The sweetness of their melodies and the musical proficiency with which their songs are performed, make The Bergamot one of the groups to really keep an eye on as they pursue global stardom. Here’s our interview with Nathaniel Paul Hoff, one half of the indie-folk duo, as he name-checks the group’s musical influences, describes their creative process and tells us what’s next for this NYC outfit.
Hello! Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview.
Of course! Thanks so much for taking the time to have us!
What’s the typical collaboration process like for The Bergamot?
Well, I (Nathaniel) basically live in the studio. I am always working/writing new material and refining songs that have some potential. Being that we are on the road, I like to work out of closets for some reason. The intimacy of the space seems to really make a great place to focus and work. I try to work Monday through Saturday on new material. Then on Sunday’s (at least during quarantine) Jillian and I sit down and listen to the week’s work and see what stands strong. Jillian’s remarks and revisions are usually point on. She has a great ear for what works and what doesn’t. So we lean into that. The standouts are marked for more focus and work later on. During quarantine I think I am up to about 30 songs written. We’ll see how many make it onto the next few records…
Was becoming a musician always on the cards? Was it a specific artist or record that ignited your interest?
I played my first ‘show’ when I was about 15. I thought it would be cool to rent a stage and put it in the local coffee house. The band was composed of musicians from all over town – three different high schools. 300 people showed up and we played Red Hot Chili Peppers covers and I think one original (maybe?) I knew it was my destiny. As far as specific artists I was into at an early age – I wore the grooves out in my Beach Boys and Billy Joel records.
There’s a gentleness across most of your songs. Do you find that it’s often more difficult to be sensitive, rather than blunt when making music?
Always. Blunt is artistic but more in front. Gentle requires a lot of consideration to phrasing, messaging (subliminal and direct), all without sounding too ‘planned’ or ‘gimichy’. There is a beauty in the subdued, but it also sets up for some great intense moments as well.
When did you realize your talents could be mixed to form a single unit?
Our first song that we wrote together was featured in the finals of a statewide songwriting competition in Indiana in high school. It was magic right from the inception. The love came later on – music has saved our relationship many times.
Beyond the vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars, you’ve also included more sophisticated musical elements and some virtuoso playing. Do you think indie-rock crowds are ready for it?
I can’t tell you how bored I am with music in its current state. Laptops, great voices, loops, beats, it reminds me of seeing the ‘band’ at Chuck E’ Cheeses. But it seems that people just eat that up these days. I hope people are ready for something new. Hahah but seriously I don’t know, sometimes I wake up and think why do I spend all of this time practicing and challenging myself musically. Maybe people at large won’t be up for it, but to me I have always loved an intricate melodic journey in a song. Brian Wilson probably got me into that stuff when I was taking in music for the first time as a kid. The music never stops evolving. I hope I can just keep people guessing – even just a little bit.
There are some elements reminiscent of surf music on songs like “PDR”. Given that the beach is present in many of your songs, is this a sound you’re likely to explore in the future?
100%. I am nautical through and through. Striped shirts and the whole bit. Haha. Being born in Michigan City, IN on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, it’s in my blood. Surf music takes me back to my roots with those early Beach Boys records. The beach is a great topic – always has been. Universal but somehow unique depending on your take. I hope I can explore some new territory there – the competition is stiff. But some great beachy lyrics and a french harpsichord – there is always magic to be made there.
Let’s play pretend: You need a classic-rock guitar hero to pepper your songs. You can ring anyone up, who do you call?
That is a really great question… Jerry Garcia. In 2nd grade I had to write my first ever paper. My topic of choice: Jerry Garcia and the LSD culture/scene of San Francisco during the late 60’s. I think my teacher was an old hippie – so she was totally into it… 🙂
Let’s play pretend: Both Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney want to produce your next record. Who do you get and why?
That’s playing dirty… But Brian Wilson for me. If you have read this far in the interview you are already pretty familiar with my love of all things BW and Beach Boy’s. But there would be so much to learn from Paul and how he composes – he is unreal when it comes to composition – not fair really…
Production geek question, but what is that like? And, how do you go about recording the band and the vocals?
The secret sauce, eh? A fantastic gate and a top end compressor can make anything sound pretty good. I wish it was prolific and profound. Most of the time it’s just this backpack full of gear that gets set up in a place that we are freeloading off of for the moment. A few claps to check for flutter and we are off and running. My traveling unit is a Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII -> Universal Audio LA-610 MKII -> Summit Audio TLA-50 -> Neumann TLM 103 (or an Earthworks
QTC 40 for a small diaphragm – great in poor sounding spaces). I think having 2 stages of tube compression before it hits the recording device is vital. The rest is mostly in the box.
Making the music I want to make has always been rewarding emotionally – not so much financially. We have had so many amazing people open their homes and spaces to us during these trying times. Recording is preferable in a small room or closet with clothes or sheets. It seems rather strewn about most of the time. But as long as I get the sound I am looking for – it’s a go. Sometimes you can even hear people cooking or on a phone call in the background – I am not 100% into the ‘noise isolation’. Wherever the music happens – whenever it happens – it’s going on a record if it’s great. Most of the production occurs on my laptop in a cafe or at the kitchen table. “P.D.R.” was produced on the kitchen table I grew up having family dinners on. The table was in the basement of my parents home in Indiana – during a few days break off the road.
NOTE: Totally random, but I finished collecting the pieces to my ‘mobile’ recording rig in December of 2019. I felt like we needed to have a unit ready for the road and the uncertainties that brings. When we got stuck out on tour due to the pandemic it felt almost Noah’s arc-ish when we reached our hideout location. Really odd timing on all of that – but we hit the ground running with all the gear we had for our mobile rig. Life saver…
I could go on forever here… I am a total gear head myself. I spent the formative years of my life musically in Fort Wayne, IN the home of Sweetwater. I could spend hours just turning knobs… I remember going to that place when I bought gear out of a converted family room in a suburban home. It was weird – really weird but cool as hell… haha. Now that place looks like an international airport!
I know that you toured in support of your record “Mayflies”. What were some of the best experiences, and some of the weirdest pairings on tour?
We were getting ready to play our first ever sold out stadium show opening for OneRepublic back in April in our hometown of South Bend, IN. That was going to be a surreal moment… it plays out in my mind haha.
Jamming with Pete Buttigieg. I used to be in a band with his campaign manager in high school – Mike Schmule.
Hanging with Lil Jon in the Bahamas with a few Playmates was totally random and cool – and also yielded some of the most important production secrets – always start with the drums. Everybody likes a good beat.
We opened for Wiz Khalifa and Far East Movement.
Washing my clothes in a hotel sink – before a full 36 hour travel day.
Where’s the next stop on your musical careers?
Damn man – it’s day to day out here. I am watching the unemployment battle pretty close as we are living off that at the moment. October was going to be our best month ever financially since getting into music. I try not to think about it. The emails we are getting right now from venues closing their doors forever is devastating. That shit is really depressing – and can ruin the vibe if you let it be… I hope to be back out on the road – but realistically that’s extremely idealistic. It’s going to be a while. We are currently located in Paradise Valley, AZ and loving it. Although it is the hottest summer on record here – desert sunsets and nights just blow my mind.
Thanks for taking the time to chat. Hope to see you around in the new normal – whatever that may be. Ever Upwards friend!