The Bird And The Bee

The Bird And The Bee

Since forming in 2005, the bird and the bee have brought a breezy elegance to their music, putting their own idiosyncratic twist on time-bending indie-pop. On their latest album, the L.A.-based duo find an unlikely vessel for that sound: #TK covers of some of the most massive and magnificently wild songs from David Lee Roth-era Van Halen.

The fifth full-length from singer Inara George and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen both sheds new light on the glory of classic VH and further proves the playful brilliance of the bird and the bee. Though it arrives on the heels of 2015’s Recreational Love, the album more closely follows Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, a 2010 release hailed as “wink-free pop bliss” by Entertainment Weekly. This time around, George and Kurstin find common ground with their source material in a shared affinity for fantastically intricate rhythms, unforgettable melodies, and—most essentially—a certain ecstatic spirit imbued into every song.

Produced by Kurstin—a seven-time Grammy Award-winner who’s recently worked with Kendrick Lamar, Paul McCartney, and Adele—Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2 alchemizes the outrageous dazzle of Diamond Dave into something delicate and dreamy and softly shimmering. And while it features guest musicians like bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (known for his work with Beck and Nine Inch Nails) and drummers Joey Waronker (R.E.M., Elliott Smith) and Omar Hakim (David Bowie, Miles Davis), George and Kurstin made most of the album on their own, infusing even the most over-the-top tracks with a gentle intimacy.

For Kurstin—an accomplished jazz pianist who studied with Charles Mingus band member Jaki Byard—one of the greatest challenges in making the album involved translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar playing into his performance on piano. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut.

On the lead single “Panama,” meanwhile, Kurstin’s lush piano work replaces the revved-up guitar riffs of the original, transforming the track into a radiant pop anthem bathed in bright synth and George’s luminous vocals. Elsewhere on Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” warps into a new-wavey fever dream, and “Jump” turns strangely ethereal thanks to George’s hypnotic vocal percussion. And on “Jamie’s Cryin’,” her tender vocal delivery reveals a rarely acknowledged sensitivity in Roth’s storytelling. “Some songs were a little complicated to reimagine from a female perspective, but once I dug into the lyrics I realized that David Lee Roth is a great lover of women,” George says. “When it comes down to it, ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ is really a sweet song about a girl who isn’t made for recreational love.”

Not only evidence of their ingenuity as song interpreters, the bird and the bee’s nuanced reading of Van Halen has much to do with their deep emotional connection to the band. “I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” says George. Also a diehard fan, Kurstin got the chance to work with Eddie Van Halen at age 12, when the guitar god served as producer on “My Mother Is a Space Cadet”—a 1982 single from Kurstin’s band with Dweezil Zappa. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played the Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” he recalls.

First crossing paths when Kurstin performed on George's 2005 solo debut All Rise, the duo soon bonded over their mutual love for Van Halen. In 2007, after catching her first-ever Van Halen show—on the first tour since 1985 to feature Roth as the band’s frontman—George found herself so charmed by his presence, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The result: a swoony serenade called “Diamond Dave,” which graced the tracklist of the bird and the bee’s acclaimed 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. “We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”

With the release of Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2, the bird and the bee hope to spread that near-lifelong Van Halen love to a whole new crop of listeners. “When I want to listen to hard-rock music there’s still nothing that hits me like they do,” Kurstin notes. “Every time I hear them it takes back to when I first found them on the radio, and it felt so dangerous to me—like they were from a whole other world. It would be so great if people who would never usually listen to Van Halen heard this record, and then ended falling in love with them too.”

Los Angeles-based artist Alex Lilly is a renaissance female.

In addition to the writing, arranging, producing, and playing of her own music, Lilly has established a notable career out on the road as a part of the touring bands of such esteemed musicians Beck, Lorde, Ry Cooder, and the bird and the bee. When Lilly’s in L.A, she has stayed busy throughout the years with her own projects such as Obi Best, Tou h , Zero DeZire, and The Living Sisters.

Now, following-up “Paranoid Times,” her debut under her own name, Lilly is bringing all of her talents, ideas, and her singular voice to the table in the form of 2% Milk, her debut full-length album, out Jan. 19th, 2019 via newly-formed Release Me Records.

Lilly’s songs – she describes her sound as “sexy psychological thriller” – are synthy, syrupy, and suspicious i.e. there’s something going on here that’s not only pop, but actually pops. The intrigue that abounds on 2% Milk moves the listener beyond toe-tapping and finger-snapping, straight to brainmapping.

This ability of Lilly’s to take a song out of the realm of merely entertaining to intriguing is all over the album’s first single “Distra ting Me,” a tune dedicated to the idea of enjoying the annoying.

“Most of the time, I don’t like distractions, they get in my way,” she sings. “What made you the exception? Showing up and all I can think of to say: I love it when you are distracting me from what I think I need to do.”

“What better testament to loving someone than when you enjoy their interruptions?” Lilly explains of the tune. “I resisted a particular friend’s efforts to distract me for a long time but when I finally gave in, I realized it was fun.”

Lilly’s lower tolerance for inanimate irritations informed the album’s songwriting process.

“I feel like I can write more easily when I don’t have phone service,” she says of her time on an island outside of Vancouver where most of 2% Milk was written.

“I’d get up early and write, sometimes at my computer, sometimes walking around and I’d record melodies into my phone,” she remembers.

When the time came to turn the island demos into tracks, Lilly convened with Jacob Bercovici of The Voidz, who shared her sensibilities.

“Like me, Jake has no fear of the ridiculous,” she explains. “He ended up co-producing six songs.” Additional production credits go to Andy Bauer (of Twin Shadow), and Lilly herself. Another standout track is “Infantile,” a collaboration with Lilly’s friend, Daedelus.

“I asked him if he had any instrumental demos lying around I could write a melody and words to, and he had this beautiful piece that sounds like an intricate mechanism. I was so excited to add something to it, like a fancy chain to an already remarkable pocket watch.”

The album’s title track “2% Milk,” was adapted by Lilly from a poem by Jacqueline Suskind, a Los Angeles-based poet known for improvising work on the spot off of a given subject.

“I love this poem, it’s pretty angsty in nature, but also weirdly soothing, so I put it to music, and tinkered with it to make it rhyme,” Lilly explains.

2% Milk is the first release for the newly-formed Release Me Records, founded by musician Inara George, both friend and bandmate to Lilly via their previous work together as part of The Living Sisters, Zero DeZire, and when Lilly plays live in the bird and the bee.

“I met a very young Alex around 2006 when the bird and the bee was putting together a live band,” George explains. “We needed singers to help with our harmonies, and Alex was suggested to me. I feel so fortunate that we connected, and I’ve always been impressed with her musicality, her ability, and her motivation. I started Release Me to shine a light on Alex, and all the other insanely gifted musicians I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

2% Milk, the essential debut album from Alex Lilly, is scheduled for release on Jan. 11th, 2019 in digital, CD, and vinyl formats, preceded by the single and music video “Distra ting Me,” distracting you soon.

Samantha Sidley

Samantha Sidley is a jazz vocalist, born-and-raised in Los Angeles, and she likes girls.

The words “I like girls” are the first thing you‟ll hear when Sidley‟s debut album Interior Person (Sept. 13th, Release Me Records) opens. The song is an unassuming anthem, a future standard for an evolving culture. It‟s also a fun and funny ice-breaker that you‟ll sing along with.

“I Like Girls” is a peek into what plays out as a meticulously crafted debut album featuring Sidley‟s beautifully trained voice taking confident ownership of songs written for her to sing by some of the most important women in her life.

These other “girls” include fellow musicians Inara George, Alex Lilly, and Sidley‟s “Top One” favorite musician of all-time, her wife, Barbara Gruska.

“Inara and Alex and Barbara wrote songs that are all very personal to my story – they literally are my story – and from my lesbian perspective, which I appreciate so much,” Sidley says. In addition to co-writing many of the songs here, and playing drums (masterfully) on many of the tracks, Gruska also produced Interior Person in a studio constructed in Sidley‟s childhood bedroom (more on that later.)

“She is such a badass,” Sidley says. “My record sounds exactly like what I needed it to sound like – the old records I grew up on, mixed with now and the future.”

“I‟m gay and I‟m proud, and I want to sing songs that are about being gay and proud,” Sidley explains about “I Like Girls,” but also about actually liking girls. She is content in her skin, in her relationship, and about how her marriage is not just personal i.e. it includes building a recording studio in her childhood bedroom (we‟ll get to it!)

“I saw her and was completely blown away,” Sidley says of first seeing Gruska‟s band perform over ten years ago. “I thought, I understand that person. I can take care of them.” It wasn‟t until Sidley heard Gruska‟s voice on MySpace (MySpace!) that Sidley got up the nerve to message Gruska that she was “smitten.”

It‟s a testament to Sidley‟s life-long love of vocalists that her actual love life was sparked by a voice.

“My whole life was a song,” Sidley says of her childhood. “If I looked at a tree, it was a song. If I felt happy, sad, joy, it was a song. When I first heard Judy Garland in „The Wizard of Oz,‟ I remember thinking: „I understand.‟ I‟ve always considered myself an interpreter, which is sort of and undervalued art form. I like to take a song and make the story true for me.”
Sidley soon discovered Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, soul music in general, and her own personal “soulfulness” itself. You know, like all seven-year-olds do. Later, considering how annoyed 11-year-old Sidley was when her vocal instructor wouldn‟t allow her to sing Holiday‟s “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)” at her first recital, it all made perfect sense.

A decade later, Sidley got to sing whatever she wanted, performing at NYC‟s legendary Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, where she lived in Dorothy Parker‟s room, listened to a lot of Anita O‟Day and Ella Fitzgerald, and landed a rave review in the New York Times.

Unfortunately, the universe slapped back when Sidley‟s father became terminally ill. She moved back to Los Angeles to be with him until the end, and then to grieve with her mother and sister whom she considers her best friends. They all lived together in the home Sidley grew up in, a mess of a structure in Silverlake where every light in the house had to be unplugged before using the microwave. Sidley fell into a depression.

“And then Barb came into our life.”

It‟s a good thing that the arcane electricity situation didn‟t keep Sidley off of MySpace, because Gruska eventually moved in and became part of Sidley‟s family.

“All of us together in this falling down house in Silverlake!”

Two years of living in a house under renovations later, and Gruska had transformed Sidley‟s childhood bedroom into her music studio. See, we got there!

The couple now lives in an apartment just down the street.

“She knows exactly how I express myself and what my intentions are,” Sidley says of her working relationship with Gruska. “Collaborating on this record has actually been a much longer collaboration of us getting to know each other.”

“All of these women have been a huge part of my artistic livelihood,” Sidley says, referring to Gruska, George and Lilly. “They have given me the stories to sing and the opportunity to share and be vulnerable. I have found strength through of all my deep sorrow by singing. Before this record, I was still just doing standards and covers but now I have a wealth of material to choose from.”

Interior Person does include one nod to this era of Sidley‟s career when she covers the 1968 Beach Boys song “Busy Doin‟ Nothin‟”. “I love doing covers,” she says. “It‟s like doing a rendition of an old play.”

It‟s not hard to imagine others artists, gay or straight or otherwise, covering “I Like Girls” someday.

“We‟ve been able to relate to songs that come from straight perspectives our whole lives,” says Gruska, who co-wrote the song with Lilly. “We have to have faith that straight listeners can relate to songs that are written from gay perspectives.”
Gruska further explains, “It‟s as if Sam is saying, „I‟m gay. I love being gay. If you‟re cool with that, listen on, because I‟ve got a lot more to say!‟”

Samantha Sidley likes girls and it‟s easy to like her back.

Interior Person is the debut album by Los Angeles-based jazz vocalist, Samantha Sidley. The album arrives Sept. 13th from Release Me Records, preceded by the single “I Like Girls” on June 21st.

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