© 2021
In touch with the world ... at home on the High Plains
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Natalie Bergman Explores Grief, Faith In New Album 'Mercy'


Natalie Bergman was already contending with grief months before the pandemic covered the world in it.


NATALIE BERGMAN: (Singing) The pain in my chest was blinding. I don't want to live without him. How do I learn how to die again? It all ended with a crash. Tell me, heaven, where was your grace?

SIMON: The sudden loss of her father and stepmother in 2019 made her take a fresh view of her faith and her music - the journey that she presents in her new album, "Mercy." Natalie Bergman joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

BERGMAN: Thank you for having me. I've been looking forward to this conversation.

SIMON: There you were, about to go on stage at Radio City in New York, which has to be a high moment in your life. And you got this terrible news. What was that like?

BERGMAN: Well, I got the call from the coroner. And I couldn't really believe it. They said that my father had been killed in a car accident. And my father and I had a tremendously close relationship. He was my father. And he was also my mentor and...

SIMON: Musical family.

BERGMAN: For sure. My dad was kind of my biggest fan. And he was also my biggest critic. And I found myself in conversation with him many times about my lyrics and about my songwriting. And he was a very crucial person in my life as a developing musician.

SIMON: It occurs to me I have to ask you a question that otherwise might be a lapse. You got this terrible call as you were about to go onstage. Did you take the stage?

BERGMAN: I didn't. We ended the tour immediately. It also seemed to kind of end my musical ambitions all at once. I felt as though I lost my identity with his death. I just didn't really understand who I was.

SIMON: Yeah. I would like for us to listen to some of the song that you wrote, "Your Love Is My Shelter."


BERGMAN: (Singing) I miss your blue eyes that you gave to me. I see the white pines that you planted. Out on our last ride what you said to me that you won't be here forever.

It's really a love song for my father. And it's the story of the last time I saw him, which was a really beautiful day. It was early fall, I guess. And he had this urgency to see me. I was playing a show in New York. And he called me. And he was like, why don't you just get on a plane and come back to Chicago? I just want to see you. I want to spend some time with you. We went on a bike ride through the forest preserve. And we stopped at a grove of these tall white pines. And he recently planted his own white pines. And he kind of looked up at these massive trees and said, you know, I'm not going to be around long enough to see my white pines grow. And a few weeks later, he was killed by a drunk driver. But I'm thankful that I got to see him and have that last experience with him.


BERGMAN: (Singing) Your love is my shelter. Your love is my shelter.

SIMON: I want to talk to you about faith. And I make a point of saying faith as opposed to religion.


SIMON: I gather you went on a silent retreat at a monastery.

BERGMAN: I did. I sort of felt like I reached the point of complete isolation. And I wondered, OK, now, how can I possibly be more lonely in this world?


SIMON: Yeah.

BERGMAN: And I was like, oh, I've got an idea. I'm going to go alone to the desert and spend many days in silence. And it was actually a pretty harrowing experience. It was in the Chama Valley in the middle of winter. And it was just very cold. And there were seven ceremonies a day. And I'd walk to the chapel. The first one started at 4 a.m. And I had to follow the moonlight, which illuminated the red clay path to the chapel. And it sounds kind of romantic talking about it now.

SIMON: I was about to say it sounds romantic. But I also can't imagine volunteering to do it (laughter).

BERGMAN: Well, there are creatures out at 4 in the morning, you know?

SIMON: Yeah.

BERGMAN: They're all going back to their den. So you kind of encounter a buck with huge antlers or, you know, a family of coyotes. And so, you know, it was a beautiful time for me because I was able to listen. When you have a silent retreat, you're not able to speak. So you...

SIMON: Yeah.

BERGMAN: I have a lot of answers about death and about heaven.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. What did you hear? Can you clue us in?

BERGMAN: I learned that heaven is a place that we don't comprehend. We can't comprehend what our eyes have seen here on Earth and what our lips have tasted and our noses have smelled. That's not what heaven is. We have no idea what it is. But I have faith that it's a place that exists. And I believe that's where my father is.


BERGMAN: (Singing) Father, when I'm lost, I come to you. You will fail me not. You will not forsake me.

Faith has been my greatest consolation in losing the people that I love. It's what I turn to. And it's what allows me to come back to life. I've tried other things. And I found that my faith is the most persistent thing that I have. And it's a healing agent, you know? And I certainly didn't write these songs to sound preachy or impose my beliefs on anyone. But I wrote them because I needed to. I wrote them out of necessity.

SIMON: Well, that's - I mean, that's one of the oldest sources of inspiration for art, isn't it?

BERGMAN: Definitely.

SIMON: What song would you like us to play that captures your parents' best, do you think? - your feelings for each other?

BERGMAN: That's a really sweet way of putting it. I think that the song "Home At Last" is one that my dad would really love. I think he would really like the lyrics on this. And it's kind of the mission statement to this album.


BERGMAN: (Singing) I come to you to answer my prayer. I long to know about heaven.

SIMON: Natalie Bergman. Her new album is "Mercy." Thank you so much for being with us.

BERGMAN: Thank you so much for having me.


BERGMAN: (Singing) Where does the soul begin? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.