Jillian Speece and Nathan Hoff stood on the massive stage of the Bud Light Port Paradise Music Festival just two weeks ago. Surrounded by 50-foot jumbotrons and 8,000 screaming fans, the musical duo called The Bergamot opened for headliners Flo Rida, Pitbull and Far East Movement.
For Speece, 24, and Hoff, 26, the performance was more than exhilarating. It was the spoils of the hard-won Bud Light Battle of the Bands - a fight with thousands of competitors. It was a defining moment in a vocational journey gaining traction.
But their biggest live performance isn't the only big move the group has made this year. Not only have the two expanded to a traveling six-piece band that delivers an amazing live show, but they also released their second full-length album in June. Static Flowers offers a collection of songs that showcases the duo's musical versatility and ability to weave a colorful tapestry of melodic stories.
Speece, the group's lead vocalist, and Hoff, lead guitarist and vocalist, started writing songs together and performing during high school, in the early 2000s. They started pursuing full-time music careers in 2008, released their first official EP, SMILE, in 2010, and their first full-length album, Haven, in 2011.
With their latest album, the Indiana-based band presents a deliberate assortment of genres recorded to tape in an all-analog studio - characteristics that earn their place in the Organic Pop Music category. In an industry where most top 40 artists sell heavily produced digital tracks, The Bergamot's sound is refreshing, raw, and pure. The 13 tracks range from catchy pop tunes like "Shake Ur Brotha" to elements of traditional country in "A Love Like You" and "The Southern Line." Other tracks incorporate influences of acoustic folk and rock-soul, with Hoff's smooth voice and nimble fingers on the guitar seamlessly harmonizing with Speece's rich and masterfully controlled vocals.
Speece shared some thoughts with WORLD on Campus on The Bergamot's musical inspiration, accomplishments, and work within a challenging industry.
What band(s) or artist(s) have influenced the music of Bergamot?
Nathan's top three influences are Dave Mathews Band, Pink Floyd, and Coldplay. My top three influences are Michael Jackson (Motown), The Beatles and Joni Mitchell. Essentially, if you blend those six together, you have all the elements of The Bergamot.
What makes Bergamot's music unique within the music industry?
We create music that is universal and uplifting. It is like a shining beam of positivity in a world of music that is lacking encouragement, and at its best, it is raw unprocessed beauty. Another facet that makes our music so special is the personal relationship we build with our fans. We treat our fans like family so everything we do is personalized. We want to honor them and share our gifts with them in hopes of radiating joy into their lives.
What has been the worst and best experience being a part of the music industry?
The best part about being in the music industry is stepping up on stage and being able to strum your guitar, silence the crowd, and share both personal and revealing stories. It is an amazing experience and something that humbles us daily. On top of that, we just want to make people lives better - to help them reach higher highs and make the lows more tolerable. At the end of the day, if we have affected one single person positively, than our mission on this earth as humble musicians has been achieved.
There are also a lot of potholes along your journey as an aspiring full time musician. The hardest thing about the music industry is deciphering what is real and what is fake. The Internet wants you to believe that you can be an overnight sensation. There may be SOME truth to that, but it's not how you grow in the music world. Nothing replaces a killer work ethic and an amazing live show. If you work really hard and practice even harder, there is a good chance you will get heard - but nothing is guaranteed. If you want to be an artist, you have to focus more on stripping yourself of what you want and focus on what you need. Forget about how the world defines an artist. Forget the expensive cars and thousand dollar suites - you are more likely to come into contact with dirty hotel rooms and broken cars. That is the life that you must stomach to make it in this industry. But if you are doing what you love - it will all make sense.
How does your faith influence your musical career?
Both Nathan and I were raised Catholic in South Bend, Ind. Now we relate to ourselves as nondenominational Christians, but still have a deep and lasting respect towards our Catholic roots. Growing up Catholic taught us so much about how to live a life with a positive outlook. We are both very blessed to have been given by our families a great foundation based on love and generosity which formed the path we now walk in the music Industry.
On our first national tour across America we were so inspired - touched by the great generosity of people who helped us by letting us crash on their couch or feeding us. It showed us how God will provide for you if you jump into a calling of peace and are actively ministering to God's joy. We now seek to live generously by giving of our selves to our fans. When we retuned home in the fall of 2010, we decided to start our own record label called Both Records. We did not want someone telling us what to write, how to look, etc. We essentially did not want to live the traditional spiritually-impoverished rock-star life. So in our record label, we set high standards and live a life of voluntary simplicity. All that means is that we separated ourselves with material items and live life with the mentality that we are borrowing everything we need from God. When you are refining your heart by giving of your talents and objects for the glory of God he always provides.
How is your songwriting process affected by your relationship with Christ?
Our music is heavily influenced by the beauty, joy, and sorrow, that we find ourselves surrounded by on a daily basis. When we write together it is a very spiritual experience. I believe God is the ultimate creator. When each of us as individuals creates art or music and we then share it with the world, we are honoring God and showing God that we are fully present in the gifts he gave us, by not wasting our talents.
What topics are most prevalent in your songs? Why do you think that is?
One topic that is recurring in our songs is the topic of struggle and elation. It is through fire that iron is refined, and life cannot be more accurately described. We are constantly being refined by the world around us as musicians. Our song "Shake Ur Brotha" is about simply letting go and being yourself and pure happiness. Our song "In Between" takes you to New York and back and all of the brutal experiences that we have grown through to become who we are right now.
What do you want your audience to take away from your songs/music?
The best compliment I have ever had at the conclusion of a show was "I felt as if you took me on a journey - I was there with you in New York - I was sitting by your side by the Rockies - and finally I was home with you." We want people to feel transported from their lives for just a small bit of time - an hour with us will take you through years of experiences. We want our audience to be interactive and involved in a truly entertaining experience. There is no sitting around passively at our shows. We have made a name for ourselves by stepping outside the normal bounds of artists on stage. We feel that is part of what makes our live show and us unique.
How would you define success for Bergamot? What are your goals and/or hopes for the next year and then beyond?
Success defined in the humblest of terms for us is to be able to lift one person up to new highs or deliver them from the lowest of lows. It is very simple: to be able to change one person's perspective - to shed new light - a light they have never seen or felt. If we can do that with our art we have achieved something of meaning and that is truly incredible.
In the next year we hope to grow the full band schedule and ramp up for an amazing year of live shows and experiences for our fans in 2013. We hope to grow with our songwriting, refine our perspective, and have new and exciting experiences to share with our ever so loyal and amazing fan base. If we are still creating and crafting meaningful music a year from now and doing what we love, we really have achieved something great.