‘More Vivid Than Life’: Ellis Ludwig-Leone of San Fermin Talks Music and Growing Up

San Fermin will play the Hollywood Bowl on Thursday, October 15

When Ellis Ludwig-Leone was in college, he studied classical musical composition. But as soon as he graduated, he discovered that life was much more complicated than swelling arpeggios and neatly resolved harmonies. Ideas swarmed his mind; arguments with himself about how to be, how to live, and how to love.

The only way to make sense of it, the now-26-year-old realized, was to put it into his music.

“Music has always been a place,” he says, “where the experience is more vivid than life.”

Ludwig-Leone’s first effort was a self-titled album with his band, San Fermin, released in 2013. The record had 20 musicians and scores of influences; some songs sounded like rock, others like pop, still more with an emphasis on classical or operatic themes.

“That first record was like, trying on a lot of different styles,” says Ludwig-Leone. “It was kind of a whiplash. Just like, finding a voice, to get a bearing on what was going on in my life and what I wanted, what course I wanted my life to take.”

His second effort, however, is more streamlined. He got the band down to eight musicians, and got his ideas to blend and meld with each other, to form entire thoughts and statements within each song. The result was Jackrabbit, released in April of this year.

“On the second record, the sounds are a little more mixed up together, as opposed to the first,” he says. “You need to listen to the whole record in order to get the stylistic variation. A song like Parasites, it has that all wrapped up in it.”

A short, haunting melody, Parasites was the first single off Jackrabbit. But the album includes darker themes. One song, The Woods, deals with a death that occurs near a school. The story comes from an experience Ludwig-Leone had as a child in the woods behind his house.

“I used to go out there every day,” he says. “I was really interested in the wildlife back there and I’d always bring my friends.”

One day, he says, he brought a group of boys there when they were just approaching adolescence.

“We were sort of just getting a little too old for that,” he says. His friend caught a frog, “and he sort of wanted to torture it. It was the weirdest thing; it was sort of bizarre…it was that point where you start questioning what you want to do as an adult. What kind of person you want to be?”

Ludwig-Leone and San Fermin have been on tour for nearly five weeks with the British band alt-J. On Thursday, they’ll play the Hollywood Bowl. “It feels like an honor,” he says. “We just want to do the venue justice.”

San Fermin will play the Hollywood Bowl with alt-J on Thursday, October 15. Tickets available online