For a band that is barely a year old, Brooklyn-based San Fermin had quite a busy SXSW schedule, playing multiple shows per day throughout the week in the Live Music Capital. Hot off their September-released debut album San Fermin, which includes the lead-single and nostalgic American-anthem "Sonsick," San Fermin has completed two full tours and is showing no signs of slowing down.
The Downtown Records-signed "baroque pop" group consists of eight members, with 24-year-old and Ivy League grad Ellis Ludwig-Leone at the helm. Ellis took time to sit down with EARMILK at Austin's Wright Bros Brew & Brew on Thursday afternoon, where we talked SXSW, their tour with Son Lux, and what their group has in store for us next. You can check out the interview in its entirety below.
EARMILK: So, what've you been up to today?
Ellis: Well, our sprinter van is broken so we had to bring it to the shop, which means it’s really hard for us to to get back to our house that we rented – we spent two hours on the bus trying to figure out. But we got in and just did something with SiriusXM U and now I’m here, so not much today really.
EM: Is this your first time in Austin?
E: Yeah, well the band, we started about a year ago, so this is our first time at South By.
EM: Awesome, well, welcome to Austin. Do you have a favorite thing about the city yet?
E: I would say that I think it’s just cool how much energy there is, there’s so many people. It seems like there are people who are at every show, big and small. It’s kinda nice. We stopped in West Texas on our way here from San Diego. There’s this tiny town and it seemed like there was no one there that was interested in anything like this, so it’s like a cultural oasis here.
EM: How's your SXSW experience so far?
E: We got here on Monday. We played an interactive show on Monday, we had a day off on Tuesday, and then we’ve been playing shows ever since. We did two shows yesterday, one today, and one tomorrow that I’m worried might be canceled now because it was at Mohawk, which is where the accident happened last night. And then two on Friday and two on Saturday.
EM: For those that don’t know too much about you, how did you end up with the name San Fermin?
E: When I wrote the record, it wasn’t a band, it was just my own project at that time. I drew some inspiration from that festival [San Fermin] because it was so over the top and so intense. In some ways, making music feels like that. It's sort of this artificially and blown out of proportion intense thing that gets your heartbeat racing.
EM: Is that where the recurring bull symbol in your work comes from? Like your album artwork and music video for "Sonsick?"
E: Yeah, it's a good jumping off point. On the inside of the album, there’s this little girl dressed up in these pageant clothes, and once we created those two characters it helped sort of create our whole world.
EM: You mentioned it was your project at first, and now you’re a huge bunch. Is there ever a struggle with the creative process?
E: Yeah, it’s pretty good actually. It’s pretty clean cut. It’s been an interesting process to go from a solo project to hired musicians, which is what the record was, to the full on band we are now. It’s cool because you get to know the musicians you’re working with and you start to trust them. Our live show sounds pretty different than our record, and that mostly has to do with our band members and what they do with their parts. As the band leader you’re starting to think about the vision you have with the song, but also not being too close-minded about letting the creative energy in the band shape that process. So our live show is a lot about finding that process.
EM: Online, you describe your music as "baroque pop," what exactly does that entail?
E: Haha, I think someone else came up with it. I think it’s hard to come up with the right words, and I’m sure a lot of bands have that problem, but I think baroque works because it implies a lot of moving parts and a kind of moving landscape which is certainly what we have. It also definitely has a classical connotation which is sort of our background, and then there’s some songs on there that are pretty poppy. But you know, you can call it “indie pop” or whatever, it doesn’t matter.
EM: You went on tour with Son Lux, any crazy tour stories?
E: Haha, well let’s see. It was pretty tame and we drove separately. They’re great guys and I really like Ryan’s music a lot. Not really many crazy stories, it was pretty tame. The band, I have to say, this is our second tour and the band has really adapted to the tour lifestyle. As we’ve gotten more popular, the opportunities for more shenanigans have gotten bigger. So after any given show, you’ll be missing half the band, and they’ll be off somewhere doing their own crazy thing. Every night it’s like, “oh, how are we all going to get home in one piece?” San Diego was our last stop and some people ended up skinny dipping in the ocean which is freezing cold, I can tell you. We try to remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Gotta keep your sanity as long as you can.
EM: I heard that something happened with your trailer earlier in the tour in October?
E: Yeah, our trailer got stolen. Which was super awful because all of our equipment was in there, and especially for a band that is just starting out that’s really hard. So now we’re much more careful with that – we’ve definitely learned our lesson. It definitely set us back a ways.
EM: Any bands that you've been loving lately?
E: Well, this is quite late to the party, but that Saint Vincent and David Byrne record is something that we’ve been listening to a lot on this tour. Her new record is good, Saint Vincent’s, we’ve been listening to that a lot in the car. And honestly Yeezus never gets old, we play that a lot in the car. It’s crazy because there’s 8 people in the band plus the sound guy. So 9 people in the car and whoever is driving gets to choose what we listen to. I’m sure I’ve heard every single possible genre of music in that car. Ryan Adams is someone I've never listened to that much and now I feel like I know his entire catalogue. Our drummer has a lot of, I don’t want to call it screamo music, but it’s a lot of hard metal, and it’s definitely not anything I've been into, so that’s been cool to listen to as well.
EM: What's next for you? Vacation?
E: No! We’ve got a few more. We’re headed to New Orleans after this which will be cool, and then back to the east coast and up to New York after that. We’ve got a couple weeks off and then we go to Europe. We’ll be there for a month playing shows and then we’re back. We'll have a quick breather and then we’re off to festival season. We’re doing festivals all across the country until September. It’s going to be awesome.
EM: Anything else you want to share with fans?
E: I think it’s pretty interesting how we’ve progressed. The initial press on the record was about the composed nature of it, but now I think one of the reasons we’re growing is our live shows. It’s really vibrant with 8 great musicians, and it’s really intense. So I would urge people to come to our live show. Even if you haven’t had an experience with the record, people usually enjoy our live shows.