Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ San Fermin

San Fermin
San Fermin
’s self-titled debut album, released in September of last year, was a welcome cocktail of playful exuberance, soaring melodies and awfully catchy choruses, and was deservedly featured on many album of the year polls last year. I was lucky enough to catch up with Ellis Ludwig-Leone, a Yale graduate and the brains behind San Fermin, where we talked about Steve Irwin, buffaloes, and the challenges of playing live.

AMBY: I read that you recorded the album in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, why did you decide to do this?

San Fermin: It was important for me to get away from the daily rhythm of things.  I had just finished school and I wanted to get some perspective on my life.  There’s nothing like a little isolation to clear your head.

AMBY: Crueler Kind is possibly the happiest and best song I’ve ever heard, what was the inspiration behind it?

San Fermin: I’m glad you read it as happy!  The goal with that song was actually to be a direct response to “Renaissance!” which starts the album.  It’s the first time you hear the girl’s voice and I wanted it to be a big, kind of uncomfortable jam that undercuts all the melodrama of the first song.

AMBY: You’re playing at a lot of festivals this summer, what can we expect to see from the San Fermin live show?

San Fermin: We can’t wait! I would say that the live show has considerably more energy than the record.  It’s eight people, rather than 22, which streamlines the sound.  And there’s a good deal of improvisation, which doesn’t exist on the record at all.

AMBY: How did you find working with Nico Muhly? (A composer who has worked with Bjork and Grizzly Bear)

San Fermin: So cool.  He makes it his job to keep you on your toes.  Once you get used to the pace of things, it’s amazing what you can pick up.  He works on so many different kinds of projects that each one presents a new puzzle- an opera here, an R&B arrangement there, a movie score- every kind of music you could possibly write, he writes it, and yet it always sounds like him.

AMBY: Please could you tell me a little bit about the bull on your album cover? (He looks very striking!)

San Fermin: The bull was drawn by Stephen Halker, an artist who actually lives right around the corner from me in Brooklyn.  He and I had a conversation where I sort of told him the imagery and then we came up with a layout for it.  It was inspired by some 1800s paintings of the American West, buffaloes and Indians, that kind of thing.  On the inside of the CD is a little girl, dressed up in fancy clothes and holding an annoying looking dog.  I like to think of the bull and the girl as linked to the two singers.

AMBY: I saw an article about when you got your equipment stolen in Portland, was that a hard time for the band and did you ever get your things back?

San Fermin: It was really hard.  They found the trailer but everything had been cleaned out and taken except for one case of PBR that we had been drinking.  We ended up losing 20k of equipment that day.  We’ve been slowly making that back but we’re still down a sax and a guitar.  If anyone wants to donate, the link is on our Facebook page!

AMBY: Does being trained as a composer help you when writing music for San Fermin, or can it be a challenge to scale things back for pop compositions?

San Fermin: It helps, for sure. I like to think of the arrangements as equally important to the voices, so when I write songs they kind of grow in really funny ways, sometimes starting with a string line or a sax line rather than any vocal melody.  I think that kind of even-handed treatment of all the elements is something I wouldn’t have picked up if I hadn’t studied classical music.

AMBY: Finally, could you tell us something about yourself that has not previously been in print?

San Fermin: When I was a senior in high school I wrote a song about Steve Irwin, when he died.  It was called “The Man With the Plan” and it was from the point of view of his wife.

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Thank you San Fermin, for giving us your answers!

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Joe Woods |

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