- The Hamptons
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Dan Hyman | Photo: Tom Oxley | February 26, 2013
Breakthrough stars at last year’s South by Southwest Music Festival, Wild Belle’s brother-sister duo Natalie and Elliot Bergman release their first album this month.
Natalie Bergman is sitting with me in a booth at Bull & Bear, laughing her sophisticated laugh, drinking a glass of pinot noir and requesting a “nice little salad.” But the mind of both the 23-year-old and her bearded brother Elliot, 31, seated next to her and sporting a leopard-flecked, open-collar, disco-throwback shirt, are still in Jamaica. They were there hours before to vacation and scout recording studios—and they obviously love the island. There’s the iPhone photo Elliot proudly shows us of Bob Marley’s abandoned studio they’d visited, situated high in the bluffs; the jerk chicken skewers Natalie snacks upon (she can’t shake that Jamaican cuisine); and, ah yes, that dead crab she stumbled upon in her suitcase earlier today. “I screamed so loud!” she exclaims, flipping her dirty-blond hair, dismissing the incident as if it’s normal.
And so life goes in this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants way for the Bergmans. The creative-minded duo, who grew up in Chicago, now live in New York City and perform as buzzing musical act Wild Belle—she sings, he plays—travel the globe without batting a lash, bring a fully finished album to record labels and say, “Take it or leave it,” and, as Natalie says, do whatever they please. Last year this included signing a record deal with Columbia on the strength of wispy, undeniably catchy tunes that recall rocksteady reggae, ’60s doo-wop and, according to Elliot, blur “a line between being modern and relevant with sounds you would hear on an older record.” This month brings their debut LP, Isles. And, after they earned rave reviews at last year’s South by Southwest Music Festival, many in the music world are anxiously awaiting its arrival.
But the Bergmans are home now, in Chicago, where they were raised by their music-loving family, sang together in church, learned they had a shared music vocabulary and decided to team up in late 2011 for a fully “self-realized” musical project that became Wild Belle. Pinning them down though is a trickier proposition: He’s toured for the past decade—both with his Afrobeat group, Nomo, and later the hot indie crew Iron and Wine; she attended college in Boston, dropped out and moved to New York City to soak up its creative vibe. “This feels like home though,” Elliot assures us. “But I’m sleeping on a half-deflated aero-bed in my sister’s [the highly successful fashion designer, Elise] Bucktown apartment. It’s so nomadic.”