San Fermin vocalists compete in verbal gymnastics 

In conversation with Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate

click to enlarge San Fermin, with Allen Tate fourth from left and Charlene Kaye second from right - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • San Fermin, with Allen Tate fourth from left and Charlene Kaye second from right
  • Submitted Photo

San Fermin singers Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate know exactly what each other are thinking – at least when they're onstage together.

“Allen and I talk about how we have so many conversations silently,” Kaye says in a phone interview. “We spend a lot of time onstage making eye contact. Usually, it's like [we're silently asking], 'Are we having a good time?' 'Yeah we're having a good time.' 'Are you tired?' 'Yeah I'm so tired right now.' We know exactly what's happening.”

In addition to those silent conversations, Kaye and Tate are locked in vocal conversations, singing back and forth to each other less in duets and more in constant musical communication. It's a trademark of Ellis Ludwig-Leone's writing as San Fermin: a female and male voice arguing, pleading, wooing and spurning each other, interspersed with a series of instrumental interludes.


Baritone Tate's played the male role since the band's inception. Soprano Kaye is slightly newer to the band – she recorded the second of the band's two albums, last year's Jackrabbit – contributing soaring runs atop the band's six instrumentalists, including Ludwig-Leone on piano, Rebekah Durham on violin; Tyler McDiarmid on guitar; Michael Hanf on drums; John Brandon on trumpet; and Stephen Chen on sax.

RELATED: Read our interview with Ellis Ludwig-Leone before San Fermin's set at Joyful Noise 

San Fermin will participate in INfusion Music Fest on Saturday evening – read more about that on page 32 – and Ludwig-Leone will present How to Fake Your Death, performed by the ISO, on Saturday afternoon.


Before San Fermin's show, Hoosier Environmental Council's Jesse Kharbanda will present "Confidence, Not Fear, in the Face of Climate Change: The Economic and Environmental Opportunity for Indiana to Be a National Leader." INfusion's programming contains a strong environmental advocacy aspect, and each show is preceded by presentations from one of several local environmental issues agencies. Jason Aaron Coons and The Bonesetters are local openers for the fest, in addition, of course, to Time for Three, who anchor the fest's three days.

NUVO asked the Kaye and Tate to expand on their characters' communication styles,

Allen Tate on self-titled versus Jackrabbit:

“The first album to me feels like both characters have thoughts, but they're kind of naive and dramatic. The conversation, they don't hear each other as much. Every now and then you'll catch a piece of one listening to the other, like “Renaissance” into “Crueler Kind” is like one response to another. In the second record, they're listening even less. It's crazy in both directions. It's more conversations about the same subject, instead of a back and forth. It's different takes on the same crises."

Charlene Kaye on duality:

“In a certain way, me and Allen are speaking out of both sides of Ellis' mouth. The first record, [my sister] interprets Allen's songs as Sad Ellis, and my songs as Hysterical Ellis. …I think Allen was known in the first record to be the one expressing these morose, melancholy, introspective songs. And the female songs were a little more shrieky and panicky, and really had all of these acrobatic jumps up the register that I was really intimidated by before I joined the band. In the second record, I do feel like the lines get blurred. … The female voice came across as a little more admonishing and cynical and carefree; in the second record, those characteristics are shared by both mine and Allen's character. Like Allen says, we're not really listening to each other as much. There's less of a through-line in the conversation, and more about just shouting. We're just shouting through.”


Tate on bringing Jackrabbit conversations to life:

“I felt like over the course of the first record and first year and a half tour cycle, we spent a lot of time getting to know the band, getting to know ourselves as an eight-piece, and the songs as worn by an eight-piece and played by an eight-piece. We toured so much on Jackrabbit; because it was made with the specific members in mind. Between the Alt-J tour, the headline tour, the tour with Sam Amidon, all that other stuff, I felt like we just really sharpened our teeth as a live band. Now, the arenas that we played with Alt-J, I really feel like we can play anywhere with anybody. Maybe it's because all of the songs felt like they had teeth when we play them live; we played them really tightly, everyone knows their parts and has expanded them in the right ways. We play really well – all of those songs are songs that I'm very confident when we play.”

Kaye on getting into character:

"I think for me, playing the first record was very much about getting to know the band. I met Allen and Ellis, and then went on this crazy five-week tour in Europe. Basically I was asked to go on the Europe tour two weeks before the Europe tour. I just got in the van and didn't get out for another two years. But during that first year, it was hard to shake the feeling that I was doing live band karaoke of music that I had only heard sung by somebody else. It took a while to not only get acquainted with the band, but also the music. All I wanted to do was do it justice. But then on Jackrabbit, I started to feel as if I had a certain modicum of ownership of those songs, because I had seen their inception, and been a part of that. I was able to inject more of myself and my personality into that music.”

If you go:
INfusion Music Fest
April 28 – April 30, times vary
Hilbert Circle Theater, 45 Monument Circle
prices vary for individual shows, all-ages 

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Katherine Coplen

Katherine Coplen

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Always looking for my new favorite band. Always listening to my old ones, too. Always baking cakes. Always collecting rock and roll dad quotes.

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