They’re currently on tour and their new album, ‘Jackrabbit’ is released in the UK on 27th April. We had a quick catch up with one of San Fermin’s band members, Ellis Ludwig-Leone during this busy time.
Hi Ellis! Thanks for talking to us today, how’re you doing?
Hi Jenna! I’m very good. Thanks for calling.
We’re a student magazine, so we were wondering… have you been to University?
Yeah, I sure have. I went to Yale University in New Haven. I was a music major with a focus on composition.
You guys are called, ‘San Fermin.’ We love the unusual name – where does it come from?
It’s the name of, ‘The Running of the Bulls’ Festival in Pamplona. It was a long time ago that I named it, but it was basically to do with the fact I liked the image of a bunch of people running from something. That feels like an image that can work with my music.
There are eight of you in the band all together. It’s really unusual nowadays for a group to have so many members – how did you all come together?
Yeah, well Allen (the lead singer) and I have been friends for a long time, really from 15. We always had bands together growing up. When I went and wrote the first record, he was thinking about going to law school and I said, ‘’Hey man, just give this a shot, sing me a song.’’ He did and we got a record deal. He postponed law school and we started touring. Now I’ve permanently derailed his life I think! From there I recruited the brass guys I went to college with and then I found people in New York who were good. It started with Allen, for sure.
How do you find being an eight piece? Did it take a while for you to get used to it, seeing as you were on your own for some time?
Yeah, it was weird to be in a band at all. When I was writing the first record, I just wasn’t thinking about it that way and suddenly I had these seven other people who were dependent on me for the next thing. That was a real change, but I think a really good one. One of the most rewarding things that’s happened to me as musician has been starting this band and feeling like I have all these people whose musical viewpoints I care about. They are a part of my musical life in a very intimate way.
You have a large band with members that possess many different talents. You have a guitarist, violinist, drum player, saxophone player and vocalists. Is it difficult to compose music which incorporates all of these skills and uses them to their best ability?
Yeah, it is definitely a balancing act. You want every song to showcase the players in the right way. There’s a danger with eight people on stage that people aren’t gunna watch the right thing. When I arrange the songs, particularly for the live shows, I really try to think about whose gunna be able to step up and take the big parts. I think one of the strengths of our live shows is that everyone has their moment.
You’ve opened shows for the likes of National, St. Vincent, Artic Monkeys and The Head and the Heart. How was it working with these bands?
It was super cool. It’s such an honour for us to play with bands like that; we had such a good time. It’s super cool to play for a big audience that listens to music we love. All of those experiences are something I’ll remember.
Is there anyone you’d particularly like to work with in the future?
There’s some many, y’know? I really like Paul Simons. I think he’s so inventive; he’s constantly doing new things. I’m really interested in working with him someday, but that’s quite a way away I think!
You new album, ‘Jackrabbit’ is released in the UK on 27th April. How do you feel when your new material is finally out there for people to listen to?
It’s super exciting, y’know? You wait for over a year to do this. It’s also scary because suddenly you’re basically opening yourself up for everyone to way in and tell you what they think, but generally people have been nice to us and I’m just happy to finally have it out.
The album was released in America and Australia on 21st April and has already received a positive response. How important is the feedback to you guys?
Well, I have some people that I keep close to me, who I run things by when I’m writing. I’ll usually have a listening party when I’m almost done with a record, for a select group of people. I get their feedback and that’s the most important thing for me because they’re people whose opinions I really trust. I definitely use that feedback a lot in shaping the record, but once it’s at this stage, you pay it a little bit of attention but you also don’t. At this point it is what it is and you’ve made your statement. It’s as good as you can make it and if you’ve been true to yourself and written honest music then there’s nothing to regret or worry about.
You’ve written the songs on the album. How did you come up with the ideas?
Well, I guess I plan the whole record first. I make the arch of the record – what songs are gunna be about, things like that and then I just fill in the gaps from that armature I guess. Really, starting a song it really depends, it can be anything from book characters, to things in my life – really anything! It just all has to fit in to a larger thing for me.
You composed many of the songs on the new album when you didn’t think San Fermin were going to be a band. Did you have to revisit any of the songs you had written?
Yeah, I did. I realised I had these songs written and then we went on tour for a year and that’s a really effecting experience. I found that over the course of that time the sound of the band changed and I ended up shaping these songs to fit the band members more, which is really cool.
How would you describe the new album? How does it differ to the first album?
I’d say it’s definitely darker. I think it’s a little more streamlined than the last record and it’s an intense rhythm. Everything is jam-packed; the songs are a little bit manic. There’s a lot of really fast transitions and it’s a lot more aggressive than the first record, but I think all those things were important steps for the band. The first record feels really sprawling. This one feels like it knows what it wants to do.
You guys are currently on tour. Are you playing material from your old album, as well as material from your new album?
Let’s see… it will probably be most of the new songs and then we’ll definitely play some of our favourite ones from the old one. It’s kinda weird to finally have enough music to choose from. Last year it was like we had ten songs and that was all we had!
During your tour you’re also coming to the UK. Do you have a favourite UK venue that you like to play at?
Well, we haven’t been there that much, but the last time we were there we played a great show at Village Underground, which I really liked. I think the time before that we played at The Lexington, which was also really fun. I just really like being in London. I think the vibe there is great; the people really seem to care about live music and just music in general. It’s definitely one of my favourite European cities to play at. I don’t have a lot of experience with many venues there, so this time we’re doing Jazz Cafe – it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
You’re obviously very busy at the moment with the release of Jackrabbit and being on tour. What’s next for you guys?
The tour is for the foreseeable future. In the fall we’ll be coming back to New York and I have a bunch of other premiers, so there’s some things that I’m personally looking forward to in the fall. For the band I think we’re just gunna tour this record and then see where we land at the end of the whole thing and then make the next step.
Well thank you so much for talking to me Ellis and best of luck with the tour!
Yes, thank you!