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ROBERT SMITH, host:

Elliot Bergman's band has a tiny name, NOMO, but they make a huge impression when they drive into town.

Mr. ELLIOT BERGMAN (NOMO Founder): It is quite amazing to see us all pile up. Most people don't believe that we all fit in there. So it's sort of like Tetris with guitar amps and drum sets, and it's a feat.

SMITH: That's one van, dozens of instruments, and eight musicians. It makes for a big sound and excited fans. The group comes from Ann Arbor, Michigan and recently played to packed clubs in New York, including this show at Joe's Pub.

(Soundbite of live music)

SMITH: Elliot Bergman is a one-man band within the band. He's the founder of NOMO, its composer, manager, a reed player, keyboardist, percussionist, and, he says, usually the van's driver. He's also driven NOMO from its roots as a party band at the University of Michigan to where it is now, touring the U.S. with its third album, "Ghost Rock."

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: The band is still touring. Elliot Bergman joins us now from St. Louis, Missouri in the studios of KWMU. Hey, Elliot.

Mr. BERGMAN: Hey, Robert.

SMITH: So halfway through the tour, are you getting along with each other in that tiny van?

Mr. BERGMAN: Everybody is getting along really well. The shows have been going well, which sort of helps morale, and we had a long drive yesterday down a seemingly endless stretch of strip malls and fast food restaurants through Texas. But we're happy to be back in the Midwest.

SMITH: Well, let's talk with the sound of NOMO. If anyone had heard your last album, they would have recognized a lot of the Afro-beat sounds and Fela Kuti and that sort of thing. But in the new album, you say specifically, this is not the Afro-beat or Fela. It's not the revivalist funk of a forgotten decade. So talk about the evolution of the sound of NOMO.

Mr. BERGMAN: Well, I think that those musics that you mentioned, Afro-beat, kind of a 70s funky sound, all that stuff is very much a touchstone for the band when were getting started. But I think, as we've spent more time playing together and touring and recording more together, I think that the band has just sort of kind of tried to focus on the elements that, you know, are maybe unique to the band. I think we're just more comfortable being ourselves.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: Change has been real constant with the band from the beginning. I read that you had over 70 musicians over the last five years that have either played on albums or sat in with you on performances. How did the whole NOMO, I guess, its collective, really, how did it start?

Mr. BERGMAN: It started as sort of a very loose assembly. We were at this great big house in Ann Arbor with a big basement that's appropriate for band practices and late night dance parties and the like. And it was sort of an open call to any of our musician friends, and so we were having 15 people kind of come over and have these sort of unruly raucous sessions. But we're really fortunate that the kind of core eight members who tour with the band have pretty much been there right from the beginning.

SMITH: Is there a unifying vision for the kind of music the eight members like? I mean, I hear, obviously, the funk and a little bit of Afro-beat in there, but we also hear the wall of horns, this Motown sound.

Mr. BERGMAN: Sure. Yeah. Everybody's listening. It's really all over the map. Any given day in the van, we'll be listening to - we'll have like a Neil Young sing-along marathon, sort of a seated dance party to Prince. We've been checking out a bunch of new music and listen to the new Fleet Foxes record a lot, and we have an iPod full of Sun Ra tunes. And it's really a wide range of stuff that everybody's in to, and that's one of the things that's nice about this band is there seems to be space for everybody to kind of feel like they're expressing themselves in the most appropriate way.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: A lot of the grooves are centered this instrument kalimba, or they call it the imbira in different places.

Mr. BERGMAN: There's a lot of different words for it. It's an instrument you'll find all over Africa. Sometimes it's called likembe in the Congo or sansa. There's all these different terms of the traditional instrument. Ours are not exactly traditional. They're sort of hybrid instruments, and a lot of them have sort of different sounds, but they're all sort of based on that idea of vibrating metal tine against a sort of resonating body. Ours are all electric, so they're just sort of on a solid piece of wood.

SMITH: And you had a box of these when you were in New York City, and you showed them to me. They're all different sizes. They're all different shapes, and you make these out of found material, if you find some metal.

Mr. BERGMAN: Most commonly, you could just go to the hardware store and buy a coil of fish tape, which is an electrician's tool, and you could sort of cut those to size and grind them down so that you don't cut your thumbs on them. But then one of the instruments that we used when we were recording in the Eastern Market in Detroit, and we're noticing all of these street sweeper tines all throughout the market. And so I started collecting them, and some of the instruments are actually built out of street sweeper tines. And when we were at Bonnaroo, we found some metal strapping out in the field, and that actually served as a really nice bassy tone. It's a wide range of materials that you can use to make these instruments.

SMITH: Well, I know you've brought in some of these homemade instruments into the studio. So why don't you give us a little audio tour of themselves

Mr. BERGMAN: OK, here. This one is sort of a standard, sounds like a regular kalimba but just sort of like this.

(Soundbite of kalimba)

Mr. BERGMAN: Then we usually put a little bit of distortion on it and then a little sound like this.

(Soundbite of kalimba)

Mr. BERGMAN: And then there's another one, this is the - the one that I was just telling you about, the street sweeper tines from the Eastern Market, and this one is very sort of strange instrument, but it's not one that we use on too many songs. It's very bassy.

(Soundbite of kalimba)

Mr. BERGMAN: And then there's this other one that we ended up using which is also kind of gong-like and bassy.

(Soundbite of kalimba)

SMITH: You know, I'm really interested in how the band responds to different audiences. I saw you played at Joe's Pub in New York City. And it's a wonderful venue, but it's a sit down, have dinner, have drinks, listen to jazz, people sat down and listen politely to your music. And then I know, the next night, you went to a little bit of a rougher club out in Brooklyn and did more of a dance set. Does the whole dynamic of NOMO change with the venue you're at?

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah. Joe's Pub is a great room. The sound is always really good. But it is a little bit more of a subdued crowd and then, you know, Zebulon, it's a very small club, and it was just jam-packed. People were like dancing on the tables by the end of the night, and everyone was sort of drenched in sweat. So very different kind of vibe but we definitely have a soft spot for Zebulon and other venues that kind of blend to the raucous dance party vibe.

SMITH: Well, that is your goal, isn't it? You had told me in New York that you just wanted to make people dance. I mean, a lot of people will talk about your music and the instruments you built and the touchstones from the 70s and the different musical styles that go into it, but at the end of the night, you just want to make people dance?

Mr. BERGMAN: I think that that's something that's pretty powerful and something that doesn't really happen enough. Playing instrument all day as music with kind of a jazz-based instrumentation is something that you don't have too many chances to check out. So we're really happy when people dance, and it's definitely among our core tenets as band is trying to get people to move.

SMITH: Elliot Bergman is the founder of the band NOMO. The group plays tonight in Omaha, Nebraska and after that, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles in the west coast. He joined us from the studios of KWMU in St. Louis. Thanks, Elliot.

Mr. BERGMAN: Thanks so much, Robert.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: You can hear songs from NOMO's new album, "Ghost Rock," and see a slideshow of the band's handmade instruments on our music site at npr.org. This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week. I'm Robert Smith.

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