In their early years as a group, the bird and the bee released a flurry of albums and EPs, culminating in the 2009 record, "Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future." And then things slowed down in a major way, their only major release for years being a Hall and Oates tribute album.
Now, the bird and the bee is back with a new album, "Recreational Love," and while the duo's take on indie pop remains as infectious as ever, their time spent away from releasing music — spent raising families instead — has resulted in a more mature approach.
When Greg Kurstin and Inara George of the Bird and the bee joined us in The Frame studios, we asked them about this album's lengthy gestation period, how becoming parents had changed their songwriting process, and whether they really do love L.A.
So, it's been a couple years — five, by my count — since your last album. Is that the normal pace of things, or did life get in the way?
George: [laughs] Uh, life got in the way, for sure.
Kurstin: We used to put out albums more frequently, but a lot of things happened. Kids happened and we just got busy, so we had to take little breaks here and there.
What eventually makes it feel like it's time to get together again and do another album?
George: We actually have a standing date: every Friday morning, we get together for two hours and we'll write. For the past five years, there have been periods of time where we don't get together at all, but mostly we get together one time a week and chip away at whatever it is we we're working on. We had this standing date before we even had kids, before even our last record. It worked out, and it helped us stay focused. The record was done over almost a seven-year period.
Kurstin: Yeah, we'd do a Friday morning, we'd do another Friday morning, and then we'd have a child and we'd take three months off--
George: [laughing] Not together!
Kurstin: [laughs] Not together. We have separate children with separate spouses. But yeah, we continued through the process. We didn't really take a long break and then just start to work on the album; we continually worked throughout that time and then we'd revisit things, listen to songs we did years back, and see what worked and what didn't. We just continually worked.
How do those life experiences change the view of your work and the kinds of things you want to sing about?
George: That's a good question. I've found that it does definitely change what I want to talk about. And I think it's just age, but having kids and age combined you have to re-imagine how it is that you're able to express what's going on without it sounding like, I had a kid and I'm getting older and my back hurts. Whatever those things are that are not sexy at all. You have to rearrange how you come at a song, but still make it such that all audiences can get into it, I guess.
As you were writing these songs, did you find yourselves thinking about a unifying theme for the album? If so, did something evolve over the course of writing the songs?
Kurstin: Inara might have been approaching it lyrically, but I was coming from it sonically, and I think there's a sound that was evolving with the album. We'd lose the songs that didn't really fit that might have seemed like old the bird and the bee, and then there were new songs that we'd come across and we started to get a body of work that sounded similar, I think. At the end, we tied everything together, but lyrically, Inara, I think you tied it all together. There's definitely a theme for the album. [laughs]
How would you describe it?
George: [laughs] I like how you passed that to me. To say that there was an overall concept of what the songs are about, I'd say no. I think over that period of time we just gathered these songs, but this record was harder to write the lyrics for because it was a new perspective. So I remember talking to Greg about it, like, "How can I be truthful? I can't sing about stuff that just isn't real to me." Even though the bird and the bee has always been kind of like a persona for me, I have to come at it with some realism or else I feel kind of ridiculous.
Would it be okay if the City of Los Angeles adopts [the song "Los Angeles"] as its official tourism song? It's a love letter.
George: I would really appreciate that. [laughs] We want them to start playing it at the basketball games. That would be my dream. I feel like that would be a bucket list sort of thing. [laughs]
Are you both native Angelenos?
Kurstin: Yeah, we are.
So what does this song mean about the city and your place in the city?
George: The story to the song is kind of a funny thing. I came back from a trip and my boyfriend at the time seemed like he had had this girlfriend while I was gone. Something had happened, and she was talking to me about L.A., and she's like, "Where are you from?" And I said, " Oh, I'm from L.A." And she goes, "No, where are you really from?" As a native, you get that a lot. I have this love for the city, and sometime you feel like you have to defend yourself and it constantly, so yeah, it is a love letter in defense of Los Angeles.
Greg, what about you? What does this song mean to you personally?
Kurstin: I love Los Angeles, and I've secretly always wanted to do a song about Los Angeles, but it's a hard thing to pull off. But I'm really proud of the song and I love what Inara did with the song. I love the city, and sometimes it makes me mad, but overall I really love it.