In May I had the opportunity to see The Bird and The Bee at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which was the LA-based duo’s first show together in five years. With a new album, Recreational Love, out July 17th and a show at LA’s Ace Hotel this Sunday, July 12th, I caught up with one half of the project, Inara George (the other half being producer extraordinaire Greg Kurstin) to discuss the new album, get details on the upcoming show, and defend Los Angeles from the haters.

First off, let me say how amazing it is to be interviewing you! I first heard The Bird and The Bee through your rendition of “Carol of the Bells” when I was working at a Starbucks in 2008, and since then I’ve been a really big fan of yours.

Aww, you’re so sweet. Thank you!

Recreational Love is the project’s first album in five years. Were you and Greg just really busy on other projects?

Yeah, you know we both had kids, and Greg’s work has been flourishing (he was nominated for a GRAMMY, and his work with Sia has been exploding the past year). We would always get together and love being in a band together, but it’s always kind of been fun, something we enjoy, and so it gets put a bit on the back burner.

But we’ve been slowly chipping away at the record over the past five years. It’s always been on our mind that we were going to release this record; it’s just taken longer, maybe longer than we expected, but now it’s here!

The thing about the album that I thought was kind of interesting was that it’s more R&B and smooth rock-influenced than your previous outputs. Do you think that maybe that is because your last album was a cover of Hall and Oates songs and you have taken that influence to your original music?

As Greg has put it, we do sort of put ourselves through a Hall and Oates kind of filter on that record. I do think it informed our process a little bit in the kind of music we’re interested in making. I think with our creative process, we just want to stay present in what we’re doing, what we’re listening to, and how we’re feeling, so I’m sure that Hall and Oates had some influence on this record, amongst other things. But yeah, it’s our next chapter.

And was there an overall aim to this record or did it just come together organically?

Well, you know, making a record over five years, the record changed. We threw out a lot of songs. Our general process is we pick one or two songs for the record, and then we’ll write one and say we want the record to sound like this and go in that kind of direction. Not to say that all the songs are going to sound the same, but they are all cut from the same palate.

With this record, it sort of changed. We went back and forth on a couple different songs, and we had a whole other group of songs and got rid of a ton of them. We sort of A&R’d ourselves pretty well, so it took us a minute to figure out what exactly we wanted the palate to be, but then finally we came to these last 10 songs. Our past, present, and future are presented in this new album.

Bird and the bee recreational love

I always find it interesting in the way that when you two work together, you play these chords and make changes that maybe others wouldn’t do in the traditional pop world, and yet it’s danceable. How do you work on balancing the traditional pop sensibilities with the borderline experimental quality to your music?

I think Greg first and foremost is a really incredible producer and musician, and I think what’s fun about The Bird and The Bee for him is that it is his music. We both like to push things as far as we can and in all directions, to push the pop as far as we can without turning over into actual top 40. Not that we wouldn’t want to be top 40. We’d love to have a song that is top 40, but we also like to pull back and do things that are more complex musically.

We like to play all the sides, and because it’s not our main project that we’re doing all the time, we just like to have fun. We make these songs that feel fun and exciting for our listeners, but they are also for us to play, to just experiment. Sometimes The Bird and The Bee feels like more of a side project, even though it isn’t, and that gives us a freedom to experiment a little.

Because of that pushing, you guys also have this balance of retro vibes with contemporary subjects. Is there an active attempt to maintain that sense of duality in your music?

We were attracted to each other musically in the first place because we both drew from the same kind of palate of music. When we are getting inspired to write a song, we sometimes listen to other music and discuss how we would like to pull in that feeling.

We sort of pay homage to the things we love but then try to keep the contemporary sounds as much as possible, especially in regards to language. By keeping the contemporary language, we’re playing on both sides. I don’t know if this is something we’re doing intentionally. It’s just the way we get together musically. We get together and create our own version of stuff.

Is there anything in particular that you are creating a new version of? Because I’ve noticed that one song on each album has this Broadway feeling to it, like “Lovey Dovey,” the last song on Recreational Love. When I listen to it, I can see the staging of it. You on stage singing a ballad to somebody. That’s what it feels like to me.

I don’t think that we’re intentionally doing that. To me, that song has more of a 1960s pop feel to it, like a pop ballad. I think the 1960s were an incredible time for music because it was all really pop, but it was challenging music. Just listen to the orchestrations or even the ways that the chord changes happen in the standards. It was a great time for music.

On the Broadway musical aspect, I remember at one point Greg and I were inspired by Broadway musicals, in particular that film Bugsy Malone. It was popular when Greg and I were kids. It starred Jodie Foster and Scott Baio, and it was this gangster movie but with all kids, and we were like “Let’s make it sound kind of like that.”

It’s similar to how in the ’60s, standard songs would be recorded by Frank Sinatra or Rosemary Clooney or whoever, and it would be each person’s interpretation of the song rather than original music. We sometimes approach the writing of songs in that way.

Bird and the bee tennis

I have a question about the tennis motif featured on the newest album cover. Does it have anything to do with the album title, Recreational Love?

There’s a song on the record called “Recreational Love,” and it’s basically saying that no, there is no such thing as recreational love. It’s not a reality. I just know when I was younger, I think it’s like you get this freedom of sexuality, so you get to have sex with everybody, and no one is going to judge you for it, but I think in the end, it’s difficult to just have recreational love. In terms of the sporting aspect, it was more just a play on words. Since the title is Recreational Love, it was a fun motif for the record visuals.

I like that because it’s more ironic in a way because you’re saying it’s not recreational, and yet everything is sporting.

I think it is. The Bird and The Bee is definitely more tongue and cheek, with plays on words. That’s sort of where my head space is when I’m writing the lyrics. When you’re hearing the words in the songs, there’s a little bit more of an undercurrent of humor. That’s how I think of it.

I sometimes get criticized for that, but I do feel like when I listen to some pop music, it feels silly to me because it is so earnest, and when you’re talking about this stuff, it isn’t so black and white. I guess that’s how it’s fun for me to make pops songs, by having humor involved, too.

Yeah, that one song that you guys did, “Fucking Boyfriend,” that in itself is kind of hilarious because it’s very aggressive lyrically, but then the music itself is very breezy.

I think that’s what we try to do. You’re saying one thing, and then the sound of it feels different. The song is kind of always playing. It’s the same thing with the retro and contemporary. We’re always just trying to play both sides. I don’t really know if we are consciously doing it.

It just sort of happens.

Yeah, it’s our personalities, who we are.

When you started playing the song “Los Angeles” at the show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, you were saying how you guys are both from Los Angeles but no one ever believes that you’re from Los Angeles, which always happens to me, too.

Are you from LA, too?

Yeah, I mean, I’m from the Valley, but you go to parties in the city and no one believes you, or everyone is from somewhere else, and it’s like, “No, I’m from here.” Do you think that your native Los Angeles status has influenced your music at all?

We both grew up here, so I’m sure we’re influenced by the music that was popular. Greg and I have a kind of kinship in terms of who we are and where we grew up. You share a certain language, I think.

Even with stuff like the driving, when people are so freaked out by it and you’re like, “Well, it’s just what it is.” Or even the seasons. People are like, “Oh, there’s no seasons here,” and I’m like, “Well, there are. It’s just subtle.” But I don’t know if it’s influenced our music. Maybe it has.

Do you think of that song as a love letter to that experience of being a native Los Angeles resident?

Yeah, in a way I feel like being from LA, you have to defend your home. I don’t mind when people ask where I’m from, but when people who know say “No…”

The whole song was inspired by this conversation I had with this girl who I think was having an affair with my boyfriend at the time. I had been gone for about four weeks on a trip and came back feeling like something had happened here with this girl. We were having this conversation at a party, and she was like, “Where are you from?” and I said, “I’m from LA,” and she responded with, “No, where are you really from?”

It’s like you have to defend your LA status because people are so rude about Los Angeles. I think it’s changing, but I feel like for the longest time I always had to defend my city. There are definitely problems with it, but I do feel like LA is a very unique place. If you don’t know the lay of the land, then you’re not going to understand it. It’s like a boyfriend that no one understands because he doesn’t talk at the party, but you have to explain that, “When we’re together, he’s so intelligent and writes me notes!”

So the song is half a love letter to LA, but it’s also saying that you don’t have to defend yourself.

The song is sort of in defense of Los Angeles instead of just declaring undying love.

I’m defending my lover.

Bird and the bee 2

I like that! And speaking of Los Angeles and all that, what can fans expect from your show at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Sunday?

Something similar to what you saw at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It hasn’t changed so much.

So more tennis balls in the crowd?

No, someone got hit!

Oh no!

Yeah, a fan got hit, so we are not going to do that anymore. We felt terrible, so that’s not gonna happen. Maybe we’ll have a contest or something. Hopefully we’ll think of something fun.

I saw you did a scavenger hunt for tickets. Are you doing that again or was it just that one time?

I think it was just that one time.

I really enjoyed when it was just you and Greg and a piano during the encore at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery show. Do you think that you’ll have the same kind of vibe at the end of the show at the Ace Hotel?

Yeah, we sort of always do that. That’s our thing. That’s how we started. When Greg and I met, we just sat down and played every jazz standard we knew. It’s what got us to want to write together, so it’s fun to incorporate that into our shows. To us it’s meaningful. Plus Greg gets to play the piano as well as he is able to, which is a great thing to hear.

It really was one of the most beautiful endings to a show I had seen in a while. Do you think you’ll release an acoustic album?

You know, I think we might! We have a lot of ideas for records, and I think some kind of record like that would be really pretty.

I look forward to it if it happens.

Thank you so much!

Is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers of LA Music Blog?

It’s always a fun show for us in LA. We’re from here, and the crowds are always excited to see us and we’re excited to see them.

*****

See The Bird and The Bee this Sunday, July 12th, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel!

Find out more about The Bird and The Bee.