Natalie Bergman has had her picture taken on countless occasions -- hundreds of studio portraits and live shots and backstage festival snaps. But the simple, gorgeous black & white photo of Bergman on the cover of Wild Belle's Dreamland that she describes as "just me and this sort of abyss" That one was lensed by the person who best knows how to capture her essence on celluloid: Her older brother and bandmate, Elliot Bergman. Besides being Wild Belle's multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, Elliot has an equally impressive flair for visual arts, from painting and sculpture to bronzemaking and photography. An avid collector of vintage cameras, Elliot brought along a recently acquired Polaroid Land Camera to a show Wild Belle played in Denver this summer: The duo grabbed a quick moment at their hotel to take the portraits of each other that grace the front and back of their new record. "The pictures Elliot takes of me are always really beautiful and it's because he knows me better than anyone else on this Earth," says Natalie. Adds Elliot: "I like that it's a photo of Natalie just being Natalie. And the stark contrast of her in the foreground with the dark background really fit with these collages she has been doing. Natalie is in the light but the shadows are pretty heavy and you can't really tell where she is or what's back there."
Recorded at studios in their native Chicago, Natalie's new home of Los Angeles, Nashville and Toronto, Dreamland -- Wild Belle's bold, evolutionary new album -- derives from an era in the singer's life when she was struggling to get control of what she describes as the "anger and deep sorrow" that plagued her at the end of her most recent romantic relationship. For a woman whose music has always been inspired by her desire to translate her complicated feelings into immediately relatable songs, there was certainly plenty of grist for the mill. Dreamland tracks such as "Losing You" and "It Was You (Baby Come Back)" offer glimpses of the darkness that Natalie battled during the early months writing for the duo's sophomore full-length. But there are also genuine moments of lightness and ecstatic triumph, like "Giving Up On You" -- an irresistibly kinetic, punk number Wild Belle recorded with TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek producing.
"I was very heated when we were making this record. My body, my heart and my soul were filled with a flame, which sounds very dramatic but it's the truth," says Natalie. "I had a healing moment when I moved to LA earlier this year, because I was far away from my ex and I felt like I was getting rid of a lot of baggage. That was the redemptive, triumphant time for my lyrics. On 'Giving Up On You,' I sing: 'Now I smile so bright, you can see me from outer space, look at me shine. Baby it's about time, I was so miserable and now I feel so alive.' All the songs I wrote near the end of making the album have that sentiment: 'Now look at where I am, after all the turmoil that was inside of me, I'm here and I'm happy and I'm ready for whatever comes my way.'"
The follow-up to 2013's Isles, Dreamland expands the band's ambitions in every way. "It's deeper, it's more fun, it's more haunting, it's got more grooves," Elliot says. "There's sorrow and pain but there's also hope and joy -- all those things can coexist in the songs because they coexist in life." He continues: "Dreamland, that's not some kind of idealized notion of where we live and I hope people hear that as a question: "What is the Dreamland What is our dream here" The album doesn't get overtly political, but we're dealing with a lot of the things that are dark about what's happening now. 'Throw Down Your Guns' is about a relationship but is also kind of about the messed up situation that we're in right now. The chorus, 'Throw down your guns / In the name of love, I put my hands up,' to me can be heard in a number of ways, including as a prayer for peace or a cry out against violence."
Importantly, the album also shares its name with one of the first songs Natalie remembers Elliot introducing her to: Bunny Wailer's 1970 reggae classic, "Dreamland." One year for Christmas, he gave her a compilation of female artists who recorded at Jamaica's legendary Studio One, and it included Della Humphrey's version of the song. Natalie listened to it over and over and over again. "I was so in love with it," she says. "From there, I started my exploration of rocksteady and ska and lovers rock and anything that had to do with Jamaican music from the Fifties onward."
The duo started writing music together several years ago, after Elliot took a sixteen year-old Natalie on tour to play percussion with his acclaimed Afrobeat ensemble, NOMO. "I can present a song to Elliot and he has this foresight -- he can see things further than I see them, and he helps me realize things," she says. "I'd been writing very simple melodic love songs since I was fifteen years old. I definitely have a pop sensibility in my style, and that's a great platform for Elliot to work from, because it's fun for him to have a cool little pop song and combine it with more eccentric sounds and make it into a weird, unique percussive jam. Sometimes he'll bring the jam to me and because we've got this routine together, we can write a song together wherever we are."
Work on the album began in early 2014, in Chicago. The song that opens Dreamland -- "Mississippi River" -- was also the first one to come together in the studio. It was sparked by a moment of musical serendipity: "The record starts with this pulsing ARP drone," says Elliot, "which is a very expensive esoteric nerdy synthesizer that's complicated to program. Natalie and I had this weird, symbiotic thing where I was playing three chords off the ARP and she started playing different three chords on this out-of-tune autoharp she brought over. They were both completely in the wrong key, and yet perfectly in tune with each other. That was like the new bar for the record. It was like, 'Yeah, we're going to put synthesizers and saxophone and kalimbas on these songs, and we're going to have lavish string arrangements if we want to. We were getting comfortable with all of the materials that we love, and being like, 'I love this, so let's do it."
They tracked several songs at home in Chicago last year, and then at the start of 2015, Natalie packed all of her belongings into the Wild Belle van and drove from Chicago to Venice, California. She rented a house where Elliot joined her a couple weeks later. "When I had my place in Venice, Elliot would wake up earlier than I would and start making dope beats," says Natalie. "One day he made this ridiculous song, 'The One That Got Away,' and the beat and underlying track were so exciting that it didn't take very long to write. Our friends came over and were jumping on the tabletops, dancing, getting naked because they loved the song so much."
"Playing the new songs at Lollapalooza for the first time with an eight-piece band," says Elliot, "I had a feeling onstage that I'd never had before with Wild Belle, where you're part of a sound that's much bigger than you could make on your own. It's this charged-up badass feeling. It's about a groove and rhythmic energy and force and momentum and making a big, dark, deep sound -- something that moves people and makes you want to dance and makes you want to shout. It's tapping into a deeper musicality that I've always been looking for."
Introducing singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and native New Yorker Gabriel Garzón-Montano. Born to a Colombian father and a French mother, Gabriel spent his early years mastering the violin, guitar, and drums, before turning to the piano and bass guitar to better complete his compositions. By the time he graduated from Purchase College's Conservatory of Music, the foundations for his debut EP, Bishouné: Alma del Huila, were already laid.
A heartfelt tribute to the role of family, love, and the City's unavoidable lifestyle, Bishouné: Alma del Huila collects six songs performed and recorded at Henry Hirsch's famed Waterfront Studios. Renovated from an old church, Henry's home provided Gabriel with the right tools and environs needed to realize his demos to the songs included on this EP.
Every clap, breath, harmony, and note was performed by Gabriel direct to 2" tape through a Helios console in real time. Aside from a dip into Pro Tools to loop the 25 overdubs that build the claps & stomps of "6 8" and drum programming on "Me Alone" and "Pour Maman", computers had little place in Gabriel's world. Not to imply Bishouné is a product of vintage fetishism; rather, the songs are a humble and urgent bout of self-expression guided by the natural limitations of a solo performer.
Gabriel's compositions revel in such unabashed personhood. "Everything Is Everything" captures the carefree nature of young summers in stark contrast to the inevitable maturity and subservience to life's rat race in "Keep On Running". Those thick grooves give way to slinky, bittersweet ballads and psychotropic-addled burners in "Naeja" and "Me Alone", the latter decorated with tongue-in-cheek lyricism.
For singer-songwriter Nick Hakim, it all started in a house in Jamaica Plains, MA with collaborators Naima and Solo Woods. There, he put the finishing touches on his breakthrough EPs, Where Will We Go, Pt. I & II, which would later release through his Earseed Records and earn critical praise from NPR and The New York Times. But it was where the sessions for the two-part project ended and the ideas began to materialize for what would become his full-length debut, Green Twins (releasing via ATO Records in 2017), an experimental step forward with emotional heft gleaned from his experiences in the years since.
The story of Green Twins truly began when, armed with the masters for his EPs, Hakim moved from Boston to Brooklyn, spending his time fleshing out unfinished ideas in his bedroom. He came up with lyrics on the spot while playing the live circuit at solo shows including Palisades and NYXO, recording sketches and lyrics on voice memos and a four-track cassette recorder, and embracing the local community of musicians by performing with bands like Jesse and Forever and Onyx Collective. From there, Green Twins came about as a sum of its parts: Hakim took the demo recordings to studios in New York City, Philadelphia and London, and built on them with engineers including Andrew Sarlo (bass, engineering, production), keeping the original essence of the songs intact. Sarlo notes that “for other artists, a demo serves as a potential shape the song could form into. But for Nick, demos are more like creating a temple: a sanctuary that now we have to go into and somehow clean, furnish, and get ready for other people to experience the sermon in.”
“I put a lot of thought to the things I’d say, but a lot of it is what I was thinking in the moment, very specific songs,” he says of Green Twins, “many of them are like self-portraits”. The record draws from influences spanning Robert Wyatt, Marvin Gaye and Shuggie Otis to Portishead and My Bloody Valentine. “I also felt the need to push my creativity in a different way than I had on the EPs”, he continues. “We wanted to imagine what it would have sounded like if RZA had produced a Portishead album. We experimented with engineering techniques from Phil Spector and Al Green’s Back Up Train, drum programming from RZA and Outkast, and were listening to a lot of The Impressions, John Lennon, Wu-Tang, Madlib, and Screaming Jay Hawkins.”
“Bet She Looks Like You,” recorded mostly in his home bedroom, was one of the first songs that “started this fire for exploring this experiment through song.” Each track peels back a particular aspect of his life: on the title song, he gets deeply personal, reflecting on a recurring dream. “All these things reflect how I feel, how I write,” he says. “I sometimes have trouble articulating myself verbally. This is a place I can talk and be myself, with music, this intangible space I create.”
Hakim’s debut comes as the culmination of years chiseling his skills as a musician. Hailing from Washington, D.C., he grew up in a musical household—his older brother introduced him to bands like Bad Brains and Nirvana, and his parents exposed him to Nueva canción—while he set out on his own to discover the DC music scene. He didn’t take an interest in learning an instrument until later in high school, when he taught himself to play the keys. After graduation, he moved to Boston to continue his study of music. In the time since moving to Brooklyn and setting to work for three years on Green Twins, he embraced the live circuit, both as a solo musician and with his band, whom he’s brought together from within his community in Boston and New York.
With Green Twins, Hakim plans to tour through the beginning of the year, and hopes that folks will connect with the songs he’d written. “I think everybody feels insecure about certain things and everybody has lost people dear to them. I think I’m writing about common things that people feel,” he says. “I’m very grateful for anybody that’s listening or wants to be a part of my little world that I’ve created through song.”
Serving Up Science: The Dish on Food
Theme Overview: Serving Up Science: The Dish on Food
If we are what we eat, then we are everything – besides taste and nutrition, our meals tell stories of lifestyle, culture, and surprising science. This year’s “First Fridays” explores food from our insides out. How has food changed us: our bodies and our digestion – from the feast-or-famine menus of our ancient paleo-diet relatives, to today’s processed snack culture? And how have we changed food: from the earliest cultivated grains to food production on a massive scale – and at the opposite end, the boutique appeal of locavore foods? Is access to food a given? Can our diversifying tastes support a sustainable environment? It’s a very local topic, after all: California is the market basket of the nation, and Los Angeles shapes global tastes with its ethnic influences and ethical considerations. Let “First Fridays” put five courses on the table, sampling food evolution and the science behind it. Bring your appetites for knowledge!
Moderator Bio: Patt Morrison
Patt Morrison is a Los Angeles writer and newspaper columnist who has a share of two Pulitzer Prizes. She has won six Emmys and eleven Golden Mike awards for her work hosting public television and radio programs. She also hosted the nationally syndicated television program “The Book Show with Patt Morrison,” and her seminal nonfiction book “Rio LA, Tales from the Los Angeles River” was a best-seller. Her writing appears in both fiction and nonfiction anthologies. And Pink’s, the legendary Hollywood hot dog stand, named its vegetarian hot dog “The Patt Morrison Baja Veggie Dog” in her honor.
TOUR: 5:00pm, 5:30pm, 6:00pm- “Food for Thought” with Jessie Jennewein, Gallery Interpreter
The food on our plate evolves as technology advances, alternative diets are sought, and the climate changes. Join us on a special tour and discover the connections between food and natural history. Feast your eyes on NHM’s artifacts and specimens through the lens of culture and technology.
DISCUSSION: 6:30pm- “Your Plate & Your Gut” with Elaine Y. Hsiao, Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology at UCLA, Craig Stanford, Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at USC AND Research Associate at Herpetology at NHM and description Mark Schatzker, award winning journalist and author of The Dorrito Effect and Steak
DESCRIPTION: There’s the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, and your canal – your alimentary canal, about 30 feet of hard-working innards, from taste buds to, yes, toilet. What goes on in there? If you swapped menus with a caveman, how different would the meals and the digestive processes be? How have our changing food patterns – from wild game on the hoof to processed food on the shelf – changed human food biology? Join us for First Fridays for a scientific look at your plate and your palate as you’ve never seen them before!
Speaker Bio: Elaine Y. Hsiao, Ph.D.
Elaine Hsiao is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology at UCLA, where she is interested in all things microbial, neural and immune. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at UCLA, which sparked her love for molecular biology and bacteria. She went on to complete her doctorate in Neurobiology at Caltech, where she studied the neurobiological bases of autism and schizophrenia, with a focus on maternal effects on fetal development, and neuroimmune and microbial contributions to behavioral disorders. Her work in these areas has led to several honors, including the National Institutes of Health Director’s Early Independence Award, distinction as Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Science and Healthcare, National Geographic’s Emerging Explorer Award and fellowships from the National Institute of Mental Health and Autism Speaks. Inspired by the amazing and complex interactions between body systems, the Hsiao laboratory is investigating how changes in the immune system and resident microbiota impact the nervous system.
Speaker Bio: Craig Stanford
Dr. Craig Stanford is renowned authority on great ape behavior and human origins. He is Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at USC, and Research Associate in Herpetology here at NHM. He has conducted field studies of primates and other endangered animals in South and Southeast Asia and East Africa, and is best known for his ground-breaking work on the hunting behavior of wild chimpanzees, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jane Goodall. He also conducted long term research on mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. His research has been supported by numerous grants from the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, Leakey Foundation, and the National Geographic Society, among others. Dr. Stanford is the author of more than 150 scientific publications and 16 books, including the recent books Planet Without Apes and the forthcoming The New Chimpanzee. He lectures widely on human evolution and wildlife conservation.
Speaker Bio: Mark Schatzker
Mark Schatzker is the author of The Dorito Effect and Steak. His award-winning journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler and Best American Travel Writing. He is a field reporter for The Dr. Oz Show as well as a radio columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He lives in Toronto with his wife and three children.