By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
As with many band origin stories, this one includes music and creative drive. It also involves golf.
Before they were collectively The Bergamot, Nathan Hoff and Jillian Speece were students at Mishawaka Marian High School. They also played golf at Marian, and met during a game.
Hoff, who had been playing and writing music, later saw Speece perform at school. An art teacher at Marian noted that Hoff and Speece had interests in common, and said they would be good writing music together.
That prediction was spot-on.
Writing and performing music led to a banner year in 2012 for the South Bend-based Bergamot. The duo released its album “Static Flowers” and performed before an audience of thousands in the Bahamas after winning a Bud Light “battle of the bands” contest. Closer to its home base, The Bergamot is set to open the 2013 concert season at Goshen’s Ignition Garage Sunday.
Before all that, though, came the process of blending two distinct musical personalities.
The real magic
These days, according to Speece, it feels like she and Hoff write as one person. As high-schoolers, though, they were coming from different backgrounds musically. Her influences included Michael Jackson, Motown and the Beatles. Hoff was listening to Pink Floyd, the Dave Matthews Band and Green Day.
“Blending those two music styles was pretty painstaking in the beginning,” Speece said “You’re trying to figure out where the other person is coming from and you just want to be able to make sure you’re mending and blending a song the way it will be received, and people will enjoy it.
“Through that, the growth that occurred was amazing,” she continued. “It allows us to craft our individuality into a unique, blended entity, which I think is where real magic happens.”
Hoff said the first song the two wrote together was “The Seasons Change.” The song garnered the duo a spot in the state finals for Project XL, which highlights student artistic efforts.
“We kind of hit our stride right away,” Hoff said. “We realized right away there was something special there.”
On the road
Speece and Hoff received golf scholarships to Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne. Hoff said their day job was playing golf and paying for school.
“But we spent a lot of time recording and performing in our off time because obviously that’s what we really loved to do, too,” he said.
Fast-forward about five years and The Bergamot released its EP “Smile,” which was recorded in an apartment complex reception hall in Fort Wayne.
“We rented it out on a Saturday afternoon and basically recorded all day,” Hoff said.
Next came the album “Haven,” and Hoff and Speece embarked on a national tour behind the two albums. Hoff recommended the touring experience for up-and-coming musicians, rocky road aside.
“When you’re starting out in the music world, you definitely want to go on a tour, because it taught us so much,” Hoff said. “We played to a ultra-receptive crowd in Boulder, Colo., and then we played for a semi-hostile crowd in Colorado Springs. It kind of wiped the green off us a little bit. We were a little new to it and we had no idea what to expect. So we learned how to play to different crowds.”
That Bergamot tour wrapped in mid-2010. For Hoff and Speece, it was time to take the next step.
Hoff said The Bergamot decided it needed to come out with “a big album.” They were aiming for the type of release that could be issued without qualifiers.
“When we gave it to somebody, we didn’t need to say, ‘Hey, it’s a great album but we self-produced it’ or ‘It’s a great album but it was recorded in a garage or ‘it’s a great album but the vocals were recorded in a bathroom,’” Hoff said. “We wanted to let the album speak for itself.”
That album became “Static Flowers,” the songwriting for which took place on The Bergamot’s national tour. The album was recorded with top session players including Jimmy Johnson, who’s worked with Loretta Lynn, Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones, among others. It was mastered in New York with Tom Coyne, a mastering engineer whose resume includes Adele’s “21,” Beyonce’s “I Am ... Sasha Fierce” and Lady Gaga’s “Fame Monster.”
Hoff said he and Speece invested everything they had — emotionally, physically and financially — into “Static Flowers.” That investment has yielded no small payoff.
“As soon as we gave it everything we had on every level, people really started to be like, ‘Hey, that album sounds really good,’” Hoff said. “...Until we were willing to give our music everything, I feel the fans were kind of almost waiting for that. And then once we delivered, it was kind of like a ‘Eureka!’ moment for both our fans and for us.”
Significant as it was, “Static Flowers” wasn’t the only new career plateau the duo reached in 2012.
Bud Lite battle
The Bergamot won a Bud Lite-sponsored “battle of the bands,” earning what Speece cheekily termed the “headlining opener” spot at the Port Paradise Music Festival in the Bahamas. The group played alongside Pitbull, Flo Rida, All American Rejects and other artists.
For their spotlight gig, Hoff and Speece were joined by bandmates from South Bend.
“We stepped onstage in front of almost 10,000 people,” Speece said. “We played the set of our life and the sun was setting and (we were) on a $3 million stage in front of the most insane humans that (were) so happy to be there. It was just a beautiful experience and it was definitely a step in the right direction.”
The six-step voting process that landed The Bergamot at Port Paradise involved both fan support and voting within the Bud Light organization. Hoff feels touring built The Bergamot a fanbase that was key in getting the group through the voting stages.
The battle of the bands win says a lot about The Bergamot’s music, in Hoff’s view. However, he feels it says more about The Bergamot’s fans and how emotionally invested they are in the group.
“They basically spoke out to Bud Light and said, ‘This band needs to be heard,’” he said.
About the name
Band moniker “The Bergamot” stems from a years-ago aromatherapy purchase at a health food store, according to Jillian Speece.
The Bergamot is an orange grown on the coastline of Sicily. Oil is extracted from the rind and is used in everything from saltwater taffy to Earl Grey tea to perfume.
“It’s revered as one of the most beautiful top notes that a perfumer can use,” Speece said.
If you want to go
The Bergamot will open the 2013 concert season at Ignition Garage, 120 E. Washington St., Goshen, with a Sunday night performance. Also on the bill will be South Bend-based The Rutabega. Showtime is 7 p.m., and tickets cost $15. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ignitionmusic.net and are also available at Better World Books, 574-534-1984.