Jillian is lead singer of the wife-husband duo band The Bergamot.
Tell me about your earliest experience with music.
I was three years old when my mom started singing to me. She would sing and then have me sing back to her like a little monkey. I remember growing up singing and listening to my dad’s vinyls.
By the time I was seven, I was in the choir. I was extremely shy at the time, so I was always in the back. I remember that one of my teachers told me that I couldn’t hit high notes, so I believed him. I had to get over my terror of singing in public.
I just kept forcing myself into these terribly uncomfortable situations where I was so scared and shaking. I remember every time before I would perform I would go to the bathroom and tell myself, “OK, now don’t S#it your pants.” [laughs] “Keep it together up there!” I just kept putting myself into these situations over and over again, hundreds of times and now thousands of times all over the globe. Now, there is no better place in the world for me than when I am signing live on a stage.
What drove you to push through that uncomfortable-ness?
There was always a little whisper that told me I could do it. I don’t know if it was God or just my internal self telling me: “Come on, you are bigger than this S#it. You can get over this.” It was really about overcoming my mind. If your mind tells you something, then it is the truth. If your mind tells you that you’re not a good singer, then you won’t be. For me it was a battle between my mind and soul, and I had to bridge the barrier between the two. I knew this was my gift to give the world, and I just needed to overcome the fear of failure that was holding me back. So, slowly I was able to become what I am becoming: the true essence of me.
How did The Bergamot form and what is it like being apart of a husband-wife duo?
The Bergamot formed in 2008 officially. We met in 2003 when I was 15 and my now husband, Nathaniel, was 17. We met through music. I needed guitar lessons and he was the only kid in high school who gave guitar lessons for $10 [laughs]. So he started coming to my house, then we became best friends, then we fell in love. Then he left for college for two years and we dated long distance, but all the while we were writing songs. We didn’t know where it was going to go, but we schemed up plans that we kept a secret from everyone else. We had plans for years that once we graduated from college, we were going to tour. This was a revolutionary idea for us because we are from South Bend, Indiana. You know, growing up there, you are brought up to live within these classic lines of staying home and living a life that has been lived before. We both said, “F*@k that. We are going to tour Europe one day, we want to play at festivals.” And this is when we were teenagers dreaming in a basement between cornfields. We knew we had to get out of that place, and that we could do it together. If we combined our skills, we could go further.
So we started writing. I had started a lawn mowing – pet watching – house sitting business when I was nine and continued that through high school, so I was saving up a lot of money. Meanwhile, Nathan was working at a farm shoveling horse s#it earning some money. So we were both entrepreneurs at super tiny ages, and by the time we met, we combined everything and started getting the best equipment in the world.
It’s basically like running a farm of songs. The songs are our commodities in the world. They can help people, just like an heirloom tomato helps people by being nutritious. Our songs are doing the same. Combining our resources made that possible.
Nathan is my best friend. We are ridiculous together. Touring with your best friend who happens to be your husband and you have known since you were a kid – it’s amazing.
So I know you are thinking of abandoning the idea of a traditional home for one more in line with a sense of adventure.
I have been obsessed with the tiny house movement since 2008. Literally obsessed. It started because there was a monk that came in and spoke when I was in high school about what caused him to leave a high-powered stockbroker job to become a monk. The one thing I remember that he said was, “Everyday I wake up in the morning and I go to the closet and I have five choices for what to wear and they are all the same.” And I thought to myself, “There is something beautiful and simple in that, and I want to have that one day.”
Being a professional touring musician is the ultimate simplicity of life because you don’t own much other than what you need to perform. Since the first tour we went on, I’ve just owned one bag. And that’s it.
We live in Brooklyn now, and it’s great. But I’ve realized why Nathan and I have had such a hard time deciding the single place where we want to live next. Our lifestyle just doesn’t work with that. Right now, we are on the road 70% of the time. We are thinking it would be amazing to get a 32’ Winnebago and live and tour out of it. We actually were going to buy an amazing tour bus back in September but it burned to the ground 5 days before we cut the check.
Yeah, there was an electrical fire in the roof. So we thought, “Forget it, it must not be right for us.” But now through a lot of prayer and reflection we have realized that we are meant to live super small. The dream would be to have a great tour bus, and then build ourselves a tiny tumbleweed house in a place we love so that we can be on the road and still have a place to call home.
How would you describe your sound and your new record?
Yeah! The new record is called Tones. The sound of it is 1960s meets modern folk-indie-pop-rock. We are classic singer songwriters so there are lyrics filled with imagery, but with a presentation that makes you say, “yeah, I can get groovy to this.” It is going to be out March 2015. We are releasing at SXSW.
The new record is our dream record. We’ve been writing the songs for the past two and a half years, from Portland to Paris. It was crowdfunded by 437 people on Kickstarter this past June, when we raised $35,000. It has been amazing to have the opportunity to have so many people step up to support us because they believe in us. Before that, we had funded everything ourselves. It was really humbling to ask for help.
We are at a really cool point where we are forefronting a new wave of music ideology, and we are pushing boundaries that people wouldn’t have dared to go even five years ago. We are doing things differently, like creating a lifestyle brand of The Bergamot, which is separate from the music. It is all organic, vegan, natural body products like lip balm, face wash, and soap. I am figuring out my own perfect recipe for deodorant lately [laughs]. The products all contain bergamot, an essential oil used to induce happiness and relieve stress. It is a healing oil.
Tell me about how you tap into your spirituality.
I think when you are doing what you are meant to do, its like you are in a spiritual world of giving and receiving. You know, when you are singing on stage, you are so vulnerable. You are giving a part of yourself away. When I sing, I get completely lost in it, in this space of joy and giving and vulnerability and rawness. That is definitely part of how I tap into my spirituality: by accepting who I am, including all of my imperfections.
That is one of the reasons I am really against auto-tune. We all have flaws and I think it is a crime to erase them. I am a big foodie, and to me auto-tuning a voice is like putting hydrogenated oils in a perfectly good biscuit that’s supposed to have four ingredients. That is F*@king bullS#it! I don’t want that in my voice and I don’t want it in my biscuit. [both laugh]
Basically, when it comes to my spirituality, it is this: what you think about grows. I am extremely mindful of my thoughts. What am I saying to myself when I wake up in the morning? What am I thinking when I look at other people? Am I judging them? I try to root myself in gratitude. I start off the day off by looking in the mirror and saying, “There is something I can offer the world that only I can bring.” Everyday I try and start or end my day with Three Good Things, whether it’s reminding myself that I am grateful for heat in the room, or that the car started again, or for my rad husband.
Feeding yourself good thoughts is as important if not more important than feeding yourself good food. Your thoughts will eventually come out of your mouth, send vibrations out into the world, and come back to you.
What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a professional musician?
It was extremely hard for my family when I made the decision that I was going to be a professional touring musician. I wish I would have had advice from someone who had done it before me to get through that period. So for anyone making the leap into the dark unknown, when you don’t know how you are going to get from point A to point B, my best advice would be: trust your instincts, don’t listen to what anyone else has to say, and know that the more you contribute to the world, the more you will get in return.
If you are truly doing something that is aligned with your talent, and you’re in the dark, the light will come soon. Keep practicing at your craft, whatever your craft is. Have faith. It won’t happen overnight. It will take ten years. You will be lucky at year 4 or 5 if you start breaking even or making a little money, but if you situate it right you can live the dream life that you always wanted. I’m at year 5 and I feel like I am just starting to get my wings. That’s crazy, right? I have been doing this every day for 5 years and I have a lot to learn, but I feel like I am just now starting to soar.
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