An Interview with Allen Tate of San Fermin: talks of lonely Copenhagen nights that inspired his solo debut Sleepwalker

Allen Tate of San Fermin

Photo credit: Matthew Burke

Allen Tate may be known as the baritone swinging, other-half of San Fermin’s lead-singing duo, but with the upcoming debut of his album ‘Sleepwalker’, this could be the beginning of a beautiful solo career.

As one of the only members of Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s ambitious multi-instrumentalist, baroque-pop collective, Tate is the only member without a side-project. His voice rumbling and crackling over the phone speaker, Tate reiterated over and over that his work on his solo material has been inseparable to his life-changing work with San Fermin, emphasizing the roles his bandmates had in the creation and inspiration of the album.

“The few people that were there when we started working on the record were from San Fermin. Mike Hanf, the drummer from San Fermin, played drums on my record and helped out live, and Ellis was in there of course helping to produce it. I even split up guitar duty with Tyler [McDiarmid] our guitarist,” Tate explained. This inevitable collaboration with his bandmates stemmed out of San Fermin’s inclusion and encouragement of their personal material.


“One of my favorite parts about the band is that everyone has their own thing going on, from pretty much top to bottom, everyone works on some other kind of music outside of the band. So it’s definitely the kind of environment where writing and doing your own thing is encouraged, and you have lots of great minds to bounce things off of,” Tate said of his experience writing his solo work within San Fermin. One of the more high-profile solo acts to emerge from San Fermin came earlier this year, when Charlene Kaye reemerged from her hiatus and debuted her glam-rock tinged EP KAYE. “Different people in the band are different ways, like Mike Hanf our drummer and Charlene are always on their laptops–they can totally come off the stage or wherever we just were and snap right back into it and keep writing.”

For Tate, however, the early vestiges of what would become ‘Sleepwalker’ took some time going from abstract sounds and ideas, into physical songs. It wasn’t until a three-week, forced-solo outing in Copenhagen that he was able to find some sort of muse for which to shoulder his music on–and for the singer in a band of just short of a dozen people, isolation was the name of that inspiration:

“It was between tours with San Fermin and we had like four weeks off, and I took three of them to go just live by myself in Copenhagen. I wrote the first four songs of the record while I was there and that jump started it knowing that I had a work in progress; after that it was easier to keep going because before that it was just all in my head, and it’s easier to leave a thing not started than something half-baked.”

After the band’s tour, Tate returned to the studio with Ellis to polish those first few songs into a full-length album, one that focused with total precision on the loneliness that he had exposed himself to while in Copenhagen. “The record looks at a lot of different ways of being alone, how to cope with it, why people want it,” Tate said of album, which takes a less complex, baroque route at poignant songwriting than San Fermin.

“It was pretty relaxed through and through, it was certainly different from recording a San Fermin record. I’m the only member of San Fermin who didn’t study music, basically self-taught except for some bass lessons I took in the fifth grade. So when I start writing I can’t even think about music from the same kind of a place of trying to compose a thing–that’s just not a tool I have at my disposal,” Tate said of the writing process. “A lot of times I’ll just mess around on the guitar or bass or something, until I kind of find sounds that I feel match what the thing is going to be about, and then fit the words and melodies over those sounds. I’m very lyric and melody centric so the songs I think ended up being simpler than San Fermin.”

San Fermin band

Allen Tate with San Fermin

That need for precision in his songwriting forces much of ‘Sleepwalker’ to rely heavily on Tate’s lyrics, which rumble forward on his sterling bass, but lyrical meticulousness isn’t something he’s new to. “I’ve always been a lyric junkie, I know all kinds of lyrics and whatever comes on the radio I’d always be able to sing along because I’d know all the words. Some of my favorite music is when everything matches up the right way; where the line is delivered, the meaning is there, and it matches with the right part of the music,” Tate said of his obsession. “I listen to a ton of hip-hop and the satisfaction of a well-delivered line, at the right point, with the right rhythm, that’s the moment that does it for me in music. Or it could be a Radiohead lyric that’s delivered the right way, it’s all about the right thing in the right place. Lyrics will start a song for me, I might here a funny turn-of-phrase on the road and that will stick in my head or a piece of a melody and I’ll keep humming things over and over again and I’ll try to unload it all.”

Back in San Fermin, Ellis had much of the creative control over the lyrics that both Tate and Kaye sang, so in writing his own work there was little chance of him borrowing too much in sound and style from the band. Yet, San Fermin is really all Tate has known for most of his life as a singer/songwriter:

“San Fermin was such an unexpected life event for me, I came out of school and worked for a legal nonprofit for a year while we put that first record out, and then I had to quit because all of a sudden you’re touring. I never seriously considered being the singer of a band, and it was almost too much stimulation, so in a way I think I needed the isolation and going out my own speed.”

Yet, while his work in San Fermin has done little to overshadow his own ventures, Tate expressed every chance he had that without Ellis and the band, he would not be the singer he is today. Ellis and Tate first met at a summer songwriting program at the Berklee College of Music when they were fifteen, best friends from that moment on, the former could think of no one else to call upon when he began composing what would become San Fermin. Since then, Ellis has had a huge impression on eliciting from Tate only the best in his vocal capabilities: “Early on, before San Fermin, I remember doing a miserable John Mayer impression in what may have been an attempt at a falsetto or something–it was rough. I don’t think it was until the third or first San Fermin show that I even took the microphone off the stand, and now Charlene and I have a couple times during the set where we look at each other and kind of decide whether or not we’re going to jump into the crowd.”

But that confidence has only continued to grow out Tate’s exposure and interaction with the rest of San Fermin. When asked what has pushed him to go from someone who never expected to sing in a band to one of the lead singers of indie’s biggest hits, Tate didn’t hesitate: “Just the exposure to all the different kinds of music, I mean San Fermin is such complex, hard music, especially the early stuff–it was very deep water. Most of the band members are virtuoso level musicians, like Stephen Chen plays the saxophone like lead guitar and has probably the best ears of anyone I know. I managed to pick things up quickly, but I’m such a better musician now just by being around everyone in the band.”

Allen Tate’s new album Sleepwalker is set for release October 28th via Votiv Music. You can pre-order the album digitally. Follow Allent Tate on Facebook for news and upcoming tour dates.

Words: Steven Ward

〉〉〉STREAM: Allen Tate’s “YDNF (Young Dumb Numb Fun)”


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