What Greg Kurstin recalls most about that night were the assless chaps. He was a teenager at a Van Halen concert in 1982, and onstage, David Lee Roth was rocking his rough-trade cowboy gear. “There were jeans under them, and then mysteriously, the jeans disappeared,” says Kurstin, 39, now one half of the Bird and the Bee. “It was just ass.”
That raw image is nowhere to be found in “Diamond Dave,” his group’s loungey, space-age lullaby, which finds singer Inara George pining for the hard-rock ringmaster (“You spoke to me / All the things you provoked in me,” she discloses in elegant falsetto). George, 34, never saw the chaps (or ass) up close herself but remembers being dazzled by Roth on MTV. “I think in Dave’s soul is a very schmaltzy Broadway guy that somehow landed in this world,” she says lovingly.
On a January afternoon, George and Kurstin are relaxing in Kurstin’s home studio in the hills above Los Angeles, where they recorded Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, a sophomore album rich with Swinging ’60s pop and trippy Tropicália. George (daughter of the late Lowell George, leader of ’70s country rockers Little Feat) and Kurstin (who’s produced Ladyhawke and Britney Spears) have been musical partners since 2004, when she enlisted him to play keyboards on her solo debut, All Rise. The studio — crowded with drums, guitars, dozens of keyboards, and Kurstin’s small, frantic whippet — is the same setting where Kurstin began producing and cowriting Lily Allen’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, until the paparazzi outside became so distracting they moved the sessions north to Eagle Rock. “They’re really aggressive,” he says. “It’s weird that they think it’s an okay thing to do.”
Work on Ray Guns was calmer. They recorded in the bright mid-morning, belying the smoky, cocktail ambience of some tracks. The playful “Polite Dance Song” patiently instructs fans on how to move (“Would you please clap your hands?”), while “Lifespan of a Fly” is a dreamy send-off to a bug. George smiles at that. “I do weird stuff,” she says, “because I don’t know any better.”
LISTEN: The Bird and the Bee, “My Love”
WATCH: The Bird and the Bee, “Love Letter to Japan: