It’s hard to categorize music these days. Trying to describe a singer or a band used to be as simple as one line in a conversation. But imagine how you talk about your favorites with others. The one line has become, “they’re kinda like…,” and it leads into a tangent. Music is a wholly experience, a blend of all sorts. But at the core, a performer’s identity lies deep within them and becomes apparent in their work. The Bird and the Bee are no different. In an interview with one half of the band, Inara George (The Bird), the journey and its evolutionary blend of experiences is the conundrum that leads to mastery.
The Bird and the Bee released their second studio album, Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future, in 2009. Aside from their Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates (one of the most pleasantly refreshing collection of covers I’ve ever heard), Inara George and Greg Kurstin (The Bee) haven’t been buzzing much. At least, not as a unit. Speaking with George, you learn quickly how life gets in the way, which is a good thing.
Prior to The Bird and the Bee’s live show at Underground Arts, which rests under the cusp of North Philly, George got to spend some quality time with her three children. She had just come from the Liberty Bell, packed her kids and her publicist in the car, and gushed about how much she and her music have matured.
“The major thing that happened was having kids,” she started after I asked how the last seven years had been. “Greg’s career went bonkers. We started working on Recreational Love before we even finished [Interpreting the Masters]. We worked together but there were lapses of months and months.”
Recreational Love, their fourth studio album, debuted last summer. The opening track, “Young and Dumb,” is a highlight of how she and Kursten progressed not only as artists but as individuals. “There’s a maturity to it with the subject matter. We spent a lot of time doing it. Refined it over the years.” The inspiration ran deep for them: “every record pulls from new inspirations and this was more of an R&B feel.”
Recreational Love peaked at number 39 on the Billboard U.S. Indie chart. It debuted with the single “Will You Dance?”
George and Kursten are no strangers to crossing over different genres, even outside of The Bird and the Bee. George went solo with her 2006 album All Rise and is part of the trio The Living Sisters. Kurstin’s career has indeed gone bonkers, writing several songs that have been sticking in heads all decade: “Hello” by Adele, “Chandelier” by Sia, “Burn” from Ellie Goulding, scoring the 2014 adaption of Annie, and producing tracks for Lana Del Rey, Charlie XCX, Kelly Clarkson and more.
Both of them are busy making music and raising children. The pair has grown so much.
Ray Guns is an album reminiscent of daydreaming while looking out the window, picking at flower pedals with hopeful breadths of he loves me, he loves me not. Its bittersweet exotica jazz is a spacey look at love in its early stages. While Recreational Love was in the works shortly after its release, George and Kurstin took a step back to allow themselves to grow.
George admitted, “We started the record before and after kids. There were things that I wasn’t interested in writing about anymore. Growing older in the business, when you turn on the radio, what you hear about is early love, getting together for the first time, and it was more of a theme going in early into [Recreational Love], but it evolved. Pop music is supposed to be a simple theme, but singer-songwriter is different, more mature.”
Putting a project on the shelf takes courage and an abundance of self-awareness. But it was time that had to be spent elsewhere.
Recreational Love is a return to a familiar place. Not in the sense of a triumphant return, but like catching up with a friend who you haven’t seen in ages–while riding a bike and laughing at old jokes after she’s told you about her engagement. It’s as chill-funk electric as a George and Kurstin collaboration has always been. Does it break new ground? Absolutely not. And that’s what blankets the album in coziness.
Time away is good. Blending is good. Distinguishing yourself is good. And growing up isn’t so petrifying. George and Kurstin are all-grown-up, now. They’ve taken much of what they listen to and blended it with their lives as collaborative musicians and seasoned parents. There’s still room to grow, and even some room to look back.
I asked George of her pursuit of acting when she was young: “Being myself happens naturally, but being in theater has helped me be more in the moment. You’re exposed to a lot of literature.”
George hasn’t lost her inner child’s whimsy or unconditional love. Her journey through life and her consistent threads have proved that she is as genuine as we hope to be seven years from now.
Afterwards, I tried to squeeze a little out about their upcoming new volume of Interpreting the Masters covers. When I asked who they were going to cover this time around, she sighed and reluctantly admitted: “We’ve expressed our love for it before.”