Music Interviews
5:06 pm
Tue March 12, 2013

Wild Belle: Musical Siblings Go Island Hopping

Originally published on Tue March 12, 2013 6:42 pm

Elliot and Natalie Bergman, a sibling duo originally from Chicago, are Wild Belle. Elliot has been in other bands (including NOMO) but says this project with his sister, eight years his junior, is just the right fit.

"It definitely just feels like home," he says. "It's all the best parts of the things that I've been able to do thus far in my career."

The duo's debut album, Isles, gets its name from the idea that each song on the record is its own island, by turns drawing from reggae, electronica, jazz, soul and world music. The siblings spoke with NPR's Audie Cornish about their collaborative process and musical influences.


Interview Highlights

On songwriting

Elliot Bergman: "Natalie is definitely the force behind the song and the lyric. You're always sort of searching for that kind of 'magic button,' we call it in the studio — something that kind of puts you in a place that feels like you would want to live there for a little while."

On growing up and sharing music

Elliot Bergman: "I started working at a record store when I went to college, so my record collection grew exponentially and they sort of got siphoned off into Natalie's bedroom. She had a little portable Califone record player. And so she would be kind of sitting at home and instead of doing her homework, she was listening to Sun Ra records and freaking out about that as a 10-year-old."

On the song "When It's Over"

Elliot Bergman: "This is one that Natalie actually sort of wrote for me. I had gotten out of this relationship and, you know, I was sort of moping around. And Natalie was like, 'Hey, I wrote a song for you. This will help you express your emotions.' "

Natalie Bergman: "That's the second song on the record that I wrote in a male's perspective. It's sort of a guy speaking to me and singing to me, but I'm using his voice."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. And this is Wild Belle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

NATALIE BERGMAN: (Singing) (Unintelligible) and I will give you anything. I gave you a car, I gave you a diamond ring.

CORNISH: Their sound weaves together '70s-era afro punk, the jazz horns of West African highlife, Jamaica's early rock-steady pop and the dark rhythms of Brazil's Tropicalia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

CORNISH: Their debut album called "Isles" was conceived far, far north of the equator in not-so-tropical Illinois. Siblings Elliot and Natalie Bergman make up the band Wild Belle, and they spoke to us earlier from Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

CORNISH: So this album is called "Isles," and I read because you say every song is its own island. So let's talk about "Twisted." What island are we hearing here?

ELLIOT BERGMAN: Most of these are imaginary islands.

(LAUGHTER)

BERGMAN: But "Twisted" has a little bit kind of a highlife guitar influence and a little bit kind of a dance hall beat, so it's a little bit of a mixed-up cross between a few different islands, I guess.

BERGMAN: Yeah. I think that when we wrote that song, I was listening to a lot of Hallelujah Chicken Run Band and Green Arrows, and they're from Zimbabwe. It sounds like such happy music, but then when you learn what the lyrics are saying, it's really heartbreaking.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

CORNISH: Tell us how the collaboration works. Who brings the lyrics? Who brings the sound? How does it come together?

BERGMAN: Everything sort of comes together in its own way, but Natalie is definitely the force behind the song and the lyric. And you're always sort of searching for that kind of magic button, we call it in the studio - something that kind of puts you in a place that feels like you would want to live there for a little while.

CORNISH: Is there a song that highlights that collaboration?

BERGMAN: I think "Love Like This" is one of those songs because that one kind of came together as we were mixing "Keep You." In the studio, there was this beautiful Hammond B3 organ there, and I just sort of started playing a little chord progression on that. And Natalie just sort of immediately came over and kind of put a lyric to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE LIKE THIS")

BERGMAN: (Singing) My heart's on fire. You like me open, I can't go down. You love his wife. You're dangerous.

"Love Like This," yeah, I'd say that it was pretty easy to just put lyrics to it. We were far along on the record, and it was one of the last songs we wrote. And so sometimes things just come together very quickly and naturally.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE LIKE THIS")

BERGMAN: (Singing) Remember when you kiss me by the sea, you were saying all the things that I'd like to believe.

CORNISH: Elliot, you're a few years older than Natalie, and I'm curious about what kind of music you guys listened to growing up, if it was the same albums. Did you share a collection? What it your parents' collection? And what was in that collection?

BERGMAN: Well, our parents were both like very into music. They have a great record collection, so we kind of grew up around, you know, Bill Withers and Joni Mitchell and Dylan, and then Michael Jackson and Prince were kind of staples. So that was kind of sounds around the house growing up. And I started working at a record store when I went to college, so my record collection kind of grew exponentially, and they sort of got siphoned off into Natalie's bedroom.

She had a little portable Califone record player, and so she would be kind of sitting at home and instead of doing her homework, she was listening to Sun Ra records and freaking out about that as a 10-year-old. So, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: That's a pretty hip 10-year-old.

BERGMAN: Yeah. She's about one of the coolest 10-year-olds you could ever meet.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Right. You're 18, and you're being a very cool older brother, it sounds like.

BERGMAN: But she just has, like, a really incredible reggae collection now, and she's sort of a secret reggae scholar, will - driving around, she knows, like, the words to every song. It's like...

CORNISH: Well, not so secret based on what we're hearing in the album.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Natalie, I mean, give us an idea what we're hearing.

BERGMAN: Yeah. I mean, we also are attracted to Tropicalia music. That's sort of how the first time I really sang on one of Elliot's records. We covered this Tom Ze song called "Mae." There aren't really too many lyrics, but I sang...

(Singing) Eh, eh, eh, eh, oh, mae, mae.

I just kind of repeated that and - from Tropicalia to bossa nova. I grew up listening to a lot of Astrud Gilberto. She was kind of one of the main female influences in my life because I was listening to lots of male musicians, but her voice is something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN IT'S OVER")

BERGMAN: (Singing) I won't cry about you now. I won't leave behind any trials when it's over.

CORNISH: And on the song "When It's Over," Elliott, you actually get to sing on this one.

BERGMAN: Yup. That's my little moment in the spotlight. This is one that Natalie actually sort of wrote for me. I had sort of gotten out of this relationship, and, you know, I was sort of moping around. And then Natalie was like, hey, I wrote a song for you. This will help you express your emotions.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN IT'S OVER")

BERGMAN: That's also - that's kind of the second song on the record that I wrote in the male's perspective. It's sort of a guy speaking to me and singing to me, but I'm using his voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN IT'S OVER")

CORNISH: Elliot, you've been in a couple of bands now, and I mean, in the end, does this feel like the right fit? You know, something that's sort of a family affair.

BERGMAN: Yeah. It definitely just feels like home, and it's definitely kind of a lot of things coming together. And it sort of came together because Natalie and I decided to deliberately collaborate on something, but it's really a much deeper pool than the two of us. There's all these other people that are involved that have really made this happen.

BERGMAN: Yeah. We're just having a fun time, and I don't think there's actually the perfect equation to why this happened. You know, it just - it happened. We're in this business together, and I feel like it's the best partner to have because he's my family, and he's my brother. You know, he'll always be my brother.

CORNISH: Well, Elliot and Natalie Bergman, Wild Belle, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BERGMAN: Thank you so much for having us today.

BERGMAN: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Wild Belle, their debut album "Isles" is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHINE")

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.