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We Interviewed Natalie Bergman of Wild Belle

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By Ilana Kaplan

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Wild Belle does not want to be referred to as a reggae band. They want their seductive sound to be thought of as a combination of soulful rock ‘n’ roll and other worldly melodies. Illinois natives Natalie and Elliot Bergman have come together to make the world grind its hips to sex-centric boner jams. 

The band’s musical talent didn’t just come out of nowhere. Elliot is best known for his band Nomo, an afro-beat-inflected jazz act that's been around for about a decade. Natalie used to sing and tour with the band, but when she officially started collaborating on songs it became clear that her new direction didn't really sit well with the audience. In 2011, Natalie was fired from the band, and she and Elliot began working on Wild Belle within days. 

While Elliot and Natalie’s island-influenced first single “Keep You” hit the airwaves about a year ago, their debut is just arriving. The result of the duo’s collaboration is the appropriately titled Isles, which came out this month on Columbia. You can order a copy of your very own right here.

We spoke with Natalie after a show with Toro y Moi at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and she put some of the rumors about the band to rest.

Noisey: Your show was awesome last night. My friend and I were like, “we want to have sex with your voice.” Hearing you sing was the best thing ever.
Natalie Bergman: [Laughs] Thanks so much for coming out. That’s hilarious.

I heard a rumor via the Internet that you guys were pulling a Jack/Meg White: were you guys ever married or are you brother and sister?
We are actually brother and sister. 

Have you heard that rumor before?
I’ve heard that rumor plenty of times - old news. We’re definitely related. We’re siblings.

How did that start?
I think from that Jack White thing. People fail to be creative so they just say these things. Are they brother sister? Are they husband and wife? I think it’s a lack of creativity.

Between you and your brother, who is the more musical one?
I guess we both grew up on different instruments. I was playing violin when I was younger and Elliot grew up playing clarinet. It’s actually playing in the background of this room where I am right now. We both just explored different instruments growing up. Now I love piano and saxophone. Elliot is an amazing keyboard player. We just explored different instruments, so I couldn’t tell you who is more musical because it’s just in our souls and in our bones very much.

Fair enough. I feel like everyone has a Tumblr these days. What’s the purpose behind yours?
Elliot and I just started putting images up online that were attractive to us. I haven’t done much updating on our Tumblr, but it’s just kind of an easy way for us to express what I think is beautiful in this world.

You have a lot of interesting images going on there. Your music is a lot of different things. That’s why I like it. Is everyone either tripping or super stoned when listening to your music?
You know, that exists in the audience, but that’s not necessarily what kind of crowd is drawn to us. That has happened. There are people smokin’ a little weed, but we still have a little ways to go until we fill the room with all of our people. So, we’ll see what kind of people fill the room when we’re headlining a show.

Touché. You live in Brooklyn now. How does the Chicago lifestyle differ from the Brooklyn lifestyle? What made you come here?
I was going to school in Boston and then I decided that I didn’t want to be in Boston anymore, so I moved to New York City. I came to the city, and I lived in Chinatown for a while. I loved Chinatown. Then I moved out to Brooklyn, and I’ve been sort of back and forth between Brooklyn and Chicago.  I’ve been just traveling on tour. They’re both amazing cities. If I have to compare them, they’re both unique and special in their own ways. I adore them. I consider both New York and Chicago to be my home. 

What was your craziest tour experience thus far?
That’s a good one. Let me think about that…we were just up in the mountains about a month ago. We went skiing in -20 degree weather. That was pretty extreme. We had to cover our bodies from head to toe in as much fleece and protection as possible. It was totally exhilarating, but totally freezing. What’s another tour story? There were some amazing kids we met in El Paso in Texas. There was a group of Mexican kids that came over from Juarez. That was a total blast. I have plenty of stories, but I’ll go with the “skiing in -20 degree weather” one.

So, Isles is your first record.  Your song “Keep You” caught on very quickly. Do you guys ever fear that you’ll be a one-hit wonder?
I’ve never thought about that. I’m definitely not afraid of that. We have plenty of more tunes coming that I’m proud of – even more so than “Keep You.” I hope the world appreciates them like they appreciated “Keep You.”

What would you label your sound as? There’s a lot going on in your music.
I think I would say that it’s a blend of soul, rock ‘n’ roll, a little bit of an island-feel. I would mostly say that it’s soul music because that’s where it’s coming from.

So, did Elliott bring in a lot of Nomo’s sound to the project?
Totally! Those sounds that he’s attracted to are very attractive to me also. We both love music from around the world; we love music from India, Africa and Brazil. That’s been an influence to me growing up. I love the Ethiopian compilation. I love Fela (Kuti). If you want to be general, I can be general. If you want to cut deep, then I’ll go back to music in Zimbabwe in the 70s. Elliott has influenced my taste in music definitely and the style in the sound we have is heavily influenced by that. I think it’s coming from both of us. Our ears are attracted to the same thing.

What was the first song that “touched” you? That could definitely be misconstrued…
Maybe Grover Washington “Just the Two of Us” that Bill Withers sang on. That sounded good. It’s got a real emotional quality to it. Bill Withers has a very sorrowful voice that I’m attracted to; it’s a beautiful ballad.

Is Isles a “get it on” record? What kind of mood does it set?
I think there are tracks for different moves. There are more relaxed songs on the album and then there are more dancey cuts. Hopefully it is just a blend of sounds and different paces for different people.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about you guys?
People keep saying that we’re a reggae band, but that’s just not true. You know? We released that one track and it does have a heavy influence of that island of Jamaica, but once they see the whole spectrum of the record, hopefully they won’t label us as that anymore.  

 

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