FOR A SONG that contains the word "happy" in the title, Saintseneca's "Happy Alone" certainly contains more than a tinge of melancholy. Perhaps it's natural that our perception of another's solitude always assumes a measure of sadness—but Saintseneca doesn't make the matter easy to parse. The song is not a solo flutter of acoustic guitar strings accompanied by a forlorn voice bleating in the wilderness (although there are other examples of that on Saintseneca's new album, Dark Arc). Rather, the band's singer/songwriter, Zac Little, sounds anything but alone on "Happy Alone"—buttressed by gang handclaps and rich, harmonious backing vocals.
Little knows a thing or two about being alone; he was raised in rural Appalachia, where the nearest neighbors were 20 minutes away. Now he and the rest of Saintseneca are located in Ohio's largest city, Columbus, but their folk variation seems almost unanchored by place, equally suited to the Midwest's extreme winter cold and sweltering thunderclap summers.
The band's dichotomy plays out in the themes of Dark Arc, Little explains. "I tend to think of it in some ways as a meditation on doom. But I wanted to imbue that with a certain sense of joy. To take something that's seemingly dark or negative, but then to infuse that with pop, with a sense of joyful anticipation." He likens the life cycle of an organism—with old cells dying and new cells continuously generating—to that of a human relationship, seeing shared patterns in things from a molecular level out to the astronomical. "It's kind of like from the macro to the micro, the way that that sort of narrative plays out."
Dark Arc underwent a substantial revision when Anti- Records signed the band. The album had been initially recorded over 10 months in a Columbus attic with Glenn Davis, but the group spent a subsequent month with Mike Mogis in Omaha, Nebraska, reshaping the recordings.
"The record became kind of a hybrid of those two worlds and processes," says Little. "We recorded with Glenn and that was a complete record. It was done, it was finished then. When we established the connection with Anti-, they were like, 'Well, we love this record, we'll put it out right now—but also here's this other opportunity.' I've always been a big fan of Mike's work; I've really admired so many records that he's done, but I was hesitant at first, because I wasn't really sure what that would be like, to take something that already felt sort of precious to me in a certain way."
Four songs were re-recorded from scratch, while others were merely tweaked in the mixing stage. "It feels like the same spirit of that same record, but I think that it was just further realized," Little says. "When you're in the creative process, and you're done, I feel like there's always this period of reflection, where you're like, 'Well, if I could go back and do it all over again, what would I change, or what would I want to add here?' Inevitably, especially with recording, there are things that you didn't get to, or that you'd tried and didn't work, so it was exciting to have the opportunity to have that first version, then to have some time to reflect upon that, and then finally make those final touches, and re-imagine things even further."
The result is a road-hardened band putting its best foot forward, and the strength and assurance of the record is difficult to ignore. Nothing on Dark Arc sounds overbaked or fussy, but tracks like "Uppercutter" and "Visions" are crisp and grand without losing Saintseneca's palpable, powerful sense of intimacy. "I don't think anyone would ever deliberately do a record like that from the beginning, because it would just be too crazy, almost," Little says. "But it was cool that it worked out for this."