'It Sounds Like A Hoedown From 1850' - Her.ie Chats To San Fermin
A Yale education and a degree in classical music may not be the typical blueprint for a career in rock and roll but San Fermin's Ellis Ludwig-Leone's influences growing up strayed far from just Beethoven and Bach.
On graduating from the Ivy League college, the Rhode Island-born musician secluded himself in Canada's Banff Centre to write what would become debut album San Fermin, a eclectic collection featuring a 22-strong cast of musicians including Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius.
The band, now condensed into a eight-piece touring ensemble with Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye on vocals, have just released follow-up Jackrabbit and speaking to Her.ie, Ludwig-Leone says that he hopes people have moved past San Fermin's beginnings.
"With that first record, a lot was made about the fact that I had gone to school and studied classical music. I can understand because it was a different story for people but a lot of my childhood and while growing up I really loved indie music and rock music. It always felt like a big part of my life," he said.
"I think people are always going to come with preconceptions, no matter what you’re doing, and I think that is something that you just have to accept. For me, what I’d like to do, is just have people listen to the music on its own terms once they are hearing it… that’s really on the musician to make that happen and I think the way you do that is to make things are good as possible. Hopefully then they’ll give you a pass for everything else that you’ve done in your life!"
San Fermin was an album with lofty aspirations set against a heavily classical backdrop but Jackrabbit definitely signals a more aggressive and pop-driven approach from Ludwig-Leone and he says that the band's direction has been derived from their experience on the road.
While the bones of the record were written immediately after the release of San Fermin, again in solitary confinement, the composer says that touring "in the thick of it" and "constantly in a state of semi-crisis" forced him to revisit the tracks and take a more collaborative approach.
"I think I was writing in a vacuum on that first record a little bit and now it’s definitely not. Any time that you know who you are writing for, it complicates the process of writing," he explains.
"In some ways, it makes it simpler because you know what they can do so technically, you can shape it to them really well but it also complicates the process because if you know the person who is playing/singing that part, you have to consider what it will be like coming out of their instrument or their mouth. It’s not so much about what you want to say, it becomes about this collective thing."
One of the most interesting elements of San Fermin is the fact that Ludwig-Leone is regularly writing for a female character, voiced by Kaye, and he admits that creating an authentic voice can be a challenge.
"Especially on the second record, I considered quite a bit about what writing for a female voice actually means. As a guy, it’s a weird thing to do because there’s a lot of imagination involved. No matter how many close female friends you have and how close you feel, you’re obviously writing for someone else.
"I think, to some degree, you are doing that for the male character as well because neither of them on either album is supposed to me be, at all, they’re just voices. On that first record, I think at times they are a little bit simple about what they are saying. Allen will say something big and grand and then the female voices will say something very sarcastic and cutting. I think on this record they become more fleshed out as real people, which I felt was a good development."
In addition to character development, Jackrabbit represents a "darker, shiftier and challenging" record than its predecessor and Ludwig-Leone says that he believes the ensemble have "zeroed in on a sound that is really unique to our band".
"I sort of surprised myself sometimes on this one. On the song Parasites, there’s something that sounds like a hoedown from 1850, it’s totally random! I think I was trying to pull from more places and also let my own experience generate as much as possible."
San Fermin play Whelan's on Tuesday April 28th. Tickets are priced at €16 and are available from Ticketmaster and www.whelanslive.com.