February 14, 2013
A band that names itself after an Italian orange that drops in winter can, by virtue of its moniker, claim to be many things: bright, sweet, surprising, juicy. According to fans and critics alike, The Bergamot live up to their name and then some. They’re also hometown boy and girl made good. Hailing from South Bend, Nathan Hoff and Jillian Speece (artists otherwise known as The Bergamot) met in the hallowed halls of Marion High School and, as teenagers, started writing songs together. Later, they both attended IPFW on full golf scholarships (I’ll bypass the obvious hole-in-one references). Now, as the recently crowned winners of the Bud Light Battle of the Bands in the category of Best Unsigned American Band, Hoff and Speece are making their way in the often fickle world of pop music, not to mention making quite a reputation for themselves as, according to Sara Fazio of The Aquarian Weekly, an “unbelievably talented” duo.
And how are they doing it? Number one: They’re keeping a positive attitude. Hoff and Speece, perhaps as photogenic as they are talented, are all about hope, and that hope clearly runs through their music. From their debut LP, Smile, to their first full-length, Haven, and their most recent release, Static Flowers, The Bergamot walk on the sunny side of the street, even when they’re singing about some of life’s darkest challenges.
Here’s how they describe their aesthetic: “Uplifting. Sultry. Elevating ... a blissful combustion of singer-songwriter and modern pop, crisp vocal harmonies, earnest storytelling and intricate instrumentation.”
If you want to know what that sounds like, head to C2G Music Hall Saturday, February 23, when The Bergamot take the stage at 8 p.m. with their band – Sean Norris on percussion, Nathan Miller on bass, Kevin Krizmanich on piano/keys and Neil Carmichael on lead guitar.
Even though Hoff and Speece had been jamming together for years, The Bergamot really got their start in 2010 when the two friends decided to quit their day jobs and pursue their passion for making music. As is the case for many musicians, it was a difficult choice. Should they leave behind a life of stability and security for one of long hours and endless road trips, not knowing where their next sandwich, let alone orange, was coming from?
Luckily for the world of catchy yet complex pop music, the answer was a resounding “yes,” and the result was not only the Whammy-nominated Smile and the critically acclaimed Haven, but a cross-country tour that included a stop at the taste-making South by Southwest music festival. The tour eventually took them to Nashville where lightning struck in the form of Tom Coyne, famous for lending his mastering chops to Adele’s Grammy Award-winning 21 and Beyoncé’s I am ... Sasha Fierce.
Coyne agreed to help The Bergamot with their sophomore album, Static Flowers, which likewise got a boost from a handful of celebrated session musicians and Hoff and Speece’s dream studio – an all-analog space that moonlighted as a drug store in the 1940s. They then finished up the album at Oceanway Studios where pop and country luminaries like Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne and Faith Hill have been known to belt and croon.
Penguin Radio named Static Flowers one of the top 70 albums released in 2012, and The Bergamot shared the coveted honor with artists like The Killers, Leonard Cohen, The Avett Brothers and Bruce Springsteen.
One thing to know about The Bergamot: Speece’s vocals are as clear and as beautiful as anything you’ll hear on the radio (Penguin or otherwise), and when paired with Hoff’s work on backup vocals, kick drum and keys, what you get is nothing short of pop magic. I’ll go a step further and say (stealing the slogan from a classic Chiquita marketing campaign) The Bergamot could possibly be the world’s most perfect fruit.
As Fazio wrote in her review of the duo’s oeuvre, “Indiana singer-songwriter Jillian Speece has the vocal chops of a professional. Her country twang mixed with crisp pop vocals give her the edge above other females in her field. Once you add Nathan Hoff into the mix, you’ve got a force to be reckoned with ... Both musicians are classically trained, but they have an element of rawness that is difficult to explain. It’s unpolished, yet refined at the same time.”