Wild Belle: Finding magic on Jamaican vinyl

PHOTO: JENNIFER TZAR | Natalie Bergman, half of the brother-sister duo Wild Belle, loves vinyl. Traveling all over the world, she has picked up some rare records, some too scratched to even play—but she still has to have them.

With the release of their new record Dreamland just around the corner, Natalie took time to talk with TVD about the search for the records one just has to have.

I just saw you on Jimmy Fallon this week. It looked really fun! What was that experience like?

I’m back in LA now and I’m writing thank you letters to everyone in my band and to Jimmy. I just finished my letter to Jimmy. He’s really an extraordinary person. He has such an amazing gift. He brings people together. He’s such a strong joy in this world. I really love him and I’m so thankful that he invited us on the show. It was such a nerve-racking performance. My knees locked!

When you were talking about your first album, Isles, you said each song was like its own island and had its own story. Do you think of your upcoming album Dreamland the same way?

Definitely every song is its own story. The album is sort of its own story to me. It has a lot to do with my time in Chicago. This album has a lot to do with loss and recovery, finding different means to cope with loss.

I think that as an artist it takes a lot of guts to keep the dream flowing, to keep reaching for things that you believe in. Fallon was a good example of that. I met him in Jamaica and we got along so well. I sang a Bob Marley song for him and he fell in love with my voice. It’s moments like those that I really feel like it takes guts to stand up for yourself as a musician and stand up for your art and performing in front of someone you don’t know, but you admire. There are lots of people who I look up to, lots of artists and musicians. It’s really an honor to be able to perform in front of these artists who I admire so much.

The record is sort of a journey through my mind through a breakup. It has to do with many different relationships. My relationship with love, with a man, with the label, with family, with friends…

Did you meet Fallon when you were shooting your video for “Our Love Will Survive”?

That was the same trip. Yeah.

It sounds like shooting that video was quite a journey.

Definitely. We had so much fun shooting that video. It was the same way we make a lot of our videos, a little bit gorilla style. There’s not really a large team involved. It’s generally Elliot and me directing the video, shooting on our own handheld cameras.

In this case we actually used Super 8. We brought down a bunch of film and we wanted it to sort of resemble late ’60s/ early ’70s, grainy, Jamaican rude boy quality. We got a bunch of people to dance in the video. It really did feel like a march for love. I felt kind of like a soldier in an army of talented people. It was cool.

We found an abandoned castle and shot there. We went into the middle of the ocean and shot under water. It’s always so inspiring to go to that county. Jamaica is a land that I will forever hold in my heart. It’s one of my favorite countries.

What was your first experience with vinyl?

My mom always had Joni Mitchell records that I would listen to on the turntable when we were growing up. That’s sort of how I learned guitar, by listening to Joni Mitchell and listening to my mom play guitar. We had a lot of California folk in the house.

But then at some point when I was younger I really grew an infinity for Jamaican music. My brother would give me a lot of records. He gave me a “Dreamland” record by Della Humphrey. Along with that there were some other compilations that came out with Studio One recording artists, including Jackie Mittoo, Delroy Wilson, Lee “Scratch” Perry, who was producing a lot of those early Jamaican records.

I think I was sort of in a world where I got a hold of some early Jamaican records, because I went to Jamaica when I was very young. I went to this record shop outside of Kingston where all of the records were just lying on the floor, 45s trampled on, trashed. Literally there was a pile of probably 5,000 45s just in the middle of the floor and I had to dig through all of these records. I found some gems, but they were scratched and kind of beyond repair, but I still needed to take them home with me. And they were dirt cheap.

We travel a lot and we’ve really been fortunate to visit some of our favorite countries on tour. Wherever we travel we collect records. Traveling opens your eyes to different worlds of music. When you get a hold of one world then you are allowed to visit different countries through that. There’s so many different worlds of music. Music is truly God’s gift to all of us, whether we’re making it or experiencing it, it’s one of the great pleasures of life.

What records have you found in your travels?

One time we went to Studio One in Jamaica and they didn’t want to let us in, but I knew they had a secret stash, like a vault of their archived records. We had to get in there! This sweet girl, Coxsone Dodd’s granddaughter, now runs Studio One. It’s not really a functioning studio these days. But you walk into the recording room and Jackie Mittoo’s organ is there and the bass is there. Some guy goes, “Oh, that’s the bass.” And you’re like “What do you mean ‘the bass’?” and then you realize it’s basically the only bass that was played on every single recording that came out of Jamaica.

Then she took us into the attic of the studio and literally there were so many records that were never touched before, like blasts from the history of that country. They were dusty and beautiful. And it was like a candy shop. It’s like I don’t need candy; I need records! We went and got so much good shit. Anything you want in Jamaica was there and we took some home. They were like 50 cents a record. It was absurd. I felt like a bandit! I felt like a crook that just walked in and shot up the place and took all of their loot.

Records are like finding treasure. The goal is to just dig for the gold. Sometimes I feel like you can will things to happen. One time I was in New Orleans and I wanted to find The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” on 45. I was in this record shop and I was in love with this guy and I needed to find that single for him, because I wanted to send it to him from New Orleans. It was kind of like our song. This record shop was huge and I looked everywhere. I looked alphabetically, I looked in the soul section, I looked in the Motown section. And it wasn’t anywhere! And I needed it so badly that I was like, I’m not leaving this store without that 45! So, I went into the backroom. I asked if I could sift through the bins that were nameless and unorganized. I literally spent an hour back there until I found the record that I came there for!

Are you excited to release Dreamland on vinyl?

Vinyl is a magical thing. I just got the first and only copy of our vinyl and I hugged it. I hugged it for a few minutes. I’m literally hugging it right now. I’m so happy I have it!

What are you looking forward to most on your upcoming tour?

I’m excited to play New York city. We already sold out Williamsburg Hall. We’re playing small rock clubs and I want to sell them all out. I’m stoked to give people the new album. We’ve got a whole batch of bells to bring with us that Elliot made. I’m going to put together a book of my collage art. Hopefully we’ll bring our bigger band, our backup singers, my conga player. It’s really a family onstage with us and there’s an energy and it’s electric.

I’m excited to stun people and make people excited and bring people together. I like dangerous things. I want to surprise people and do things they don’t expect. I’m really looking forward to this tour.

Wild Belle’s sophomore LP, Dreamland will be released on April 15th. Their spring headlining tour kicks off at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago on April 22nd with stops throughout the country.

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