Wild Belle discuss sound development and rocking the electric kalimba

Wild_Belle2Photos by Eldon Christenson // Written by Molly Kish //

I found myself standing outside The Independent trying to figure out why I felt so odd. It was a pretty typical evening, waiting to enter the venue I frequent most often, in a neighborhood filled with friends and familiar faces.

Peering at the line that was growing in size and audible volume, I noticed there was a staggering amount of females in attendance. In fact, more women than I have ever seen in one line, entering any establishment, in my entire 10 years of living in the Bay Area. Dressed to the nines and emulating the headlining act’s fashionista frontwoman Natalie Bergman, the crowd was a sea of giddy females ready to get their Wild Belle groove on. All the male counterparts seemed like an accessory, getting drowned out by the sea of estrogen.

Waiting to interview the creative duo behind Wild Belle outside the venue, I caught a glimpse of Ms. Bergman floating through the crowd. Nearly camouflaged by the abundance of doppelgangers in attendance, she remained amusingly unnoticed as she hopped in line with her crew. The self-consumed throng of fans remained completely unaware of her presence until she discreetly meandered her way to the front of the line. Even the bouncers questioned her authenticity amongst the crowd! After her failed attempt to convince the flustered male door staff to allow her guests to enter with her, she summoned her manager to come out and personally escorted both myself and her party through the door. Humbling her detractors while flashing her provocatively coy smile, we followed Natalie inside.

We were all brought backstage, where you could literally hear the band’s excitement emanating from their dressing room. The artist area was filled with uproarious laughter, enthusiastic cheering and green room banter — final set picks and details for the evening were being solidified.

As opening act Saint Rich were wrapping up their set, Natalie emerged with her brother and bandmate Elliot, vocally expressing his confusion with how early of a call time they had for that evening’s performance and apologizing for their tardiness. Natalie and Elliot Bergman joined us for a conversation before their first headlining set at The Independent in San Francisco, flashing their impeccably sunny disposition with cocktails in hand.



Showbams: Last year we were able to catch you at Treasure Island Music Festival and Mezzanine, have you ever played The Independent before?

Natalie: This is actually our second time performing here, but our first time headlining. So it’s really exciting for us!

Elliot: It’s a great room to play and the feeling, the vibes are really great in here.

Showbams: I know that you’re brother and sister and come from a very musically inclined family of four. Both of your parents were also musicians, what kind of background did they have?

Natalie: My dad grew up with a lot of classical music. His mom was always playing that and gospel on the piano. Same with my mom, they both grew up in the church so there was lots of choral music. My mom was also really rooted in jazz, which she got both of us interested in at a young age, and we picked up piano from her.


Showbams: You guys also played together before Wild Belle. Elliot, you had something in college, a sort of Afrobeat band that you were toying around with, which is when you Natalie came in on vocals. Was playing together in a group something you always wanted to do or a fate that naturally transpired?

Elliot: Yeah, it just kind of came together. I was in the studio working on some stuff and Natalie kept bringing in these songs, saying “hey check this out.” So we sort of started trading ideas, saying, “Oh, what about this? What if you wrote lyrics for this …” and that was kind of all how it came together. It was just kind of a natural evolution of us experimenting together in the studio.

Natalie: I think, we started recording demos at our friend’s studio in Benton Harbor called Key Club. We had a bunch of demos we were weeding through, and then once we developed an actual sound, we were excited about it. We recorded “Keep You”, which is one of our first tracks we documented and we were just excited. Then, we booked a show and we called ourselves The Runes, like the rune stones, and played a set with our songs, which was kind of the first little seed we planted with this band, and it just developed and bloomed from there.


Showbams: Your debut album dropped in March of 2013 and you released singles leading up to it, garnishing a lot of traction showed by the following you currently have. It’s titled Isles and is said to be in reference to each track resembling its own distinct culture and sound. What drew you in about island music and made you want to incorporate such an influence into the songwriting of Wild Belle?

Natalie: Well, yes, we love island music. We love rock steady, ska and early Jamaican music. There is a whole tropical sound that we’re drawn to. We like Tropicalia from Brazil, we like Highlife from Africa and that’s just been in our book growing up. Our mother taught us about some cool African musicians, and we all just sort of branched off from there. It’s definitely in our repertoire, but making the record, we definitely weren’t thinking it was going to be island-oriented. We were just kind of like, “Alright, let’s make a rock ‘n’ roll record!” Yes, there were some reggae influences, but just as much as there was reggae, there’s also lots of soul and Motown and rock and blues and so on.


Showbams: Included in said sound, you guys have something really unique in your band that Elliot personally came up with called the electric kalimba. Where did this idea sprout from, and how did it come to fruition?

Elliot: That was just something that … I think maybe my mom bought me my first one as a little toy thumb piano type thing, which I was always kind of kicking around the house. But then as I got a little older, I started realizing that you could electrify it and put it through effects pedals and play with it. It could sound like an electric guitar or steel drums or orchestral chimes or …

Natalie: Frogs, crickets, tigers (laughs).

Elliot: It’s a very pure sound that can be manipulated in a lot of different ways. It can even sound like a pipe organ if you want. It’s just kind of a fun way to approach making a record, you build some instruments and figure out what they sound like and where you can fit those sounds. It’s not like plugging in a drum machine and pressing play. It’s something that’s weird and broken and has different overtones than any other instrument. So, it can lend a bit of a distinct sound and is a little bit of a chance procedure, but usually yields some interesting results.

Showbams: It’s been quite a whirlwind of a past year for you, with your rigorous tour schedule where you hit tons of festivals, had a Daytrotter session, filmed numerous videos and have received tons of accolades along the way. What’s next on the agenda for Wild Belle?

Elliot: We have to make a new record! It’s funny, we really didn’t know what this would be when we started making the music at first. Now, the more we work, the more we become clearly defined, know what we want to do and the easier it is to execute things. We’re just excited to get back into the studio. To keep writing music, looking for sounds and continuing to make new things happen. I think we have another four or five weeks on the road, and then we’re planning on maybe taking a week where we don’t have to do anything. Just relax, maybe have some time to sleep and then start working on the new record. We’ll see you guys again real soon, though. This has always been one of our favorite places to play and any time we can, we’re very happy to be here.



  1. I felt like a nervous school girl while trying to talk to the stud muffin siblings @petemauch, Their charm was near blind sighting.

  2. Damn She is Sexy……..and can sing..

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