San Fermin is the sonic brainchild of Brooklyn native Ellis Ludwig-Leone, whose approach to music is both refreshing and downright intelligent.
The band was born after Ludwig-Leone’s graduation from Yale. The word “eclectic” is thrown around a bit too often for my liking, but I will happily use it in this instance to describe San Fermin’s brilliant sound.
San Fermin is a circus of baroque and chamber pop, and both genres are traditionally interchangeable and audibly symbiotic, considering the classical and orchestral element.
Throw in a fusion of classical and post rock, the later bringing the jazz element to the party and consider a nice flirtation the operatic. This is the foundation of San Fermin’s music.
I chatted to Ellis Ludwig-Leone ahead of the band’s upcoming Dublin date in Whelan’s on April 16 (and his namesake is not in relation to another great classical composer. Yep...I asked!). This is how our conversation went…
Miriam Doona:The name San Femin alludes to the Spanish festival and is traditionally associated with the running of the bulls. Is that custom and festival of particular significance to you?
Ellis Ludwig-Leone: No, not really...it is more in reference to that jumping-off point. I am really interested in that point when people put themselves in dangerous situations in life. It is in reference to when people put themselves in danger for the love of music, to follow that path, you know, when the heart is beating. That makes me feel alive; the experience aspect of music and a career in music.
MD: The debut album is of the same name, which you completed in six weeks. It deals with a verity of human experiences and emotions. What would you say is the overall theme of the album?
ELL: It is about young people looking for answers and in a slightly different way in each song. The themes are romance, mis-romance, and also the theme of loneliness is present and how to solve that loneliness.
MD: You composed all of the album’s lyrics and arrangements prior to collaborating and recording it with 22 other musicians. Was that a challenge to find the right people for the album after it was composed?
ELL: Yeah, to find the right singers was. The male singer, Allen (Tate) is a friend of mine for many years and I wrote the songs with him in mind. We really luck-ed out with the girls we got to sing on the album and everything really fell into place.
MD: I was just listening to Sonsick before we spoke, which is the first track released from the album. If you could sum it up in a few words, how would you describe the song?
ELL: It is about the anxiety of growing up and the big decisions that you are faced with. It is a celebration of that anxiety.
MD: The album was released in September and you are touring at the moment and plan on coming to Ireland and performing in Whelan's. Have you been to Ireland before and are you familiar at all with the Irish music scene and where will the tour bring you after this date?
ELL: We are currently touring extensively, and no, we have never been to Ireland before. We have been to the UK a couple of times. It is our first time in Ireland and we are delighted to not only play Dublin but we are doing a show the day before in Cork too. Yes! We are very familiar with one Irish band in particular, Villagers, we toured with them last year. Actually we did our third, fourth and fifth shows ever with them. They are great, great band and great group of people! After the Irish dates we spend another month touring Europe and then back home to record our next album and then on to do many festivals in both America and Europe.
MD: I know you went to Yale to study music was it always in your plans to study music, your calling. So to speak?
ELL: My parents are both painters and I spent a lot of time in studio with them when I was growing up and I have always liked to be creative and paint and draw. I was always surrounded by music growing up too and when I began to play the piano and it just clicked for me that music was the way I wanted to express myself.
MD: You are classically trained in music, and studied classical composition and the eight piece live ensemble brings a really nice jazz element and contingency to the music of San Fermin, as does the post-rock foundation. I find this really interesting as classical musicians tend to rely fundamentally of the ability to read music initially, while jazz musicians are more inclined to rely on the ear, to hear music first. Which musicianship are you more inclined towards, in that respect?
ELL: That is a really good question…I think I combine both those things, really. I plan ahead of time and considering I am composing and arranging for a band, I rely on both so I combine an element of both musicianship.
San Fermin play Whelan's on April 16. Tickets available here.
Follow Miriam on Twitter: @miriamdoona.