While many recognize him as the amazing, talented trumpet player from Capital Cities, Spencer Ludwig has a lot more going on. I got the incredible opportunity to interview him and talk more in-depth about his future plans and new projects. We talked everything from working together with his band mate, Ryan Merchant to his personal life and his family, including his girlfriend who he adores. There are many exciting things happening right now with Ludwig’s career that are sure to leave you intrigued. Plus, he also gives some pretty great tips to others trying to move forward in the music industry. Here’s what Ludwig had to say:
So how and when did you start playing the trumpet? When did you become such an incredible trumpet player?
I started playing trumpet after I discovered the great Miles Davis when I was 17 years old. I was determined to be able to musically communicate on his level of sophistication and coolness. At the time I was going to be a senior in high school and I wasn’t very focused. I decided to use the trumpet as my ticket into college. I taught myself, recorded an audition CD and applied to the one and only school I was hoping to get into to study jazz, which was CalArts. Somehow I got accepted with a full scholarship, which is where I studied jazz for four years from 2009-2013. Since I needed to support myself during that time I taught trumpet to elementary school students and gigged and rehearsed with different local LA bands on a nightly basis. I ended up getting pretty deep into both the teaching and the LA gigging worlds. Capital Cities was just one of my ‘gigs’ – when things took off with them is when the next chapter of my life began.
How has being part of Capital Cities changed your life?
Before Capital Cities I had never thought of performing in front of huge crowds or dancing and rocking out with my horn as a goal. I was focused on jazz and making ends meet in the LA music scene. As things with Capital Cities progressed I started to embrace what it meant to be a trumpet player in a indie/electro/pop band. My influence had expanded beyond comprehension and to this day it still grows. My goal has always been to send truth, spirituality and positivity through my music and performances and to bring a deep appreciation to the trumpet — Capital Cities amplified my ability to do so beyond what I could have ever imagined. Now because of Capital Cities I have amazing platform of knowledge and experience to work from. I can also thank Capital Cities for showing me the world. You don’t grow up thinking that you’ll play trumpet and see the world but over the last three years I’ve been lucky enough to do so at least three times.
Now that you’ve transitioned from playing the trumpet to also having your own project as a singer and songwriter, what are your goals for this new phase? What are your feelings on it?
I’ve always been a singer and a songwriter. I was a lead singer, songwriter and guitar player in my 8th grade rock band “The Hollow Dolls.” When you get older and you’re also playing music to survive you don’t always have the luxury to do what you musically want to. Now that Capital Cities is taking some time off to work on the second album I’m using this time wisely to work on my own songs and collaborations. I plan to put out a solo record as soon as possible.
Could you talk a little bit about HISTORY? What are its future plans?
HISTORY is my side project with my friend and Capital Cities band mate, Ryan Merchant. We ended up writing a bunch of songs on the road and “History” was the one we finished first and felt compelled to share with the world. I became good friends with RAC after SWSW 2014 so when we were looking for a producer to take “History” to the next level I thought Andre would be perfect – and he was! It was very exciting for me to release this into the world since it was my first piece of original music that featured my vocals since my 8th grade rock band. Other than continuing to write and release music there are no specific plans for HISTORY.
How is working with Ryan Merchant? Why did you guys decide to start HISTORY and how is it different from working together in Capital Cities?
After traveling the world together and basically living together for the last four years I can say that Ryan along with the rest of the guys are like family. Me and Ryan have a really great friendship outside of the band so working together on music comes very naturally. We have a similar style and desire to write about our feelings, which is very different from the vibe of the Capital Cities music. I think because of our closeness it’s easier to speak about more personal subjects. As Capital Cities we are always in tour mode but with HISTORY it’s writing mode – that’s how it’s different.
I know you also have the Ludwig & Stiegler Co. going on. How long have you been part of this group?
The Ludwig & Stiegler Co. started in January 2014. It’s been a blast since day one in Manila! I improvise over fun new-disco and deep house music that my buddy DJ Jason Stiegler spins. It’s a really fun low pressure project. We mainly do corporate events but someday we hope to bring in some original music and turn it into a bigger thing. For now it’s just another way to play music with friends for fun. I also usually invite friends Channing C. Holmes of Capital Cities to play drums, Justefan to play vibraphone and James King of Fitz and the Tantrums to play sax! They are all beasts.
I’m sure you’re a busy musician. How do you balance your work life with your personal life?
I work 24/7 but when I’m home in NYC with my girlfriend Diana I try to ignore my phone and computer as much as possible. Since we spend so much time apart I really try to make being with her as much about her as possible. She means everything to me and has been a huge support to me since I was 15! Between her and my music there isn’t much time for play but I make a huge effort to keep in touch with friends. I’ve made amazing friendships around the world over the years that I intend to keep forever. Family is also extremely important to me. I try to speak to my parents a few times a day at least. I also try to make it to LA at least once a month – I’m a mama’s boy at heart.
What musicians have inspired you throughout your life?
Miles Davis got me hooked on the trumpet. Mars Volta inspired me to get started with writing and performing. Keebody made me want to speak the language of music and make everything I play funky and complex. Chet Baker influenced me to have a sweet tone and to play melodically. Michael Jackson pushed me hard every day – I want to be the trumpet playing version of MJ. Stevie Wonder is my favorite soloist. I love Phoenix and Debussy and Daft Punk and pretty much everything out of France. I love Balkan music, I love Salsa and Iove Brazilian music. RAC is a recent major inspiration – he puts out more quality content than any musician out there. Capital Cities had a huge influence on my songwriting too. I love deep house. I love all the oldies between the 40’s – 90’s. I love hip hop too. Niles Rodgers and Pharrell are also major influences.
Would you say you’ve accomplished your goals as a musician? What advice would you give others who are also trying to make it in the music industry?
Every day is a series of finishing some goals and starting others. I’m proud of what I’ve done so far yet I’m eager to accomplish so much more. As far as I’m concerned I’ve only just begun to accomplish what I am truly capable of. I will never be totally satisfied. I am always pushing myself to grow and to improve. I would advise young musicians to never give up and to collaborate with as many people as possible because you never know what will come of the music you make. Never stop making art. It doesn’t matter if music becomes your profession or not just continue to push yourself to improve so that you can unlock one of the most universally beautifully languages in the world and to be able to speak it with whoever crosses your path.
Throwback to SXSW’13 when I met both Spencer Ludwig and Ryan Mercant: