Wild Belle plays One Eyed Jacks on Sunday
Wild Belle, a sibling duo from Chicago, loves music from hot places: Jamaican reggae, Brazilian tropicália, West African highlife and Afro-pop.
Those influences, Natalie “Belle” Bergman’s dryly understated vocals, her older brother Elliot’s booming baritone sax and webs of rhythm and electronics unite to form Wild Belle’s intoxicating album debut, “Isles.”
“There’s a rich world of sound out there,” Elliot Bergman said. “It can be overwhelming but also beautiful to explore.”
The touring Wild Belle returns to New Orleans Sunday for a show at One Eyed Jacks.
“It’s one of my favorite cities,” Bergman said. “But it’s a tough city to play. It’s almost like, ‘Who do I think I am, showing up in New Orleans to play?’ There’s always such amazing music happening there.”
Though Wild Belle does wear influences on its sleeves, the Bergmans aren’t merely re-creating their favored music styles. “It’s not like, ‘OK, we want to be a reggae band,’ ” Bergman said. “We’re always searching for a way to turn something into something a little bit different.”
Listeners hear all sorts of things in Wild Belle.
“People say we sound exactly like 23 Skidoo (a British post-punk, world-music band),” Bergman said. “I’m like, ‘What’s 23 Skidoo?’ Or they say we sound exactly like The Specials or Amy Winehouse or Bob Marley.
“The diversity of the things people think we sound exactly like, it’s just amazing. But people are coming to it in their own way. That’s one of the great things about music. It reaches out and meets people where they are.”
The same principle applies to Natalie Bergman’s voice.
“Billie Holiday influenced her from a young age,” Bergman said. “But Natalie has one of those voices that connects with people and they can hear in it what they want.”
The other especially distinctive voice in Wild Belle is Elliot Bergman’s baritone sax. The saxophone family of instruments has a great history in jazz, soul, rhythm-and-blues and rock ’n’ roll, but many people in his audiences, Bergman said, have never even seen a saxophone, much less the physically imposing specimen he plays.
“It adds a lot of tonal possibilities that some of the other saxophones don’t have,” he said. “It has a lot to say.
“It was fun for the sax to be a part of our record, too. Using it wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision, but I kept thinking that some songs needed something extra and that might be baritone sax.”
The Bergmans grew up in an unusually gifted, artistic family including their late mother Susan Bergman, an artist, musician, teacher and nationally known author.
“It’s a privilege to come up in a family that was not only encouraging but also inspiring,” Bergman said.
With music always in their house, the Bergman children naturally gravitated to it. Later, Natalie performed with Elliot’s Afro-pop-oriented band, NOMO, before they formed Wild Belle.
“We have this shared vocabulary of musical ideas and visual things, too,” he said. “We arrive at the same places, so it makes for this carefree collaboration.”