Dennis: Good evening Jillian and Nathaniel! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today! So, let’s dig in here, shall we? Where did each of your journeys begin?
Nathaniel: I started singing playing guitar w/ harmonica at the age of 13. I would play along with tracks from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, DMB, and the Grateful Dead.
Jillian: When I was seven years old, my music teacher pulled me aside and said that he wanted me to sing ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles, I was completely horrified and told him that he had the wrong person, but then he insisted that I was the one he wanted to sing it. So eventually, I obliged. I’d like to say that, as rocky as it was at the start, it was what got me going.
Dennis: Nice! It all has to start somewhere, right? Do you each have musically inclined parents?
Nathaniel: No one in my family played music. My dad was really into high fidelity audio and Pink Floyd. Right around the same time I started playing guitar, my brother picked it up as well. That’s about it!
Jillian: My mom was always singing to me growing up and my dad was the best DJ ever. I grew up listening to the classics which inspired me.
Dennis: When did each of you realize you wanted to pursue a music career?
Nathaniel: My first real experience at putting on a concert was selling out a coffeehouse (higher grounds SB, IN) in high school and I thought to myself, this is something that definitely comes very natural to me and even though it was a wild show, it felt right. Music had a hold on me from that point on.
Jillian: I remember singing in high school and dreaming that I could sing and perform when I grew up. I think the particular moment I knew I wanted to do this forever was getting off the stage when I was 15 years old and feeling the rush after the performance. I was like, ‘yeah I want to do this forever!’.
Dennis: Did you each have a supportive family growing up?
Nathaniel: Yeah, my parents were into it. My pops would always encourage me to develop and widen my repertoire.
Jillian: Growing up, my mom and dad always pushed me to perform and I thank them for that because, had I not had that nudge early on, I would never have overcome my stage fright and become the person I am today.
Dennis: That is great to hear… we all need encouragement. How about music lessons, did either of take lessons?
Nathaniel: Yes. I took guitar and voice lessons at a very young age – about 14-15. Then later on I studied guitar and piano classically in college. I really enjoyed diving deep into the instruments.
Jillian: When I was 15 years old, I took vocal lessons from a lady who sang at church. I only took a few lessons from her because she was teaching in a classical style and I wanted to sing pop music. But things really got serious for me when I went to college. When I was a Senior, I took lessons from an incredible opera singer who had performed numerous times at Carnegie Hall, she really expanded my range and that changed everything for me.
Dennis: What instruments have you learned to play?
Nathaniel: Voice, guitar, piano, harmonica, and bass.
Jillian: Voice, cajon, percussive elements and I dabble on the guitar and ukulele.
Dennis: You each met in 2003, had you (kind of) known each other beforehand or met as total strangers?
Nathaniel: We had known about each other because we ran in similar circles in high school. We were both Division One athletes and dedicated musicians, so we’d be coming out of the school at about 6:00 usually. It was a pretty small world that we operated in and when we finally met, it all clicked.
Dennis: Was there any discussion needed when crafting your sound?
Jillian: There were many moments where we had to intentionally merge our visions. I come from a singer-songwriter, Motown, pop driven background and Nathaniel comes from more of a rock ‘n’ roll jam band background. So, over the years, we really have come to understand our strengths and weaknesses and have spent lots of time communicating and blending out our visions.
Dennis: What was going on from 2003-2009 and then 2009-2012 when you won the Battle of the bands?
Jillian: 2003-2009: We were mostly just doing a bunch of self recorded and produced EPs and demos during that time period. Playing shows here and there, but mostly just working on demos and peddling those at underground shows. 2009-2012: We really began to focus on touring and stepping away from the studio during that time period. That allowed us to grow our fanbase exponentially and ultimately allowed us to win the Bud Light battle of the bands in 2012.
Dennis: Is there a conscious effort to write uplifting songs?
Nathaniel: Bergamot is an oil that is used to induce happiness and relieve stress and is also used in Wicca to expel bad spirits. I think right from the get go, we were inspired to write fairly uplifting songs inspired mostly by the Beatles’ early work.
Dennis: How do you both approach songwriting? Together? Separately?
Jillian: I started songwriting when I was 11 years old. I would come up with a melody and then the words would pour out. Songwriting is cathartic and a magical experience for me. It is a lifelong journey of vulnerability and sharing. Nathaniel has always really been into the writing process, analyzing music, and it has always come very naturally for him. We have spent a lot of time co-writing in the past, but this upcoming release Nathaniel wrote the entire record as a love letter to me and this has allowed the songwriting to have a much more concise approach and perspective.
Dennis: Do you write lyrics first and then music or vice versa?
Nathaniel: A mix really. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a lyric and no melody. Sometimes a melody and no lyric. And magically, together in rare instances. I really like to labor over a song and refine it until I feel like it’s ready to be performed.
Jillian: I write the melody first then the lyrics.
Dennis: If you could sum up the band in one sentence on why people should listen to the Bergamot, what would it be?
Nathaniel: It is uplifting and meaningful music, created by two high school sweethearts, that captures the journey and intimacy of love, crafted from the experiences we have had traveling across this vast country.
Dennis: Well put! How has your relationship enhanced the band and the brand?
Nathaniel: Communication is vital. Patience is key. Hard work is assumed. I think our band and our brand simply shows the value of hard work. Night after night. The American Dream is alive but not well, it is a dark time, but if you are willing to put everything on the line and believe in the goodness of the humanity, you can achieve great things. I always use the lyric from “Forget About Tomorrow” – I am not the best, but I face it. I hope people reading this can face their own fears, and achieve the dreams they have as well. Talent is only the beginning.
Dennis: How does it feel to get such acclaim from BuzzFeed, Paste, People magazine and more?
Nathaniel: It is a great conversation starter, for sure. I think it is the result of a lot of really long hours of practice and touring and a good amount of time wandering around finding ourselves. It feels good to get noticed for what you do.
Dennis: How do you feel we, as a society, can achieve full unity? Is it possible for us to let go of hate? Where does it begin?
Jillian: It begins within *One Mile* of where you live. After our 50 state journey in 2016, Nathaniel wrote a song called *One Mile* and it really dives into the fact that no matter how global minded we may be as a society, everything that truly affects us starts within our own community. If we can start there, and achieve unity even within our own neighborhoods, or streets, that is fertile ground to go to a larger base, such as a city. But it all seems to start with being involved with your neighbors and the people who are around you. It doesn’t matter how many times you post on social media, if you still don’t help your neighbor then we can never progress as a society.
Dennis: Tell me about your documentary?
Nathaniel: We have an amazing team out of Cleveland, OH that is helping us to pull together one of the biggest projects of our entire lives. In 2016, we went to all 50 states and wrote a series of songs that became the backbone for the documentary. The documentary deals with many issues such as a complicated 2016 election year, two high school sweethearts pursuing their dreams together, a love story, a journey, the indie music industry, and many other aspects of life as a millennial pursuing a life in the arts. It’s quite multi-dimensional really. On top of all that, we hope to live score some of the premieres of the film as well.
Dennis: Eating healthy on the road, what would you say are the top three (best) foods to eat while touring?
Jillian: Cucumbers, avocados, and Olive Garden Unlimited Salad (yes, really…) or Whole Foods hot bar.
Dennis: How did RockBand come about for you?
Nathaniel: This all came about through a partnership with ReverbNation and the Firefly Music Festival out east. We had always dreamed growing up in the mid-west and playing a fare share of video games of actually “being” in a video game, but had no idea that it would be as cool as that feature was.
Jillian: The feature was in relation to up-and-coming bands coming out of the East Coast and our involvement in the NYC music scene.
Dennis: Very cool, I am so happy that you were able to be a part of it too! Of your albums, how would you say your sound has evolved from album to album?
Nathaniel: Yes, it has developed drastically over the years. I think that’s what experiences do to you as an artist. You just find different ways of saying things that you really want to say. That applies to both the lyrics and the music.
Dennis: Have you incorporated any kind of marketing strategies with the releases of the albums?
Nathaniel: Our biggest gamble to date is this documentary we have coming out in the spring of 2019. I think it is important as an indie band to tell your story and I think the medium of movies is perfect.
Dennis: How involved are each of you with social networking? Has it helped your career in any way?
Nathaniel: I think we both have had involvement in social media, Jillian having a more direct role where mine tends to be a little bit indirect and behind the scenes with graphic design and other elements.
Jillian: Look, having a great social media presence is not going to solve every problem you will face is an indie band, but it is definitely not something you want to drop the ball on. It’s right there for the taking – so make the best of it! Don’t let it hold you back.
Dennis: How do each of you feel about people using cell phones to film you during live performances?
Jillian: I think that is an etiquette issue regarding more of the fans’ outlook and perspective. It doesn’t seem to bother us on stage, because typically spotlights blind you from seeing most of the crowd. If it is a distraction to the people around you, then you have to be considerate of those people. I think you get into trouble when people just film shows regardless of the people around them. I personally believe that the in person experience will never actually be captured by cell phone. So why try? But I understand people want to share the experience, can’t stop you there.
Dennis: I have been guilty of filming a tune or two (myself) and (for me), my motivation to film has always been to capture that moment shared between artist and fan. For sure it can never ‘fully’ capture the experience, but it is always nice to refresh your memory on how wonderful of an experience it was. Do each of you have any fun live experiences you’d like to share?
Nathaniel: Gosh, I remember playing to backing tracks on a beach in Indiana and just thinking it was amazing. I was literally just thinking about this the other night and laughing about how far we have come.
Dennis: You’re due back here in Chicago for a show on August 10th, I know you played the Taste of Chicago once before and were recently at Schubas, if I recall correctly, but how often have you played Chicago?
Nathaniel: Coming out of Northwest Indiana obviously our first experience in a major market was Chicago. I traveled to Chicago when I was 13 and always dreamed of playing larger venues in the city. So there is always a special place in our heart when we get a make it back to Chicago.
Dennis: What do you look forward to most when performing here in Chicago?
Jillian: Seeing familiar faces, friends, and loved ones. Catching up with friends like Chicago Music Guide AND Sultans Market and Intelligentsia Broadway BTW… :-)
Dennis: Awww, thank you very much! Yes, we’re looking forward to your return here too! What are some music tips that you might have to share for younger artists?
Jillian: Don’t be afraid to work hard. And then wake up the next morning and work even harder. Nothing is certain, but hard work will teach you the most important lessons of your life. Don’t let your work ethic be the thing that holds you back.
Dennis: How about any ‘word to the wise’ tips on the music industry itself, any lessons learned the hard way or has everything always gone smoothly for you?
Jillian: Surely it has not always gone well for us. We have always believed in the concept of failing forwards. We have made countless mistakes along the way, and still are, but the only thing that matters today is that we have not given up. Even though you get accolades and you may achieve some cool things, you still have to reevaluate your life daily. It will not be perfect or linear. Mistakes AND achievements with time will be forgotten, but if you give up, all is lost.
Dennis: What are some non-music related interests that you each have (besides each other, of course)? :-)
Dennis: Very nice! What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
Jillian: This entire year is basically dedicated to finishing the album that we recorded in London in the spring with Producer Matt Wiggins, getting ready for the release of our documentary, touring, always writing, and taking care of each other. Trying to stay healthy too!
Dennis: What are some long term goals that you each hope to see the band accomplish?
Jillian: First we would LOVE to sell out Schuba’s on August 10th. We both believe in dreaming big, so we would love to play at Soldier Field in our future somewhere/somehow. That would be a dream :-) But honestly, long-term we just hope that in the changing landscape of today’s music industry, we are able to reach the people who need to hear our music and make their lives just a little bit better. It’s hard to say what goals we have set because it seems like they change on a yearly basis based off of how quickly our culture and the things around us are changing. The thing that really matters though, is that we just continue to write meaningful music that helps people. If we can do that, I think the span/breadth of our music careers will be quite rewarding in and of itself.
Dennis: What a wonderful way to put it and dreaming big is the only way we start to pave our way to getting there. Well, I would sincerely like to thank you once again for taking the time to answer some questions for me today and I can’t wait until you get back into town! All the best to you both Jillian and Nathaniel on your amazing lives together and magical career!
Biography: The Bergamot is an American indie-folk-rock band based in Brooklyn, New York. The two founding members and songwriters of The Bergamot are husband and wife Nathaniel Hoff and Jillian Speece.
The band formed in 2009 by lead guitarist/vocalist Nathaniel Hoff and lead vocalist Jillian Speece in college at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW).
After college Hoff and Speece began touring America extensively sharing their positive music and vibes with their fans. In 2012 The Bergamot won the Bud Light Battle of the Bands and it helped them gain international notoriety.
Through the years they have opened up for artists such as All American Rejects, Young The Giant and Wiz Kalifa. The duo has performed at SXSW, Taste of Chicago and Bud Lights Port Paradise Music Festival located in the Bahamas and they have graced the pages of People Music, Rock Band, BuzzFeed, Paste Magazine, Icon Magazine, The Daily Record (UK), The Daily Mirror (UK), The Chicago Tribune, Brooklyn Vegan, The Deli Mag, CMJ, Skope Magazine, Pancakes & Whisky, WGN Chicago, CBS, and HGTV.
The Bergamot’s uplifting songs are powered by unbreakable harmonies with seamless songwriting adeptness that combines a story of both the joys and heartaches of life.
In 2003, Jillian and Nathaniel met in high school in their hometown of South Bend, Indiana. Since then they have released five albums (Smile EP, Haven, Static Flowers, Tones, Young Again EP and have toured extensively performing over 500 dates in all 50 states their routes have included two tours to Europe. November 2017 they won Project Aloft Star via the (Aloft Hotel) Northern American competition.
Drawing upon influences such as Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, The Dave Matthews Band Feist, and Ryan Adams.
The Bergamot writes songs that are uplifting, catchy, and downright fun. Jillian’s velvety alto voice blends seamlessly with Nathaniel’s dreamy ethereal vocals creating dynamic harmonies that are apart of their signature sound.
Speece and Hoff have an amazing gift for writing poignant songs based upon personal experiences with a relatable and emotional immediacy.
They’re performances are high energy, infectious, and have turned first-time listeners into instant fans. The Bergamot bridges the gap between artist and audience by engaging them on a personal level though-out the performance.
In 2016 The Bergamot released their highly anticipated new record TONES on February 11th. They are editing the The Unity Collective Documentary and just released their first ever live album called “The Bergamot Live at The Morris.”
The Bergamot premiered a new single, PDR last fall (2017). Fans can anticipate a new full-length album (2018) and their Documentary “State of the Unity” is set to drop (2019)