The songs of “San Fermin,” the debut record of Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s project of the same name, came at a time when he was searching for a greater purpose in life.
“I think what really defines (‘San Fermin’) as a record is that all these songs are sort of trying to get at the same thing. The whole reason for writing the record is that I was sort of feeling numb and I was looking for places to find meaning in your life,” Ludwig-Leone said. “What defines ‘San Fermin’ probably is a very diverse palette, but sort of an almost single-minded, kind of obsessive search for some sort of meaning.”
This search for meaning might be typical for recent college grads, such as Ludwig-Leone, who crafted San Fermin the autumn following his graduation from Yale’s music composition program in 2011. The now 24-year-old Ludwig-Leone is based in Brooklyn and said he creates music that meshes his classical background with pop stylings. San Fermin is slated to bring this blended sound to the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Performance Space Wednesday.
Ludwig-Leone’s relative youthfulness makes San Fermin a suitable band for the center’s Next@Wex series, whose purpose is to introduce new, indie scene innovators, said Jennifer Wray, marketing and media assistant at the Wexner Center. However, it is not his age that is important.
“I think that innovation is key here,” she said. “He has a background and training that creates interesting and unique chamber pop songs.”
The dichotomy of pop with a classical backbone is not a forced combination, Ludwig-Leone said.
“It was sort of a natural synthesis. I always (looked into) pop music, a lot of my favorite musicians were indie musicians and I also had studied classical music. It was like, ‘Now what am I going to write without the pressure of being in school?’” he said. “There are definitely poppier songs on (the record) like ‘Sonsick,’ which is the one that everyone knows is definitely a pop song. There’s also moments on the record that are pretty similar in line as a composition student at Yale.”
The inspiration for San Fermin, particularly the drive to combine classical composition with pop, struck Ludwig-Leone during his senior recital at school, he said. A different band he was a part of at the time performed at the concert, to which he embellished more composed instrumentation, including a flute part and a brass section.
“That was a really key moment, that concert, because that was when I started to put it all together and realized that there’s nothing really separating these things in my mind,” Ludwig-Leone said. “You can do all this stuff all at once.”
Twenty-two musicians were involved in “San Fermin’s” recording, but since there was no record label or manager backing keyboard player Ludwig-Leone on the onset of his post-graduate project, he said he had to pursue cheaper means of putting the album together.
“It’s such a big sounding record because there’s so many people on it,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t have any money, I just had friends who played music. I was bringing them in one by one into my recording studio in my bedroom — not even a recording studio, just a little setup — and we would track one by one.”
Attendees of Wednesday’s show won’t witness that many people on stage, though. Ludwig-Leone said he tightened the score in order to take San Fermin on the road, enlisting only eight musicians playing various instruments, including himself on keyboard.
To some listeners, the musicianship of San Fermin is integral to the experience of listening to the band, as it adds depth and emotion to its music, Wray said.
“Listening to San Fermin, I’ve definitely been struck by their technical chops. They clearly are people who are skilled at their instruments,” she said.
In moving forward with San Fermin, Ludwig-Leone said he is already composing the music for a second album, which might retain his inclination for writing hook-hefty songs. Yet, Ludwig-Leone said he is ultimately interested in creating music that is authentically and distinctly his.
“It’s sort of tempting sometimes once you’re in this indie-pop world. You see (that) you could write a record that has wide appeal, like a radio kind of thing,” Ludwig-Leone said. “You see that that’s a possibility, and that’s a temptation for sure, but I think at the end of the day, I just want to be making stuff that affects me when I listen to it … I think probably it will continue to be a mixture.”
The show is set to begin at 8 p.m., with Son Lux set to open. Tickets cost $14.