Saintseneca’s newest album Pillar of Na brings a simpler sound from the five-piece than previous releases have demonstrated. However, streamlining their recording and production process doesn’t mean sacrificing their signature creative instrumentation. The group’s fourth album is a look at endings, and the memories that lead to them. Listening to Pillar of Na means reconciling your own past and recognizing the need to move forward.
The reconciliation isn’t always somber, though – the overarching feeling is a fond nostalgia, and an acceptance of finality.
>> Read our conversation with the band below >>
Tell me a little bit about your journey from your last record to Pillar of Na. What sort of changes can listeners expect in your sound? What sort of growth?
In the past we created dense recordings with literally hundreds of layers. Maybe sometimes I got a little carried away. I wanted these songs to breathe. I tried to keep this record as minimal and raw as possible, while retaining some mysterious and surreal textures. I wanted to hear the room, to hear the air and the space. We tried to create a document that wasn't overly manicured. The unanticipated moments that might be “accidents” can be the most honest and beautiful. I wanted to provide space for that kind of thing to happen.
How did Pillar of Na get its name?
Pillar of Na has a braided meaning. It is a reference to the Old Testament story of Lot's wife. While fleeing a Sodom and Gomorrah, as the cities are being destroyed, she is warned to not look back. She does, and turns into a pillar of salt. Na is the chemical symbol for sodium. Na is the nonsense song lyric "na na na." It is the passive decline, "nah.” I liked connecting this to the expression "being a pillar," as in, Stalwart, a bastion of universal nothing.
You guys are known for using an array of unique instruments in your music -- what sort of instrumentation is found on this album?
Some of of the more eccentric instruments are mandola, bouzouki, hammered dulcimer, mellotron. We also had the opportunity to bring in some folks to play flute, piccolo, bass trumpet. An exciting moment was bringing in a string quartet with members of the Omaha symphony.
Many of the songs on the album seem to deal with mortality and the way we handle it. Is that where your mind was when writing this record?
The overarching theme of the record is memory. Death and mortality certainly can be a part of that. Death is punctuation; endings are an inflection point. As we move forward, we're constantly looking back, forced to reconcile the present to the past. I think those moments of punctuation often facilitate the conjuring of old memories.
On “Timshel,” you sing the line, “Good-hearted Christians / Whip out their weapons / Push them against some sinner’s side.” In the current social and political climate, this seems like an overt statement about where things stand. What did you have in mind with this lyric and this song?
I'd say that line is more about how beliefs can be weaponized, which certainly happens in today's social climate. I first encountered the word "Timshel" in the book East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The characters are studying the tale of Cain and Abel from the Old Testament. Cain murders Abel out of jealousy, after God prefers Abel's sacrifice to Cain's. Timshel is a hebrew word God says to Cain referring to "Sin lying in wait at the door" — it translates to "Thou shalt triumph over it." In East of Eden, Steinbeck translates it to "Thou Mayest.” I liked how Steinbeck's characters grapple with the notion of inheriting these ancient flaws. They wonder if they are doomed to perpetuate the same mistakes, or if there is hope of transcendence?
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about this album, tour or the band’s direction as a whole?
We're on tour, come say hi!