Interview: Wild Belle
Brother and sister team Natalie and Elliot Bergman are the duo behind the band Wild Belle, and they take the stage at Coachella for the first time this year. We recently caught up with them when they came through on tour.
When you guys were growing up did you play any games that revolved around music? Because there was such an age difference, what was your collaboration like?
Elliot: I’m 8 years older than she is but Natalie’s been such a natural performer since she was young. Last night some old family friends came to visit in DC and they were talking about how it used to be, like “Okay, Natalie’s going to do a performance for everyone in the kitchen, gather round.” I always watched her and then she started coming on tour with my band when she was 16. It was pretty recently that we were like, “Okay, let’s do something a little more serious together.” That’s when Wild Belle started to come together.
How did you talk your parents into letting you go on tour with your older brother when you were 16?
Natalie: I think they were always very encouraging and pushing us to work together in some capacity. I didn’t leave high school or anything, it was summer, I think after my freshman year of high school I went and –
Elliott: I convinced them it was 'an internship.'
What were some of the musical influences that you guys were around as kids?
Natalie: Lots of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.
Elliot: Michael Jackson and Prince, a lot of that.
How did you guys get into world music as two kids from Chicago?
Natalie: It’s what our ears liked. I think it’s because our parents are both very well-traveled and they love world music. They love India, they love Africa and they brought a lot of beautiful things back from their travels and shared that with us. I think that’s where it began.
What was the first instrument you started playing?
Elliot: I started playing the clarinet.
Were you in school band?
Elliot: I played in band all through high school and then I studied music at college in Michigan. But when we grew up, music was pretty much part of the landscape. I started on the clarinet, but my grandma gave me a saxophone when I was a freshman in high school. She played saxophone so I got this really cool Martin tenor sax with red lipstick on the reeds and then I progressed from there. But jazz was always my interest as a young kid which was weird. All my friends were into grunge and I was listening to Miles Davis' In a Silent Way.
How many instruments do you own?
Elliot: Hundreds. We have a storage unit full of instruments in Brooklyn and then our house is like, everywhere we live has instruments. There’s probably 50 instruments in the band. I like to build instruments too, so those accumulate. Natalie loves vintage keyboards and that comes through on the record. There’s all kinds of crazy synthesizers and percussion. It’s not only a collection of objects but it’s a collection of sounds you can use – it’s your palette. Instruments are beautiful and there’s a reason people take the time and care to make them beautiful. You can really fall in love with instruments. We both love searching for sounds and trying to find something that’s evocative. I’m drawn to sounds that are both wooden and metallic and I love working with wood and metal. The instruments just keep piling up. Everywhere we go, there’s something new to find.
Any particular ones have a nostalgic story behind them?
Elliot: We have all of our mom’s guitars, and my grandma’s saxophone is really cool to have, but my mom has this old, big-bodied Guild acoustic guitar we love, and she has a number of really cool electric guitars. She passed away about six years ago so her guitars sat around until a friend in Milwaukee fixed ‘em all up for us.
How has your relationship as siblings evolved now that you’re working together in a band?
Natalie: It’s been surprisingly easy. It’s like, we just see eye to eye on so many things regarding our music or not regarding our music. The way we perceive the world is very similar. It’s been fun. There are challenges but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with our relationship as siblings, but challenges of the business. I guess that is sort of the hardest thing if we run into any difficult situations.
How is the music you’re making together different from what you were previously doing separately?
Elliot: I think we both needed something. It wasn’t necessarily the most conscious decision. We were both doing things and they kept overlapping a bit. It happened pretty organically. The energy that we were getting people responded positively to. It was definitely a coming together of our influences and ideas.
How did shooting the video “Keep You” with director Malina Matsoukas come about? She’s done some epic videos.
Natalie: She has. How it really came about was I saw the video “Why Don’t You Love Me” by Beyoncé which they shot on Super 8. Have you seen it? I love that video.
I have. I didn’t know until I looked it up, but she did the Rihanna video too.
Natalie: "We Found Love"? That video rules! It was a little bigger than what we had plans for our video to be. I was just so attracted to that Beyoncé video, so I said let’s try and see if she wants to work with us. And she was so cool. It was fun to bounce ideas back and forth. I would love to work with her again.