That awkward sit-down talk known as “the birds and the bees” is something no one looks forward to. Parents must explain how little Johnny came about to, well, little Johnny, while the kid is either horrified at what is being described, or feigning surprise because he’s already been told some version of this on the playground.
Fortunately, humor, not awkwardness, is the calling card of the Bird and the Bee, who come to SOhO on Saturday, February 7, as part of a 10-date national tour. Comprised of Angelenos Inara George and Greg Kurstin, B&B first made waves with the single “Fucking Boyfriend,” which features George’s signature innocent-sounding voice over Kurstin’s simple, synth-tinged keyboard and drum beats, all the while asking a lover: “Are you an amateur, or is it you’re unkind? Do you torture all the other girls? : Would you ever be my fucking boyfriend?” A remix of it quickly topped the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play chart and, by April 2007, just three months after their eponymous debut record hit stores, their song “Again & Again” was featured on Grey’s Anatomy.
The Bird and the Bee’s George and Kurstin recently phoned in to discuss their brand new release, the delightful Ray Guns are Not Just the Future, and subsequent Santa Barbara tour stop.
Congratulations on your recent release.
Inara George: Thank you.
It’s the day after Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future came out. How are you guys feeling about it?
Greg Kurstin: Feeling good.
IG: Yeah, it feels good.
GK: It finally got out.
Do you feel relieved to have completed that project?
GK: Yeah, it’s good. You feel the rewards of all your hard work when it comes out.
IG: It’s nice.
It’s your second full-length with Blue Note Records. How do you guys like working with that label?
IG: Yeah, they’re great. They’re really supportive and they’re real music-lovers, so it’s nice to be on a label with them.
You’ll be heading out on tour really soon. Have you ever headlined a tour before?
IG: We’ve done quite a bit of headlining in the last couple of years. Smaller shows, but yes, we’ve headlined. The last two tours we’ve headlined. And then we did a headlining tour in Japan as well.
Compared to when you’ve opened for Rilo Kiley and Lily Allen, how do you think this tour will differ?
GK: I really love headlining. Opening up is fun – getting to play for all these people who might not know you – but it’s so much easier sometimes playing for people who know all your songs, you get that instant feedback. It’s exciting. You get to see everyone who knows your songs and everything. That feels really fun. That’s my favorite is headlining – whenever we get to play for people who really know who we are.
Greg, you helped engineer albums for both Rilo and Lily. Did that create any extra responsibilities for you on the road?
GK: Actually, it was sort of fun because we knew them. That was nice, because sometimes you get on tour with people you don’t know and you just hope that you’re going to get along. We really got along with the whole Lily Allen crew; the whole band was really nice. And then the same with Rilo Kiley, too, we knew them, so that definitely makes it much more fun when you are all friends.
I’ve read in a few places that you made your first album for yourselves, not expecting that anyone would ever hear it. What is it like to hear your music on the radio or on television shows?
GK: It’s definitely surreal – especially when you’re shopping and stuff like that – it’s pretty amazing. It always feels great.
IG: Yeah, it’s nice.
GK: It’s really cool to hear your stuff in things like that, [like] TV shows. I totally enjoy it when it happens. It’s a pretty cool feeling to hear what you did in the studio and then to hear it in places like that.
Has it ever made you wish you had recorded or mixed something differently?
GK: I always do that, constantly.
IG: You always do that?
GK: Constantly. [Laughs.] I’m like, “God, I wish I had changed that snare sound,” or whatever. I kind of go in cycles.
IG: I kind of let go, you know; it is what it is. There’s one mistake on the first record that I don’t know how anyone didn’t notice it. In “Preparedness,” in my lyrics, I say, “Prostrate on the ground.” “Prostrate,” okay?
GK: No, that’s on “Because.”
IG: Oh, it’s on “Because,” not on “Preparedness.” And somehow I say “prostate.” [Laughs.] We all just kept hearing it and no one said anything until one day someone said, “Are you saying ‘prostate’?” And I was like, “I guess I am.” I think I meant to say “prostrate,” but it came out ‘prostate.’
GK: Yeah, I think it kind of works both ways. I thought it was “prostate” for forever.
IG: You thought it was “prostate”?
GK: Yeah, I thought, “That’s cool. Prostate on the ground.” I definitely thought that made sense. [Laughs.]
IG: I guess it can make sense both ways, but I didn’t mean to say that. I guess in a way I’m kind of happy that this happened because it’s such a weird line that I’m glad that it survived. It’s just so weird that no one ever said anything to me before.
GK: I constantly have little panic attacks of wanting to change something on a production level, but I let go. I think I can easily sort of let go and call a song finished, but it’s later on when I’m listening to it, and my brain is always working, [when I think], “Oh, we could’ve done that instead.” But I think after a long period of time I kind of appreciate it for what it is. I think it’s the recent past that I start to second-guess.
What about at shows?
IG: I think we have a pretty good attitude about that. I think a show is for fun, and the thing about playing live is that you make mistakes and that’s what’s sort of exciting about it. I think our motto is to have fun, and if we mess up we think of it as a sort of punk rock thing – it’s what happens and that’s what it is.
GK: I think it is part of the experience, part of the spontaneity. It’s more with recording, for some reason, that I get a little obsessed. I feel like when you put it out there it’s always going to stay the same. Something about a performance – it’s in the air, it’s in the moment. It never really bothers me when something goes wrong; I think it’s kind of funny.
You’re both involved in a lot of projects and do a lot of collaborating. How do you work together?
IG: It’s very collaborative when we get together. Greg plays all the instruments because I’ve given up with that – he just plays everything better than I do. But I do sing everything. [Laughs.] He’ll play something on the piano and then I’ll come up with a melody and he’ll help me or whatever. Then, once we have something we like, we’ll go into a studio and as Greg works on the track part of it, I’ll work on the lyrics.
It sounds like it’s very collaborative, but there are definite tasks that you both have.
GK: That’s sort of our routine, you know?
IG: Yeah, the musical element of it – because we both listen to each other in terms of whatever melody I’m singing or whatever chords Greg’s playing – but once we get to our certain tasks, that’s what we do. But any time Greg says, “What if you said this?” or “Maybe that line isn’t the greatest,” I’m always open to it. And I think if I have some suggestions about production he’s definitely open-minded about it too. But it’s nice having tasks because then there’s no question about it.
GK: Yeah, it’s kind of great; it makes it so much easier when we both know to stick to our jobs. [Laughs.] You’re welcome to produce the next record if you want.
IG: No thank you. Too much work. [Laughs.]
GK: I’ll take a crack at lyrics. It might not work out, though, lyrically.
How would you describe your own music?
GK: I think we’ve come up with a few descriptions.
IG: Once we called it a 1960s film set in Brazil.
GK: Yeah, like the soundtrack to the film; but there was a more recent one that I kind of liked – psychedelic pop music, or something. It’s definitely like pop music that’s sort of a little bit off.
IG: Off-kilter pop music. The things people say – and I totally understand why they do – are “jazzy” or “bachelor pad.” We get a lot of “lounge.” I guess I would never think of it as lounge, but I suppose it is. I think of it more as traditional pop; not traditional pop music of today necessarily, but more of ’60s pop music, or even ’70s, lately.
GK: I think lounge is one of those things that’s a collection of certain kinds of music that happened in the ’50s and ’60s that they probably didn’t think of as lounge music, but that just sort of ended up being good music to lounge to, I guess. [Laughs.] That’s fine; I think that’d be great if people liked to lounge to our music. It’s okay with me. I like to lounge.
IG: Yeah, me too. [Laughs.]
GK: Maybe that’s why. But at all costs we try to avoid calling it lounge.
IG: We like more psychedelic pop.
As an L.A. band, what role do you think the city has played in your music?
IG: I feel like the temperature – it’s really sunny. There’s an ease to the way we live. You never really have to deal with snow, or too much rain. [Laughs.] There’s a certain attitude to Los Angeles.
GK: I think the pace of work too – the way that we work, there’s a certain pace and schedule that we work by and I feel like that has to do with how we live in L.A. Working more in the daytime, as opposed to late at night.
IG: We’re more of an a.m. band
GK: Definitely an a.m. band.
IG: We’re both early risers. That’s when we get together – 9:30 or 10. When we do interviews, we’ll say we can do eight in the morning and journalists are like, “What are you talking about?” [Laughs.] Because we get busier throughout the day and we’re both married and we want to have our nights to be with Greg’s wife or my husband.
GK: I want to hang out with Inara’s husband.
IG: Yeah, Greg wants to hang out with my husband and I want to be with his wife. [Laughs.]
I read that Inara is the “bird” and Greg is the “bee.” Is that true?
GK: Where did you read that rubbish? No, that’s actually correct.
IG: We’ve found our way to being those things. We didn’t start out that way, but we turned out that way. When we thought of the name, I don’t think either one of us thought someone would think one of us was going to be the bird and the other was going to be the bee. Naively, we didn’t realize that it referred to us. I never thought about it before people started asking.
GK: It was based on the birds and the bees and then it became singular. So then there were two of them and two of us, and it seemed to work out.