Greg Kurstin and Inara George, collectively known as the Bird and the Bee, are standing at the doorway of Webster Hall in New York City, where they’re about to take the stage. Kurstin, 46, raves about the free chocolates he’s about to take full advantage of, and George, 41, will probably have a glass of wine. “I’m the booze bag of the group,” she readily admits.
Best known for their 2006 dance hit “Fucking Boyfriend,” Los Angeles-based Bird and the Bee is on tour to promote their first album in five years, Recreational Love, yet another synthpop pleasure from the duo that will have you wishing you were sipping a summer cocktail in the sun.
Dallas Voice: You’re about to hit the stage — do you expect there to be a big gay turnout? Inara George: What we love about our shows is we have people from all over the place, and yeah! I feel like we do have a pretty good gay following.
Greg Kurstin: Hey, we’re happy if anyone shows up! We’ve been away for five years, so we’re just happy that people are still coming out. When you go away for that long, you just hope people remember you.
When in your career were you first aware of a gay following? Inara: I just had a flashback. I remember having an interview with a gay magazine right after “Fucking Boyfriend” — the dance track version — and thinking, “Oh my god, that’s amazing.” I’ve always felt like the gay community has pretty good taste, so I was obviously excited about it. The Bird and the Bee [in 2007] was the first record where I kind of got it.
What’s the significance of the title of your new album, Recreational Love? What does “recreational love” mean to both of you? Inara: I came up with the title of the record before I really knew what it was about. I think of it as a play on words: recreational drug / recreational love. As a young woman, I always have the sense that I could have recreational love; for me, it really exists without some emotional attachment.
Greg: I can’t say that I have a lot of recreational love now that I’m married. I’ve definitely done my share of dating, and I’m just happy that I don’t have to date anymore because it’s so nerve-racking. But I’m married, and so it’s like, “Ahh, finally; I don’t have to worry about it.” It was a lot of stress for me! But yeah, the song is a fantasy song in a lot of ways.
Inara: It’s not like that’s what I’m doing anymore; it’s a commentary on how I miss it.
You guys have been making music together for a decade. How does such an enduring relationship influence the music over time? Greg: We’ve just been good friends for a long time, so I feel like we feel comfortable around each other. It’s great to work with someone who you feel comfortable around, and you can really experiment in the studio and not worry about doing something ridiculous where someone’s gonna judge you. I feel very free with Inara, so we can just explore and try different crazy things. If we wanna do something that’s a funny ’80s love ballad or a disco song or whatever, we can. We can go in any direction and we won’t judge each other because we’re friends.
How does that relationship compare to other female artists you work with, such as Kelly Clarkson or Pink? Greg: Everyone’s different, but I’m lucky. I’ve narrowed it down to working with only people I do feel comfortable with, that I really do get along with. If I worked with someone and it didn’t feel natural, then we probably wouldn’t work together. With Inara, and because I’m a member of the group, there’s a certain kind of freedom where we can do whatever we want. We don’t have to make a commercial record if we don’t want to. When I work with certain artists, there’s a big label behind it, and I feel like I really need to deliver.
Do you try to separate the sound you bring to Bird and the Bee from other artists you produce? Greg: Yeah, I definitely consider that and try to keep the Bird and the Bee consistent. When I started doing the Bird and the Bee, I didn’t really have other stuff going on, so I’m very aware of that, and I want the Bird and the Bee to have a special place and a consistent sound. I have to kind of compartmentalize a bit.
Inara, do you have a favorite song that Greg’s produced outside of Bird and the Bee? Inara: I love that new Beck one he just did… what’s it called again?
Inara: And I love the stuff he did with Sia — it’s amazing. I thought that Christmas record with Kelly Clarkson was really good. He does a lot. I’m always really impressed. It’s funny, when a song comes on the radio, I’m like, “Is this Greg?!” The thing that’s so amazing about Greg is he can be a chameleon and he has so many different styles. Unless you come see him play live, I don’t think anyone quite knows how good of a player he is.
As a gay man, I couldn’t help but read into the line, I don’t care if people stare / People stare at all the wrong things on “Will You Dance,” as pertaining to the LGBT community. What inspired that? Inara: I think you’re right about that line. I think the things that are most beautiful, like two gay men together dancing or somebody dancing for just the joy of it — people stare at all the wrong things. Why aren’t we staring at the homeless person on the street when you walk on by them? The joyful things are sometimes the things that people are most judgmental about.
The title track alludes to the fact that love is a universal human need. It especially struck me given the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. What prompted you to explore the universality of love on that track Inara: When I was a 20-year-old girl, there was the prospect of casual love, like you can be so intimate with someone and yet have no idea who they are. I think that was the thing. We all need this love and we all want to end up feeling secure and open. It’s all about pushing against being vulnerable, I suppose.
How often have people confused you for a couple? Greg: It happens. We’ve been doing interviews for this record and Inara is like, “and we have kids…,” and then she’s like, “…but separately!”
Inara: There was one guy who would not believe us.
Greg: A writer from England was like, “Are you sure?!” We could not convince him we were not a couple!
Obviously you both share a mutual adoration for music. What don’t you have in common, though? Inara: We’re pretty much like Chip ’n’ Dale.
Greg: You listen to more podcasts than I do! You’re like, “Check out this podcast, check out this podcast!” I have a list of, like, 30 podcasts. I listen to more music. I think Inara might read more than me?
Inara: No — that’s not true at all. I pretend. I leave all the music stuff up to Greg. I can’t keep up with music today, so I’ve sort of given up. I let Greg keep up with all the current music, and I keep up with all the podcasts!
You notably did a Hall and Oates tribute album called Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. Who will you cover for Volume II? Inara: Well… we have decided on one, but we are not telling anyone yet.
Greg: We have to leave the particulars to ourselves. I get a lot of suggestions of things we should cover. We talked about maybe covering different eras, like an ’80s kind of thing or ’70s rock.
Inara: We talk about it a lot.
Greg: We have something in mind. It’s a person, but we don’t want to say who because…
Inara: It doesn’t always work out. But as soon as we have time, then we’ll start on it.
So 20 years from now? Inara: No! We have a standing date every Friday for a couple of hours.
If you could be any creature apart from a bird and a bee, what would you be? Inara: I like dragonflies!
Greg: Maybe some sort of bird… a tropical bird…
Inara: The Dragonfly and the Toucan.
— Chris Azzopardi