Skip to content

Wild Belle Offer Their Behind-the-Scenes Guide to Surviving Festival Season

Growing up in Barrington, IL, a small northwest suburb of Chicago, is a far cry from industry babies trying to make it in the entertainment industry. We were much more concerned with keggers and pulling tubes, yet music was always in the background, usually Phish or some type of jam band. Elliot Bergman was a year older than me in school, but to even the most jaded of us, he was something abnormal and, dare I say, eidetic.

A multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for Afro-beat, his first band NOMO out of Ann Arbor caused a stir, landing them opening gigs at Bonnaroo and Pitchfork. Then there was a radical change: Bergman teamed with his sister Natalie in 2012 and created Wild Belle, incorporating world beats and grooves into traditional indie pop. Natalie has the smoky voice of Amy Winehouse, and Wild Belle would be just at home at a small jazz club or a swarming mass at Lollapalooza.

Their new album is currently being mastered in Chicago, and combines the talents of Major Lazer, Diplo, and Beck collaborator Justin Mendel-Johnson. The new LP promises to be a wild, genre-bending affair.

“We were just like, ‘Let’s try and do something where we get to work with everyone we’ve wanted to work with,’” says Bergman. “It’s a pretty amazing experience for me, getting to know how people work and seeing their studios. The record’s done and is getting mastered tomorrow. We just wrote every day for the last couple of years. This record is a lot more mature. Natalie has really come into her own as a singer, the arrangements are darker and heavier. I think it’s a big step forward.”

Elliot has been touring since collegiate time with NOMO. We caught up with him to learn tips for surviving the long, hot festival summer.

1: What’s the first thing you think about when you prepare for a festival?

My mind immediately goes to our backline and our amps. We sort of have a wall of sound. It’s always such a pleasure to play with that setup, and the first time we used it was Lollapalooza two years ago. It’s really amazing. We have this great relationship with the Tom Tom Club, and they’ve just been mentors to us over the last couple years. They can say something so simple yet so profound, “You have to find a way to love the way you sound on stage every night.” There’s so many weird factors that you go into with a festival. There’s so many variables, and you’re getting ready to play a stage that’s getting set up in minutes. This wall of sound is so awesome because we can control our sound on stage. It’s powerful, loud, and feels good to play in front of that every night.

2: How important is it to have a look or rock star image onstage?

It’s just neglect really. With a zero dollar grooming budget you end up looking like a hobo, with the long hair and long beard. I definitely don’t wear leather onstage or anything. I don’t think about fashion that much. I was joking about the hobo thing, but it is a very similar lifestyle. You are living out of a van and driving around the country.

3: Can you plan a favorite festival moment, or is it random?

At Coachella we watched Tame Impala from the side of the stage. It was right at dusk, and it was really dusty so everyone was wearing bandanas over their face. The sun was going down, and it was just the coolest feeling ever. We looked out at the sea of people and thought, “This is what a festival is supposed to be like.”

4: Music, books and activities for the road?

I have a few things that keep me occupied for the long drive. I like to read musical biographies and read this Sun Ra biography recently. Sometimes when you’re driving out West it can be fun to read historical non-fiction to get a sense of what it was like when people were first making their way out west.

5: Upon arrival at a big festival, is it like arriving at a new school when you get backstage or are you immediately social? Is it cliquey?

It depends. We have friends that are touring all the time, but a lot of the time it’s like work. You show up and there’s stuff to do already. There’s always good hangs, but generally there’s a nice vibe and it’s always cool to make new friends. Your trailer is next to a van that you’ve never heard of, and you end up spending the day together and you have five new friends. There’s comraderie, and we have such a weird lifestyle, so there’s a lot of overlap of shared experiences and stories.

6: Does traveling with Natalie ever get a little too close for comfort?

[Laughs.] It’s pretty much always too close for comfort. It’s always pretty close quarters.

7: Drinking and partying on the road? Have you grown past that?

I wish I could say I’ve grown past that, and we’ll see how much longer we can survive. I think we’re moving toward the “Let’s keep it together and try and be healthy” thing. When you come up in the indie rock scene, it’s very much a part of the culture. “There’s beer? Well, I guess we should drink this all tonight.” It is very much a part of the culture of touring. It can be a little bit of a struggle to get free from that routine. It’s like every show is the fan’s party night, and we just did this the night before. You have to start building in some healthy habits, otherwise you start to go down to the dark side.

8: What’s the worst gig you can remember? Could it have been avoided?

Playing Bonnaroo a few years ago with Iron and Wine, the band all looked pretty put-together, with sport coats and jackets. Sam Beam has this incredible ability to not sweat. He’s like the coolest dude in the world. He’s up there singing his heart out and playing guitar, and all of us are just drenched. He’s like, “No man, I’m gonna go back out there and do a couple more.” He’s got this weird, supernatural dryness.

9: What’s your advice to the novice fest-goer?

I’m not the guy to ask. I can barely make it through the festival itself. Water is good of course.

10. What three bands, active or defunct, would headline your dream festival?

Fela and the Africa 70. Miles Davis from his Bitches Brew era, and probably Talking Heads circa Remain in Light tour.

To see more looks from Wild Belle, visit Gap