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Spencer Ludwig is a Trumpeter from Hollywood, Los Angeles who plays with, amongst other bands, Capital Cities. Shortly before setting off on yet another series of touring gigs, we caught up with Spencer to find out more about his music, the LA Brass music scene, and of course his bands. Spencer will soon be joining the writing team on our site with his ‘Ludwig in Hollywood‘ blog, so we will be featuring him more in the future. For now though, here’s what he had to say to us:
Capital Cities are causing something of a storm stateside at the minute. For those who might not have come across you or Capital Cities yet though, please tell us a little about yourself.
Los Angeles indie electro unit Capital Cities first came together as a duo of composer/songwriters Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian. The two initially were both working as jingle writers and met on craigslist in 2011. Shortly after meeting the two released an EP online, which included the song “Safe and Sound,” an upbeat mesh of programming and melody that went viral and gained a lot of Internet exposure. Eventually, Merchant and Simonian were joined by bassist Manny Quintero, guitarist Nick Merwin and yours truly on the trumpet.
Five years ago when I picked up the trumpet I had no idea what I was getting into but I trusted it would take me where I needed to be. After being admitted to CalArts with a little over a year of practice on the horn, I studied jazz and received lessons from my mentor John Fumo. I quickly threw myself into the professional world of teaching and performing believing in the theory of learning on the job while accepting every gig.
One of those gigs was the 10am opening slot for a buzzing local band, Capital Cities, who were scheduled for the 11am slot at the Abbot Kinney Music Festival in September of 2011. After my set, Sebu from Capital Cities approached me to casually invite me to his studio to jam with his band. Naturally, I accepted the offer.
At the jam I was asked to improvise over the music, fill in gaps between lyrics, double the synth melodies and hold out long notes to create a vibe. Whatever I did that day clicked and inspired the addition of a new member to the live show. Since that jam session my role has not changed much at all. Capital Cities eventually dialed in the trumpet parts for the record but we decided to leave a lot of space for improvisation in the live show. Almost every song in our current set has a designated trumpet solo section where I get to be creative with my parts, explore the sonic landscape and have a lot of fun. There aren’t many bands in the indie-pop/rock/dance world that showcase the trumpet the way Capital Cities does and I am extremely grateful and inspired to make the most of this unique opportunity to play with Capital Cities.
I also take pride in being a featured instrumentalist in a band whose mission is to write feel good music and whose live shows are about having a good time and dancing your ass off.
What is your musical background, how did you reach the point you are currently at with your career?
I’ve been playing music since I was 11-years-old starting with the alto saxophone eventually making my way to the trumpet as I entered my senior year in high school. Playing music in school and with friends was a big part of growing up but I wasn’t able to focus on one particular instrument until I found the trumpet. The move to trumpet was partially inspired by the need to get good enough to get into college in such a short time and then to keep up with the players I met once I got there.
At the ripe young age of 17, I moved out of my parents place and was forced to monetize my skill as quickly as possible to survive. I started out by teaching trumpet at an elementary level, which eventually led to a teaching gig at my alma mater, Oakwood School in North Hollywood, CA, which had me thinking for a second that I would go down the educational career path. I simultaneously juggled teaching, school and local gigs before crossing paths with Capital Cities. It wasn’t until this year that Capital Cities became a largely full time commitment. Before Capital Cities began touring in support of their upcoming record, I was juggling gigs with local indie bands, jazz bands and top forties events bands. Today I keep a few private trumpet students, a gypsy-punk side project called Deux Sons and a few local gigs waiting for me whenever I’m in town.
Accepting every gig, keeping a good attitude and focusing on good tone is what got me in the room with so many great musicians and led me to so many great playing opportunities. The LA music scene is small so the more exposure you can get yourself, the better. My attitude has always been that eventually one of those projects could take off or lead to something better and in the process I can enjoy doing what I love to do for a living.
You’re touring the new album at the minute, how is that going?
Traveling with Capital Cities is a pleasure. We love each other like family and keep each other motivated to stay focused and healthy. The road can get extremely exhausting when you are performing and traveling to a different city every night but this group works hard to keep everyone on their toes. There hasn’t been a bad vibe since I’ve joined Capital Cities in 2011 and I don’t expect there ever will be. We are all adults focused on doing the best we can every night and to take full advantage of this extremely fun and exciting time in our lives.
It’s been inspiring to see such a consistently enthusiastic crowd at every show. I love meeting Capital Cities fans and engaging with them when they tag @trumpetludwig on twitter or @spencerludwig on their instagram. I can’t wait to see the response to the album after it’s released on June 4th. We ask the audience to learn a dance as part of our live show and seeing the crowds around the world get into it with us has been amazing. At the end of every show we jump off of the stage into the audience for one last epic dance party. We really love to engage with our audiences during and after each show.
Do you ever get tired of playing the same songs every night?
Never. The songs have become a platform for Capital Cities to put on a unique performance that is inspired by each city, venue and audience. I really look forward to the solo sections as an opportunity to push myself to do something new each night.
We go into every show with a mission to perform our songs better than the last time and to make sure everyone is dancing and singing by the end of it.
Which do you prefer, touring or recording?
Touring. I thoroughly enjoy every aspect performing. I go into it giving everything I’ve got in order to rise to the full potential of feeling alive. I hope that my energy and commitment to my performance inspires the audience to fully engage themselves in the moment and enjoy it with me.
I also really enjoy the non-performing aspects of touring. Experiencing new cultures, trying new foods and making friends along the way is a huge plus for me. Touring with Capital Cities is an invaluable growing experience that I am so grateful to have in my life.
As well as Capital Cities, you’ve got a number of other musical projects on the go. Can you describe them all to us please?
My main project outside of Capital Cities is my gypsy-punk project, Deux Sons, a group that I started with my best friend Max Whipple on accordion. The project was originally formed to get French restaurant gigs but quickly turned into a loud jam band performing long form original compositions that now feature Kane Ritchotte on drums, Cary Singer on guitar, Eugene Fabiero on tuba, Ari Balouzian on viola, Paul Cartwright on violin and Colin Kupka on alto saxophone. The bands aesthetic is influenced by an eclectic mix of sounds including Frank Zappa, traditional Eastern European folk music and French composers such asDebussy and Erik Satie. Our mission is to make a bold musical statement and leave a lasting impression in the world wherever we go whether we perform in front of one person or hundreds of people. I always look forward to coming back home and making music with these guys. We are scheduled to release our first EP in July of this year.
Whenever I’m in town I have a weekly Wednesday night gig at Nics Martini Lounge as a solo act improvising over my own DJ set of hip- hop instrumental music. I’ve taken to calling it Beats With A Twist. I plan to eventually take this project further because I’m really interested in the fusion of live brass and electronic music and feel like a DJ/trumpeter might have a place in today’s music culture.
I also keep busy directing the house band at the Hollywood Improv Club on Thursday nights as the Van Jam Band. We keep the vibe funky and soulful with an open invitation to local musicians to come up and join the rest of us on the bandstand. We play in between the comics and then jam out for the rest of the night.
On top of those projects – when I get off the road I plan to spend as much time in the studio as possible focusing on collaborations with indie-pop and electronic music producers. Performing and recording with Capital Cities has inspired me to push trumpet into the forefront of indie-pop and electronic music.
How much instrument practice do you do each day and what is your typical practice regime?
Another reason why I love life on the road is because I finally have time to practice! I spend most of the day practicing focusing specifically on tone, intonation, scales and range. I also spend a fair amount of time reading, transposing and memorizing. I have a ton of new music to learn for my gypsy-punk project, Deux Sons that Max recently wrote, so I’m currently focused on memorizing this stack of three to four page compositions. I’d say on average I’m getting in about two to three hours of practice a day.
What do you think of the diverse nature of Brass music today. How do you see it developing in the future?
It’s an exciting time for brass players. There is a ton of collaboration between modern electronic sounds and brass instruments that can be found in both the pop and jazz world. This generations willingness to experiment is providing lots of great playing opportunities for brass musicians around the world and it’s getting a lot of interesting music recorded and out there. It’s also a great time to be a featured horn player in a pop band, which 21st Century Brass can clearly vouch for given the inventory of horn players that have been featured on the site with that exact bio. The future is bright for brass players if they are wiling to experiment in order to find something new that will resonate with the next generation of music lovers.