Eight years – what once seemed like a long span – separate saxophonist-keyboardist Elliot Bergman and his dulcet-toned singing kid sister Natalie. After studying jazz, composition and African drumming in college, Chicago-based Elliot, 31, formed an Afrobeat combo called Nomo, while Natalie, now 23, gradually mastered recording her quirky folk songs on computer via GarageBand. “It was just a matter of the time being right, a matter of time before we had enough common ground between us to collaborate in a way that felt productive,” says Elliot, who finally teamed with Natalie for Wild Belle. The brilliant little dub-pop duo, after sparking a Columbia-won bidding war, recently released a self-titled EP with ageless, reggae-spiced songs like “Backslider” and “Keep You. ” An album called “Isles” is slated for spring.
You actually studied gamelan in school?
At the University of Michigan, they had a whole gamelan ensemble, so you just sign up for it. Then you go into this weird secret chamber in the basement that you would never know about otherwise, and there’s a whole gamelan orchestra with all these beautiful bronze gongs.
What did you learn from it?
Just to understand the nature of repeating patterns. It’s not like Western orchestral music – it’s more like 20 people doing this repeating pattern and shifting within that. It’s very hypnotic and beautiful, a completely different aesthetic.
Did you apply this to Wild Belle?
It definitely influenced my approach to making sound and trying to have a richness in the music. Sometimes you have to dig deeper and reach further to come up with textures that evoke an emotion you’re trying to capture, or that put you in a place that’s a little more unfamiliar or challenging to the listener.
Kalimba figures into your sound, too. But you make your own brand of kalimba now?
For about 10 years now. I had one initially, but it was too expensive to keep buying kalimbas. But my first job was in a machine shop, so I had metalworking skills. So I figured out the soldering techniques and started making them, and then it just turned into this little side business. I could always crank out a few kalimbas to make rent.
And Paul Simon himself coveted your kalimbas?
His assistant had seen my instruments at a shop, and she bought one and brought it into work and showed him, and he was excited about it. And when I went to his office, his bass player was there to check them all out, and he was just shredding on these kalimbas. So I haven’t met Paul Simon yet – just his people.