If you’ve heard the single, “Young Adult,” from Inara George’s upcoming album, Dearest Everybody, you can tell that a lot has been on the mind of the wife and mother of three young children, and none of it really revolves around Hollywood parties or hanging with rock stars. That’s because her family has been her main focus for the last several years. While her Bird & The Bee musical partner Greg Kurstin has been keeping busy with production work, most notably the Foo Fighters new CD, Concrete & Gold, George has been enjoying the harried life that comes with trying to super-manage kids, husband, dinner, playdates and broken toy tantrums. But in amongst all the chaos of a normal life, George found time to write some songs – mainly because she gave herself deadlines.
Dearest Everybody didn’t start out being an album but over the course of three years, George accumulated songs that she had written for special people in her life, presenting them as gifts, such as “Slow Dance” and “Take Me To Paris.” “Release Me” tackles her mother’s perspective after the death of George’s father, Little Feat’s Lowell George, when she was just a child still in single digit age. And “All For All” was written for her longtime producer Mike Andrews.
George’s gift of song has become beloved by people all over the world as well. From her earliest beginnings acting in plays and dancing ballet; to her band Lode, comprised of school friends that released one album, Legs & Arms; to her duo with Bryony Atkinson, Merrick, which produced two albums before The Bird & The Bee took off and gained worldwide attention. Dearest Everybody is George’s fourth solo album, coming out on January 19th.
Glide caught up with George before Christmas while she was home on a crisp Los Angeles afternoon to talk about the fine line between everyday life and being a professional singer/songwriter.
Well, they are kind of songs that I wrote for friends, for special people, and sort of as a gift mostly; for people who had lost someone or as kind of a tribute to the person who had been lost. It sounds sort of dark but I think of the record as kind of light; not light like fluffy but a record that has deep emotions but is supposed to be uplifting. So that’s where it is sort of coming from.
Some of the lyrics, you wonder, is this supposed to be sad or uplifting?
Well, in one of the songs, and not to quote my own song which is sort of strange, but there’s this sort of fine line between the joy and sorrow of life. Like you can have these beautiful things happen to you and then the next day something devastating can happen. A lot of times when people lose someone there is that feeling, like you can be going along in your day and something wonderful happens and you’re super happy and then the realization that you can’t share that with the person that you lost and it becomes a more emotional experience. But to say that one is dark or light, or one is happy or sad, they kind of all sort of blend together. You can’t have one without the other so I don’t think it’s either one or the other. I feel like it’s more of a representation of a life, that life can be devastating and also can be the most joyful thing.
As I get older I realize, that’s all we’re doing here really, we’re trying to move forward. Then also to respect that in life being sad or emotional or having moments of depression is also part of growing. And that’s okay. Losing a person is one of the most natural things that happens, just as natural as being born. And to kind of deny that, which I think as a culture we do in America, that death is bad and birth is good, but it is being human and we all go through it and we all have people that we lose. It’s okay to be joyful about it and also to feel sad about it too.
Did this record intentionally start out this way or did it come as you were writing it?
It wasn’t intentionally going to be a record. I had three children and I’ve been writing these songs over a long period of time. It started out, I have a really dear friend and she lost a child and I was writing these songs to her every year on his birthday. I still do it, I write a song for him and for her, to sort of represent the passing of time. Something I didn’t realize was when people lose children, especially really young children, even people who lose babies who never even get to be born, is that there is still that feeling that you have that this person was part of your life, but because they weren’t around long enough, we don’t always get to honor them, they’re not always honored on their birthday because for some reason it’s just not done, I suppose. But she was feeling like she wanted to represent the passing of that time. So every year I’d write a song for him for her and that’s kind of how it started.
Then looking around in my own life I realized that with so many people, someone passes away and we go on about our lives. Not to say I don’t think about someone who I’ve lost, but a person that was close to them, sometimes it’s a daily thing and sometimes they don’t share it as much as they would want to, or even they don’t want to but it is a daily thing they’re thinking about. So I wanted to write something for them to remember that person by and as I did that I sort of realized I had collected all these songs and I thought it would be a nice way to kind of celebrate my friends and these lives and that even if you spent a hundred years on the planet or two minutes on the planet, we still carry these people with us.
Is that a hard song to write?
It’s hard because it’s emotional but I feel like the songs are easy to write cause it feels like I’m not writing them. It feels so divorced from what I typically do to write a song. Like, oh I want an upbeat song. It really was, I want to write a song for this person. It was almost like sitting down and writing them a letter or trying to figure out how to find your way into the song. It’s an emotional process because it sometimes makes you cry. But then I think it’s sort of cathartic too. I’m not a really good journal-taker so it’s kind of a nice way to sort of mark the passage of time and the people. There’s nothing I find more satisfying than writing a song for a person and giving it to them, for whatever reason. I find that writing for people is emotional for sure but it’s not as hard to get to the sort of meat of the song, I suppose.
And it’s very powerful for the person who receives it as well
I hope it is. I feel like it is, it feels good to me. I’m happy to do it and it feels good to give it to them.
You have a normal life with kids screaming and food’s on the stove burning and the dogs are barking. How can you drop normal, everyday life from your head and go and write a song of love or sadness when that is not necessarily what is going on around you?
I think part of this thing was that sometimes doing something for someone else, especially when they are going through something, it feels immediate, it feels like you want to do it. Like my friend’s son’s birthday, when it comes up I’m like, okay, I’ve got to do this. So it’s almost as if I’ve given myself this deadline in a way and maybe this was the only way I was able to write a record, is that I made it about giving it to other people. Putting a record out in the music business and wanting to do that, there is a lot of self-reflection, like, why am I doing this? Who is this for? I love playing music and I love being in front of an audience and singing. I enjoy that. So having a little bit of a higher purpose, if you will, not to get too spiritual but I want to do this for them at this time so it became more like I was preparing for someone’s birthday or someone’s event and I gave myself deadlines. Then I was able to do it with all the chaos around me.
Which song would you say changed the most from it’s original composition to it’s final recorded version?
We added a lot of stuff, in terms of the feeling of something, but it’s interesting because this record I feel like it didn’t change a ton. I’d say “Slow Dance” maybe kind of transformed the most. It became much more uplifting than what I had initially played.
You’ve been working with Mike Andrews for a long time. What does he help bring out in your music?
Mike is a really amazing cheerleader, not his greatest gift but it’s really fun to be in the studio with him. He has this energy that just propels things forward. In terms of his musicianship, I take this small song in there and he just kind of brings it, I guess, if that’s what you mean in terms of transforming the songs. I think that what he did was he kind of adds all these different feelings and yet it completes the sense of the song the same, which I think is a hard thing to do sometimes when you’re a producer, to not take it to another place but to keep it in the place that it started, just add to what was already there. He’s a really good musician and also a great interpreter of initial ideas.
When you first started writing songs, did the rhythm of your early experiences with Shakespeare and ballet have any influence on the rhythm and flow of your songs?
Yeah. I love Shakespeare and I think what I learned from Shakespeare, and I think probably with listening to classical music too when you dance ballet, I think that had some influence on me. I mean, some of the music is traditional for ballet but then if you have a good teacher they’ll incorporate some more classical interpretations of classical music. What I think Shakespeare is so good at is that not only is it the rhythm of the words but also the words having a music to them as well, so when you use a word to describe something you’re not only wanting to catch the essence of what you’re trying to say but also when you say it. And I think when you’re singing as well, if you’re singing a word it should sort of feel like the thing it’s supposed to be describing. I think Shakespeare does that quite a bit. So I guess I sort of got that from him (laughs). That’s what I try to do – not to compare myself with Shakespeare (laughs).
What can you tell us about “Young Adult”?
My kids were taking piano lessons and I was like, I’m going to take some too, so I started to play a little. I’ve not really played much on the piano but I started writing on the piano and “Young Adult” is only the second song on the piano I’ve ever written. But it kind of had this feeling, like a coming of age song, like this happened and then that happened, and that’s kind of where it started. I think it is sort of my story and also my own loss as a kid with my dad, and also having a father who loomed large, and sort of my own musical experience where I started out sort of being his daughter and hopefully coming to be who I am, my own self. Not to take away that being his daughter hasn’t had a meaningful impact on me but I think you can kind of make your own path. I’ve always shied away from talking about my dad outright. I’m not afraid to speak about him when someone asks a question but to actually bring it to the table, to actually discuss it myself, I just felt like it’s not my story. My story is something different. But now kind of coming full circle, it is my story, it’s just now I kind of feel like I have the experience and the age to sort of really discuss that it’s made me who I am but that I am someone different. I don’t know (laughs). But yeah, it’s about coming of age and that feeling, the joy and sorrow, that life is really hard and it’s beautiful and we’re all just trying to make the most of it; it’s not always great and it’s not always bad.
What did you do with the Foo Fighters recently?
I’m on their most recent record. Greg Kurstin, who is my partner in The Bird & The Bee, he’s a big producer, and he produced the last Foo Fighters record. And Dave Grohl, the reason how he found out about Greg initially was because he was a big fan of The Bird & The Bee. So when making the record they had all these different guest artists and then I came in and sang on one of the songs. I got to sing backups with them once at one show, which was really fun. He has got a lot of energy. It’s pretty incredible and amazing to watch. I had never seen them in concert until I sang with them. And it’s a real rock show. There’s no like pyrotechnics, it’s just the guys on the stage playing music, which is nice to see. It’s a cool thing that still happens.
You mentioned Greg – is there anything going on with The Bird & The Bee?
We’re pretty much done with a new Interpreting The Masters. We have a new one coming out next year, I’m pretty sure. We’re excited.
(laughs) I don’t know. We knew we wanted to do like a whole covers record of one artist and we toyed around with a lot of different people but we ended up with Hall & Oates. I think it was challenging enough and it was an artist that doesn’t necessarily get enough respect. Everyone loves Hall & Oates but they are sometimes not as respected. I think in the last ten years they’ve really gotten the kudos that they deserve. They are an amazing group that had always kind of been considered like pop but we loved doing it and had so much fun. And this new one, I can’t tell you what it is just yet, but it’s really been challenging, which is fun for us. We are both busy with our lives so when we get together with The Bird & The Bee, it really is just like a labor of love. We just try to go into it and try to challenge ourselves. Obviously we love to please our audience but we’re pleasing ourselves first, which is fun and a fun way to look at music.
What was the first song that you completely obsessed over as a kid?
Oh wow, it’s hard because there was the music I was given and the music I sort of found myself. I think the thing that I was most obsessed with as a kid was Purple Rain. That was like the first thing I ever obsessed over musically. That was kind of late though, I had other songs, but like the first track on Purple Rain [“Let’s Go Crazy”] is sort of etched into my brain (laughs).
What was your first I can’t believe I’m here moment?
That one is easier. We got to play Carnegie Hall and that’s probably up there with the most I can’t believe and what was so amazing about it was that it truly lived up to the hype. The sound at that place, it takes your breath away when you’re onstage. It really is kind of stunning and being onstage there was pretty unbelievable.
How long after you guys formed did you get to play there?
Not long. They were doing this Jazz Fest and we got to open up for Cesaria Evora. I love her, and she passed away a few years ago, but we’d put out one record at that point. We didn’t have any other records and it was our first tour. We were older, you know. When I first put a record out I was in my thirties; when we started the band I was in my late twenties. So it wasn’t like we were kids but it was kind of cool that the thing we had sort of done kind of on a lark – it wasn’t like we had spent a ton of time trying to get signed or anything – but that kind of all happened very fluidly and organically and then all of a sudden we were doing all these really fun things. And we are always so impressed that people like it. Like I said, we made this thing, this combination of the two of us, our brains, made something that people enjoy. It’s pretty great. It’s fun.
Portraits by Alexa Nikol Curran