I don’t really remember where or how I heard of Saintseneca. I have a playlist on Spotify that I fill with suggested bands and albums that I want to eventually check out. That playlist is often my soundtrack as I drive around the city. At some point Saintseneca’s latest album Dark Arc made it’s way on to the playlist and I was hooked from the first song. The song that immediately caught my attention was “Happy Alone.” It’s kind of a oddly uplifting juxtoposition of jangly, rhythmic pop with defiantly dark lyrics. The interplay of dark subject matter and lilting music is a theme that plays out through entire album. At the mid-year mark I made a list of my favorite albums of the first half of 2014 and Dark Arc was solidly placed in the top three behind Beck and The War On Drugs. I’d say that puts Saintseneca is some pretty exclusive company.
BB: I have read that Dark Arc was recorded sort of in two parts, first with Glenn Davis of the the band Way Yes and then with Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk fame. Was the transition from one producer to another in the middle of an album difficult?
ZL: Initially yes. We thought we were done, record complete. I was reluctant to open the recordings back up, since they felt realized. But once I gave it a little more thought, the prospect of working with Mike was really exciting. It felt like he was genuinely excited about the record. It was an opportunity to serve all the work we had invested, rather than undermine those efforts. It was the right choice.
BB: How did the approaches of Davis and Mogis compare?
ZL: They both contributed good ideas, and challenged mine. I think that's the most you can hope for. I guess the fundamental distinction would be the studio context. With Glenn we were operating with pretty tight constraints. We recorded in his attic, and it was a really simple set-up. I think that challenge forced a more creative approach. If you can't get a John Bonham drum tone, what if you bang a dental floss container on a desk and blow it out with distortion instead? That's a pretty unique drum tone. With Mike we had everything we could want and more. In an different way, that fueled creativity. Like, hmm, I never thought of using a bass drop, or mellotron, but it's here so let's give it a shot. We could get the precise drum tone we wanted, so an idea could come straight out of your head and you could make it happen. We didn't have to fight with technical stuff.
BB: Aimee Mann and Ted Leo of The Both did a short video segment for Amoeba Records called “What’s in my bag?.” In that video Mann selected Dark Ark based on her liking the artwork. Have you heard if she liked it?
ZL: Not yet!
BB: Saintseneca has a lot of unique instrumentation and all of you play multiple instruments. That must lead to a lot of flexibility when it comes to creating music. Is the writing process collaborative?
ZL: I write the songs. But, everyone has an important voice and sensibility. Everyone is better at something than I am. Even if I were to say, "Play this guitar part just like this." It would still manifest through my bandmate's vision. That's what is exciting about working with other people. I really respect them as musicians. The songs are defined by who is playing them, and the band members change from time to time.
BB: What comes first music or lyrics?
ZL: It is different for every song.
BB: Lastly, you guys have had a pretty exciting last year or so, what’s been the most exciting part for you personally?
ZL: Sharing the record and the songs. We worked for so long, and waited for so long. The creative arc isn't complete until you share the art. Now that it's out there it actually feels realized.