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Interview: Husband-Wife Duo Touring U.S., Living out Music Dream

The Bergamot are currently on a 50-state national tour in the United States.

While plenty of people have minds full of lingering dreams when they settle down in life–such as being rock stars or dropping everything, jumping in a car and traveling the country–husband and wife Nathaniel Paul Hoff and Jillian Speece are exceptions.

Known as musical duo The Bergamot, Hoff and Speece are actually living their dreams as reality. In fact, their latest project allows them to live the dream of being rock stars, cross country travelers and messengers of love and oneness.

Dubbed the “Unity Collective USA Tour,” Speece, 28, and Hoff, 30, are on a 50-state tour where their main purpose is to share and collect messages of solidarity. They are traveling in a 14-year-old Volvo, which they call the “Unity Car.” The car serves as a key in this particular tour, not only because it’s their means of transportation, but because it serves as the canvas for all the messages the band is collecting from fans. After each show, the two have fans sign their car with messages of unity and joy. They have collected hundreds of signatures and their car looks like a driving notebook. At the conclusion of the tour, the band will auction off the vehicle with the hundreds of signatures from across the U.S. and donate the proceeds to the Memorial Children’s Hospital’s Music Therapy Department.

“It’s a journey,” Hoff said referring to the tour that launched from New York City this past January and is set to end in October. When Speece and Hoff spoke to 45s and 40s in June they were on state number 26.

The tour is a massive undertaking, but it’s something the Brooklyn-based band–best known for their positive and uplifting themes in their music–takes on with vigor and excitement, even when thinking back to how it began.

“When we were coming up with the idea of the Unity Collective, it was kind of this crazy thought that I had,” Hoff said. “I just had this revelation that we should just take this car, take it to all 50 states, have people sign it, have the president sign it and then we’ll auction it off for charity.”

“The old car sitting on the side of the road,

Bet the seats are all worn down,

Fill it up with gas, we’re gonna take it out,”

– The Bergamot on “Miles.” Nathaniel said the song served as an inspiration for the Unity Tour.

So far in the tour, the band has amassed nearly 35,000 miles on the Unity Car, which now has more than 300,000 miles on it. For that kind of wear and tear on both the car and themselves, a love of the road and of each other is a must, they said. Luckily, The Bergamot have had years to develop both.

Originally from South Bend, Indiana, Hoff and Speece met in 2003, when Speece was looking for guitar lessons. They were both in high school and quickly became friends. From early on, it was clear that music was vital to their relationship, forming the basis of their bond. First as friends and then as a couple.

“Without the music, I don’t think that our relationship would have started,” Hoff said.

On their most recent album, Tones, the band put their love story into a song called “School Notes,” which channels the memories of their earliest emotions for one another.

“We don’t write about anything that we haven’t directly experienced or experienced through someone else,” Speece said.

Best known for their positive and uplifting sound, The Bergamot officially formed in 2008. They chose the name, The Bergamot, after an Italian citrus orange used to induce happiness and raise spirits. The name fit well with the style of music they wanted to create.

“[We said] ‘Let’s create something awesome–let’s do something bigger than life,” Speece said. “‘Let’s brighten people’s day up.'”

Though they aren’t quite the household name yet, The Bergamot is a band to keep an eye out for.

The band took home the 2012 trophy at Bud Light’s Battle of the Bands. They’ve recorded three full-length albums, extensively toured North America and Europe, and have opened up for artist like All American Rejects, Wiz Kalifa and Young The Giant, according to their website. They’ve performed at popular festivals like South by South West, Taste of Chicago, The Traverse City Film Festival, Bud Light’s Port Paradise Music Festival and, most recently, the Summer Camp Music Festival in Chicago.

The Bergamot have released more than 100 songs and have registered more than 300 tour dates, according to their site. Their body of work is a byproduct of more than 12 years of writing, work and sacrifice.

“We’re born artists, we’re born musicians,” Speece said. “We live and die by our craft. We’ve leveraged everything we’ve ever owned, everything we’ve ever done to pursue music.”

In fact, their most recent album, Tones, was crowdfunded through a Kickstarter, raising $35,000. The Unity Tour is also crowdfunded, and after the band married in 2013, they used all the money from their wedding to move to New York City to pursue their musical dream.

It wasn’t an easy move or journey for a “small town [band] gone big town,” Hoff said.

A few months after the move, Speece and Hoff were struggling financially and questioning how they were going to manage to pay for rent and necessities. In that dark tough moment though they found a positive, however. The duo channels feeling that in “Alive” off of Tones. The song hits themes of perseverance and appreciating what you have.

Mother dear, we’re so alone,

We’re holding on, but our hands have grown,

And there are days when I’d rather give in

But we’re alive, we’re alive, we’re alive

The Bergamot. “Alive”

“[‘Alive’ is] totally about us being together in our apartment and shit’s hitting the fan and we don’t know how we’re going to pay for our lives,” Speece said.

The song was picked up by Paste Magazine, which called it a “hard-hitting, catchy-as-hell single.”

Other songs that help uplift and spread their message is their live in the present themed “Forget About Tomorrow,” also off of Tones, and their feel-good single “Shake Ur Brotha,” off of Static Flowers.

“We’re spreading a message of unity and oneness,” Speece said. “I guess we see the world, you know, as half full.”

The duo strives to measure up to musical greats like The Beatles who had an uplifting, feel-good message–sounds that they believe are lacking in music right now.

“We wanted people to feel like we’re touching into that vintage sixties vibe,” Hoff said.

On the Unity Tour–like the tours before it–they’re allowed to take those messages to their fans.

“There is just such a great demand for it,” Hoff said.

The band keeps fans up-to-date on the tour through a series of videos called the “State of the Unity.”

Because of their extensive touring, another major theme the band hits in their music is their love of the road. Many of their songs are about traveling and the opportunities and freedom the open road brings. On “Me and Roscoe,” off of their 2010 LP Haven, the band hits each of those themes.

And we finally get to get out of here,

We’re going to L.A., New York, Chicago

All the way up to Seattle,

And back around again,

Hello, you, new faces, places and spaces,

It sure is nice to greet you here,

And the city is looking fine this time of year,

From “Me and Roscoe”

The melody is slow and hypnotic and Speece’s voice harmonizes with it fluently. It tells the story about a couple driving through the country and falling in love in the midst of their travels. It is essentially the band’s life right now. A day ends and a new one begins in a new location.

But, life on the road, wasn’t always easy. Though it sounds like a dream, it’s hardly ideal. They constantly are on the move, putting in long hours on a regular basis–sometimes running on only five hours of sleep before moving to the next city. In fact, when they sat down for this phone interview in Indiana, the duo had just flown in from Los Angeles after traveling from Chicago where they played at Summer Camp.

“We’re used to this,” Speece said. “This is our normal.”

Hoff said The Bergamot have “definitely found a love of it” and Speece said their journey as musicians and the tour they’re on is “worth it.”

“It’s about following your passion and cultivating community and being able to be a greater part of the world in a real positive way,” she said. “That’s the point of why we’re really alive.”

It’s a dream. It’s their dream. The best part of that? Sharing it with each other.

“The greatest thing is to be able to encourage each other on this life journey,” Jillian said. “How many people get to pursue their dreams and live a life that they’re creating with the person they love the most in the world?”

The Bergamot are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and have their own site.

Juan Siliezar
the authorJuan Siliezar
Juan is a Providence, R.I.-based writer who contributes to the modern rock section. Juan is an avid writer, reader and lover of simple things. Besides music, his interest lies in education. He writes grant proposals for a Boston education nonprofit and was a contributing writer at Noodle Education.

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