The Bird and The Bee
Greg Kurstin and Inara George have taken the aphorism of “if you love something, let it go” to heart over the past decade; the duo behind The Bird And The Bee have no problem periodically separating to pursue their own personal and professional projects (Greg as a producer and writer for artists like Sia and Katy Perry, and Inara as a member of The Living Sisters). But in the end, the pair find their way back to each other to craft more of their signature jazz-infused indie pop gems. With Kurstin’s production savvy and George’s exquisite voice, the pair are making pop music for the grown-ups, and their latest album Recreational Love, out today, is no exception. We sat down with The Bird And The Bee to chat about their symbiotic relationship, their shared love of Hall & Oates, and a dream collaboration with Elaine Stritch.
Your upcoming album is the band’s first album of original material since 2009. What made you think, "Okay, this is the time for us to get together and put out a new album"?
Inara: We actually never stopped recording. We'd been recording the record for little bits of time over the last five — more than five years, because we started before we put out the Hall & Oates record. And I think we just realized the record was done because it was finally done, like after all those years. And we had thrown out songs. But we only get together on a standing date every Friday, from ten a.m. to twelve p.m., and we get our writing done.
Do you guys get together at a studio?
Inara: Greg's studio. And it started, strangely — it started when Greg's studio was in his bedroom, when he lived in a bachelor pad with a bunch of other guys.
How do you think it's going to compare to previous albums?
Greg: I feel like it's still connected. I was trying to think about that at all times when working on the tracks — think about how it fits with the other stuff, and try to do the next step sonically. That was always on my mind; I wanted to connect to everything that we've done before. And it's a little more simple than maybe our last album. Well, the Hall & Oates album was technically our last album. So it does have similarities to that. Other than that, it feels more simple, sonically, than some of our other things. Right?
Inara: I do remember, we came into it kind of thinking like, "Let's make this more simple. Less layers." Because our second original record was a little more like a full-figured creature. And then the first one was more simple. So we were like, "Let's get back to that." This one kind of has. But it has a little bit of the Hall & Oates feel. We went to Hall & Oates school, as Greg said.
What’s the inspiration behind the name Recreational Love?
Inara: I actually came up with that title before — we have a song on the record called "Recreational Love." I think we even came up with the title of the record. I thought, "That'd be a good title for a record," and then I said, "Well, let's just write a song." But it's kind of about not lying that love can be recreational. If a guy doesn't like you, he just doesn't like you. It's not because he's... just playing around.
Greg, you have been doing so much work producing for other artists. How do you separate that part of your career from when you come back and are ready to be The Bird And The Bee? Do you have to put it away, or does it inform the things you guys do together?
Greg: It's a combination of those things. It helps, I think, you learn little things working on other projects, and I like to bring in something that might fit and be appropriate for The Bird And The Bee. But it's also refreshing to work with The Bird And The Bee too, because it's a different kind of writing. It's refreshing and good for me to do, because it takes me out of some sort of pop formula road that I could be easily sucked into. It happens where you just get into those same chords, and whenever I work with Inara, it's like, "Oh yeah, this is so refreshing." We don't have to do that, and we can take a left turn and we can not have to really worry so much about, "How does this fit on pop radio," or something. It's easy to get trapped in that world when you do it so much. So it's refreshing. It's nice. It reminds me where I come from, so that's great, I think.
I would have thought that writing or producing for people like Sia or Kelly Clarkson and being an independent musician to me seems like you would have to split yourself into two personalities. Is it an easy transition?
Greg: Yeah, it's kind of easy. It's something I think I've always done, as far as producing albums or playing on people's albums, and I like to go back and bounce around and do completely different types of things. I like to do that. It's satisfying to me to do that. But it's easy. I don't know. I feel comfortable bouncing around and doing that.
Whose idea was behind the new music video for "Will You Dance" featuring Patton Oswalt and Simon Helberg?
Inara: I think it was mine. I was in the car with my kids in the back seat, and we were trying to figure out — I had an idea for the video, and Greg was like, "I don't know if I like that." And I was like, "What about singing it from the bathroom?" And the idea changed, but that was the initial thing, because the song is about, what do you do when people aren't looking or caring? How do you let yourself go? And so the idea of what happens inside the stall in a bathroom — I think that was the concept, letting go.
Was it a weird experience at all?
Inara: Super-easy and fun. They are both lovely people. And Simon, I've known him for over twenty years. And Patton and Greg's kids go to school together.
Greg: Yeah, we're friends with them, so it was just sort of hanging out with friends. It was very low-pressure, fun, relaxed.
How do you clear your head when you guys go into your studio the one day a week? Do you have ideas brimming all week before you guys meet up, or do you get there and very casually go into it?
Greg: Yeah, we don't really do any planning prior to our session. It's like, "Let's just get together," and then we chat for half the time, and we start to come up with an idea. But it's usually like we're doing a million other things, and then we get there and we always leave it until that last minute to come up with an idea and be spontaneous.
Inara: It's funny, because when we first started writing together, we'd get together for five hours, and slowly it shrank down, and we realized that we get probably about as much done in those two hours as if we were together for five. I mean, if we're writing — if you're working out stuff, you can't get a lot of work done, if you're writing, it's just in little, short bursts — you can't get good ideas, or bad.
Does any one member of this partnership take control during these sessions, or is it very equitable?
Inara: We have really clear jobs, and I think that is what makes [it]. Greg has definitely helped with melodies and lyrics, and I think I help sometimes with production, but I'm not behind the desk. But I think that is a really great way to keep things sane, is that we just know what we're supposed to do, and we have our jobs, and we do our jobs, and we collaborate and we come in the middle.
Greg: Yeah, I feel like it's very equal. I don't feel like there's one person motivating it more than another. We just both, like, "I'm at the piano; you're going to sing. And I'm not going to sing, and you're probably not going to play piano."
If you ever wanted to do a collaboration with a big artist, would you ever call in a favor and be like, "Hey, Kelly Clarkson, would you be down to record a song with us?" Has that thought ever crossed your mind?
Inara: We've thought about having people come and play. But it's so complicated, with scheduling, that it just doesn't happen. Like Dave Grohl was going to maybe play on the Hall & Oates record and then it just fell apart, we just never got it together. When you're only getting together for two hours a week, it's a difficult thing.
Inara: Remember when we wanted to have Elaine Stritch sing on something?
Greg: Oh yeah, we had thought about that.
Inara: And then she died! So we thought about that, but it didn't happen. We thought about Nic Cage once, remember?
Greg: [laughs] You mean Nick Cave?
Inara: Yeah, Nick Cave! Nic Cage would’ve been good too.
If you could describe in a very short amount of words — if you had to tweet out, basically, what the new album is like, what would you write?
Inara: I'd say it's The Bird And The Bee with a little funk. It's stinky Bird And The Bee. No, I don't know.
Greg: Yeah, it's pretty stinky, I suppose.
Like, stank? Put some stank on it?
Inara: Stank. It's with a little stank.
Greg: It's with a little stank in some moments, right? It's a little bit like a rhythmic warm bath.
Inara: A rhythmic warm bath. I like that.
Greg: It's kind of like it's a little bit of a warm bubble bath that's got a hypnotic pulse to it at times.
Inara: Yeah. It's like a magnetic warm bubble bath. A sound bath.
Greg: It's like a warm bath and someone drops a hairdryer in the bath. So nothing really happens to you but you do feel a little bit of a shock.
Story and Photos by Natasha Aftandilians