About a decade ago The Bird and The Bee were pretty much my favorite band. The product of singer/songwriter Inara George and multi-instrumentalist and producer Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue, Sia), The Bird and The Bee churned out jazzy, ethereal, space age, electro dream pop, resembling something a bit like a postmodern take on Yé-yé. Their debut EP, Again and Again and Again and Again, dropped on Halloween of 2006, and was followed by their self-titled debut LP in January of 2007, which may just be the best pop album of the century… Between then and 2010 they put out two more LPs, numerous EPs, and played Philadelphia nearly half a dozen times (from performances at World Café Live, to a date opening the Factory for Lily Allen, and a Saturday evening at the North Star Bar). But the last time we saw them was in early 2009, when they played an exceptionally intimate show at the Tin Angel in support of their sophomore album, Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. And the last time we’d heard from them for quite some time was in 2010, with the release of their full-length tribute to Hall and Oates (Seriously… and it’s seriously awesome…)
Well, last summer saw the release of The Bird and The Bee’s fourth album, Recreational Love. The album picks up pretty much where the band left off, but places more emphasis on their brand of soulful sunshine pop and less on some of their earlier, more seemingly intergalactic sonic elements. Although both George and Kurstin are busy with other music and other aspects of life, they have found some time to play and promote the album and this Wednesday, September 28th, will have them back in Philadelphia for the first time in seven and a half years, when they headline Underground Arts for their first of only three East Coast dates. And earlier today Inara George took some time to talk to me about how she and Greg Kurstin have been since we last saw them.
Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I have to ask your thoughts on the city. You’ve played here a number of times. Any particular favorite memories or favorite live shows?
Inara George: I guess it’s true. I have played there a number of times! It’s funny how years of touring can kind of sneak up on you. Because I’ve only visited Philadelphia on tours I’m sad to say that I haven’t explored the city too much. It’s really only been in the vicinity of the venues I’ve played. But I do remember one day walking around a very beautiful area and finding the most amazing bookstore. It was small and packed with new and old books. I bought something. I can’t remember what it was. But those are always my favorite moments in cities on tour. When I feel like I’ve slipped into something that feels like normal life. And I also remember eating the most insane philly cheesesteak on one of my solo tours. We stopped at this diner. I bought a cheesesteak for everyone to share in the van and we all ended up fighting over it like wild animals.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you play here at Underground Arts? It’s been a number of years since we’ve seen you.
Inara: Our aim is always to have fun and infect the audience with our fun. So I hope we can do that!
Izzy: Are there any old songs that you still especially enjoy playing, whether because you’re still especially proud of them, or just the reactions they get? Or do we have to wait and see? (I’m really hoping for “I Hate Camera” and/or “The Races.”)
Inara: Sadly we won’t play either of those!! Sorry. I love “The Races.” We only played that once live. And “I Hate Camera,” we haven’t played since our first tour! But I hope you’ll be satisfied. I’d say my favorite old song to play is… I don’t know. They all have some significance to me. Sorry, that’s sort of a lame response.
Izzy: You released Recreational Love, your first album in half a decade, more than a year ago. Have you had any favorite reactions to the album, whether from critics, fans, or audiences? Or, for that matter, have you had any particular highlights of promoting it over the past year?
Inara: I can’t think of anything specific. It’s been nice to release new music and feel like people were still excited to hear something from us. Playing live is always a highlight because it’s very validating to see people come out and know the songs. I don’t know, it’s all cake.
Izzy: Do you feel like a significantly different band than the band that recorded Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, your last LP of original material, or did it just seem like an organic evolution?
Inara: In the way we make music… I don’t see any significant difference. We pretty much write and record exactly how we did from our first record. But as far who we are and what our lives are like. There is a significant difference. We have families. Greg has a very healthy career as a producer. We definitely don’t have as much time to make music. But I feel like we still get a kick out of it. That hasn’t changed.
Izzy: What would you currently consider to be your most significant influences, both musical and otherwise? Is there anything you’ve been listening to a lot recently, or have there been other mediums of art or aspects of life that you’ve found yourself thinking about on a very regular basis?
Inara: Sadly, I have not been a very active music listener. Greg is really the guy who stays up on all music. Since having kids my focus has really changed. I feel like when I have a spare moment I want to listen to podcasts. There are so many podcasts covering so many topics that are very inspiring to me. I’ve sort of become an information junkie. But I would love to listen to more music. It’s a goal of mine.
Izzy: How would you characterize your process of writing and recording together as a duo?
Inara: Pretty much always the same. We always write together. Greg will come up with a chord progression, usually on the piano or some kind of keyboard, and then I will find a melody. Then while he starts building up the track, I will write the lyrics.
Izzy: And finally, what’s next for you? How do you hope and plan to spend the remainder of 2016 and the first part of 2017, whether into relation to The Bird and the Bee or otherwise?
Inara: We have a few live shows coming up. Greg and I are working on the next “Interpreting the Masters” and I am making a new solo record with Mike Andrews. Who produced my first solo record. That’s how I met Greg to begin with. I’m sure Greg will play a little on this record too.