The performing careers of Thomas Bergstig and Isaac Middleton went from head to toe - literally.
Before they knew each other, Bergstig, 42, and Middleton, 25, sang in their first musical - “Hair” - in separate productions in different countries.
Now they are tap dancing - while playing musical instruments - in Swedish Gun Factory.
The duo recently released a promotional video, which features examples of their tap dancing and music, on youtube.
Bergstig, who is from Stockholm, Sweden, began playing piano when he was 10, but he sang on stage for the first time in “Hair” when he was 21 after meeting a woman involved in theater. “Musical theater was totally my thing after that,” he said. “I guess it’s a combination of that wholeness of acting, singing, dancing. The whole production.”
A few years later, Bergstig and some friends formed a tap dancing group called JEERK, which stood for the last names of members Jansson, Eriksson, Erixzon, Regnell and Karlsson. “My name didn’t make it,” Bergstig said.
Like Swedish Gun Factory, the members of the group, which still performs around the country, play musical instruments while they dance.
In 2009, JEERK got a gig in Branson, Mo. Bergstig stayed after he met Memphis singer Alexis Grace at the Andy Williams Theater. He eventually moved to Memphis and he and Grace were married.
Bergstig taught tap dancing and, later, became music director at Bolton High School before landing the music director position at Playhouse on the Square.
A native of Harlan, Ky, Middleton grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his parents were missionaries. “I just grew up in a different world, which gave me a different perspective of things,” Middleton said.
He played bass and later keyboards before venturing onto other instruments in “El Cordero” (The Lamb), a praise and worship band at his church.
Middleton became fascinated with tap dancing when he was 15. “I saw ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ for the first time. And it just blew me away. I loved it. So, I went on line and tried to learn the different steps on YouTube and stuff. I was terrible.”
His first theatrical venture was performing in the ensemble in a 30-minute repertory version of “Hair” at Western Kentucky University.
He took his first tap dance class in college. “I didn’t have tap shoes ‘cause I ordered the wrong pair. And then they wouldn’t come in for two months. So, my first dance class I spent just wearing jazz shoes. It’s just a soft shoe. I think it helped, honestly, ‘cause I wasn’t making too many loud noises and I got to think how it felt rather how it sounded.”
Middleton moved to Memphis last year to appear in Playhouse on the Square’s production of “Kiss Me Kate.”
He met Bergstig on a friend’s porch. “He seemed like the coolest dude. And he tap danced. I messaged him after I met him and I was like, ‘Dude, if you ever want to tapdance let me know.’”
Bergstig called him soon after. “He had all the choreography ready,” Middleton said. “We would try certain things, but it was him showing me the moves. And me hoping I would get it. And I usually got it.”
They began writing music and developing tap dance routines. They occasionally sing during a number. “When we write something it, literally, can turn out to be anything,” Bergstig said. “And the tap dance helps, too, ‘cause we view it as an instrument more than the dance.”
“The main reason we got together and started working in the first place is he wanted to audition on ‘America’s Got Talent,’” Middleton said. “That was his main thing.”
They didn’t get on the TV show, but Swedish Gun Factory was born.
Bergstig and Middleton wanted a name people would strongly react to. “Swedish Gun Factory,” was “like a thing that shouldn’t exist,” Bergstig said. “A Swedish gun factory? No such thing.”
He and Middleton play several instruments, including guitar, piano, banjo and mandolin, and employ a range of musical styles from classical to punk rock while they’re tapping. “It can be almost a symphonic piece to emo to Death Cab for Cutie,” Bergstig said.
They dance in special tap shoes, which were created for JEERK. “We built these tap shoes out of sneakers because we were ruining all the other shoes so fast,” Bergstig said.
The shoes originally were built by a cobbler in Sweden. He added a metal plate on the inside so the taps could be screwed into the bottom. He then built up the inner sole with leather.
“It’s very comfortable,” said Middleton. “It’s heavier, so you feel a lot more grounded when you tap. So, you can do a lot more powerful things without doing much damage to your feet.”
“The only thing is it’s difficult to be really fast because they’re so heavy,” Bergstig said.
Their first gig was at the Hi-Tone. “It went really well,” Middleton said. “We had a guitar tap number that we did. ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’”
Bergstig and Middleton recently appeared in Playhouse on the Square’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet.” Bergstig played “Fluke” the drummer and Middleton played “Carl Perkins.”
In about a month, Swedish Gun Factory is going to regroup, but not go out of business. Bergstig and Grace are moving to Los Angeles. “I’m going to set up camp and really try to promote this thing,” Bergstig said. “There’s so much fun commercial art happening there.”
Middleton plans to eventually join them. “I’m kind of letting him set up camp before I plop myself down there.”
Except for the shoes, the Swedish Gun Factory members haven’t adopted an on-stage look. “He’s not a fan of skinny jeans,” Middleton said. “I enjoy the skinny jean look. But that’s just my emo self.”
For now, they wear blue jeans or sweats and button downs or T-shirts. “We’ll figure it out,” Middleton said. “We’ll start with the art.”