I see institutions fall prey to greed and corruption everywhere in a dog-eat-dog world, a natural progression to the economic and social systems that dictate our interrelations. The fine thread that keeps the world turning however is the shreds of compassion and empathy we show each other, rather than confronting what makes us all different. Learning to Listen is one half of the Bergamot duo, Nathaniel’s shreds of insight into the world of ubiquitous media, politics of class and society, and the spark within each of us that drives our pursuit of happiness among it all.
When the bulk of writing was occurring, I was experimenting with all sorts of topics. Universal and global. I examined my own weaknesses and saw those as a way to connect to humanity at large. I feel like part of the void that our generation has is empathy. We are more excited to commit people to the digital guillotine than we are to actually understand what makes people different. It’s history though, this is not new. People love watching others fall from grace, but this album just seemed to fit into the concept that we have to fight that urge. That we should be hoping to understand rather than judge.
I never heard my grandmother, who passed away 6 years ago, say a mean word about anyone. Sure she had her beliefs and her feelings about matters, to which she rarely spoke, but she never judged anyone at face value. So, to me, that empathy created a home in which all were welcomed. I wish the world was more like that – but it begins honestly with shutting up and learning to feel empathy. I’m starting there.
The album comprises of Paul’s favourites, from the repository of track concepts that he had worked on towards the Bergamot’s Mayflies, yet do capture his unique language of music outside the pairing. It is a collection of ten tracks in a variety of styles, with a runtime of about 30 minutes, perfect for an introspective lonely drive. The album’s titular track is iconically indie folk Americana, fully reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind with its cyclical lyrical structure and harmonica break. Nathaniel Paul embodies this folk-y style across the album, but to varying effect. For example, It’s All a Rage also blends a tasty ska vibe with its fast-paced melody and percussion, even in its folk setting.
It’s been a wild one for sure. Right before quarantine, The Bergamot had released our critically acclaimed album “Mayflies” (produced by Matt Wiggins) and we were preparing to open for OneRepublic – this would have been a groundbreaking show for us as far as exposure and growth for the group. Quarantine wiped all of that away – and everything else we had. We were not going to release another album in haste – great records take time, not to mention everyone’s schedules! But I was writing 2-3 songs a week for 3-4 months and not all of that was going to make the next The Bergamot record. So I took the songs I loved and put together another record and name the project Nathaniel Paul – my first and middle name. I am not sure where it will all be headed when the world resumes, but I am doing by best to just do the work and create music.
My favourite track on the album, however, feels more like an indie-rock Beach House song. Soothing and swaying, Songbird is a gentle realisation that the world has changed in irreparable ways, and the days that embodied the values Paul stands for can exist outside of memories only through the concerted efforts we make to keep them alive. It’s a gorgeous track that is able to say so much with so little. It’s almost such a perfect fit for the title track if only Learning to Listen wasn’t so good on its own right.
During quarantine, I met an elderly man who struck up a conversation with me. He said: ‘Life is hard when you outlive all the ones you love.’ It seemed like an intense way to start a conversation, but I could tell he just needed someone to talk to. I felt this sense that he had that the world at large had forgotten about him. But he had created a plan to travel the world on a train he had read about. He could work on the train while it took him across the world. He was planning his way out. I think the whole record comes to grips with what Songbird sets out – a mad time that has seen many highs and lows – but ultimately leaves us with one thing: our time on earth and what we do with it. I guess it’s time to learn how to listen.
Paul has such a familiar feel to some of my favourite artists like Mac with his comfortable folk sound, but also is a talented instrumentalist and takes on some creative liberties with fusion styles as well. I must also say that the finesse with which the songs are produced is incredible and layered, but leave Paul’s voice untouched and unmodulated in all regards. It kinda speaks to the rawness and authenticity the album is trying to manifest.
I am a fan of Mac. Great lyrics and catchy bits of instrumentation, what’s not to enjoy? At the beginning of quarantine, I was immersed in all things nostalgic as a way to escape the heavy depression that was lurking around my mind. So I was studying some of the Steely Dan records. I also really like Dave Matthews. The way he intertwines really interesting lyrics with unusual chord shapes and melodies. With ‘Learning to Listen’ I wanted to dive in on making a really strong melodic album – not just the top line – but the music as well. I also pull from a lot of classical music, I have been listening to Chopin on repeat throughout quarantine. So I think my record sits well between those artists.
It’s no surprise that the debut album of a critically acclaimed musician is a phenomenal listen, but it’s got no business being this satisfying both as a musical production as well as a spiritual journey. I wouldn’t miss this one for the world, do check it out.
I don’t know what I would do without music as both an artform and a means of self-expression. As an artform, I love working hard towards making something. Then putting that out and getting skewered. I was told very early in my art education that if I could not accept criticism, then I should not consider creating art. I actually enjoy the critique process – I just have a limited view of people’s criticism. A lot of times it’s a chance for someone to personally reflect on themselves. People who tend to write the harshest words seem to be themselves very unhappy. But they are great for learning and growing. I mean the title of the record is ‘Learning to Listen’.
Which brings in another point about the record. Over the last year The Bergamot has reached the No.1 song ever on the site SubmitHub with our song ‘L.A.’. The site has had over 19+ million submissions. The site also allows the critic to send a message to the artist as to why they didn’t accept a song. I think part of the conceptualization of this record was around my own process of learning to listen to my own critics. Through listening though, I actually wrote better songs. Harsh words are never easy to take, but just remember that is only a singular person’s view. The goal as the artist is to sum the information and align it with what resonates within you for your own personal growth.
The Bergamot is working on a full-length documentary & another record with Matt Wiggins set to be released early next year. Some of the music off the ‘Learning to Listen’ record will be on that mammoth project as well. It’s 6 years in the making – I think it is going to come out pretty cool. It’s called ‘State of the Unity’ and is about a 50-state journey uniting people with art and music. Finally, make sure to follow Nathaniel Paul + The Bergamot on Spotify. Ever Upwards friends!
Part-time writer but full-time music enthusiast, I write some of the features on here. I think appreciating a multitude of genres and styles makes me good at my job, so clicky here to see what I've written!