Brooklyn-based rock band San Fermin is currently touring in support of their new record, Belong. opbmusic DJ Laura Hardin sat down with bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone next to the bar at Doug Fir Lounge before the band’s recent Portland performance to chat about the group’s orchestral rock sound, his background as a classically trained composer, and how he translates his unique experience into writing pop music. Read excerpts below or listen to the whole conversation above.

Laura Hardin: You’re a classically trained composer — you’re the music director for the BalletCollective  you created a piece for the New York City Ballet — do you find that you’re building those same arcs and narratives within your pop music?  

Ellis Ludwig-Leone : I sort of can’t help it. I honestly pushed away from that just because the first record was very concept-y and the second record was pretty concept-y and this third record I really just wanted to make 13 songs that stood on their own. I even had the approach where I was like, “I’m going to write a bunch of songs and just choose the best ones,” which is something that even a few years ago I would have said, “why would you do that?” I just really wanted to make songs that stand alone — you hear one song, you get at something. That said, at the end of the whole experience, looking at the record there’s all kinds of motivic stuff that connects things. I think it’s just cuz I write quickly and I write songs in a row, stuff’s just kind of jostling around in my brain and it kind of all comes out.  

LH: As a composer, one would assume the melody or the groove comes first, do you ever break that rule?  

ELL: The music comes fairly quickly for me but the lyrics are something that take a while, but I had on this record a couple times where actually a lyric started the whole song. In the song Oceanica, which is the third song on the record, there’s this line, “A sea change into pain but also something rich and strange,” and that was from a different song that I wrote that I cut and I just lifted that one lyric. The whole concept of that song was to deliver that line and then give something musically that was interesting enough to follow that line.