing more against being labeled as a folk band now," Little says. "I feel like early on it's harder to tell people what you do — to describe that. And I guess now that sort of label does feel a little ... reductive."
Lest it be mistaken, Little is far from ashamed of his folkie roots. Growing up in Appalachian Ohio, he has credited the isolation of his rural youth for inspiring much of his songwriting. Now, working within what he calls "a very nurturing music scene" in Ohio's largest city, he's maintained that appreciation for solitude — just with a slightly different perspective.
"The word 'isolation' can have a sort of negative connotation," Little says. "So I think of it more like a retreat maybe. If I choose to stay in for the night and work on stuff alone, it's about finding a certain sanctuary of mind rather than being disconnected. Really, it's more about being connected than disconnected."