The Bird and the Bee
Samantha Sidley, Alex Lilly
Inara George and Greg Kurstin, alias the bird and the bee, are an army of two.
They listen to everything, and answer to no one.
Over the course of 3 years, they whiled away scattered afternoons in Greg’s studio in Echo Park, California, sequestered in a little world of their own making, and creating the ten sunshine-drenched, semi-psychedelic ditties you hold before you.
Were these compositions intended for public consumption? Inara and Greg never gave it any thought; they made music together simply for the joy of it. the bird and the bee, their self-titled debut for Metro Blue Records, an imprint of Blue Note Records, is a labor of love.
If you know anything about the backgrounds of Inara George and Greg Kurstin, the accomplishments of the bird and the bee might not seem quite so casual as all that. Both are blessed with extraordinary intuitive musical abilities, which have been bolstered by years of practice.
Multi-instrumentalist Greg was a jazz piano prodigy by the time he started shaving; he moved to New York specifically to study with leftist Jaki Byard, a jazz icon best known as Mingus’ pianist. He returned to Los Angeles and became one of the city’s most well respected musicians, lending his skills to the likes of Beck and Robert Moog, as well as writing with and/or producing The Flaming Lips, Peaches, and Lily Allen, to name a few.
As for Inara, she grew up in Los Angeles in a musical household, the daughter of Lowell George, frontman of the eclectic ’70s Southern rock band Little Feat. For several years she was in different bands in the Los Angeles area until she began her solo career releasing 2005’s critically acclaimed All Rise. During the making of that record was when Greg and Inara first met.
It was through mutual friend and All Rise producer, Mike Andrews, that Inara and Greg made a connection. “I like to sing standards, and Greg likes to play them,” recalls Inara. “He was working on my record, and one day, after a rehearsal, we hung out near a piano and, for three or four hours, played all the old songs we knew.”
When they ran short of material, it dawned on them to augment the repertoire with a few originals and put their own stamp on the traditions established by the greats who had gone before. Like the Tropicalia revolutionaries of ’60s Brazil, who both revered and reacted against the traditions of bossa nova, the bird and the bee wanted to put their own spin on classic pop conventions.
Although they composed as a team, Inara was responsible for vocals, while Greg oversaw almost all instrumental parts. Neither party assumed a secondary role; in the creative process, it was purely give-and-take. “Melodies would dictate chord progressions, or sometimes vice-versa, depending on where the vocal part wanted to go,” recalls Inara. “The writing was almost improvised in nature.”
This was a change from many of their other gigs, especially for Greg; there was no pressure to deliver a hit song, or capture a signature sound. With the bird and the bee, any idea was fair game.
The first song the duo collaborated on, “Again & Again,” became a template for the material to come. Handclaps and tambourines, a bumblebee bass line, and Inara’s beguiling vocals blend together in a summery concoction.
Each of the songs that follows similarly and slyly unveils its own unique charm.