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- Posted on Mar 12th 2013 1:30PM by Natasha Young
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You wouldn't know at first listen that Wild Belle is a sibling band; Natalie's self-asserting love songs come from a place of genuinely strong pop songwriting, unhindered by familial bashfulness. But get the two of them in a room together -- as we did last month, when the well-dressed pair talked with us at Spinner's Manhattan office -- and their closeness is immediately apparent.
Wild Belle's singer Natalie eyed us all carefully from inside the long, ombré blonde hair she wears like a sheath, while lion-maned multi-instrumentalist Eliot sat straight-postured, speaking in his buttery baritone. The pair grew up in Chicago along with their other siblings Elise Bergman, a fashion designer, and Bennet Wade Bergman, who directed the music video for their song "Backslider."
"It's a bit of therapy when you're writing. You're just putting it out on the paper, putting it out on guitar, however you write a song -- 'cause each way is different -- but it's a release. It's a good way to get over somebody, just writing 'em off," Natalie says. And what do her scorned ex-lovers think about their portrayal in the songs? "They know when it's about them, and they love it. They're just like, man, that's so good -- I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?"
"I just have to go beat him up afterwards," Eliot says, laughing. "I'm very protective, to a fault," he adds, "But it doesn't really impact the way we think about it. The music just sort of stands on its own. You don't create something thinking about being brother and sister; you're just making a song."
"Keep You" and "It's Too Late," two of the tracks released in early 2012, are also featured on Isles. With some of the album's strongest singles having already floated around the blogosphere for the past year, the impetus to keep things fresh has been strong as they've begun to introduce the remaining pieces to complete the picture.
"It was a little frustrating, just because we wanted to get it out there. You document certain things in your life and you want to share them and keep it true to that moment," Natalie warmly explains, seated beside her brother. "There are moments where I feel like the lyric is something I don't necessarily agree with anymore. It's not like it is strongly resonating in my heart, these love songs -- these wounded love songs. But ... Dylan, I'm sure, had to play 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' a million times."
"It's amazing music, but we wanted to stray away from getting pigeon-holed into that genre," Natalie says. "The spectrum of the album ... once people hear it, I hope they'll realize that. I'm excited and eager for people to just see the whole body of work, because it isn't just that, nor is it just Motown influenced, or just hip-hop, or whatever. It's a blend of lots of different styles that we grew up listening to."
Natalie's classically unconventional singing voice, slightly raspy yet always sweet, can surely be credited to her parents exposing her early on to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin. "When she was like, 4," Eliot reminisces, "She would just belt it out. She would be stomping around at 6 in the morning in her cowboy boots singing Lucinda Williams songs."
Easy as it would likely be for the two Bergmans to ride the novelty wave of an anachronistic sibling band, their rich visuals are just a bonus to a body of work that stands strong on its own. But the fashion set quickly embraced Wild Belle after the release of their endearingly kitschy video "It's Too Late" -- Natalie dancing in various well-styled outfits while her bearded and bellbottomed brother jams on the saxophone could easily have been mistaken for an ingenious marketing opportunity to usher the era back into style.
"We like patterns, we like colors ... You're kind of a reflection of how you see the world," Natalie says. "But it's true, we don't really think about it too much. We get offered gigs sometimes that have to do with fashion, and we're like, 'maybe we shouldn't do this,' because we don't want to mislead people into thinking we're too wrapped up in this fashion business. We're musicians, and we're good musicians, and we're performing artists and that's what we have to share with people."
Indeed, despite Isles's catchy pop bent, Wild Belle are serious about making music and are certainly knowledgeable about their instruments. Eliot, who is also a core member of instrumental Afrobeat group Nomo, can talk on and on about obscure instruments -- like the electric kalimba, a thumb piano instrument that he builds himself, some of which he has sold to Paul Simon. Or the Chamberlin, the world's first sample-playback keyboard (also known as a mellotron), an infamously temperamental instrument you'll hear on Isles but, unfortunately, won't see them lugging around on tour.
Wild Belle went on stage later that night at Webster Hall opening for Toro Y Moi, cheerily introducing much of Isles to a packed-in yet receptive crowd. I reconnected with Natalie and Eliot in the smoke-filled artist room, who were in good spirits after their set. Eliot and I talked about where their tour would take them next (Montreal); Natalie and I discussed the benefits of cheek-kisses as a greeting and a parting, as is custom in our frigid sister city to the north, and she put it to practice on me before sashaying away with a captivating smile. If an ambitious band like Wild Belle needs leadership and charisma to succeed, Eliot and Natalie have both in spades.