Dead Curious had the opportunity to catch up with Allen Tate, male vocalist for San Fermin, Brooklyn’s newest darlings. Allen shares his thoughts on the Brooklyn music scene, crime in Portlandia, and the aphrodisiac properties of San Fermin’s debut album.
Dead Curious: Give us a bit of background as to how the band came together – you’ve been collaborating with Ellis (Ludwig-Leone) for a few years now, but where does this partnership stem from? How did you first cross paths?
Allen Tate: Ah man, we’ve been friends for a while. We met at Berklee College of Music… they do these summer workshops for kids, and we met when we were 14 or 15. It’s a week long – maybe ten days long – and we hit it off right away. We honestly bonded mostly over the fact we were both pretty serious high school basketball players. We stayed in touch, and yeah, we did a couple of doomed projects together before this one, but this worked out significantly better.
DC: Do you guys get to play basketball on tour very much? Any pick up games?
AT: (Laughs) Not as much as we’d like to! The first time we went out we had a basketball hoop linked up to the back of the van, but that van – that trailer – was actually stolen, so…
DC: Oh man. When did that get stolen? How did that happen?
AT: We arrived in Portland pretty bad… we were there and we played at Bunk Bar or something like that? Half the band was staying with a friend’s brother, and the other half of the band took the van and trailer to a hotel near the airport. Sometime in the middle of the night, someone came and took the whole trailer clean off the band. By morning we had lost like $20,000 worth of gear in one fell swoop. The cops in Portland found it like 3 or 4 weeks later, totally empty and abandoned, with like two cans of PBR still rolling around in the back of it. It was pretty sad.
DC: Holy shit. I’m so sorry.
AT: We’ve recovered since then, though it was a bit of a downer. That was back in the fall, I think in October of last year.
DC: Well, I hope you got to enjoy the rest of Portland, it’s a great city. Actually, I was out there a few years back and my friend’s car was stolen shortly thereafter. I don’t know if it’s a common thing…
AT: Yeah, I’ve actually been hearing that! I didn’t know that before either, but a lot of our musician friends out there were like “Yeah man, everybody gets their shit stolen in Portland.” Thanks for telling us guys – we probably wouldn’t have lugged all our stuff out there if we’d known that up front (laughs).
DC: Yeah, a warning would have been nice. I guess even hipster utopia has its dark side.
AT: Thieves have to eat, I guess.
DC: I guess moving on – what was the creative process for the San Fermin album like? It’s so sonically rich and varied – how much of the sound is a group effort, versus how much of it is Ellis’ auteur vision?
AT: I think it varies. The way that this album works, Ellis went away, and he wrote the whole thing. He went away to Banff, Canada and wrote the whole thing out over six weeks. He and I were sort of conversing as he was going through it – he would write some songs, then he’d send me some Dropbox files , and lyrics to go over. The project was definitely his, and his brainchild the whole way, but I think that more than anybody else in the band I got to see it really early on, and help him shape it. Especially when it came to my parts, and also lyrically – which is more of a specialty of mine.
Now it’s funny, because the band on the record is like 23 musicians, or something like that, some of whom are still in the band. But now that we’re doing the live show, going from 23 people down to 8 – it took a lot of rewriting, which started with Ellis rewriting parts and sort of consolidating things. Between the first tour, which was 50 odd shows, to now, people can be on their parts a lot more. I’m pretty sure our sax player doesn’t play the same thing two nights in a row, but don’t quote me on that (laughs). The songs have grown and changed since we’ve been playing them live, but in terms of the record it was mainly Ellis’ vision. For the most part the musicians who are on the record read sheet music, and the first time we all played together was when we were rehearsing for the first show after the whole album had been recorded.
DC: Your vocals open the album, and you have a very distinct sound, but are you playing any other instruments in the live shows or the recordings that we might not know of?
AT: No, no, I’m not playing any other instruments on the recording. During live shows, I shake a mean tambourine and have a bruise on my leg that grows show by show. It’s pretty gruesome looking, but luckily I’ve given up performing in short-shorts. But no – no extra instrumentation. I do have the pleasure of singing the high harmonies on the chorus of Sonsick, which is definitely on the higher end of my falsetto.
DC: That’s a fantastic song, and was my introduction to the band and the rest of the album. In terms of the style that you guys have, you’re evoking a lot of different themes and sounds and bands, and it’s truly breathtaking. What are your main musical influences as an individual, and do you have a reference point in terms of style or theme that has guided you?
AT: Personally, I’m a big lyric junkie, and that has led me down a lot of different paths. I’m a huge closet hip-hop fan, mainly for their lyrics and interplay with music, and their delivery. In terms of this stuff, I don’ t know – there are comparisons with a few of the other baritones out there, and we get The National a lot. I’m a huge fan of theirs and have been for a while, but I don’t know if I have that similar of a delivery. When I sing along to some of their songs, it’s a lot higher in my range that it sounds in his [The National lead singer Matt Berninger]. But I try not to aim for anyone else, I guess is what I’m saying. Rae [Cassidy] who sings our female lead live, she can go up to the stratosphere so to speak, and I get all the low end to myself. I try to do things differently each show, and that is becoming a bit more settled the more we play.
DC: How have things changed for you since you began touring with the band?
AT: (Laughs) Well, right before we signed our deal, I was probably a couple of months away from applying to law school. I studied Philosophy in school, and I had a job with a legal nonprofit group right after college, and then I ended up doing this. I think this is drastically different from what I could have been doing. It’s gone really fast, and we have been lucky to have had some really good press, the music has been well received, and we’ve had incredible support. I try to take it all in as much as I can. This is not what I imagined I’d be doing even two years ago. It’s changed a whole lot, and I’m just trying to keep up with it.
DC: What has been your favourite experience as a performer, to date, or most fun you’ve had in any show?
AT: Oh man – the hometown shows are kind of hard to beat. We played Music Hall of Williamsburg, which I think has been our biggest show to date, something like 700 people. It’s so funny – there’s a couple of our songs, Casanova in particular, where at least one couple in the crowd will start making out without fail during that song. Little things like that – watching shows where more and more people start to sing along to the songs, the deep cuts as opposed to just Sonsick maybe, it’s really interesting to watch being upfront and see the crowd.
DC: You guys are based out of Brooklyn – what do you think is the most exciting thing happening in the music scene there right now?
AT: That’s impossible to pick. It’s amazing to be in a place where there are so many good musicians. We all live within a block of each other, and just in our neighborhood, there’s a bunch of other great bands. Before we had rehearsal space in Ellis’ apartment, we’d go rehearse in a studio and MGMT would be over there, or Passion Pit would have their stuff stored there. You know, Brooklyn is just… it’s amazing to be a musician there right now. There’s always stuff going on, another great show to see, good people to work with.
DC: What’s on the cards for you in the near future? Do you see San Fermin as a one-off project, or is the “cast” planning on staying together and continuing to produce more albums?
AT: The second album’s already been written, and we’ve been playing two of the new songs as part of the live set, trying to work them out. Hopefully, we’ll be recording if we ever have time (laughs). I keep hearing about “free time” or “down time” and I vaguely remember what that feels like. We’ll record when we come back from Europe, hopefully late Spring or early Summer, and hope to get the second album this time next year.
DC: How many dates are on this tour?
AT: Oh man. I think we hit 40 something dates in the US, that we’ve already started, and a couple dates in Canada in there too. We did a few dates on the East Coast, did some dates in Canada, we’re going through the Midwest before going down to Denver, then all the way to Vancouver and down the West Coast, and into South by Southwest for a week, and doing a couple of places on the way home. Then we have a few weeks off, and onto Europe for three weeks to wrap up.
DC: I know you said you don’t have a lot of down time, but what have you been listening to most recently?
AT: Well, when you’re in a car with a bunch of musicians, there’s always lots and lots of opinions as to what you should play on the radio. Personally, I’ve been listening to that Laura Marling record that came out last year… revisiting some LCD Soundsystem. We had a pretty late drive last night and I was up front with our saxophone player Stephen, and because we were a little tired we had to keep the energy high with the music – we revisited the whole Linkin Park Hybrid Theory album, some System of A Down. I’m not sure the people who were asleep in the back of the van appreciated it, but it kept us awake nevertheless.
DC: It’s nice to revisit those middle school classics, right?
AT: Exactly – geeking out in front on that kind of stuff.
San Fermin’s self-titled debut is out now, on Downtown Records. Grab a copy on iTunes, and check out more info at www.sanferminband.com. Be sure to like San Fermin on Facebook and follow @sanferminband and @AVTate on Twitter.
San Fermin tour dates are as follows: