Blessed with the talent of writing personal songs for family, friends, even strangers, all Inara George needs is a little time spent with you or some morsel of information about your life; and she can pen a custom-made ditty. Through the years she has presented these songs for grieving friends, family members, or offered her skill at her children's school auctions. This week she released her second solo effort Dearest Everybody. It coalesces around themes of grief, loss and the unexpected growth and joy that it can sometimes bring. A clutch of these tender but private songs have also found their way onto the album.
"Take Me To Paris" was for a close friend who had lost her child and is remembered every year with a new song. For her mother's birthday she wrote "Release Me" as a gift and tribute to her. She was married to George's father, Lowell George, of the much loved Seventies cult band Little Feat. He died of an overdose when George was four.
One half of The Bird and the Bee - her band with Grammy winning producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Beck, Lily Allen) - George will appear at San Francisco's annual Noise Pop Festival to be held from Feb 19 to 25, in venues across the city. We caught up with the mother-of-three to discuss if it was ever awkward asking permission to put these songs on her album, why she felt that she could now talk openly about her father, and when the next Bird and the Bee album will be released.
AXS: A few years ago when Recreational Love was released, we talked about you writing songs for friends or offering your talents at school auctions. I see some of that gifting has made it to your new album?
Inara George: It has.
AXS: At which point in the recording this album did you think it would center around themes of loss and grief?
IG: I knew when I started recording because over the years, I had collected so many songs with regards to that. It’s like a funny thing; if you've endured a loss when you’re a child, it’s underplayed a lot; it's just who you are. Still to this day, if I said my father passed away when I was young, people feel empathy. At the same time, I want to say 'I’m ok, I’m totally fine.' But actually when you start discussing it and really digging into it, you realize that you still have these huge feelings but for everyone to survive, we move forward: That's just being alive. I thought rather than underplay those feelings, why not just explore them in different ways? It started off as these gifts, then I thought why not explore all these different types of loss, and loves?
AXS: Was there a specific thing that happened that made you feel that you can now really talk about your father – he’s mentioned in the first line of “Young Adult,” in such a poignant way?
IG: It’s funny I was not thinking of my father when I wrote that. The record started off because my son had a friend, whose mom had lost her child; that’s where the song sprang from. Then my mom had her 70th birthday and I wrote a song about her loss; that’s “Release Me.” I would never have thought to put that on a record because it’s too personal. But my producer said ‘it was a good song and we should put in on the record,’ I trust him so I did it. With that song there was a realization, ‘OK I’m going to talk about this. I'm not going to not bring up my father.’ I was always my father’s daughter growing up; even I felt it. That song was also about me growing up as a musician. You read interviews in those early days when I was 18, 19 and it would always mention Inara George, daughter of Lowell George.
AXS: I'll probably have to mention it. You can't get away from it.
IG: (Laughs) I don’t want to get away from it but at that age, I wanted to be my own person.
AXS: “Take Me To Paris” appears to be about a longing for time together, away from bustle and domesticity. There is something so raw and simple about it, feels almost like a demo.
IG: It’s not a romantic song. A group of my friends, we were invited to Paris to celebrate a friend's 40th Birthday, it’s about this relationship that I have with these friends. And also being away from kids and connecting with each other, these friends I’ve had since we were little girls. It is about a longing and because it has this sensibility to be simple and sentimental - without being cheesy I hope - we went really sparse with just the piano, vocals and upright bass.
AXS: This friend who you write for every year how did she feel about you putting her songs on the album – was there some awkwardness?
IG: My friend has this beautiful and magical way of thinking about this loss. For her, not talking about it became much stranger. She wanted to celebrate this person who didn’t have a chance to be around. I give her these songs every year to mark the years. It didn’t feel awkward asking her because I know her well enough to know how she feels. (pause) It is something so personal... (pause) it is funny, you know when I wrote the song I didn’t think about it, then I do these interviews and I feel like I’m fighting back tears. (laughs) Death is such a taboo thing; we have funerals, but I feel like we don’t talk about what it feels like a year later. That longing for something, it doesn’t go away, we just carry them. It does get easier; but I don’t know, it’s still heartbreaking. It’s not less important. Kids talk about death all the time. And the thing you have say to them is 'everybody dies.' It’s the most natural thing that happens but it doesn’t make it less painful.
AXS: “Release Me” is deeply affecting. What was it like writing a song for your mom in a very intimate way?
IG: I was very nervous when I wrote the song. I asked my brother 'if I gave it to our mom would it be too much? And he said ‘I don’t think so.’ I gave it to her and there was part of her that felt “Is this what you think about me? Is this how you feel?” You know my mom never remarried. When you have someone who is revered by many, when she tries to move on, it’s like people don’t let her. When I gave her the song I think she was touched by it. If you look at all these women, wives of rock stars; Yoko Ono, Courtney Love, people turn them into ... monsters. I think that's happened to my mom in some way because fans feel they have ownership of their idols, so they have to blame something, somebody. They feel like their connection to the idols are deeper than the bond that their wives have. I don't know. So I think for my mother, the song felt like a vindication. It was an expression of her devotion to him, deeper and stronger than anyone else could have imagined.
AXS: You keep busy with a lot of different collaborations from being in the studio with the Foo Fighters to appearing live, last Summer, with Shirley Manson (Garbage) at the Hollywood Bowl. It seemed like Shirley and you spend the entire duration of the song just locked in each other's gaze?
IG: That was so fun. I’ve known Shirley for almost 10 years, she’s always been so kind and supportive of me. She had this idea of me doing this duet of "Cup of Coffee" with her. We discussed before hand that we were just going to look at each other. I feel like I got a real masterclass in performing. I fluffed a lyric at some point and started to smile; she kind of looked at me and grabbed my hand and was just like ‘oh no, you’re not going to break character!’ She is so in her performance. She assumes a role and is totally immersed in it the entire show. In that moment it was just us on stage; that doesn’t really happen in rock music, it felt more like theatre.
AXS: The next Bird & Bee is a sequel to the 2010 Tribute to Hall & Oates – is it more Hall & Oates or another 80s band as you guys continue Interpreting The Masters?
IG: I can tell you it’s not Hall & Oates but it is another Eighties act. And if we can get it together before Christmas it might be out this year but Greg’s so busy right now, and I am too so perhaps it will be next year. But it's all recorded and we’re pretty much done with it.
Inara George Tour
Jan. 24 - New York, NY - Nublu
Jan. 25 - Washington, DC - DC9
Jan. 26 - Philadelphia, PA - The Boot & Saddle
Feb. 16 - Seattle, WA - Columbia City Theater
Feb 18 - Portland, OR - Mission Theater
Feb. 20 - San Francisco, CA - Cafe Du Nord (Noise Pop Festival)