Inara George has several lives as a musician and as a haunting, expressive vocalis: as a solo artist, as a member of The Living Sisters. Yet it is her work as The Bird and The Bee with Greg Kurstin – producer and co-songwriter to the likes of Adele, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney — that intrigues us this week as the ensemble hits World Café Live on August 16 for one of its rare shows hot on the heels of Interpreting the Masters, Volume 2: A Tribute to Van Halen. We caught up to her in a tour bus en route to the east coast to discuss all manner of bird talk.
The Key: You’re busy, Greg is busy. How and when do the two of you decide that maybe The Bird and The Bee should manifest itself? Does it come down to specific ideas? Who motivates who?
Inara George: We installed a weekly session where we would work on stuff. Now, I also have a baby, and Greg works on all sorts of stuff, but I know for our last record, that really worked out. We have a standing date every Friday from 10 to 12 where we just work together. If we don’t put it in the calendar, it can just get away from us. That set time allows us to chip away at stuff.
TK: Is that how you guys operated The Bird and The Bee at the start?
IG: At the start, we both had more time. [laughs] We were younger. Now, the project has a life of its own. We made decisions to have families. What has lasted is that we are excited to do The Bird and The Bee together.
TK: So, it’s never one person taking over or leading. You guys hooked up because you had him on your first album, yes?
IG: Yeah, Mike Andrews was producing and knew Greg and asked him to play on my record. Mike brought us together, this at a time when Greg was just starting to write and produce for other people. When we started to get together to play, almost immediately, we began thinking about writing something. We liked that process, and from there thought doing something together would be fun.
TK: I had planned to ask the both of you this, but, I’m sure you know: what did he like about you – find so different about you – and you him? What makes writing with him so different than other collaborators?
IG: If I may venture [laughs[ I think that the thing that clicked with us is that we have very similar sensibilities about music. We like the same kind of music. We’re adventurous about the stuff that we want to try. Why that is different than anyone else is that I’m very supportive of him doing whatever he wants to do – be it genre he wishes to try, working with other musicians. No matter. We’re truly supportive, You know how you can go clothes shopping with someone and push them to buy the cool shoes? That’s us. When he works with other artists, he can make anything they want happen. There’s real joy there. Greg can truly get his rocks off when he works with him.
TK: Not to sound inorganic, but do you feel as if, in your other work – whether it is solo music or The Living Sisters, or whathaveyou – you work as hard as possible to NOT sound so Bird or so Bee? Or am I overthinking it?
IG: You’re overthinking it. [laughs] I just do what comes out. Playing with Greg is joyful, fun and right. I don’t think that changes when I do stuff not with Greg. I can handle myself in any situation.
TK: For two people who, together or apart, write so dynamically, your records are mostly weird, bold covers of other people’s music. What can you tell me about “Interpreting the Masters” as a concept, or did you just bump into Van Halen and Hall & Oates records and think they would be whack to deconstruct?
IG: The first one, the Hall & Oates album, we knew we loved to do covers. We didn’t think of it as a series…we did think, however, that there was something challenging about shining a light on an artist. At that time, Hall & Oates were not considered…I don’t know…cool.
TK: Now, they are mad cool.
IG: Definitely. But, I think we wanted to explore parts of their songs that you wouldn’t normally think of as key to their songwriting prowess. There was no irony to it. We wanted to pay tribute and make these songs our own. We don’t want people to think this is funny, or that we are having a laugh. This is serious and deep tribute. That bled over to Van Halen.
TK: Yes, what could the challenges be there, especially considering that not only did you jazz up their finest moments but you stripped their songs of their guitar heft?
IG: Their songwriting doesn’t get enough due. We wanted to shed light on that, and on differing arrangements so to show other manners in which their songs could sound cool.
TK: The Van Halen album is mostly jazz. Not exclusively. Are you going into the process with an overarching concept or sound, then picking songs, or are you just selecting and figuring out later?
IG: It’s a little more haphazard than that.
TK: Man, I’m giving you guys so much more credit for being smart than you deserve. [laughs]
IG: [laughs] We started the record with Joey Waronker on drums and made a really live sounding record, 44 songs. We knew we wanted to pay homage to a guitarist — Eddie Van Halen — without guitars, so why not have an insane keyboardist such as Greg do that?
The Bird and The Bee plays World Cafe Live on Friday, August 16th. Tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
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