Chamber pop octet San Fermin bring a direct, personal approach to “Belong”

By Aayat Ali

At eight-years-old, Ellis Ludwig-Leone started taking piano lessons. As years went on, he would eagerly compose his own pieces, which he admits made learning classical piano more difficult. With a degree from Yale under his belt, he spent the next few years playing in bands.

Ludwig-Leone would go on to recruit his childhood friend Allen Tate along with Charlene Kaye, Rebekah Durham, John Brandon, Stephen Chen, Tyler McDiarmid and Michael Hanf to create San Fermin. As the project has grown, each of the eight members has brought something unique that helps create the band’s robust aesthetic.

“There’s two lives to the band. There’s the recorded music, and then there’s the performance,” said Ludwig-Leone. While he typically writes and arranges most of the music, Ludwig-Leone says he listens to everyone’s input.

Deemed as chamber pop, San Fermin’s music can be further described as sound that is tangible to the audience. Each instrument and vocalist adds a texture and layer, that is unlike any baroque pop group out there. Hearing their abundant sound live is an experience in itself.

“The live show is much more of a communal kind of thing,” Ludwig-Leone said. “Everyone expresses themselves a little more on stage and takes liberties with their parts. We’ve made the live show something really special.”

San Fermin’s newest album “Belong” has shown a new direction for the band, in that it is the first time that Ludwig-Leone did not have a singular theme for the album. The first two albums, self-titled and “Jack Rabbit,” were much more conceptual, with brassy interludes that weaved each track together.

“It’s the first time I tried to write a record that was just a bunch of songs,” Ludwig-Leone said. “It’s much more of an attempt to be writing songs that are influenced by your own personal life and my own personal life. I try to keep it interesting by always coming up with a different challenge.”

Ludwig-Leone has been very open about his struggles with anxiety and said that writing “Belong” was a “shorter and more direct” writing process as opposed to the first two albums.

“From the first couple of records, I put the framework in place of writing about characters, mostly because when I did try to write about myself, it was kinda goofy,” Ludwig-Leone said.

In each track of “Belong,” San Fermin’s foundation remains true― the crescendo and full orchestral sound remain ― but it’s clear that if there is any theme, it is the pure feeling of a writer who is able to speak of his own experiences.

“This is the only writing that I do, that when I’m doing it, I feel like I’m delving into my own mythologies and deeply held anxiety about my life,” Ludwig-Leone said. “In that sense, I think that there’s a little bit of catharsis to writing songs.”

Although “Belong” is not considered a concept album, Ludwig-Leone’s honesty about his anxiety struggles plays a big part in the dynamic shift the band has made. The track “Bones,” describes it perfectly, stating, “Honey you should know there’s two of me at play / One will turn to gold and one will turn away.”

IF YOU GO

What: San Fermin w/ Mikaela Davis

When: Tuesday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m.

Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.

Tickets: $13-15, 18+

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San Fermin. Photo by Denny Renshaw.

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