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 (B&B), which comes 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.
“It’s really cool to hear your stuff in things like TV shows,” Kurstin said over the phone recently. “It’s a pretty cool feeling to hear what you did in the studio and then to hear it in places like that. It’s definitely surreal.”
Happily, B&B’s sophomore release, Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, contains songs that allow for that “surreal” experience (one of the tracks has already appeared on Grey’s), while providing their fans with plenty of ditties that highlight the duo’s cheeky sense of humor and simple, yet layered musical styling. It doesn’t stray too far from their previous recordings, but it’s also new and fresh enough that there’s plenty for the listener to bite off and chew. And whether or not it’s intentional, that experience is indicative of the band’s overall aesthetic: making ’60s pop-inspired music sound incredibly modern and innovative, and definitely not like something your parents would’ve listened to.
“Off-kilter pop music,” George said when asked to describe B&B’s sound. “The things people say are ‘jazzy’ or ‘bachelor pad.’ We get a lot of ‘lounge.’ : I think of it more as traditional pop; not traditional pop music of today necessarily, but more of ’60s pop music, or even ’70s.”
“I think ‘lounge’ is 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,” Kurstin interrupted. “I think that’d be great if people liked to lounge to our music. It’s okay with me. I like to lounge.”
“Yeah, me too,” George agreed, laughing at the direction the aside had taken.
This dry, sarcastic banter-and lots of laughter-characterized much of the conversation, and clearly seeps into their friendship and musical collaboration. The jumping off point for Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future was “Polite Dance Song,” a slow, stripped-down number that finds George imploring her listeners to “put your hands in the air” and “shake it like you just don’t care.” Again, her saccharine-sweet voice beguiles her lyrics. Whether it’s in this hip-hop inspired song, whose arrangement and pacing put it about as far away as one can get from hip-hop, or in “Ray Gun”-which has George longing for “a pretty little life” in a cheerful, sing-song voice-B&B seem to wink at their audience with a sharp wit that’s not often found in conventional pop.
Yet Kurstin is rather entrenched in today’s popular music scene. His multi-instrumental work has appeared on albums as varied as Britney Spears’s latest offering and Jason Mraz and Ben Harper recordings. He’s also an accomplished songwriter and producer, having worked on projects that range from Lily Allen’s breakout CD, Alright, Still, to Natasha Bedingfield and Peaches songs. Kurstin produces all of B&B’s music, which they release through the predominately jazz label Blue Note Records.
“It makes it so much easier when we both know to stick to our jobs,” Kurstin quipped, piggybacking on his partner’s explanation of their collaborative process. “You’re welcome to produce the next record if you want. I’ll take a crack at lyrics,” he continued to tease. “It might not work out, though, lyrically.”
But what does seem to work out are their live shows. Although George and Kurstin have different attitudes toward their finished product (George tends to “let go,” while Kurstin obsesses about what he could have done differently), they agree that the fun of performing is its spontaneity.
“I think a show is for fun, and you make mistakes and that’s what’s exciting about playing live,” George said. Kurstin agreed, adding, “It never really bothers me when something goes wrong [during a performance]; I think it’s kind of funny.”
And it’s with that sense of humor firmly in place that The Bird and The Bee hit the road.
The Bird and The Bee come to SOhO (1221 State St.) on Saturday, February 7 at 6:30 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for tickets and information.