The world of music is a magical place. Like a warp in time, it’s a portal to the soul of those who create it, expressing every last syllable that couldn’t otherwise have found a comfortable outlet. The connection between expresser and receiver is unparalleled when music is involved, shooting through the personal and into the plane of the cosmic. It’s sonic fate.
With every note and lyric uttered by Wild Belle’s Natalie Bergman and her brother Elliot, comes the raw, seemingly enigmatic story of creative souls joining together to strip emotions of their social disguises, healing wounds until the skin is raw and tender. Scars are welcome here.
Natalie is catlike in her decisions, quick when things are truly felt right. Her very presence seems to transcend time, taking you back to the free-spirited eras of the past, only reminding you that time isn’t linear, and that memories are very much alive when we keep them strong in the present. Her taste is decisive, unique, and comforting; a way of living that is both simple and inspiring. She oozes cool with ease. No word or emotion is wasted with Natalie, which is why our chat about everything from her travels to the importance of family ties resonated with every letter and every powerful pause. Come, sit down, and join us.
Prism: Collaborating with your brother Elliot in Wild Belle, how would you say it has affected or strengthened your relationship as siblings?
Natalie Bergman: Elliot is my best friend, my brother, and my business partner. So far we haven’t killed each other. We’ve always had a very musically creative relationship. We grew up playing music in church together. I started touring with him when I was 15. He brought me on the road to sell merchandise, but I quickly started to play percussion and then eventually started writing songs that I could sing in his instrumental band. It’s in our blood, you know.
P: You grew up in a household filled with music. Would you say you’re a particularly family-oriented person? Does that connection show through your music in any way?
N: Family is the most important thing in this world. I don’t have many friends, but I have my family. They’re the reason I keep doing what I do and the reason why I’m alive today.
P: You’ve done quite a lot of traveling, both as a band and in your own life, have there been any cultures or cities that have affected your music and style in any way?
N: Jamaica, Brazil & Kenya. All places I adore. I’ve spent the most time in Jamaica. It’s my favorite country. The people are musical and beautiful and poetic. The style of life there is the same way. I was late to the airport heading back to the U.S. one time and I had my cab driver pull over at this little record shop in Montego with 45s covering the floor. It was a pile of vinyl. I was in heaven. Reggae, lovers rock, ska, dancehall… I made out like a bandit.
When we were on tour in Brazil we also found some amazing vinyl. I wanted everything in sight. Gal Costa, Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso. Brazil is a holy place. You can feel it in the way people dance, you can feel it in the ocean. You really feel it in their music.
I visited my friends in Kenya years ago and after studying so many different styles of music on that continent you start to understand the regional divide of sound. Eastern African music is it’s own thing. Certainly different from the north, south and west. I love the music of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. In many ways, subconsciously, you incorporate your favorite music into your own. I think because I’ve studied so much of these culture’s music I inevitably bring their sounds into the recording studio.
P: Has that traveling found its way into your personal style? How would you define it?
N: Music is nothing but styles. When I want to play rock I play rock, when I wanna play soul I play that. When I wanna be sad I write something sad. When I wanna play fast I go fast. Who ever said there were rules in making music? Who gave rules to style? My style is an attitude. You witness things with your eyes. It can change you. I’ve always had a curiosity about trying new things in music. When you travel you take in different styles, different sounds, different ways of life.
P: Where was your favorite performance to date?
N: We just played with Major Lazer at Red Rocks outside of Denver. It is such a gorgeous amphitheater. They sold out the show and Elliot and I got to perform our song “Be Together” with Diplo, Walshy Fire, Jillionare & the whole Major Lazer crew.
P: What was the specific moment, or turning point rather, that made you realize you wanted to become a performer?
N: Watching footage from The Last Waltz – like “I Shall Be Released” and “Caravan” – was so inspiring to me because The Band was backing up the greatest musicians of that time. The Staple Singers, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John. It was a concert that invited all. Welcomed everybody. That kind of community is hard to find these days. People don’t invite you in like they used to. Where is the sense of home and family in the music industry? It’s hard to find. That’s why working with my brother is so special. He’s family. I want to be a light in this world, and I want to invite everybody in. The message is love, let’s not forget that.
P: How would you say being a female in the music industry has affected your persona as an entertainer?
I get compared to a lot of female musicians, and it’s really sad to see how narrow-minded people can be. It’s actually kind of sick that men view women (and especially female musicians) as one breed of people. Every time I release something new I get compared to the [Amy] Winehouse’s or the Lana [Del Rey]’s of the world, when in reality I sound nothing like them. It’s oblivion and laziness on their part. That’s why I don’t pay attention to what people are saying. They don’t have that right to bring me down.
N: Your style and overall presence has become a source of empowerment for many of your female fans. Was there a role model who helped shape who you are today?
Miles Davis is a role model to me. He don’t take crap. Bob Marley. He was a prophet. He had a very positive message and put his life on the line to defend it. John Coltrane. My mother. All of these people were a light in this world. They went to battle for the people and the things that they loved. They fought for what they believed in.
P: What was some advice they gave you to push forward?
N: Mark 12:31 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
P: What words of wisdom can you instill upon future generations of women?
N: Love each other and be kind. Support each other. It’s not always easy, but you will be happier if you welcome people in rather than outcast them. The message is love; let’s not forget that.
By Pola Bunster
Photography by Troy Critchlow
Hair and Makeup: Jessica Hoffman
Jewelry: Adina Mills
Location: Topanga Tipi on Air BnB