San Fermin’s Ellis Ludwig-Leone: “I just like a show where the energy in the room is really high.” (4/3 at Underground Arts)

The last time San Fermin were in town was November of 2021, when they played City Winery Philadelphia, the city’s newest listening room.  However, tomorrow night (4/3) they’ll be...

The last time San Fermin were in town was November of 2021, when they played City Winery Philadelphia, the city’s newest listening room.  However, tomorrow night (4/3) they’ll be headlining Underground Arts, our favorite basement in the heart of David Lynch’s Eraserhood, which regularly plays host to our favorite metal and hardcore acts.  Over the past decade+, the Brooklyn indie rock collective have performed all throughout the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection – with shows at World Café Live, Boot & Saddle, Johnny Brenda’s, Union Transfer, and Festival Pier – and they’ve never disappointed Philadelphia audiences.

San Fermin are currently about halfway through a headlining tour behind Arms, their fifth full-length, which dropped this February via their own Better Company Records.  The album is a breakup record of sorts, inspired by the dissolution of two relationships of bandleader and songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone. The LP has received critical praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, Stereogum, and FLOOD Magazine.  Earlier this week I got a chance to chat with Ellis about what San Fermin’s been up to post-lockdown, his thoughts on Philadelphia (the hometown of vocalist Allen Tate), and what can be expected of the live show tomorrow at Underground Arts.

Izzy Cihak: The last time I spoke with the band was in November of 2019, so I’m curious, what have been some of the highlights of the band post-lockdown?  I know you just played Birds of Paradise Festival and Arms, your fifth studio LP, just dropped in February.

Ellis Ludwig-Leone: A couple of fun ones recently— the Birds of Paradise show was super cool because we did an acoustic set of the new album with a string quartet called ADAM Quartet.  We recorded it as well to make a live album, so it was musically challenging in the best way.  We also headlined Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park a couple years ago, which has always been a dream of mine.

Izzy: How do you feel like Arms compares to previous releases, in terms of sound, aim, and even just the process of writing and recording it?  I know it’s sort of a breakup album.

Ellis: The songwriting on this one is more direct than our past albums.  I was going through a difficult time personally, so the process of turning that pain into something positive was therapeutic.  Musically, I wanted to focus on the craft of songwriting.  It’s less focused on the arrangements and more about the lyrics.  My goal was that these songs could be played by anyone, on any instrument, and they would hold up.

Izzy: On a related note, do you have any particular favorite breakup albums of music history?  I’m always inclined to go to Blood on the Tracks, but I feel like there have also been some good ones in more recent history.

Ellis: Jagged Little Pill comes to mind as a classic.  I actually asked our fans for their favorite break up songs of all time and got a ton of good suggestions…  I put them all in a Spotify playlist and have been working my way through slowly.  I also love the song “Hearts and Bones” by Paul Simon as an underrated breakup song.

Izzy: You’ve played Philadelphia a number of times over the years in a number of different venues, from barrooms to nightclubs to outdoor spaces and a listening room.  Are there certain things that you think make a venue especially enjoyable to play, whether or not related to the physical space?  (A lot of artists say the physical space isn’t the most important thing…)

Ellis: I just like a show where the energy in the room is really high.  My favorite rooms are not too big, like 500 cap, but with a balcony, so everywhere you look there’s a crowd.  In Philly, I love Union Transfer and World Café Live.  We’re playing at Underground Arts, which I’ve never been to, so that will be interesting to see.

Izzy: On a related note, do you have any favorite memories of your Philadelphia shows?

Ellis: We played a show with alt-J at Penn’s Landing at Festival Pier, which was really special.  Allen’s family is from Philly, so they were all able to come out.  And then at the end of the show it turned out the Pope was in town, so we had an insane drive back to New York where every road was closed basically.

Izzy: And what can be expected of your show at Underground Arts, in terms of setlist, production, and just the general vibe of the night?  This is actually like a punk/metal basement venue, which is quite different from most of the places you’ve played here before.

Ellis: The setlist includes all the new songs from Arms, but we’re also playing a lot of the old ones.  The band is pretty versatile— we started this tour in a classical concert hall in the Netherlands playing with a string quartet, and then the next show was a rock club in Boise.  We’re pretty high energy and our fans have gotten really intense in the last few years, in the best way.  So, expect a lot of energy.

Izzy: You’re going to be playing with Runnner, who we just saw with Sun June in November (at Johnny Brenda’s).  What are your thoughts on Noah and his music?  Are you excited to be on the road with him?

Ellis: We love Runnner.  I’ve been listening to his music for a couple years now so I was really glad when the band came on the tour.  Their live show is way louder and more electrified than the recordings, which makes for a super fun show.  A great hang too.

Izzy: And, finally, what’s next for you?  How are you hoping and planning to spend the second half of 2024?

Ellis: We are touring off and on until the end of June.  After that, I’m not sure!  I’ll probably start thinking about writing some new music soon… our fans on this tour have been so positive and it’s really fun to be back onstage after a few years.  Gotta keep it going.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.