Photo by Nathan Mardin.
According to Gullah culture, humans have both a soul and a spirit; souls leave their human bodies after they die and, granted theirs was a good soul, ascend up to Heaven. The spirit stays to guide and protect the deceased’s family in their time of mourning and need.
A face-to-face with Saul Seibert of Columbia band Boo Hag to talk everything from Columbia's music scene to their upcoming album (and latest single of the same name) "Burial Ground."
A bad spirit, on the other hand, is called a Boo Hag. Using their own sinister brand of witchcraft, they feed off of the souls of living humans. Skinless and bright red, they steal the skin of unsuspecting victims in order to survive, parading unsuspected throughout the world of the living.
Saul Seibert had never heard of the Boo Hag folklore when he moved to South Carolina from New Orleans.
“I was so oblivious,” he says in between cigarette drags. “It’s very Beaufort oriented, and being from Louisiana I didn’t know anything about it. You can still go down to the Lowcountry and see houses with haint-blue paint on the doors. I liked the mythos around it, and I liked the two words. It was simple, so we really just ran with that for the name.”
With Saul’s macabre, often foreboding songwriting, drummer Scott Tempo’s pounding drums, and recent-addition Thomas Hammond on an unearthly style of saxophone (more on that later), the name fits perfectly.
“We just started exploring something Southern centric, and Scott came up with ‘Boo Hag,’” Saul explains. “I’m a bit superstitious, and it’s almost a way of exorcising demons.”
Raised in the French Quarter, Saul is all too familiar with the differences between the eclectic music scene of New Orleans and that of Columbia.
“My parents lived on Bourbon Street, so I grew up in a residential district on like, the 1200 block. You really have no choice, everything is music there. I mean the streets bleed music. So there’s no escaping, I mean, it’s literally the home of jazz and a lot of blues. So the city is just saturated with old spirits, old music. Everywhere you go you’re hearing fantastic jazz, fantastic blues, and it’s set aside. I’ve always said that New Orleans is not really America. It’s its own thing, and it doesn’t get influenced by a lot of other places in America. It’s able to be self contained and it has this sense of purity to it."
“But Columbia’s f***king weird man,” he laughs. “I’ve lived in the South most of my life, but I’d never lived in ‘South Carolina-South.’”
His shift to Columbia’s scene was difficult, in his own words, finding how to work around a completely different spectrum of local music.
“I was really unimpressed with [the scene]. I literally moved here and had to hit the ground running, taking demo tapes to places like Papa Jazz and immediately started trying to find people [to play music with]. I didn’t see any rock and roll, I didn’t see any of the stuff that’s happening now. There was a lot of singer songwriter stuff going around, a lot of alt-country, and just kind of bar rock. Not any branded bands and artists that were actually going out and trying to leave a nice scar across the face of Columbia, I don’t think there was a lot of that.”
Saul was especially impressed by local group Debbie and the Skanks, and through what he calls an “incestuous move,” was put in contact by group members Joe Buck and Adam Cox with the Skanks’ former drummer, Scotty Tempo.
“We met and really we just had a lot of similar interests in rock and roll, so we met, practiced once, and that’s kind of the beginning, and we haven’t really slowed down since. We’ve been going strong about five years now.”
The band’s newest release, the single “Burial Ground,” was written due to a myriad of Eastern influence rather than Western rock and roll.
“I really just went to the Middle East for inspiration, knowing that the Western influence is already there. Like, I’m an American and I grew up listening to rock and roll. It’s there. I don’t need to study another Stones album, you know?”
The single also finds Seibert and Tempo bringing in Thomas Hammond from King Vulture on saxophone, who adds to the aesthetic and brings more depth to the group’s sound with his unique combination of effects and Arabic scaling patterns.
“Thomas has definitely accentuated the Middle Eastern sound simply by how he plays his saxophone, which isn’t a Middle Eastern instrument, but he was definitely able to take my vision to what I wanted and make it much more than what I thought. He’s a badass.”
2020 will bring about two eventual releases for the band, most notably the Burial Ground album, which they plan to release on vinyl. Burial Ground has been a work in progress since October of last year, culminating with half of the record being a concept narrative (“There’s a coded story in there that nobody will know about,” Saul laughs) and the other half being straight up, unadulterated rock and roll.
“We thought that the album was going to be done by January or February and then we’d release it. But what’s ended up happening is we’ve decided to keep it in the back and work on it and when it’s done, release it full length on vinyl. So there won’t be any access to it unless it’s vinyl.”
While there’s no set release date or specific plan for Burial Ground as of now, the single itself is ominously accentuated by Hammond’s skillful opening saxophone, interrupted by the driving force of Tempo’s drums and ultimately pulled together by Saul’s signature screeching into the mic as though he were a preacher, screaming maniacally in tongues.
There are warning signs to know when a bad spirit, a Boo Hag, is near. The air becomes hot and damp. You become exhausted and out of breath. Creatures begin to howl and bark into the night.
It’s not unlike the affect that Boo Hag has on its listeners.
Attend any of their live shows, and you will howl into the air as it gets hot and damp. The songs will attack with raw power when you least expect it, and you will leave exhausted, out of breath.
At least in Columbia, Boo Hag is alive and real.