San Fermin, Thao Nguyen Stay Woke Around “Dream Yourself Awake”

San Fermin (l) and Thao Nguyen (Photo: Pip Cowley / Shane McCauley)

It started with a phone call with singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen and San Fermin’s Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Both had a desire to create something “lush and pretty” with textured vocal and string arrangements. Then, “Dream Yourself Awake” regenerated.

Part of the In This House Series, curated by Ludwig-Leone and fellow San Fermin co-founder Allen Tate under their Brooklyn, NY-based label Better Company, and its dedication to artist collaborations, “Dream Yourself Awake” started as one song and ended up as something entirely different. 

“I sent her [Nguyen] some options of different string and vocal textures, which she then took and processed on her end, and revamped into this low-fi beat based on a loop of Allen’s voice,” says Ludwig-Leone, who continued to dissect the track, slowly unraveling something more eerie in the track.

“I took her stems and did the same thing again, chopping up and pitch-shifting her bass line, messing around with the harmony to make it more aggressive and unsettling, adding some structure,” he says. “Then, when Thao tracked her vocals, we really knew it was going in a different direction than the original lush, pretty idea.”

Then, Nguyen capped off the track by adding in a big guitar riff, coupled with more of Ludwig-Leone’s “Frankenstein” chopping. “What we ended up with was exciting, dirtier and more experimental than what we had set out for, but super fun and full of life,” says Ludwig-Leone, “a truly collaborative process.”

Written and recorded throughout January, February, and March of 2021, “Dream Yourself Awake” was a chance to create and sink into a fictional narrative for Nguyen, and was heavily inspired by the BBC thriller Killing Eve.

“I welcomed the chance to not be so emotionally invested in the lyric writing, and instead write from a conjured character’s perspective,” shares Nguyen. “I took a lot of inspiration from Killing Eve—I was watching the first season at the time—and just fell into writing from the perspective of the hitwoman—a great, pandemic escape hatch.”

“Dream Yourself Awake” is a perfect moving piece in the In This House Series of collaborations, which was conceptualized during one of the darker, isolated times during the pandemic. 

“The In This House collaborations were a way to break out of that isolation and work with other artists I know and admire, and create a sense of community from afar,” says Ludwig-Leone. “They’ve also had the benefit of pushing me to write in very different ways than I normally would.”

Ludwig-Leone adds, “‘Dream Yourself Awake’ was a great example of that. Thao has such a strong sense of her voice as a songwriter, and it was fun to be a part of shaping the world of the song but also trusting that we would end up somewhere surprising and worthwhile.”

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