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Wednesday, 03 September 2014 08:00

'You have to be true to your artistic impulse' A pre-LouFest interview with Ellis Ludwig-Leone of San Fermin

'You have to be true to your artistic impulse' A pre-LouFest interview with Ellis Ludwig-Leone of San Fermin
Written by Blair Stiles
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Ellis Ludwig-Leone sits on a train directed towards a haven whose name I can't quite make out. The chug noise accompanying Ludwig-Leone's amiable chatter obfuscates most vowel sounds. He is on his way to celebrate a romantic anniversary and miscalculated the time necessary to phone in for an interview.

"Can I call you back in an hour?" His voice flutters on the end of the line. It's not difficult to imagine Ludwig-Leone in his train seat, brow furrowed momentarily, eyeballing his phone and pondering which elements of his equation were off. After all, he kind of approaches his music as an inquiry of errors.

Ludwig-Leone is the maestro behind San Fermin's contemporary classicism. The band, both pop and operatic by nature, is a stable of Ludwig-Leone's talented friends and connections who bring his ancient literature-enhanced tales to life. Ludwig-Leone is present on stage. He is to be found behind the keys, deftly placed in the far reaches of stage space. Allen Tate is the baritone vocalist on the band's first release, "San Fermin." He can also be found onstage. Female vocalists rotate based on touring ability. Rae Cassidy joined San Fermin when they came by Off Broadway this past February. Charlene Kaye will be with the band when it plays LouFest on Saturday, September 6. The instrumentalists range in number (from live event accounts) 7-12 and include a horn section.

Almost on the nose, Ludwig-Leone rings a second time minutes after the hour passes. "You have to take the things that worked from the first one and jettison the things you didn't like as much," he says of his approach towards San Fermin's upcoming album. A Yale School of Music alum, Ludwig-Leone's writing style has metamorphosed through the times.

"I would write a song then rip up some of the parts then rewrite," he explains. "That was a working style I hadn't done on the first record." That first record felt megalithic and blindingly shiny and new compared to San Fermin's contemporaries. Ludwig-Leone combined factions of Greek ("Daedalus"), biblical ("Methusalah") lore and livelihood with contemporary sounds and reactions that integrate like works of fiction ("Sonsick," the whole album). It is a technique Ludwig-Leone abides with every composition: "I try to write the record like a book of short stories. Where you take characters and maybe they change a little bit."

"It should all tie in together and feel like a cohesive whole," he continues. "I think the most about being an author. You want the album to be coherent stories." While the last record brought listeners enough intellectual Scooby Snacks to satiate a starving autodidact, the second record has a different treatment.

"All these things get mixed into your subconscious," he says. "It's just your way of thinking of things. The first record I was more consciously aware of literature than on this second record. I was thinking less along those lines while doing something pretty conceptual." Ludwig-Leone is scant for details of the new record. He explains that he is not permitted to burrow into the hollows of the second record prior to its early 2015 release. It's an apt point. No one wants to know the ending of a story before it is read.

Still, he reflects the band's propulsive upswing and its effect on the record. "You have to make it feel like it still feels like your band and what your fans will want. At the same time, you have to be true to your artistic impulse. That's what I had a hard time grasping on this [new record]. That there actually may be a public that has expectations on it."

"You're dealing with certain issues and you're trying to work them out," he sums up. "That's what trying to write music is about. To parse through emotional and intellectual things."

LouFest 2014 takes place in Forest Park in St. Louis September 6-7. KDHX is a media partner of LouFest.

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