Worcester, Mass is a funny place with a little bit more going on than most realize. She is a diverse city that still boasts a fairly high immigrant population which helps lend to its vibrant culinary scene. Her seven colleges bring in a swarm of young people who both help keep the city’s litter of 24/7 diners open and keep the arts scene thriving. I was lucky enough to spend four years at Holy Cross in Worcester and first became acquainted with Square Loop’s bassist Ryan McKenna when he was at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and did a semester “abroad” in Nantucket with one of my best friends from growing up who was also at WPI (They were in Nantucket from October to December so it wasn’t quite as luxurious as you might be imagining). Ryan was in a smattering of great local bands throughout and after college, Prawn in particular comes to mind, eventually linking with fellow WPI Goat Dave Zielinski. Dave was finishing up his tenure on the WPI basketball team (Our scouts said he was a scrappy 6’1” shooting guard who was wet from three) and became intrigued with the idea of starting a band for a couple of reasons. For starters he made a couple songs for a project in Music Production class and liked how they came out more than he realized. Furthermore he found out there was a thriving DIY rock scene right under his nose across New England, and with both the ability to make music and to cultivate a community around it more readily available than he realized, Dave felt inspired to give rock and roll the old college try.
After getting the chance to play a few introductory shows, Square Loops’ first record, Mom Come Pick Me Up, was released at the height of the COVID pandemic. Ralph’s Diner, an iconic Worcester eatery and music venue, graced the cover both as a homage to the diner hosting the band’s first show and as a reminder of the community they were excited to get back to. They were ripping from their earliest singles. “I.C.B.Y.S.F.W.M.” was one of the first songs the band released and it remains a lightning rod of their live set. Standing for “I can’t believe you’re still friends with me” I’d imagine it is a favorite of David’s many friends who the song is clearly about. While David cites the Weakerthans and Signals Midwest as primary influences, Square Loop has always reminded me of if Oso Oso was inspired by the mountains of the Wachusett Reservation instead of the oceans of Long Island, with David’s tender voice and rapid rhythms echoing Jade Lilitri.
In some ways Square Loops’ new record feels like a fresh start for the band, or at the very least a reintroduction. Outside of David, Ryan McKenna is the only returning member from the first record. David had seem drummer Bobby Laflamme rip in hardcore bands across Mass and knew he’d be perfect for the band. He then hit up fellow Holy Cross alum Casey Dawson, whose excellent white noise project Raw Materials GSC has written about before, to see if Casey had a bassist he recommended for live shows. Casey said “Yes, me!” and thus the band was formed. The Longest Distrance Between Two Points sees Dave Zielinski reflecting on an autumn period in his life, looking at the winding road that led him to where he is today as he tries to be intentional about the world he’d like to live in going forward. In our conversation David stressed how he wanted to write about his desire to live a cohesive and purposeful life, one where he was helping cultivate a community he was proud to be part of and where he could cultivate personal projects that made life fulfilling. Late album ripper “Leaves Fall Off” feels like a thesis statement for the record in that sense, as David sings about how while the way life shook out may seem as accidental as leaves falling off a tree, his life is probably better off now than it would have been had he got “his way” at the time. It starts slow and introspective before reaching a gargantuan crescendo, one that echos the songs sense of revelation.
After a slate of shows promoting the record, David couldn’t be happier with the state of the band. When he found out about the New England DIY music scene back when he was just a scrappy D3 shooting guard, all he wanted was to make songs as an outlet for his emotional and creative needs and a community to play those songs with. Now he’s driving up and down the coast, playing with his friends and making new ones along the way. What more could you need out of life?
I chatted with David about how the group first got together, the bands that inspired Square Loop, and his favorite places in the beautiful city of Worcester.
GSC: What’s your name? How do you identify and what do you do in the band Square Loop?
Square Loop: Dave Zielinski is my full name. He/him. I play guitar and sing and do the majority of the songwriting in Square Loop.
GSC: What are your earliest musical memories? Who was playing music around the house? What were they playing?
SL: My mom definitely got us into music early. She played piano throughout her childhood, it was kind of forced on her by her parents, so she thought she’d carry on the same iron fist. She made us start taking piano from like preschool or kindergarten. While she forced us into that, it was a good learning experience getting the scales down, learning music notation, finding a rhythm at an early age. But I was so sick of it by like sixth grade. I started taking drums lessons a few years before and went all in on drums throughout high school. I think senior year is when I stopped taking lessons. And, you know, drums was kind of my only passion for that, that whole sixth grade through pretty much sophomore year in college. Then in college at WPI I learned how to play guitar doing tabs and playing Front Bottoms songs or whatever I was listening to at the time.
GSC: The Front Bottoms couldn’t have been hotter then, my buddy Tanishq who also went to WPI actually introduced me to them.
SL: They felt huge then within their own world. Their earlier stuff was super simple on guitar,I was just like, “Oh, I could reasonably learn this.” So that’s what really got me into guitar. I played in a different band, I played drums and a couple other bands, you know, throughout high school and into college. I eventually wanted something that was going to allow me a little bit more freedom in the songwriting process to express my creative ideas more thoroughly. I ended up starting Square Loop in 2017, actually originally for a project in a music design class, and then I liked how they came out, put them out, and kept rocking and rolling.
GSC: The next question I was going to ask was when you knew you wanted to make music yourself. Do you remember any nexus of something really inspiring you to want to write music?
SL: I think what really got me into it was learning about the DIY scene. When you’re a kid you think of musicians as these big rock stars, famous people, but that’s far the only way to make music. Learning about people playing in basement shows, throwing their own shows, and doing everything themselves was a huge, huge turning point, realizing I can do this myself. And learning a little bit of the production side in class was what pushed me into doing more recording and doing more writing in order to do the recordings. So it kind of fed off itself in that sense.
GSC: What are the delegations of duties in Square Loop? How did everybody in the band first meet? How, from there, did you all decide to start a band together?
SL: A lot of the music is written by myself, it’s kind of a solo project with contributing members. Everybody that plays with me live is I guess a touring member that’s been with me for about a year. Towards the start of the band there was a completely different lineup, well Ryan McKenna was in it at the start. He played bass on the first EP we put out. As I wanted to play more shows I had to find somebody that was going to be a little bit more available than he was at the time. So I ended up finding a drummer, guitarist and bassist from WPI. And we ripped for about a year and then obviously everybody gets a job and wants to go do their own thing. That iteration fell by the wayside as COVID started, so it was a clean break for everybody. As shows started happening again in 2021 I reached out to people and people reached out to me about potentially working together.Our drummer, Bobby Laflamme, he I discovered from the DIY scene. He’s from a town called Gardener, and he played in a couple of hardcore bands. He was ripping at drums so I wanted to bring him on.Then Pat Ranauro, who plays guitar, he’s in another sick Worcester band callled twelveyes. We’ve been friends since my time at WPI when I was first going to their local shows. Then Casey Dawson I’ve known for a little while. When we were looking for a bassist to start doing shows again I hit him up and asked if he knew anybody and he immediately replied and was like “Yeah, me!” Which I was so surprised and excited by. We’ve been together for about a year and I think we’ve gotten way way way tighter over the year. It’s a lot of fun playing with your friends, I couldn’t be happier with where the band is at right now.
GSC: Going back to Mom Come Pick Me Up, your first record from 2020. What was it like recording that pre-pandemic and then releasing it to a very different world? I am drinking Polar Seltzer, Worcester’s finest by the way.
SL: Love that, shout out the Seltzer Time podcast that my boy Ricky Nelson cohosts. I interned at SJC Drums for a while and he was their marketing guy. Its a great podcast he does with his buddy about Worcester and I guess too their love of our local seltzer. Mom Come Pick Me Up though, that was all self recorded. We went up to Wachusett Recordings up in Princeton and did it hour by hour. We flushed out all the drum tracks, then the bass, then the guitars. I kind of mixed it myself and then we had it mastered by Jake Checkoway.
SL: I think his brother plays in Mallcops too, small scene. The whole process took a little over a year, which was a lot. Keeping files organized and keeping the creative juices flowing. When the record was done COVID had just hit. We wanted to do some shows and do a proper release but we decided to just get it out ASAP so people could listen to it, and while I wish we could have done something I still think it was well received.
GSC: I love the cover too, can you explain Ralph’s Diner?
SL: We ended up having our first show ever at Ralph’s, which is wild because it feels like the pinnacle local venue in the Worcester scene. We did our first show there and have been back several times so it holds a special place in our hearts that we wanted to represent.
GSC: “I.C.B.Y.S.F.W.M.” is my favorite from that record, which songs really stick with you?
SL: That song is one I think always gets a good reception live. That song kind of comes from a place of being self critical about how I was acting towards a lot of friends, where I was not really being the best friend that I could. The title stands for, “I can’t believe you’re still friends with me.” After all this shit I put my friends through I’m happy they’ve stuck by my side. That’s where that song came from. and it definitely sticks with me. Another one I really liked off that record is “Death to Hospitality”. That starts super soft and slow and just the guitar, then it busts out into a full blown ripper for about a minute and then it subsides into calm to end it out. I liked what we did with that track, we put some organ in the background, really dialed in on the tones on the guitar, huge focus on the reverb on the production side, and was able to get a great sound out of that song. Those lyrics are also about realizing I was acting kind of shitty and little childish and putting all that to rest.
GSC: What was the recording process like for The Longest Distance Between Two Points? What inspired it musically and personally?
SL: Well I’ve done some growing up over COVID as we all have, which I wrote about. Something I really wanted to put into this record was that I want a life of cohesiveness and purpose where I feel like I have something I am building up towards and have something I can cultivate. Going into the record I was listening to a lot of You Blew It! , and the Weakerthans and Signals Midwest. I really wanted it to sound like a Weakerthans record going into it, but listening back I definitely hear the influence of all three bands and I like the way it all came together. We went down to Sound Acres Studio in Jersey with Gary Cione. He built out a great, great space there. They have a pseudo apartment off to the side, so we were able to sleep there and wake up and get to ripping. We were there for 12-13 days and got all ten songs, it was so much easier to keep our momentum and focus this go around.
GSC: I love the horn section as well in “Out of Sight Out of Mind”, how did that come about?
SL: We recorded the whole track and I knew it needed something else. I ended up getting in touch with Matt Hull from Really From and he was nice enough to help me out and do some really, really great tracks. He ended up doing a trumpet, a trombone, a French horn, and I think a second trumpet track, and he absolutely killed it.
GSC: “Short Breath”is a real ripper, a great way to get the album started. What was the inspiration behind that track?
SL: I wanted it early in the album and put it out first because it grabbed everybody in the band. It starts off a little softer, and then kicks into full gear pretty quick. The song is as it sounds about taking a quick second to just catch your breath about life, realizing that things aren’t as stressful or as major as they might seem.
GSC: I am somebody who loves extremely specific locational references in music, and “York, Maine” I knew I was gonna like the song just off the title. What in your life brought you to York? I would love to hear about the city and then hear about the song if that makes sense.
SL: When I was a lot younger, we went on a vacation up to Portland, and it was a lot of fun. I really, really loved it as a kid. The lobster, all the oysters and shrimp and everything, it was just a blast. Then a couple of years ago, me and my girlfriend went back up to Maine just to stay the weekend. We stopped in York to see the Nubble Lighthouse and I was drawing a parallel between where I was at that point in my life and where I was as a kid and how carefree it all seemed when I was when I was little and then realizing how much has changed and how much responsibility and future planning that comes with growing up. That realization kicked off the spark for the song, watching the waves hit the rocks at the lighthouse and realizing not everything is okay but that is part of life. Stuff comes and goes and you just gotta roll with the punches.
GSC: “Leaves Fall Off” is a definite favorite. What was it like putting that track together?
SL: That was one of the last ones written and structured, I think we structured it while we’re in the studio. Everybody talks about the seasons of your life. In the fall I start looking back at the year I had as I look also at the one ahead, it’s a time of reflection on the changes. It’s about how sometimes I can miss the good old days of college and whatnot but realizing how much I have ahead of me at the same time. I realized I like how much more structured my life is now, while it was fun being spontaneous I like the rhythm of life and keeping a schedule and being proactive about life in and out of the band.
GSC: “Out of Sight Out of Mind” I really enjoy, why did you want it both as a single for the record and as the album closer?
SL: I liked it a lot as a single, I just think it’s a super strong song. I love that riff that I come in with, I’ve had that riff for years, I’m so happy that I was able to get it out of my frickin’ system. It’s a strong track with a lot of different dynamic changes, and rhythmic changes, too, which is really cool for me being a drummer and everything. It’s both about trying to find a sense of cohesion in your life and about not being mad about the things in life that didn’t happen but just appreciating the way it shook out in the end, and the people who were there through it all.
GSC: Is there a favorite track of yours that we haven’t talked about?
SL: Yeah, definitely. The title track “Longest Distance Between Two Points”. That was probably the hardest track to write. I had that riff for a little while, I really, really liked it. Me and Ryan were workshopping ideas for a few weeks trying to figure out exactly what we wanted to do with it, and it just nothing was really happening. So in the studio, Gary, Ryan, and I went all in on that one for a couple of days, honestly, we were trying out different ideas. Finally it came into form, then I actually had to write lyrics. I really bunkered down and again drew from those bands, Weakerthans and Signals Midwest especially, and I am so happy with how it came out in the end. Lets dive into a very important topic, Worcester, MA.
GSC: I’d love to know your favorite places to eat, play music, and even just favorite things about the great city of Worcester.
SL: There’s a lot of great food. Armsby Abbey and Deadhorse Hill absolutely slap. BT’s Smokehouse in Sturbridge does too. We got the Woo Sox now which is great. Nine bucks for a professional baseball game you can’t beat it, having that right down the road is sick.
GSC: Do you have a favorite diner or breakfast place?
GSC: You got a favorite bar in Worcester?
SL: I like Hotel Vernon a bunch.
GSC: There is a great book of poetry that was recently published, From The Hotel Vernon by Lea Graham, that was all written from and about the bar.
SL: That is so cool. Babe Ruth used to go there when he was with the Sox, they had a speakeasy downstairs. Allegedly Burl Ives and Al Capone hung out there too. Great cheap pints and a lot of charm and history. Ralph’s obviously is great for the Geneses’ and just the all around vibe of it.
GSC: What’s your favorite show that you’ve been to recently?
SL: I saw Baby Bowler and Perfect Saturday with Pregame Rituals. Perfect Saturday was just fucking phenomenal. That’s Chance Wells who also plays in oldsoul’s other band. Baby Bowler we played with a few times, they’re just super super fun to watch. A little bit of that twinkly math stuff and then they get a little bit heavier and, and they’re, they’re freaking great.
GSC: Who are some of your favorite contemporaries? who are the people that make you excited to keep playing music?
SL: Perennial from Connecticut is one of my favorite regional bands right now. They are fucking so tight. They’re so good. All their records are awesome. They do coordinated outfits. They all wear stripes. They took a lot of inspiration from the bands from the 60s and 70s. Innerlove. is another one that we haven’t played with yet, but I’m super super stoked on them. They played probably the best set I’ve ever seen live when they came to Boston. It was just so so powerful watching John on the drums just absolutely hammer everything and the guitars were rippin, they were super super good.
GSC: What is something other than music that brings you a lot of joy that people might be surprised to learn?
SL: I do a lot of stuff. So I had a woodworking company I started over COVID after I got furloughed from my job.
GSC: All you WPI Goats are all very resourceful people.
SL: I actually have a couple pieces right here. *shows off a beautiful teardrop shaped maple cherry walnut charcuterie board*
GSC: Oh, hell yeah! My last question for you is, as a former WPI basketball player how are you feeling about the NCAA tournament so far?
SL: I’m a huge Indiana guy for no reason whatsoever funnily enough. After the insane first weekend though I’m rooting for UCONN (being from CT originally) and I think Gonzaga has a great chance to take it this year now that a few of the 1 seeds have been taken down. Also in D3 ball you gotta watch out for WPI next year. We missed the tourney this year but they got some hoopers coming back and they’re gonna be tough to beat!