San Fermin has just released new album Jackrabbit. We take a moment to speak to band leader Ellis Ludwig-Leone who studied music composition at Yale and was an assistant to contemporary classical music composer and arranger Nico Muhly. He worked with Muhly on arrangements for the likes of Passion Pit and Sufjan Stevens. Ludwig-Leone speaks to us about the new record.
A: How would you describe the music you play?
ELL: Live, it’s an indie rock band. On the record, I don’t know what it is. There’s interludes and half-songs and weird arrangements. But live it’s definitely a rock show.
A: What did you learn from assisting Nico Muhly during your college years?
ELL: It was amazing how versatile he was. One minute he’d be working on an opera, the next he’d be in the studio with Passion Pit and then he would be writing a ballet. Just to be in the room for that, it was invaluable. You learn to be fast and efficient. I learned a lot about how to collaborate with other artists by watching him.
A: Which other musicians are you influenced by?
ELL: Sufjan Stevens is a big one. I grew up with his Illinoise record. That and Graceland by Paul Simon are the two records that were most responsible for me setting out to write San Fermin.
A: When writing music for dancers, do you approach the process differently to when you are writing with just an audience in mind?
ELL: I’ve done four ballets now, so I’m starting to notice some trends in what works. You have to leave space for the dance. That’s a big one. I don’t try to fill everything up all the time. Also, trying to think gesturally is important— putting yourself in the mind of the dancers, like, if I was choreographing this, would there be anything for me to grab onto here?
A: How did your degree in composition prepare you for a career in music?
ELL: It was all about learning how to build a piece of music. More than anything, it was just: how do you get from point A to point B? Harmonically what’s going to happen? Motivically what’s going to happen? Is anything going to develop? These were ways of thinking that I hadn’t really encountered.
San Fermin released new album Jackrabbit on 27 April on Downtown Records / Sony RED. Find out more at www.sanferminband.com.