The Bergamot Share Holiday Music Plans and What “Burns” Reveals About Their 2022 Album (INTERVIEW)

Indie music duo The Bergamot, comprised of Nathaniel Hoff and Jillian Speece, engaged in an experiment early in the pandemic period of doing 100 livestreams in 100 days. This paved the way for a dramatic new form of engagement with fans and led to an outpouring of songwriting that’s still impacting them today. The most direct result we’ve seen was the release of the single “Make It Last”, which was a fan-favorite of the livestreams, and a video which followed. Now, the single “Burns” and its emotive video, are the herald of something new and different in many ways, The Bergamot’s upcoming album that’s gradually taken shape and is waiting to be unleashed upon the world.

Nathaniel Hoff and Jillian Speece also have holiday plans for a big upcoming show, this time live, after building on a recorded holiday performance last year, “A South Shore Christmas” on Dec 10th, in Michigan, and have been teasing that 2022 will be the year, not only for their new album, but for the release of their completed documentary, State of the Unity, which captures their Unity Collective 50 State Tour. I spoke with Nathaniel and Jillian as they took in some Fall colors and looked forward to their upcoming holiday show upon the release of the single and video for “Burns”.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I’m so happy for you that you’re going to be able to play your holiday show live this year with an audience rather than having to do a recorded version like last year.

Nathaniel Hoff: Last year, we released the full concert, which was a huge production and a whole lot of work. I’ll be honest and say that I hope we never do something like that again in the time that we gave ourselves to do it. 

Jillian Speece: He almost went mad!

Nathaniel: Or at least more mad than I already am…But what was really cool about that is that it has allowed us, this year, to release that whole album on Spotify. Something that’s happened throughout the quarantine time is that people have really craved more live recordings from us. We’re trying to meet that demand as well. What’s really cool about that album is that it’s kind of a hybrid album and podcast. 

In a normal live album, you would cut out the dialog and the banter, but here to push the envelope a little, I kept all the banter but made them their own tracks on the album. There are all these stories behind the songs, and I shared them that night, but I separated them so you can choose to listen to the stories or just enjoy the music. We were trying to think differently about how to create live albums based on how people are experiencing content.

HMS: I’m really into holiday music, so I’m happy to hear this. I’ve had to hold off until after Thanksgiving, but it’s hard. It seems like this time of isolation has led to more experimentation in using the spoken word, even in mainstream music. I listened to the new album by The Killers, Pressure Machine, and was fascinated to see that the tracks included stories told before the songs. So I think ideas of media are changing a little, combining in new ways.

Jillian: That is so cool!

Nathaniel: That’s amazing that a major label would approve that since it seems too artistic and creative. We are used to a polished idea, selling something, in the mainstream. I think the reason I fell upon the idea was that it was a natural process. So many of our friends have started podcasts and podcasts have been absolutely booming. Then I had to decide whether to edit these stories out and I know that people love them live. It’s a cool way to be able to share those stories on a larger platform. Also, if someone wants to share one of those stories with a friend, they can share just that story. It adds a layer of connectivity with fans. 

HMS: It’s that trend toward authenticity for fans where you feel you can perceive artists as human beings and engage with that.

Nathaniel: Exactly. I think this is a much more exciting place for culture to be headed.

Jillian: I think because we live in an age of social media and we’re seeing so much homogenization that people are craving authenticity more than ever. It’s powerful to go back and get inspired by artists of the 60s and 70s even. Those people were winging it. I’ve watched a lot of musicians live from that time and I see that they are doing their thing. They are authentic. They don’t give a shit. They don’t care if they are wearing something that is trending. They are being themselves and it’s so refreshing. I think we are all craving that now. When artists show up authentically and they don’t care about fitting into a mold, it’s so much more fun. Nathaniel and I try to do that. We try not to be influenced too much so we can be ourselves.

HMS: I know that you’ve been recording with Matt Wiggins and thinking toward 2022. Have you been recording a new album already or is it something in the future?

Nathaniel: Actually, a little known thing is that the album is actually done. It’s actually going off to be mastered just this week. There were a lot of ups and downs over the past year, but we thought of “Burns” as a winter song, though it was actually finished last Spring, and it felt like this moment. We put together a strategy to release this song as a lead single and drop the entire album next year. We’re really excited about this record. It’s some of my favorite work. It’s been a lot of labor but we decided 2022 is the year. We hope to be releasing 2022 tour dates soon and 2022 will also be when we drop the documentary. We’re submitting it to festivals and we feel really good about it.

Jillian: We knew it was kind of a gamble to wait, but we wanted to make sure the album was the best that it could be, and it really paid off because we had time to work on the album. We’re really making it about a new era of The Bergmanot. The way that we have been creating this is different than we’ve ever created an album. We’ve been working virtually with Matt in London from the States. We had previously worked with him in person. This is also the first album that Nathaniel has Produced by himself and it was a huge passing of the baton. I can’t wait for people to hear these songs, they are so expansive and incredibly creative. Also, I’ve had influence on the album, but Nathaniel wrote the whole album as well, which is a new thing. I think that gives the album a cohesiveness that our fans are going to appreciate as well.

HMS: Is there a close relationship between Mayflies and the new album, or is the new music more about the experiences that you’ve had since then?

Nathaniel: Retrospect is always 20:20, but looking back at Mayflies and going to London to make that record, we were touring 24/7 as well as going into the studio. We spent as much time as we could in the studio and that experience was life changing. It was hard to fathom how much I had just learned until I got home, even though we were right back on tour. As soon as I had time to think about it, I rearranged and rerecorded the song “L.A.” using some of the knowledge I’d acquired in London. That was the last song to go on Mayflies and it’s been our most successful single. 

When I sent it to Matt, he said it was a really great sound and that I should keep going with it. So I started Producing some of those songs on my own using those tricks he had taught me. Then the world came to a halt and there was a time period where I said, “Okay, I just need to pick up where I stopped with ‘L.A.’” There was a time when that idea was really depressing because we had just recorded and album and had gotten ready to play the show of our lives, and that had just stopped. The idea of doing it all over again seemed insane. But I was excited by my work on “L.A.” and how I’d done that, in my childhood home in a closet on a laptop.

Being over in London taught me that you don’t have to have everything perfect if the energy and vibe is right. So that’s where I picked up. This whole record reflects on where we had been and where we were going, since the writing and the production on this album began there. This record is a continuation of that conversation that we started with Mayflies. Over 60 songs came out of that period, so there’s probably another Bergamot record in these songs. But we’re working through each song one by one.

HMS: It seems like this pandemic period has really opened up the conversation about what you really need to create something, particularly music. I don’t judge anyone who wants a nice studio to work in, but it is really inspiring to hear how people are figuring things out. You almost have to go back to a childlike way of interacting with music to solve those problems sometimes.

Jillian: The idea of “play” is something that I feel like we’ve lost as adults. There’s a childlike wonder when you’re a kid and it brings you joy and makes you feel alive. With this particular album, we were trapped, essentially, because of Covid. We couldn’t see anyone and we were in the high desert of Sedona when it was being written. But every day, we were writing together, and singing and thinking. Essentially, we were “playing”. We had lost all our plans so we played around. We worked in things that we’d always wanted to do but never had time to do, like adding harmonies. What people will get with this album will be those elements of “play”. There are some slow-groove, to high-tempo dancy songs. We have some songs on this album that you can dance to, which is new to us.

HMS: I feel like I can hear some of that getting started on “Burns”, which also has some vocal harmonies. That even breaks down to just vocals at one point, which I thought was really beautiful and almost experimental. My immediate reaction to the song is that it almost builds up evidence, as it goes, of why these two people need to be together. Then it hits a harder ending and feeling of determination, which I liked a lot.

Nathaniel: I find so much inspiration in how bands end songs. I read a live music critic once who said, “The only way that you can analyze how good a band is is to see how they finish every song.” I don’t know why that stuck with me, but it was a eureka moment. I didn’t apply it so much to a live band scenario, but I was immediately determined to bring it into music Production. I would listen to bands from The Beegees to Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and all the bands from my childhood, and listen to the Production. It always seemed like the ends of the songs were where you could do something completely strange, unexpected, and fun. 

I think about the song, “Hey, Jude”. The part we all know doesn’t even come in until three and a half minutes into the song. When thinking about Production, our ending for “Burns” was influenced by The Beegees, and there’s also a little bit of Beck in there. There may even be a little bit of Earth, Wind, and Fire. We really wanted to experiment with the ending, which is something we can always extend live. 

HMS: It’s a very powerful and pretty uplifting ending to the song.

Jillian: It’s funny because I think as artists, we write the songs that we need to hear, and then find that other people need them too. I think the common thread you’ll find between the new album and our previous album is a golden thread of hope. There’s always a dark moment, but there’s a shimmering hopefulness, even when it gets dark. 

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