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Local Q&A: Wild Belle

Things have happened quickly for Wild Belle.

Brother-sister duo Natalie and Elliot Bergman, who have made music off and on since now-23-year-old Natalie was a teenager, started recording under the name Wild Belle only last year. Since then, the band has performed a buzzed-about set at the SXSW Music Conference in Austin, been the subject of a major-label bidding war that landed them a three-album deal with Columbia Records and, most recently, made their network TV debut on "Conan." On the show the group eased through the breezy, reggae-flavored "It's Too Late" from their forthcoming debut "Isles," which is due out in March.

By phone from San Francisco, Bucktown resident Natalie Bergman opened up about meeting Conan O'Brien, the record she throws on to nurse a broken heart and one thing she hopes to find under the Christmas tree this year.

On "It's Too Late" you sing about not needing a lot of fancy toys. With Christmas around the corner, does that make gift shopping more difficult for the people close to you?

[Laughs] No. That's a funny question. Sometimes I like fancy toys. I have been into fur lately, but not, like, expensive furs—used fur jackets. Even though I do love animals!

In videos and on stage, you always seem so composed and sophisticated. Is that how you carry yourself in your day-to-day life, or are you secretly a goofball?

Well, thank you for saying that. I hope I'm composed. This morning I was kind of a mess because we had to wake up so early. We had a big day yesterday. We played on "Conan," which was fantastic. It was our first U.S. TV appearance, and it was just so cool.

Did Conan have anything to say to you off-camera?

He's so funny! He's crazy tall. I didn't know he was so tall. I shook his hand, and he was handsome in person. I never thought I was attracted to Conan, but I saw him and was like, "That guy is kind of attractive."

It sounds like you grew up in an intensely musical family.

Definitely. I spent some time with my family over Thanksgiving. We played a lot of music together. My sister and her husband play bluegrass music, and they busted out an upright bass and we had folk jams, which was kind of amazing.

Did your parents have to resist the urge to pack you all in a van and hit the road as a traveling family band when you were kids?

You know, I don't think they were ever planning on being a traveling family band, but since Elliot and I have been touring so much, [our dad] was kind of inspired to take his family on tour. He just organized this whole trip where we started in San Francisco and went to Yosemite and then through Death Valley and we ended at the Grand Canyon. It was a fun family run.

Does being in a band with your brother make it harder to write those bruised love songs?

That's a good question. I don't think so, because when I write I do it independently and I'll be in my room, where I don't have any distraction. I don't know if I've always been comfortable singing all of my lyrics around my family. When I was younger and just started writing music I was like, "All right, these are love songs. I don't know how personal I can get." But at this point I like to express myself and say what I feel.

Why are you so drawn to that sound?

I've had my heart broken before, and it's very easy for me to fall in love. It's also easy for me to get out of it. I don't allow myself to get hurt very often, but I have been broken by men before, and that's what I need to sing about. There are plenty of other things that hurt my soul. Losing people you love--not only a lover, but a family member. I think that kind of sorrow is compelling to me.

What record do you throw on to nurse a broken heart?

Al Green. Al Green sounds like he has a broken heart in his music, and it sounds so good and real. Today we got in the van really early and I was like, "I'm going to put on 'How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?'" That was the first song I put on this morning, and I think I'm going to put it on again as soon as we hang up.

Wild Belle, 6:30 p.m. Sun. Dec. 9 at Metro. $23.

Natalie Bergman personality test
What's the last album you bought? "Lee 'Scratch' Perry was the last record I bought."
Song you've listened to on repeat recently? "How about 'Caution' by Bob Marley?"
Song you never want to hear again? "Oh, I know! That [bleeping] Gotye song ('Somebody That I Used to Know')."
Best concert you've seen in the last year? "I have to give you two. Alabama Shakes and Michael Kiwanuka. That dude is from London, and I love him and love his band so much. We went on tour with them in France a few weeks ago, and their music is so good and so soulful."
New band you don't know personally that deserves to be big? "Can I just say Michael Kiwanuka for that one, too? I think everybody should own his record."
Favorite movie ever? "Hmm. I really love 'The Virgin Suicides.' "
Chicago's best music venue? "Wow, man. That's tricky. I love Schubas and I love the Hideout. So can I just say both of those places?"

 

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