In I Made You A Mixtape, we ask our favorite musicians, actors, writers, directors, or whatevers to strut their musical savvy: We pick a theme, they make us a mix.
The mixer: As one half of Wild Belle, Elliot Bergman makes reggae-infused psychedelic pop complete with saxophone sounds and sharp sibling sibilance courtesy of sister Natalie. The group’s debut record, Isles, is out now on Columbia records, and the band will be playing a number of tour dates in the near future. Given Bergman’s clear fondness for bells—or at least belles—we thought it would be interesting to ask him to put together a mix of his favorite chiming cuts.
Albert Ayler, “Bells” (1965)
Elliot Bergman: That record is great. Albert Ayler is just one of the most fiery, spiritual saxophone players. I just really love his sound. He has a very interesting, almost militaristic, melodic approach. It sounds like marches or something that’s totally crazy and freaked out. You’ve got to love him.
Bob Dylan, “Ring Them Bells” (1989)
The A.V. Club: “Ring Them Bells” is obviously about bells, but there aren’t any bells in the song.
EB: He just says the word “bells” a lot. Bells, church, St. Catherine, St. Peter, and the poor man’s son. “So the world will know that God is one.” All that kind of stuff.
AVC: It’s a deep Dylan cut.
EB: I love Dylan. And I love that record [Oh Mercy]. That’s one he did with [producer Daniel] Lanois. I love the sound of the record. It definitely sounds like it came from the time that it did, but it also stands up throughout time, and I just really like the production of it. That is just really moving to me.
Liquid Liquid, “Optimo” (1983)
AVC: This track is one of my favorite songs of all time.
EB: It has one of the best cowbell parts of all time, and it’s one of the few songs to underutilize the reverse cowbell.
AVC: What’s that?
EB: Well, it has that really amazing cowbell part, and then it goes in reverse for just, like, one bar and then the beat drops.
AVC: I know people love that song, but I want more people to know it. It makes me sad that it’s not like a jock jam in a way. I want it to be everywhere.
EB: Now That’s What I Call Cowbell Volume 1. Maybe The A.V. Club can put that out.
AVC: We could also do Now That’s What I Call Whistling and Now That’s What I Call Handclaps.
Pharoah Sanders, “Astral Travelling” (1987)
EB: This playlist is really getting a little bit out there now.
Pharoah Sanders is another great, spiritual true jazzer. I really love this recording. It’s very spacious. There are constantly ringing bells at the beginning of the song. So it’s another good use of bells.
Bells are very spiritual, you know. They signify the changing of something. They’re used in so many different religious traditions and so, oftentimes when they come into music, they can set that kind of tone. That’s what I like about this particular Pharoah Sanders record. It has a mystical feel.
Kasai Allstars, “Drowning Goat” (2008)
AVC: Your last two picks are both pretty spiritual, including this Kasai Allstars song. This is another amazing track.
EB: It really is. I just got that Congotronics vinyl boxset, which is really amazing, so that was fresh on my mind. That whole Congotronics team has been hugely inspirational to me. They build all their own instruments, and I also build a lot of instruments, including some variations on pianos. But the instruments that Kasai Allstars use are just so beautiful and so crazy. They have a kind of giant wooden bells that they play with mallets that just have the most otherworldly sound.
That Pharoah Sanders record, “Astral Travelling,” and this Kasai Allstars, as soon as you put those records on, you just have the sense that you are in a completely different place than you may have been before. The sound is just so far from what you’re used to hearing every day. The style just has a transporting quality to me. It’s their sound, the tuning, and the way that the rhythm just carries on. It just really takes you to another place.
AVC: It’s so reverential, too. It seems like they had to make the music, like it was done with purpose rather than because they were bored in a basement in New Jersey or something.
EB: It’s really vital music. It’s so much like a part of the community. It’s a beautiful coming together of this group of people, and that’s something that’s striking about this music.
Gamelan Angklung, “Galang Kangin” (Traditional)
AVC: Isn’t gamelan sometimes played during Balinese religious ceremonies?
EB: Yeah, it’s the royal court music. It’s very holy. The instruments are also extremely beautiful, like they’re bronze bells and gongs.
University Of Michigan hosted a lot of ensembles for a couple of years while I went there. It was great just being able to sit in front of those instruments and hear all the overtones building up. It’s an orchestra of about 20 people, and all these sounds are happening around you. It has such rich timbres, and the overtones are so complex.
That’s one of those things where I just get a certain feeling about that music. It’s kind of meditative. It’s just very repetitive and chant-like, almost. But it’s also some of the most beautiful bell music you could ever hear.
AVC: How much do you reflect back on this type of reverential, meditative music when Wild Belle is writing new material?
EB: We’re making pop music, basically, but we have this filter of being interested in sound and being interested in timbre and some gamelan structures. It creeps in. There are hints of it in our music, but we’re definitely more firmly camped out in a Western zone on the Wild Belle record. But our ears are always open to these different sounds, and that’s where we get a lot of our inspiration. So it might be in a little flourish here and there, or it might just be a few little different textures that creep up on the record. There’s the point of inspiration, but the main inspiration for Wild Belle is coming from soul music and doo-wop, early R&B and rock, ’70s, and early reggae.