San Fermin Lyricist and Composer Talks Shift in Process to Live Show

Courtesy of Denny RenshawSan Fermin’s genre-bending album, “The Cormorant I,” was release Oct. 4. They will be playing a show at Thalia Hall on Oct. 25.

Joyous children’s laughter and the sounds of nature invite listeners into Brooklyn-based band San Fermin’s third album, “The Cormorant I.” The ambient playground sounds filled the air near where Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the band’s lyricist, composer and keyboardist, wrote the album in Iceland.

The birds’ chirping, however, is a result of Ludwig-Leone’s whistling and post-production manipulation.

“There’s no real birds in the making of this record,” the Rhode Island native said in an interview with The Phoenix.

Ludwig-Leone writes and composes all the band’s music, taking every note into account. This first step is a “very solitary process,” but he hands it over to the collective of eight other members for the vocals and instrumentation, bringing the calculated compositions to life.

“You’re watching [the music] seep into these people’s bodies,” Ludwig-Leone said. “They’re starting to internalize this music for themselves and that’s a really special moment for me every time.”

The band has been described as baroque pop and indie rock, but Ludwig-Leone said he’s never been fully happy with the genre descriptions. The album itself varies in terms of genre. “Saints” incorporates rock-style distorted guitars, while “The Living” draws on light, cheery folk tones.

“I think that kind of whiplash effect that happens from song to song is really baked into the DNA of our band at this point,” Ludwig-Leone said.

Though used in different ways, the two tracks incorporate a lot of the same instruments, such as a string quartet, two trombones, a trumpet and a saxophone, according to Ludwig-Leone.

While the sonic execution of the album may vary, Ludwig-Leone said he used the overarching concept to create a sense of connectedness. The Yale University graduate drew inspiration from his Icelandic surroundings, naming the album after the “spooky, snake-like birds” that joined him on the coast. He combined this with a narrative based around childhood memories and growing up, creating a hyper-specific storyline of “a weird demon bird that visits two people” and their growth that follows.

“The Cormorant I,” released Oct. 4, is the first half of a two-part album. Part two hasn’t been released, but was written back in Iceland. Ludwig-Leone decided to split the full work to take advantage of a natural break it had.

“I think that people’s attention spans have changed, including mine, and I think that it’s not a cop out to say, ‘Hey, let’s make this a little bit more digestible,’” Ludwig-Leone said. “Here’s 25 minutes of music that’s really interconnected and its part of this larger story. Spend some time with it. I’ll see you in a few months. We’ll pick it up from there.”

In the meantime, San Fermin will be taking the tracks from part one on the road, playing Chicago’s Thalia Hall (1807 S. Allport St.) Oct. 25. Ludwig-Leone said he may feel controlling with the studio recording of the songs, but he’s able let go once the work is completed, allowing the live show to reflect the members’ personalities.

“I’m like, ‘Alright, well this is what the song is to me and now what is it to you guys?’” Ludwig-Leone said. “The experience of getting to know your song both through your eyes and through your band members’ eyes is constantly fascinating to me.”

San Fermin is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music. Tickets for its show at Thalia Hall Oct. 25 are available at

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