Fresh out of college, Ellis Ludwig-Leone wasn’t sure what he was going to do. So instead of posting an ambiguous Facebook status, he wrote a pop album—a pop album that includes over twenty different classical instruments and long stretches of the experimental and avant-garde.

I was recently lucky enough to speak with Ellis, the brains behind American baroque pop band San Fermin.

Matt: Where are you guys now?

Ellis: I’m in Brooklyn. We’ve had sort of two months off, which is kind of unusual, which has also been really great. So I’ve been in New York, just writing and working a little bit.

Matt: When you feel inspired and think of a new melody or a part for one of your band members, what do you do first? Do you have a voice recorder that you hum the melody into, do you write it down, or do you run to your laptop?

Ellis: All of the above depending on where I am. Often melodies, sort of the seeds for songs, will come to me in the shower. If that’s the case, I usually just pop my head out and hum it into my phone. Sometimes I’ll be down working on a song and I’ll definitely know “this is a thing,” and I can record that into Logic which I use to write. Or Sibelius. Or even write it out longhand onto sheet music. You’re sort of gripped by fear that you will lose it, so you’ve gotta put it down somewhere—so whatever the closest thing is.

Matt: For your first album, you wrote it in a sort of bubble and were the sole contributor. For Jackrabbit, I saw that the first half or so you went up to New Hampshire and you did the same thing. Then you went on tour while it was half done. How much of the album was written/rewritten on tour with the rest of the band? Did you finish it on tour?

Ellis: I think my memory of it is. It was a couple of years ago. I think I wrote twelve or eleven of those tracks before going on tour. I wrote “Jackrabbit,” “Emily,” and “The Woods” in between tours. Then I revisited a lot of those initial songs and rewrote parts of them afterwards as well.

I remember, for example, “Billy Bibbit,” the last track—I wrote that song, it was the first song I wrote when I went to New Hampshire—but then I came back and basically dropped the bowling ball in it at the end of the song with the “we’re all gonna die” section. And I sort of like threw as bunch of stuff in there and basically tried to rip the song in half. A lot of that kind of stuff came pretty late in the process.

Matt: Now that you have the solidified eight-piece band that you tour with, did they try the new material out and say let’s try this and try that?

Ellis: For Jackrabbit we played half of those songs live before we went into the studio. Anytime you play a song live it definitely does impact what gets recorded. So there was a little bit of that for sure. There was kind of an understanding that the record is going to sound like one thing and the live show will sound like another thing, and that’s OK for them to be a little different. It depended from song to song, but most people stuck to their parts on the record, and with the live show there has been a lot more freedom to expand.

Matt: I’m a photographer so… your music videos… I love them.  I was wondering how you found that production company. Did you use the same one for all your videos?

Ellis: We used different ones. The short answer is that I think our manager had some options for each video. Tell me whose stuff you like and we’ll try to figure that out. All of them luckily were really great teams of people.

Matt: Did you give free reign to the production company? How much were you involved in the planning of the video.

Ellis: Well on the first record I was super, super involved—probably too involved. I would write the whole thing out…I was just very exacting. On the second record, I tried to relax a little bit. I think the answer going forward is somewhere in between those things. You don’t want to suffocate a thing, you want to give it some air to breath.

Matt: Were you on set for a lot of the shoots?

Ellis: All of them!

Matt: Is any of the imagery in the videos inspired by your childhood?

Ellis: For each of the videos, the initial idea came from me. In the “Sonsick” video. when the girl is collecting bugs and playing in the dirt, that was basically just autobiographical. It’s a mixture of things I used to do or have done, but mostly it’s just ideas that you have…this would look good with this music happening behind it.

Matt: What is like on tour with eight people? Do you all travel together on one bus?

Ellis: It’s good. It’s a little crazy—there’s a lot of people. Little bit of a field trip vibe, you know?

At this point we’ve done so much traveling that people know what’s up. So it’s pretty relaxed; it’s as relaxed as you can get with having eight people crammed together. It’s really nice we all really like each other. Honestly, for me in a way, tour is a little bit like vacation. It’s really hard work but every day someone tells you what your schedule is. For me that is such a welcome relief sometimes from a life otherwise that’s a little bit amorphous.

Matt: What are you most excited to do next?

Ellis: Honestly I’m most excited just to be working on this next record. I’ve been writing—it’s always the most fun part when it starts to really come together. Suddenly, there’s a moment for each song where it clicks. and you’re like, “oh this is gonna be good.” That’s really what I do it for.

Right now I have these songs that I haven’t really showed to anyone. It’s just my thing to deal with. I really like that moment. In terms of actually logistical stuff, this summer is going to be really cool. We’re going to do this headline tour including the Boston show. We’re also doing a bunch of festivals this summer, which I’ve always really loved. Were playing in Latvia which will be kind of crazy and random as well as bunch of Canadian festivals. It will be a good summer of shows.

Catch San Fermin at The Paradise Rock Club this Thursday, April 14th.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.