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EMPT Exclusive: Interview with San Fermin’s Allen Tate

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Sometimes, it happens all at once. An unknown band releases a debut record and boom, they start popping up everywhere.

San Fermin released their eponymous debut September, 2013. Since then, they’ve been featured in Pitchfork, The New Yorker, the New York Times, and live on NPR. You can’t do much better than that in terms of music press.

The band is the brainchild of composer/songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone, a Yalie who retreated to the Canadian woods after graduate to write the entire first album. By his telling, the music (a concept album about young love) poured out in a short period of time, after which came a technically-substantial recording process featuring over 20 musicians.

Now on tour, the band is an eight-piece ensemble with two equally excellent lead singers: Allen Tate and Rae Cassidy. Their voices counter each other to striking effect, and when paired with Ludwig-Leone’s bombastic and emotive compositions, something truly special emerges.

We caught up with Allen in the middle of their current national tour (schedule here…catch them in a city near you!) to hear his take on tour life, musical development and the band’s namesake.

EMPT: What is your background and how did you come to be the lead singer in a touring, rising band?

AT: I actually don’t have much of a background in music. I’m self-taught on guitar and bass and my mom used to have me practice harmonizing with the radio in the car but that’s about it. Ellis and I have been friends since we were 15 or 16. I think we both pretty surprised that things have picked up so quickly in the past year. It’s been a blur.

EMPT: I’m under the impression that the album was fully written (including song lyrics) by the time Ellis came to you. Is that true? If not, discuss your writing process.

AT: That’s right. Ellis went away to do the writing and once he had early versions of the song he would send me files and we would discuss ideas. I was lucky in that I was involved so early on in the process and also because I was able to help tailor my own part as it was being solidified. The project was always his but it was great to be a sounding board throughout.

EMPT: Is the music of San Fermin similar to the music you casually listen to? Or is it quite different?

AT: I listen to all kinds of stuff. So, it’s similar to some of it for sure. We have gotten comparisons to The National, Sufjan [Stevens] and Dirty Projectors and I love all of those guys. I’m an obsessive listener typically. I will latch on to one album when I find it and play it over and over until I find my next obsession.

EMPT: You’re on your first tour now. Is life on the road as you expected? What’s a crazy story from the tour so far?

AT: I really didn’t know what to expect to be honest. Things I’ve learned so far are that the shows are amazing and the sleep is terrible. I can’t complain though. It’s a blast. The best San Fermin tour factoid might be that we like to stop when we find empty parking lots and play wiffle ball. Got to blow off steam somehow right?

EMPT: Who are the artists you listen to on a regular basis? New and old.

AT: Like I said, I really tend to obsess over an album for a while and then move on to the next. Lately, I’ve been really into the Laura Marling record. And for an older artist, I am always in the mood to listen to some Stevie Wonder.

EMPT: Many pundits compare your voice to The National’s Matt Berninger or Bill Callahan. Were those singers actual influences? Or is it a fluke? Do you worry about being pigeon holed as a person who can only sing a certain type of music?

AT: It’s flattering. I couldn’t have imagined being in the same sentence as those guys a short time ago. Sometimes I wonder if people are just responding to my voice being deep but it’s a great compliment nevertheless. I’m not worried about being pigeon holed. At this point I’m just glad that the music is getting out there and that people are listening.

EMPT: Do you aspire to have a career in music?

AT: Absolutely. I had plans for law school a year ago but this has definitely changed that. I’m looking forward to recording the next album and spending time writing myself.

EMPT:   What is your dream venue to play?

AT: I would love to play the Beacon Theatre. It’s such a historic place and a beautiful room on top of that. I actually saw John Legend play a great show there recently.

EMPT: Will we be seeing you in Pamplona this year for the San Fermin festival (best known for the running of the bulls)?

AT: Not this year haha. I think I need a little more time to work up the courage.

Thanks to Allen and San Fermin! Find them on the interwebs at: http://sanferminband.com/