The Bird and the Bee Are Hot for Tributes

The Bird and the Bee are Interpreting The Masters again, this time with Van Halen.
The Bird and the Bee are Interpreting The Masters again, this time with Van Halen. Alexa Nikol Curran

Somewhere on the great rock ’n’ roll altar in the sky, there is a lengthy tally of the music duos that have defined our time.

Inara George and Greg Kurstin, a superstar duo themselves, are slowly working their way down that list while finding themselves along the way. Ten years ago, The Bird and the Bee gave us Interpreting The Masters Volume 1, a pitch-perfect tribute to Hall & Oates in the form of punchy synth pop renditions. Now, they set their eyes on a beast of a very different color with Interpreting The Masters Volume 2: A Tribute to Van Halen.

“The way that we combated our lack of interest in touring was just by putting out a bunch of music,” George says in conversation with Phoenix New Times. “Hall & Oates was definitely more in our natural wheelhouse. But once we got into the Van Halen one, it was much more of a challenge. We wanted to re-create that feeling of doing something that was hard. It wasn’t an automatic, easy thing.”

The Bird and the Bee are plenty busy outside of their passion project. Kurstin is a seven-time Grammy-winning producer who has worked with everyone from Adele to Kendrick Lamar. George, meanwhile, consistently has released solo records for the duration of the duo’s career, as well as guesting on a variety of records, including the Foo Fighters’.

But take one listen to Kurstin’s stripped-down solo piano take on “Eruption” and you’ll get the idea. The Bird and the Bee aren’t out to capitalize on watered-down pop renditions of these ubiquitous classics. Rather, they let the technical brilliance and psychic chemistry of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth guide them on a hard rock odyssey.

“Greg approaches the keyboard a similar way that Eddie approaches the guitar — it’s an extension of himself,” George says. “Greg has a jazz background. Eddie has a jazz and classical background. That’s why it started to make sense to us once we got into it. He’s such a virtuoso on the piano, and he doesn’t really get to do that kind of stuff with our normal stuff. With Roth, I find him endlessly fascinating as a person, a frontman, and a singer. We picked players that were insanely good to play on this record, with the idea that this would be like a band that came up in that time where having a rock band really shred was a new thing.”

And shred they do. The album’s guest credits include Beck, Dave Grohl, and David Bowie’s drummer, Omar Hakim, who provided the jazz drum on “Hot For Teacher.” Throughout this record, George and Kurstin flex their decades of experience (and admirable Rolodex) to curate a truly unparalleled tribute to the gods of rock ’n’ roll.

“When The Bird and the Bee started, Greg was playing on my first solo record,” George says. “We’d been in other bands, but there was something about the combination that allowed us to be experimental and write catchy stuff that we hadn’t really done before. Greg has written a ton of No. 1 hits with a bunch of other people. But with us, the band is where we get to play, and we get to enjoy each other’s musicality. It’s just really something we look forward to, and there’s no pressure to do more than what happens naturally.”

As The Bird and the Bee continue to explore the dualities of rock history, George and Kurstin’s unique bond only grows stronger. Living life like there’s no tomorrow looks a bit different through their lens of interpretation, but getting to what’s real is exactly the same.

The Bird & The Bee are scheduled to perform on Wednesday, August 28, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $17 to $27 via Eventbrite.
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