by Lora Kolodny (pics via)
The Bird and the Bee dropped their moody, well-crafted record Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future (available on Blue Note Records) on eager pop-attuned ears this winter. The stellar musicianship and commercial appeal landed the group live spots on shows from Ellen to Leno.
Comprised of rock veterans Greg Kurstin (best known as a producer of Beck, The Flaming Lips and Lily Allen) and Inara George, the accomplished vocalist and Merrick front-woman, the duo spoke with Quiet Color (by phone from L.A.) ahead of their US tour to support the Brazilian- and jazz-inspired new songs.
This weekend, the Bird and the Bee performs at Austin’s music, film and tech gathering that hipsters refuse to call a conference, South By Southwest. If, like most of our staff, you can’t be there to enjoy their consistently great shows, we hope this interview will tide you over.
Oh. That and the news that The Bird and the Bee told us first – the duo is working on a Hall & Oates cover record with special musical guests to be determined. (We vote for a Bird and the Bee-Gorillaz collabo!)
QC: You’re both such prolific musicians. How or where do you find the inspiration to create new music?
Greg Kurstin: Sometimes it’s from other music. And those influences are kind of obvious. But I actually love visual art, especially painting. When I’ve seen something I love, I feel so energized. The major museums in Chicago and L.A. are amazing to me. And two artists I find really exciting are Murakami and Rauschenberg.
The thing about painting to me is — it just seems like this person made this for a pure reason. With music, there’s just so much business and you can hear it in the work, you can hear people thinking “Oh, we need to make a hit song and get this on a TV show.” Art just feels like a more direct expression and that inspires me.
Inara George: But, Greg, I feel like we don’t get time to do stuff like that, really. I mean, it’s hard going to museums on the road. It’s unfortunate.
QC: What about when you’re on tour, then…?
Inara George: I think the only fun part about tour is getting to play.
Greg Kurstin: I love it! I just love playing. That and [sarcastically] being away from loved ones.
Inara George: Also, really hard drugs like Excedrin and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies of any kind. [Quietly laughs.]
Greg Kurstin: They could sponsor our tour bus.
QC: So there’s no rest for the wicked, or nothing that recharges you on tour besides performing (and Milano cookies)?
Inara George: Ok. Actually, I’m a really big fan of non-fiction. It’s not necessarily about certain authors, or the writing for me. But I love books about a crazy time period.
QC: What are you reading now?
Inara George: I just finished this Guns and Roses book. And I’m into reading about things like the Great Depression, or an influenza epidemic in 1918, or whatever the worst, hard time was. There’s something about a time period book– you pull yourself into it, and read about insane people who you don’t always necessarily like and for some reason, that’s inspiring.
QC: Would you ever license your songs to a film soundtrack that’s some Merchant Ivory period piece or something?
Inara George: You know what? When it comes to licensing, I feel like we never even really know it. We want to do a James Bond theme though! We want to incorporate an old James Bond theme with a new film and sound.
Greg Kurstin: That would be great!
Inara George: Also, I love Mad Men. It’d be great to be on that show. They had Alicia Keys and some other good stuff already. Someday…
QC: You both mentioned being away from loved ones is a drag about tour. Are your families a big part of your musical inspiration?
Greg Kurstin: My parents were supportive, and pretty much let me do my thing. They like music but– it just sorta came from me. When I expressed interest they said, “We think that’s great. But you first have to do [regular school] stuff.” Now, they’re into it and proud of it. They’ve also kind of learned along with me, which is great. They’ve watched different phases of music that I’ve played, and have been exposed to what they may not have seen otherwise, like jazz stuff when I was playing a lot more jazz, be-bop and all.
QC: What was the first record that you ever owned?
Greg Kurstin: Probably this disco version of Battlestar Galactica. I’m sure there were a few other disco things. Our babysitter turned us on to that soul disco era. Like Chic, and stuff like that! But, and this is much better, my first concert was The Who, and The Clash opened.
Inara George: Hard one to follow up.
QC: …And you?
Inara George: Well, my Dad [Lowell George of Little Feat] died when I was little, so in terms of his influence I don’t feel like it was major. Though people sometimes ask me about being musical ‘legacy.’ My Mom, I’d say, was an informed listener who would never tell me how to write something or interfere really. After a show she would tell me the band was too loud, and she’d tell the sound guy to turn up the vocals. But that’s moms for you.
From being in a musical family one thing that I got was knowledge of the business. That was helpful. I knew a lot in terms of how publishing works, or how a record deal works, and had a lot of people around me who were well informed and could answer questions. Because of that I was pretty confident getting started. Also, I was exposed to a diversity of music because of the record collection that I was around. And I went to a lot of concerts as kid.
QC: What were your firsts?
Inara George: Well, the first record I can remember buying – and I don’t know if it’s the first one I ever owned – was something by Duran Duran. Or maybe it was Billy Idol? I had a lot of different albums. The one that I got before everyone else was Purple Rain, and then Around the World in a Day [by Prince].
Then, a Purple Rain concert, that was the first one I asked to go to. I was chaperoned by my Mom, and we went with some friends. Our music insider track helped there. We got tickets at The Forum, and had pretty good seats as well. It was amazing.
QC: Since the olden days (even though Prince never gets old) things have changed so much. There is no more radio, or even tv-monoculture. How are you finding ways to reach an audience?
Inara George: I hear people most often saying that they heard us in weird places, like at Home Depot, H&M or stores like that! TV shows are where people are hearing us for the first time a bit less frequently. That, and compilation discs given out to corporations who might put us in their TV shows or commercials. Or live.
QC: What are your favorite songs to perform live, and why?
Inara George: One of the new songs that’s going to be the most fun but the hardest to play on tour is “My Love,” because of stomping, singing and clapping at one time. We have to work on our rhythm really tightly in rehearsal to pull that off.
Greg Kurstin: In terms of getting a feeling across, we haven’t done “What’s in the Middle” live really. It really requires a big psychedelic band. We have to reorganize it, but I think we can do it somehow on tour.
Inara George: [An earlier track] “Polite Dance Song” is fun to play and everyone always wants to hear it. You get sick of the whole thing a bit. But we haven’t written our “Macarena” yet.
QC: How would you like music fans to listen to your record or singles? What do you picture us doing when your music is on?
Inara George: I kinda like the idea of our music playing in the club.
Greg Kurstin: Not in the club, da club.
Inara George: That sounds great — some hot, sexy dance floor, and I don’t know, lots of shirts off. “Boyfriend” was a big hit, the remix in the clubs. And I want to keep that going.
QC: I asked you guys a lot about your past. But the record has this futuristic theme. If, as you say, Ray Guns are not the future — what is? What will you guys look like when you’re 64?
Inara George: I probably will not be wearing short dresses when I’m 64. But I do like to wear those on stage now. Greg and I have a lot of fun making music and hopefully, we will do that for good.
QC: What do you think will happen to the music industry?
Inara George: I think it will be more different than we can imagine.
Greg Kurstin: I think maybe people will be walking around beaming songs into everyone else’s brains. In the future, everyone’s got big heads, big alien heads from all of that media, with no appendix…
Inara George: [Mock-disgusted] No appendix?!
Greg Kurstin: Instead of having an appendix, there will just be a gigantic iPodesque device, and then there’ll be some magical place we can plug into whenever we need to get creative or have a new thought.
Inara George: You know what? It’s possible.
Greg Kurstin: With Obama – he wants to help the economy by giving everybody broadband access. That could change the music business a lot, and hopefully for the best. We’re just so happy to be playing music and having people pay attention to it.