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Folk Tales

Dreams pervade the subconscious mind of Zac Little. But Little, the singer-songwriter behind Saintseneca, doesn’t have dreams most would consider normal. In these phantasms he can taste and smell. Inspirations for songs appear as ephemeral phenomena, and wrangling them into reality has become one of Little’s greatest skills as a musician. “I’ve always had pretty [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Dreams pervade the subconscious mind of Zac Little. But Little, the singer-songwriter behind Saintseneca, doesn’t have dreams most would consider normal. In these phantasms he can taste and smell. Inspirations for songs appear as ephemeral phenomena, and wrangling them into reality has become one of Little’s greatest skills as a musician.

“I’ve always had pretty intense dreams, but with this record, those dreams had more literal manifestations,” Little said. “I’ve heard melodies and songs in dreams, but to have them articulated in the way that they are on Dark Arc has always been a challenge.”

On April Fool’s Day, the public will bear witness to Little’s dreams unfolding in the songs of their major label debut for Anti Records (home to Tom Waits and Neko Case). From the murky piano lines of the rousing “Uppercutter” to the contemplative finale “We Are All Beads On the Same String,” Dark Arc is the type of album old fans and newbies alike can climb inside of. They can wallow in the intimate dark beauty and revel in the moments of pop bliss, memorizing every word and note if only for their own comfort and youthful preservation.

Saintseneca began modestly during the summer of 2007 in the hills of Appalachian Ohio. The group took on greater resonance when Little moved to Columbus for art school and started playing house shows – in those early days the band was infamous for playing acoustic only performances under bridges and in natural settings. That iteration of Saintseneca went on to record and release the band’s heralded debut, 2011’s Last, which quickly caught on well beyond the insular Columbus folk scene. Still, Little had bigger plans for what he wanted Saintseneca to become and when he and his cohorts parted ways, Little found players who existed in what he calls a “mutual orbit,” to organically form the Saintseneca of today. With help from the stunning vocals of Maryn Jones, guitarist Steve Ciolek, drummer Matt O’Conke, and multi-instrumentalist Jon Meador, Dark Arc is truly a communal effort, with over 13 musicians contributing to the final mix.

Before Anti came knocking, Little had considered Dark Arc pretty much done – a sophomore album mapped and recorded with Way Yes’ Glenn Davis in a Columbus attic for 10 fruitful months. Anti was willing to release the album as is, but also offered the prospect that the band could take what was recorded into a bigger studio with limitless possibilities. At that point another dream became reality when Saintseneca were afforded the luxury to “finish” Dark Arc for a month in Omaha with famed producer Mike Mogis (known for his work with Bright Eyes, Cursive, and Rilo Kiley). Being a huge fan of Mogis’ aesthetics, Little found a perfect synthesis between what had already been recorded and what could become of the record in the hands of Mogis.

“He respected what we had already done,” says Little of the experience. “The final product is more a hybrid than anything else. Some of the songs are very much of Omaha, with a little residue from Columbus. Some are almost all Glenn, with Mike pushing it full spectrum.”

Where Last was a sepia snapshot of intimacy and simpler times, Dark Arc is in widescreen and cinematic. It’s tethered to those earthy roots, but calls to the heightened atmospherics of Radiohead or the surreal psychedelic pop of Neutral Milk Hotel. Perhaps another result of deep dreams, Little’s lyrics on the album read like metaphysical journal entries, exploring the blurred lines between flesh and spirit, light and dark, joy and sadness.

“It’s a meditation on doom, but finding a certain level of joy in doom, and a certain level of transcendence,” said Little. “Whether that be in a romance, in the cells of the human body, or a human life, or humanity, or the universe – each of those little things are a microcosm of something bigger. There’s a certain life and arc to those things. And those things mimic those larger concentric circles.”

The meaningful “arc” of the title is a highly ambitious conceit, but after hearing the record in full, Little backs up that vision with a feast for the ears. On all accounts, Saintseneca is still a folk band, though certainly not in the traditional sense. There are tried-and-true flourishes of banjo, pedal steel, and mandolin in the forefront, while along the fringes the exotic strum of a Turkish baglama or a balalaika increase the otherworldly sensibility of the album. Those alien tones lend a sonic topography that covers more than hills, hollers, and mountains.

“I have a weird obsession with stringed instruments, so anytime I see something new that I’ve never heard before I want to try it,” said Little of the band’s predominantly acoustic sound. “I’ve never thought of the appropriate way to write a song using mandolin. The instruments will tell you that to a certain extent, but I think more in textures and how those instruments will lend a particular texture to a song that I’m writing.”

Yes. Though the record isn’t even released yet, Little’s writing and planning another two albums. He’s always thinking of what comes next. Songs incorporating a “psychedelic brass band” and taking his experiments further crept into our conversation, but for now the cycle for Dark Arc begins and Little wants the release of the album to be as strategic and meticulous as its magnificent creation. For the immediate future, it looks as though Little and Saintseneca won’t have much to lose sleep over.

Saintseneca will celebrate the release of Dark Arc with a show at the Wexner Center for the Arts on April 19th. Visit www.saintseneca.com for more information.

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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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