Initially, Inara George was knocked off balance when the coronavirus clampdown shuttered her beloved music industry this year, which—as the rock-royalty daughter of late Little Feat anchor Lowell George—is a career that she was practically born into. She released an adventurous new solo EP, Youth of Angst, in March, but suddenly didn’t feel comfortable about it. “The EP had been in the works for a long time, but it was weird when it hit, because you felt like you didn’t want to promote things at such an odd moment,” she recalls.
So instead she concentrated on overseeing the online education of her three children with her filmmaker husband Jake Kasdan—Otis, 8, and twins Beau and Lorelei, 10. “Which was actually comforting in itself, because it kind of makes you forget things for a minute,” mom reports. Especially when you’re viewing nothing but kids’ TV together. Like many pandemic parents, she’s grown fond of the animated Pepa Pig character. “But we’re way beyond Pepa Pig now, and they’ve even grown out of Paw Patrol—my daughter loves Full House, so she watches that all the time, and then my sons are into this cartoon called Naruto—it’s very gore-rooted, too.”
But now that Christmas—however surreal it might appear—is rolling around, George, 46, has found her footing again and is welcoming it with caroling cheer, via Put Up the Lights, her new Yuletide album as The Bird and the Bee, with longtime bandmate Greg Kurstin. And the record really catches the seasonal spirit, whether on a rousing version of “Little Drummer Boy” (that features rock’s preeminent drummer boy himself, Dave Grohl) or two new originals, “Merry Merry” and the Vince Guaraldi-jazzy —“You and I at Christmas Time,” which the duo penned through trading email files. She’s also just issued a new version of her Angst processional “Sex in Cars,” now reimagined as a duet with Grohl, through the “Road Angel Project,” where musicians of every stripe are dropping rare and/or collectible cuts to benefit the Sweet Relief charity and its COVID-19 subsidiary. And—believe it or not, she chortles—she’s found her perfect singing/songwriting center in the busy house: A clothes-muffled bedroom closet where she can record her vocals undisturbed.
Paste: What have you been watching, personally, through lockdown?
Inara George: Not much of anything. Because by the time everybody’s asleep, I’m totally tired, so I go to sleep, too. And the day always starts with the kids, and it’s rare that I wake up much before them. And then it’s just a lot of being with them and feeding them and stuff. So with this Christmas record, if I had a minute, I’d go into my little closet and hope that it wasn’t too noisy and sing. And as the deadline for it got closer, I’d just do things faster so I could finish the vocals at night, which was hard for me. But other times, the kids would be busy or watching TV, so I would just disappear upstairs and sing in my closet. And we have a dog, and a lot of times he’ll sit outside the closet door and whine. But the bathroom is in between the closet and the bedroom, so I can usually close all the doors so he can’t get too close. So the whining hasn’t really ruined a tape yet.
Paste: How and why did you settle on the closet?
George: That’s new for me. I had a little recording thing set up in the bedroom, but that since got dismantled. So now the closet really is the only place in the house that’s quiet. And the kids can’t just walk in—it takes them a little bit of time and effort to actually find me. So the closet is my little hideout. And then Jake is here, too—he hasn’t been going to work, but he’s working out of his home office and doing things by Zoom. And filming has begun again in some places, and shows are starting up again, but they have very strict protocol. The new Jumanji has not started yet, though.
Paste: Who knew that new film series would be so huge? I did not see that one coming.
George: It was surprising to us, too—we were not expecting it. But overall, this election has been the most tumultuous period of my life—it really has been like, ‘WTF?’ Every day. And I watched The Social Dilemma, too, and that’s the thing—if we don’t fix that [online addiction] problem, then there’s no point in trying to do anything else, because you’re still going to get people who believe that Hillary Clinton drinks the blood of children. It’s so crazy. But if you have a whole country that’s undereducated, then our school system is so jacked compared to the rest of the world.
Paste: So, uhh, how do you make Christmas music in dark times like these?
George: I know, I know. Well, it was kind of an escape, and it was pretty nice not to think about anything else for a bit. And it was something to look towards. And I think that’s the thing—music can be an escape, or it can be a reckoning, and I think you can do both. But people need a release, and they need to have something that just feels good. And now, I think, a lot of people are making music that’s really questioning stuff, which is just as important. But more important is that the pretty stuff that just makes you feel comfortable is also necessary. And I know, for me, making this record was very therapeutic—it felt like, “Oh, I can sing this song, and it feels like something I remember.” And I’m not sure we’re gonna get anything that feels like that this holiday, but maybe next year it will like something we’re more familiar with. But then I also think…well, I have a lot of ideas about the pandemic, and that it’s all culminating in this one guy [Trump]. But it’s unearthed our conscience, in a way, because we’re not able to be distracted by anything now. Which is the goal of Capitalism, right? To make sure that we’re satisfied and sated just enough to keep us buying stuff. But I think what the pandemic is doing, essentially, is make people think, “Well, I don’t have a job, I couldn’t go to a job if I had one, and I can’t go to school or do any of these other things.” And then George Floyd happened, and I think it was just this collective epiphany, like, “Oh, my God—what have we been doing this whole time?” We’ve been denying our actual reality. And that’s where I differ with some people, because I think that this is who we have been—we are those people that are coming out of the woodwork now, saying “Only Trump really cares about me!” That is such the fabric of our country, and it’s been like that, just lying in wait. If you look at it historically, that’s how it was built. It was built to do exactly what it’s doing.
Paste: At least important issues are finally being discussed now, like how there is no really sustainable future in meat.
George: My kids are vegetarian, and Jake is pescatarian. But lately we’ve all been eating a mostly plant-based diet, which has been really great. And I do think that you will either choose it, or it will be forced upon you. But I dunno. I go between thinking that this is an amazing time, and everything is gonna be so great, and we’re gonna turn things around to thinking about homo sapiens, and how their nature is to destroy. That is who we are. It’s part of our genetic fabric, in a way, and just look back in time and that’s what we do, you know? But I have kids, so I feel like I have to stay positive. But I’m a pessimistic person, but slightly optimistic, if that makes sense. But it’s the idea of money, that everything has to be monetized. I think it screws with your purpose. I mean, what is your purpose in this hustle? You live in a country where if you get sick, you’re screwed, if you’re homeless, you’re screwed, if you don’t have enough food, you’re screwed. So all we’re striving to do is to survive, and I’m saying that coming from a place where I’m a very fortunate person. Because I think that if all you’re doing is surviving, then there’s no ability to actually feel like you have a purpose on a deeper spiritual level, you know?
Paste: Yet you and Greg managed to pen two new potential holiday classics.
George: We did. But I think those ones probably have more of the actual feeling that’s been happening, and the lyrics are just about the things that you really need, rather than the things that Christmas is usually about, things that have become so materialistic. And we actually did write them over the Internet—Greg sent me the tracks and I just wrote the melody and lyrics over them.
Paste: How will your family be decorating this year? Snoopy’s garish doghouse or Charlie Brown’s spartan little tree?
George: Oh, no, no. We’ve gotta do it right. But then again, I have a fake tree, and I bought it a long time ago. And it’s kind of small and dinky, but the kids really like it. So I’m like, “Why do I need to go and buy a tree?” Because if you buy a tree, it pretty much dries out and becomes a fire hazard in a few days. So I have this fake tree, and it’s kind of small and funny-looking, and I like that the kids don’t care. But we definitely always bring out the Christmas stuff and decorate, but we’re more like Santa Claus Christmas—we’re not religious at all. Jake’s Jewish, but we don’t practice Hanukkah. But I think this Christmas will still be very sad, because a lot of people are going to die. And I know that I feel discomfort about doing anything like this record right now. But at the same time, there was this joyful feeling when we announced it, and if this is something that just makes someone’s day a little happier? Hey—I feel really good about that.