Glass speaks to Ellis Ludwig-Leone from San Fermin

NAMED after a week-long festival in Spain, San Fermin are a group led by musical mastermind Ellis Ludwig-Leone. With a classical music degree from Yale, Ludwig-Leone has an impressive back catalogue of musical contributions such as being named the 2015 Composer-in-Residence for the Alabama Symphony as well as writing for ballet. This impressive contribution to music is what makes Ludwig-Leone so unique, as his composing style celebrates San Fermin as an orchestral-pop wonder. I spoke to him about their upcoming album Belong.

San Fermin

Your schedule is very busy this summer with a huge tour coming up. How are you feeling about this?

Yeah, I’m actually really excited. I think we’ve had 7 months off which is kind of longer than we’ve ever taken from touring, so we all had a lot of time to work on other things and be at home, and I think everyone’s pretty excited to be out and playing shows again.

Do your live shows differ much to the records?
We try to. There’s eight members, so there’s a lot of room for that. Generally over the course of touring we’ll make changes to the songs to make things work better, and because we’re playing the songs so many times, people make it more their own. In general the experience of touring the record is sort of an entirely different thing then recording it which is kind of cool.

You have a bit of a cult following in America. What’s your favourite city to play in?
Cult following, I like that! It’s kind of hard to beat New York, just because we all live there and we have our friends and family there. We also play our biggest shows in New York which is kind of fun, but there’s a lot of great places in America. We were playing in D.C and that was fun, and we played a show in Montana that was really fun so honestly it just depends on which way you want to go about playing headline shows you know, because overtime you go somewhere it’s really cool to be reminded that there are people that care about your music that want to come and listen to it.

You’ve recently released some tracks from your new album. How have fans been responding so far?
I think pretty good. When we were on the plane down to South by Southwest, someone came up to us and said they really liked the new song. That was pretty cool, and we’re really eager to get on stage because we haven’t played these songs yet, so I guess we’ll get up there and see how they actually react.

Most of your songs on your other records have quite dark themes behind happy sounding pop. What’s the theme of your upcoming record? Can we expect any darkness?
Yeah, I guess it’s hard for me when I’m writing to write a song that’s all one thing or just a happy song or whatever. That’s just not really how my mind works. Whenever you’re up, you’re also worried about being down and vice versa, so a lot of those songs have those conflicting emotions in them, so in the new record with the songs that are out with songs like Pride, which sounds like a big fun song but is actually about anxiety and things and freaking out on a wedding day. That inspiration helps generate the songs for me.

You’ve recorded songs in the great Canadian mountains before as well as in your bedroom. Where did you record this?
This was mainly at home in Brooklyn.

How did you approach the writing process?
We finished touring in January last year, then I was writing all of February, and then we kind of finished writing it in the summer. I’d spend the day writing and I’d be at home but I did get to isolate myself because my girlfriend was out of town for the whole month and I kind of focus best when I isolate myself and really immerse myself in the music.

On Jackrabbit, you mentioned the writing process was a bit of a group experience. Was this the case for the new record?
The writing process is more isolated but the fact that we tour so heavily – and I think we tour more heavily than any band I’ve ever actually met – and because we do that, you can’t not think about that while you’re writing. When I’m writing I think about the live show and the identity of the band members, which is all tied up in how I write. The live show is a complete different experience to the recording, so I think what’s where more the individual band member stuff comes through.

What have you learnt from touring?
The reality of being in a rock band is that your sense of home changes a bit. Of course you still have a home and a home base but spend a lot of time on the road and one of the things we’ve done to adjust to that is we’re all a really close knit group and I actually think that everyone in the band would agree that we feel kind of like a family which is the most important thing, especially when you’re spending so much time with these people.

You’ve had a few lineup alterations in the band over the years.  How has it been difficult adjusting to these changes?
On our last tour, we toured really heavily and basically had 2 years away from home and during that time our violinist Rebekah moved to Denver, Colorado because she was living with her boyfriend there and she set up a really good life for herself there, so I think she didn’t want to spend as much time on the road, which I totally understand. I think the way we think about it is that it’s always an opportunity when the sound of the band changes and it’s exciting. Right now we’re excited to have Claire Wellin on violin who brings a really specific energy and I can see out sound changing already because of that.

It’s hard replacing band members. How did you find Claire?
With Claire we had an audition and we heard a bunch of people but she just blew us away and then we started rehearsing.

San Fermin initially started out with 22 musicians. Do you ever miss working with such a large group?
Yeah! That was during the first record and I didn’t think about the touring thing at all so I just brought in a bunch of friends to record. I think I had a string quartet, a brass quartet and it added up to 22 people on that record. But, sometimes I get my fix for the larger side of things because we play with an orchestra or we’ll play with an ensemble that’ll join us, and we’ve done a few shows with just an ensemble which is just a five-piece classical group.

Every now and then we get to have these arrangements which is kind of cool because we get to hear the music in a fresher way but as the band has kept on I think we’ve become more comfortable just being a band, and I think we’re aiming to do a little bit less of that, because the personal chemistry does disrupted a little bit when you try to add other things.

You supported Alt-J on tour which involved playing huge arena sized venues. Do you prefer the larger gigs or the more intimate headline ones?
I think everyone in the band might have a different opinion on that one actually, but my ideal is headline shows, because you know the people are there for you and I do find that it’s very satisfying to get see your work being appreciated by people who clearly mean something to you, but I know that some of the other guys really liked that Alt-J tour because it’s cool to play to a stadium full of people. I’m really excited about the tour we’re about to go on because it has a mixture of big and small. In New York we’re playing to 2000 people but in Edmonton we’re playing for 200.

Your albums have previously featured animals on the cover. What inspired the album artwork for Belong? It’s very different.
It’s the same artist that we always work with Stephen Halker, and he’s a friend of ours and I think one of the most talented artists I’ve met and we had a series of meetings to talk about the record and I mentioned that I thought this record was more about textures and about trying to create patterns.

If you look closely, all of the patterns on the album have imagery from the songs included into that. We have a pattern for each of the songs on the album so it’s kind of a little thing for people to find if they really look at it.


story pic San Fermin


story pic2 san fermin

by Katrina Mirpuri

The band are playing Village Underground on May 22, tickets are available here

First single Bride from the new album
Here is a teaser, Open, from the new album Belong, available from today on Downtown/Interscope and from here

About The Author

Katrina Mirpuri

Glass Online music writer

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