L.A.’s Bitter:Sweet Take Their Swanky Sounds to Stateside
La Dolce Vita
There’s no doubt that finding dates through Internet personal ads will eventually lead you into the arms of some creepo trolling for underage tail. But when it comes to finding a bandmate, L.A.’s Bitter:Sweet have proved that online classifieds can produce much more than a new episode of To Catch a Predator.
Back in 2006, electronic music guru Kiran Shahani placed a free ad on Craigslist. After leaving the trip-hop team Supreme Beings of Leisure, Shahani went in search of a singer to bring a voice to his lush, stylistic arrangements. What he got was a response from a highly capable, slightly disenchanted singer/songwriter by the name of Shana Halligan. As the daughter of founding Blood, Sweat & Tears member Dick Halligan, Shana had grown up surrounded by music. But failed recording attempts and an overall frustration with the biz had left her feeling artistically lost-so lost, in fact, that before meeting with Shahani, Halligan had disengaged from music making altogether.
But the duo’s unlikely union seemed to be destined by fate. Within a year of that initial meeting, the pair now known as Bitter:Sweet had written, recorded, and independently released their first album, 2006’s The Mating Game, to a bevy of critical praise. Following a series of well-placed licensing deals (HBO’s Entourage, The Devil Wears Prada, Victoria’s Secret), they returned to the studio-this time with the backing of the Quango Music Group-to pen Drama. Picking up right where its predecessor left off, the album is chock full of sultry jazz, Zero 7-style electronica, and influences that range from Bollywood to classic James Bond flicks. It’s that eclectic mix of sounds that allows Drama to work on so many levels-and keeps the placement deals rolling in. Halligan and Shahani recently phoned in to discuss their recent release and their upcoming tour stop in Santa Barbara.
You guys met through Craigslist, and now you’re getting ready to spend almost two months on the road together. Is it just fate that you both got along so well?
Shana Halligan: Who’s saying we get along? [Laughs.] We were really lucky. Our musical taste is exactly the same and, in that department, that just worked immediately. It’s cool. And we’re friends, so it makes it really fun. You just get to tour the world with your friend and play the music that you love. It’s really good.
You guys draw from a lot of different genres, eras, and sounds. Where do you look for inspiration?
SH: I don’t really think we look for it. I’m inspired by where we are, what we’re doing :
Kiran Shahani: : if we’re traveling. If we’re in France and New Orleans we always seem to get in trouble. [Laughs.]
SH: We were out in Europe and we had seen these incredible street musicians in Paris, and it totally inspired one of our songs. : It was like that beautiful waltz with the accordion-and it wasn’t like, “Oh we’re going to go write a song like that.”
KS: It’s like, you go home and it just comes out later-a couple months later even.
SH: And we both love and appreciate old music :
KS: : and all different types of world music.
I’ve heard Drama be described as sexy, sultry, loungey, jazzy. How would you describe the Bitter:Sweet sound?
KS: Very eclectic, very loungey, sexy, Bond :
SH: : messed hair on the shag rug, fun, not taking anything super seriously-well, sometimes. Like the video we’re about to shoot for “The Bomb” is definitely going to have a fun, action, Charlie’s Angels-meets-Bond girl vibe to it, which is fun for us because we haven’t done anything like that. All our videos have been super distant. One was in an art gallery with this loungey cocktail vibe, so this is going to be a lot more energized.
Your new label, Quango, is pretty well recognized for its work with branding and licensing its artists. Does this concern you at all as musicians?
SH: I didn’t really think of Quango that way because I felt like [our agent] was more of just a cool A&R person when we went in. He helped discover some of my favorite bands, so I was just more excited about his musical reputation. I definitely didn’t think about branding-that was the last thing on my mind. We were just doing our thing and someone wanted to sign us and we were like, “Cool.”
KS: Things are changing so quickly in the industry. It’s just all figuring out new ways to survive, and branding and synching is really a new way for bands to break through now.
SH: When you’re on an indie you don’t get the same exposure you would from a major, so you have to use different avenues to get your stuff heard. It’s nice because it makes it more organic. People actually come to us; we’re not out there on the billboards and on every single radio ad :
KS: : being forced down everyone’s throat. If they find us, they like us, and they come seek us out.
SH: It’s nice because [the label doesn’t] get in the way of our creative process-we just do what we want and we hand it in.
How much say do you two get in deciding where your songs end up?
KS: We approve all that stuff.
SH: There’s a team-Zinc Music-that works with us in helping to get those placements. And once in a while something will come up where we have to think about it; if it makes sense for us :
KS: : if it’s environmentally friendly, or politically correct.
SH: But for the most part, it’s not like it used to be, where it was taboo to be on a commercial. Now it’s like, “Oh good, now somebody will actually find us.”
KS: Our music is so sexy that sexy products end up using us. [Laughs.]
SH: Yeah! It’s all Victoria’s Secret and champagne-it’s all hot stuff, so we’re down. [Laughs.]
Shana, your dad played and did some arranging on the new album, correct?
SH: Yeah, he helped us out a lot. We had him help us with the string arrangements on the first album, and then on this one we wanted to get him more involved. He helped out with horn arrangements and he played a lot of organ. On the last song on the album he did all the strings. It was fun working with him as a partner, instead of the father-daughter thing. [Laughs.]
Does he ever comment on the differences between the music biz now versus how it was when he was recording?
SH: Well, he’s used to the commercial world because he actually scored a lot of films and he wrote for TV and stuff. But I think it’s exciting [for him] because he comes from such a different generation, and it’s nice that our music can meld together in that way. I don’t think he ever would have thought he would be on an electronica album-he doesn’t even know what that means. [Laughs.] It’s cool. It’s a challenge for everyone involved because it puts you in a different environment.
Club Mercy and KCRW present Bitter:Sweet with United by Sound at Stateside Restaurant & Lounge (1114 State St.) this Saturday, July 19, at 8 p.m. Visit clubmercy.com for details and tickets.