The lush melodies of San Fermin may be the workings of a single individual, but the band’s performance of them is truly a sum of its parts. As its latest album, Jackrabbit, attests, each of San Fermin’s eight members is equally vital, trading off the spotlight over the course of the record’s 15 expansive folk-pop tracks.
“They’re great players, and their attitudes and energy towards music has definitely worn off on me in the best possible way,” says composer/keyboardist Ellis Ludwig-Leone while walking through Brooklyn to his usual lunch spot. “You’re being willfully ignorant—or willfully stupid, maybe—if you’re not engaging with and adjusting for that.”
Contemporary and classical coalesce on Jackrabbit, with the shared lead vocals of Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate weaving seamlessly amongst trumpet, synth, violin and drum beats. Ludwig-Leone, a music composition graduate of Yale University, began composing songs for what would become San Fermin shortly after concluding his post-secondary studies, and the debut self-titled album featured some 22 musicians. He notes that about half of the tracks heard throughout Jackrabbit were written prior to the first album being released, and he built on them while touring in support of it. He calls Jackrabbit a “transitional record,” reflecting on his shift from being a composer working in solitude to a touring musician with a consistent lineup of bandmates.
“You have to write stuff that’s exciting for them to play, which is more nerve-wracking than I would have thought,” he admits with a laugh. “It’s one thing to be like, ‘Hey, guys, we’re going to play this for a couple concerts, here’s the sheet music.’ But it’s another thing to be like, ‘Hey, guys, this is going to basically be your life for the next couple of years, hope you like the songs.’ The first rehearsal of any new song is always, for me, by far the most scary part of the process, because you just want to make sure these people actually like them and can relate.”
Ludwig-Leone often starts these intricate compositions with one element, be it a drum beat or a sax line, rather than writing everything out on guitar or piano. Each piece of the song is of equal importance, he notes, and then he spends a week or two “hammering out the lyrics and making sure they’re not embarrassing.” In the case of Jackrabbit, Ludwig-Leone’s lyrics focus on a sense of trying on different identities.
“On the first record, it was like there’s a guy and a girl, and they have very specific things they’re saying to one another,” he says. “But on this record the guy and the girl are all kind of part of the same mixture of confusion, which was probably a product of the time I was writing it.”
To that end, there’s musings on facing adulthood, whether you’re ready for it or not, fears of an uncertain future and muddled feelings about relationships. These experiences are often drawn from Ludwig-Leone’s personal life, but he says he does his best to take snippets of reality and transform them into fiction.
“I think of it a little like how I imagine a fiction writer would think of it,” he says. “Obviously you have to write about what you know, but you aren’t writing an autobiography.”
Mon, Sep 14
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