Ellis Ludwig-Leone of San Fermin talks about his “dark” new album

It’s a common misconception that the leader of every band is always the lead singer. Take San Fermin, for example. In the wake of the release of their second album Jackrabbit, we caught up with their talented songwriter and composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone. He was eager to tell us about the production of their album, upcoming tour plans and the heart-warming closeness between the members of the eight-piece.

I have never seen a band with so many members outside of the K-Pop genre. It must make touring a lot of fun. Can you share some of your fondest memories with the band?

Well, I’m offended that you don’t think we’re K-Pop! No, it really is good. It makes touring really unusual because you always have someone to talk to. If a number of our band members are in bad moods or don’t want to go out, there’s always someone to keep things very lively. That’s good because there are also some downsides of touring with so many people. Sometimes you end up sharing hotel rooms, sharing a bed, stuff like that. It makes it really nice because keeps the social side of it always moving.

You have a lot of instruments that aren’t typically featured in a band, like the trumpet. What are the advantages of having so many instruments to use to create different sounds? 

For me, I don’t sing or even play guitar, so I wrote all the songs, I did all the arrangements – what I really want to bring into the band is the songwriting and the arrangements and so it really keeps things interesting to have all those options. You could have a big pop song and have a girl sing it with a big trumpet hook, or you could have an internal ballad and have a guy sing it with a saxophone. There’s a lot more options than most four-piece bands have, which keeps things really interesting for me.

Is it difficult to make sure they all have an opportunity to have a say in the production process? 

Everyone has their goals and it’s been really clear in the past year and a half we’ve been playing. I think that, because the band started with me writing all the songs, that’s always sort of the presentment. We don’t have any creative gosling because it’s just really not the make up of the band. But, that said, everyone brings something different. Our guitar player is also and very good engineer so he gets involved in the mixing from time to time. You know, our sax player, he’ll often get involved with changing his parts to some degree. Everyone has their role in that process, but I think what makes me and the band get along is that we have a clearly defined creative process.

What’s the story behind Jackrabbit? How did it all come together?

So I started writing the record almost two years ago, before we started doing serious touring. It was even before the first record even came out. I got about halfway done, and then we went on tour for a year. It was a really eye opening experience playing big festivals with big bands, seeing how songs translate live. I think it really affected me in the way I went about finishing our songs. I went back in and found myself a little bit less content with the prettier songs and ended up re-thinking certain things. So I think this record is a document of that process; of going from a solo, isolated thing into a touring band.

In this album there are sections where each instrument has their moment in the spotlight. Why was this done?

I think it would be easy to say to keep everyone happy, but it really wasn’t. While I’m writing, I picture them playing so the arrangements have always had a more important part in the process than other kind of music. It’s never weird for me to give a big moment to the violin or the trumpet or something like that. Now that I know all these people, it just makes sense when I’m writing to picture us performing it. I picture Allen singing it, and I picture Rebecca playing a violin line. It’s sort of a natural flow to it and translates very well.

What were your initial intentions for this album? What kind of impact do you want it to have? 

There’s a lot of talk that our last record was oratorical, you know baroque pop, that kind of thing. And that’s fair, especially considering the kind of talk that came from that record and me as a composer. I think it’s kind of strange for people that the songwriter doesn’t actually sing in our band. With this record, I want people to take it a little more face-value. It’s definitely not a classical album. It’s definitely not a baroque pop sounding thing. Baroque pop has a more delicate connotation. This is more aggressive and dark. It’s an intense record. There’s a lot of moments that feel like indie rock music to me. My goal for it is that people take the record on their own music terms and don’t get too caught up in the fact that it was written by someone who’s not singing.

When I listened to Parasites I did notice it was a little bit darker than your older stuff. I think you’ve done a good job with changing the sound a bit.

Oh good! Yeah, I think you don’t want to get caught repeating the same trick over and over again. The thing I can’t control is the composition itself because I’m not the one singing it. I make sure when I finish writing the notes that it’s different to something else I’ve done.

I heard Jackrabbit was the final song you wrote for the album. What inspired you to make it the title track?

What I really liked about Jackrabbit is that this is a record about trying to find identity, but also running from identity and the paradox that comes with that. You’re trying to figure out where you fit and what you want to do and everything that might work scares the hell out of you. I think Jackrabbit is a wider cousin of something very domestic. It’s something that’s always running, which is definitely something I can relate to in this moment of my life.

I know many artists have a lot trouble fitting themselves into a specific genre. How would you describe your sound with this album?

I think it’s hard to describe. Live, we’re an indie rock band. Maybe some hints of pop in there for sure. On the record I think it’s harder to pin down. There are moments that feel like pop, there are moments that feel sort of folk. I think it’s harder to say and I think it’s up to the writers to decide. I just don’t care that much. When I was in collage I worked at a record label and everyone was so focused on coming up with names for what they were doing. As long as people like it, or at least are listening to it. That’s the main thing.

Are you planning to tour Australia anytime soon?

We toured a bit at the end of our last record with Courtney Barnett. She and her band are all super cool, so we’d love to come and see some Australians. I’m always the last one to find out this stuff. It wouldn’t surprise me if our agent has something planned, but at the moment nothing’s set in stone.

I know you are touring America and Europe soon. Which city are you looking forward to playing at the most?

We’re doing a couple of shows here in our hometown in New York. I’m pretty excited for those because it’s really the last chance that I’ll get to show all my family and friends what I’ve been doing. I’ve always loved Paris. That’s a really good crowd and we all love the city. I know it’s a very cliche thing to say, but it will all be kind of great. At this early stage in our careers it’s still awesome when we show up somewhere and there’s a crowd waiting for us.

If someone was only able to listen to one song from your album, which one would you recommend? Why?

Oh man, that’s tough. I guess I would tell them start with Emily or Jackrabbit just because it’s the easiest entry into our sound and if they were a little bit more adventurous I would tell them Parasites or Reckoning, but there’s always that question of what songs do to put out and what songs do you show people, because they’re all like your babies. You want them all to do well in the world. You don’t want to sell yourself short.

We’re so excited to find out the big things in store for these guys in the future. For now, we will just enjoy their upcoming album and pray for that Australian tour.

Jackrabbit will be released in Australia on April 17th.