Now in its sixth iteration, Inara George’s “Road Angel Project” series for Sweet Relief’s COVID-19 Fund is starting to take on a life of its own both as a benefit and as a platform to be heard.
“La La La” – Dev Marvelous x The Bird and The Bee
It started with an unused Dave Grohl duet, a desire to help those in need, and the drive to do something meaningful during the pandemic.
“I don’t know what I was doing,” says Inara George. “I just knew I had that song that I had recorded with Dave, and I knew that I wanted to do something with it that wasn’t just releasing it for myself. Whenever you release anything with Dave Grohl, or do anything with him, there is so much attention… He’s so dynamic and magnetic that, I [didn’t] really want it to be about me, but maybe shining a light on something more valuable… And then the pandemic hit.”
An acclaimed artist with over three decades’ experience in the music industry, Inara George’s “resume” is as extensive, impressive, and varied as her music: From major labels and indies, The Bird and the Bee and solo collaborations with Jason Mraz and Foo Fighters, to work within the rock, folk, pop, alternative, indie, and jazz worlds, George is a mainstay – not to mention a pioneer for ’00s indie pop.
Spending all this time in the music world means you connect with countless lives along the way, and when COVID-19 shut the touring industry down for the foreseeable future, many of those folks lost their only source of income. “I was thinking about all the people that I’ve worked with on the road, and all these people on the back side of things, in the backstage, the people who are doing lights and doing sound and road managing, and all these people whose jobs just disappeared,” George says. “I was thinking about those friends of mine who essentially had to change careers.”
It was out of this that the Road Angel Project was born. George put out a duet of her song “Sex in Cars” with Dave Grohl, naming it “Sex in Cars: Road Angel Project.” All proceeds went directly to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund – a charity providing financial assistance to all types of career musicians and music industry workers.
It’s something I needed from you
Can’t think of anything else
It’s all I wanted to do
You got me from the inside
With that look in your eyes
Facing up to the blue
I felt the weight of you
You got me saying hello, hello, hello
Then you wrote my name on the steamed up window
“George and Grohl’s work is subtly seductive,” Atwood Magazine wrote at the time, adding the song to our Editor’s Picks list. “Simultaneously raw and electric, the track embodies a spirit of togetherness and connection: It’s the ultimate embrace of living in the moment. Written after artist Terry Allen asked George to be a part of an art installation entitled “Road Angel” (created for The Contemporary Austin), George’s vivid lyrics conjure up scenes of youthful abandon; of lust and desire; of uninhibited passion realized to its fullest potential. Whereas many songs tend to romanticize this kind of intimate storyline, or wrap it in a veil of rose-colored nostalgia, George keeps her focus on the present – capturing subtle physical and nuanced emotional fluctuations as she dwells in the here and now. Her voice is enchanting and tremendously expressive, and Grohl’s instrumental and vocal support is delicate and lilting. An unexpected yet truly beautiful duet, this song is a perfect balance of innocence and abandon.”
“That’s where it started, and then I just kept asking friends, and people kept giving me music to put out!” From these humble beginnings, the Road Angel Project has ballooned over the past eight months into an expansive multi-volume music benefit series. Participants have included Alex Lilly, Mike Viola, Daedelus, and more. Listeners can stream the full series below:
For the series’ sixth installment, Road Angel Project Presents: Dev Marvelous X The Bird and The Bee (out April 16, 2021 via George’s Release Me Records), George will be releasing a series of The Bird and The Bee cover songs from Louisville, Kentucky-based producer, singer-songwriter, and pianist Devon Moore, aka Dev Marvelous.
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering “La La La,” the lead single off this upcoming edition. A mesmerizing, colorful immersion of upbeat melodies and hot funk sounds, the track finds Dev Marvelous putting his own compelling spin on The Bird and the Bee’s original, first released on their self-titled debut album in 2007.
Just as interesting as the song itself is how this collaboration came to be. They say “don’t meet your heroes,” but what’s the word on Instagram DMs? After hearing Marvelous’ covers EP, George was so moved that she offered to release his music herself. “I just thought they were really cool,” she says of the songs. “He’s an excellent musician, and I think it was cool ’cause Greg and I are interpreters of music. To see him interpret our music, it was not a straight cover, he did his own thing with it.”
“‘La La La’ was the second song I found by The Bird And The Bee after discovering ‘Again and Again’ for the first time in fifth grade,” Marvelous tells Atwood Magazine. “My cover of “La La La” was initially going to be a mash-up with another The Bird and The Bee song, ‘Los Angeles,’ but I eventually realized it was more cohesive to do the one song by itself. The only element inspired by ‘Los Angeles’ that’s left is the low rhythmic synth part you hear at the beginning. Once I started doing ‘La La La’ by itself, the process went quickly, in fact, it went so fast that there was a copy-paste error in the vocal track that I turned into a “purposeful accident” (the glitch at 2:02), simply because it sounded funny and gave it character. I just edited the rest of the tracks I recorded to follow suit! I think my favorite part of covering ‘La La La’ was recording the background harmonies and the new keyboard solo during the breakdown. Background vocals are usually quite daunting for me when I record, but I think due to the song’s fun nature, and also knowing what I typically harmonize when I sing along to the song, it turned into a fast but joyful experience. Similarly, for the keyboard solo, I knew when I started there would be a funky, dissonant breakdown where I just go crazy on synthesizer. It was also fun to re-record Greg Kurstin’s solo too!”
Already a buoyant and hypnotizing composition, “La La La” soars with a soulful sweetness and inspiring expressiveness under Dev Marvelous’ creative vision. He takes the track to new heights, stacking it with alluring harmonies and a wealth of intoxicating instruments that bring out his own (and The Bird and the Bee’s) fun, quirky side.
“I’m very excited to be working on this release with Dev,” George concludes, “and it feels appropriate for the Road Angel Project, which, in addition to raising funds for musicians and music industry workers, is also a way for lesser known musicians to have a platform to be heard.”
Road Angel Project Presents: Dev Marvelous X The Bird and The Bee is out April 16. After that, George says the possibilities are endless. It’s been a fulfilling project so far, and she hopes to continue supporting Sweet Relief.
“A lot of people just have unreleased music, that they’ve never released before,” George notes. “We’ve raised a little bit of money, but I would like to be able to raise more. It’s a great cause.”
Road Angel Presents: “La La La” by Dev Marvelous is out March 26, 2021 via Release Me Records.
Dive deeper into the Road Angel Project and catch up with Inara George in our interview below, and learn more about Sweet Relief’s COVID-19 Fund here!
“La La La” – Dev Marvelous x The Bird and The Bee
A CONVERSATION WITH INARA GEORGE
Atwood Magazine: Inara, I can't start off any conversation without asking how someone's been during this pandemic. How have you, your loved ones, and your family been throughout this year?
Inara George: Well, fortunately, everybody in my immediate circle has been safe from COVID… I’ve known a few… I knew one woman who passed away, but I hadn’t seen her in years, and she was also older and had health problems, but not to say that that’s any… But then at the same time, no, I knew a ton of people who’ve died and then also I’ve known people who’ve died in this year from other causes, which has just been really complicated ’cause the grieving of… It doesn’t feel… It doesn’t feel yet like we’ve had the opportunity to actually get together and grieve in a proper way, so… Yeah, weird. But then also, cathartic. And I think a lot of good has happened. And I know that sounds weird, but I think in terms of self-reflection as individuals and as a nation and the world, I think having this time where we’re not busy being busy, I think… I don’t know, I think it’s… I think you try to take the good with the bad. Obviously it’s nothing anyone would ever wish for, but you sort of try to hope that it’s done something for us hopefully.
For me, it was a chance to re-center and look at 2021 or '22 with a little more purpose. Meanwhile last year represented 15 years since your solo debut, All Rise. How do you feel you've grown as an artist over the past two decades?
Inara George: I didn’t realize it’s been 15 years! Well, my solo record I think was the beginning of something, but I had been involved with bands [for years before that]! I started playing music professionally when I was… I signed my first record deal when I was 20 years old, I think that from that time to now, I’ve made a lot of… I’ve grown, I suppose. But then also… Yeah, I don’t know. I think the biggest thing I’ve… The biggest hurdle that I’ve jumped is not taking myself so seriously. [chuckle] I think that when you do that, you’re able to make more stuff and be more productive and also… And love yourself more, I suppose, maybe, like love your music and think it’s valuable. I think when you’re starting out, you kind of question like, “Who am I to be doing this? Why do I get to do this and other people don’t?” And so, yeah, but then also it’s like you learn musically. And also that thing too, you were saying is like, “Don’t do things just because that’s the way it’s been done.” I think that that is something as a female musician, realizing that so much of the time I just took for granted that producers were male and white, [chuckle] that was something I think, it’s like, why didn’t any of us be like, “Wait a minute, why is this the… ” I don’t know.
Why are we not doing this… Why do we put this in the hands of other people? I know that that’s changed now since I was a kid, but that was kind of just the way it was done. And I feel like sort of shame for not questioning it more, but I think it was just the ’90s. I don’t know. [laughter] I think that that’s something that too, it’s like the music business has changed so much in that way, and yet not enough. What is it, like 2% of all music, music on major record labels are produced by women? So that is something I’m like, “God, what happened there?” But it’s exciting that it’s changing.
Have you picked up on any important life lessons along the way that you'd want to impart to the next generation of music makers?
Inara George: I guess that’s… I think what you were saying, that is the thing, I don’t just do things ’cause that’s the way they were done before. It’s, why not do things the way that you want them to be done?
Right. I actually think you are somebody who embodies this idea of challenging at least something of a status quo, when you look at a three-plus-decade history of working in music, you have been in rock bands, dabbled with folk, shown up on soundtracks… You've been everywhere! I think it’s impressive to see just how many lives you touched throughout your career.
Inara George: Well, thank you. Yeah, I like to mix it up.
It sounds like just saying yes to new opportunities is also a part of that whole thing.
Inara George: Yeah, I think it’s always good to say yes unless it harms you or another person. [laughter] That’s what I try to say to my kids, “Saying yes is always the great option, unless someone’s offering you drugs.” But they’re little still, so that’s not happening yet. [chuckle]
Let's fast forward to the Road Angel Project. We’re not about to be in our sixth edition. Did you ever envision it getting this far?
Inara George: I don’t know what I was doing. I just knew I had that song that I had recorded with Dave, and I knew that I wanted to do something with it that wasn’t just releasing it for myself. Whenever you release anything with Dave Grohl, or do anything with him, there is so much attention… He’s so dynamic and magnetic that I think I was like, I don’t really want it to be about me, but maybe shining lights on something more valuable. So I thought like, “Oh, I could release it,” and then the pandemic hit, and it was like… And I was thinking about all the musicians, not musicians specifically, but… Why it’s sort of Road Angel Project is ’cause I was thinking about all the people that I’ve worked with on the road, and all these people on the back side of things, in the backstage, the people who are doing lights and doing sound and road managing, and all these people whose jobs just disappeared. And so that’s sort of where it started from. I was thinking about those friends of mine who, the past year, really essentially had to change careers. So that’s where it started. And then I was just… I kept asking friends and people just kept giving me music to put out. So I hope that we can get… We’ve raised a little bit of money, but I would like to be able to raise more for… It’s a great cause.
What is your relationship with Sweet Relief? How did you get involved with this charity?
Inara George: Sheldon Gomberg, he’s producer, and he’s a musician, but he has MS, and so he hasn’t really been able to play music for a long time, and Sweet Relief gave him a lot of help, put an elevator in his house and all this sort of stuff, and also helped so that he could continue making music. So he produces these albums to benefit Sweet Relief. And so that was initially what I thought of with this, because I’ve interacted with them a little bit, and I just think they’re a good… There’s a lot of… There’s not a lot, but there’s a handful of great organizations that do this type of work, and Sweet Relief was one that came to my mind because of Sheldon and because I knew how helpful they were to him.
It's such a special concept. Had you ever done anything like this before, and how did this come together?
Inara George: Well, I did a benefit record… I’ve sung on benefit records before, and then I’ve done… I did another one, I did a tribute to Eleni Mandell, who’s a colleague of mine and also a dear friend, and we all did covers of her music. And then we had… I had done these shows, and then we thought, “Oh, let’s make a record of it,” and so we got all these people. And then we benefited Plastic Pollution Coalition, which is another organization that I’m connected with, that I’m involved with. Yeah. And so I had done that before. And so I… This one I thought, “Oh, it would be great. We could just keep music coming out throughout the year.” And I think it’s like… Aside from raising money, I think it’s also to benefit the organization to just shed more light on them, so that more people know that they exist, so that if you are a person who just lost your job because the Troubadour shut down, you can go to them and they can possibly assist you. So it’s not only for the musician and for raising money, but it’s also for the awareness of the people who need the help. And I think they’ve been helping a lot of people through this time.
Even as vaccinations increase here in the States, it’s going to take a long time for the music industry to recover.
Inara George: Yeah, I think so. I think the sad part is we’re gonna drive around after this and look at these clubs that just aren’t there anymore. So I think even building back that… The actual places will need to be reinvigorated, the whole industry that’s gonna need some support going forward.
You debuted with your Dave Grohl “Sex in Cars” duet, which I really enjoyed writing about last year. How did he get involved? What is your relationship with Dave Grohl, and how did that come together?
Inara George: Well, Dave is a fan of The Bird and The Bee, and has been for a really long time, I think from our first album, and I remember connecting with him years ago, and he was gonna even maybe play on our tribute to Hall and Oates, but it just didn’t happen. And Greg and I work… We work rarely and for short periods of time, so it’s hard to just say, “Drop by the studio,” ’cause we’ll be like, drop by the studio between 10:00 and 12:00 on Thursday, so it just didn’t happen. And then Dave and Greg started working together, so that connection became even more… ‘Cause they had that connection and they… Yeah, so they made records together. And so then Dave was just more in my sphere, and I just asked him to sing on the song ’cause I wanted… It’s like a sexy song and he has a sexy voice, and I just thought it would be a nice combination. And then I’d recorded the song, and then we… In the interim, we had done the Van Halen, we had done a TV show with Dave, and that’s when I realized, “Oh, when you do things with Dave Grohl, people go crazy,” and either good or bad, people will… Not about him, but if you put yourself out there online, people can be really mean.
You're saying he's a magnet for attention, like it or not.
Inara George: He’s a magnet for attention. Like it or not. And so I just thought I would rather have that magnet of attention shine light on something other than my own career or myself. And so that’s why I chose to start the Road Angel Project with that song.
I think that’s wonderful. I know that “Sex in Cars” was originally part of this smaller, more acoustic EP that you put out earlier in the year. How do you feel his presence changes the nature of that song? “]
Inara George: I think it’s… I think one more of amusing from sort of a single memory, and then the other one becomes more like a romantic song, I think… But also where I got Road Angel Project is from writing that song, for Terry Allen, Terry Allen’s an artist and musician, and he did this installation at the Austin Modern Museum… Museum of Modern Art in Austin. I don’t remember what it’s called. And he has this car there, this bronzed car, and when you walk up to it, songs are playing, and he asked me to write a song for… It’s called… The car is called Road Angel, that’s the name of the piece. And so when you walk up to the piece, it’s playing these songs that he had got all these different musicians to write, and that was the song I wrote for that project, so it kind of came… It’s a long story.
That's a really interesting exhibit! Is it still around?
Inara George: Yeah, it is. The installation is a permanent installation. So if you go there, I think he has songs… I think… Why can’t I think of the names, but I think David Burn has a song on there, I’m pretty sure, and a lot of people from Texas, a lot of… Alvin… Dave Alvin, right? Dave Alvin, is that his name? So a lot of… There’s a lot, I think if you look it up online, you’ll find… It’ll have something about it.
You've now had a slew of artists from around the country participating in the Road Angel Project. Has there been much rhyme or reason to who gets paired with whom and what constitutes one volume versus the next?
Inara George: Sometimes it just happens. The first… Okay, so there was… Mine was a single, and then the next one was… Next I did mine, and then I kind of let out a large net and I was like, “Anybody who wants to donate a song,” and then people did, and then I kind of pieced together… I think I separated two different ones and put them in two different… We call them… Josh, and I call them bundles, bundles of music instead of an EP, ’cause it’s smaller, it’s a bundle. And so I think it was just me doing a mixed tape… “Oh, I think these ones go together and these ones go together,” and then the last one I did with Mike and Gabe and Daedelus, I think it was… I think I… Mike and I had recorded that song together years ago, and I thought, “Oh, that would be a good one to ask,” ’cause it had never been released, we’d recorded it 10 years ago or something, and it’d never been released. So I was like, “Oh, let’s do that, and then I’ll ask Daedelus and Gabe,” because I thought that would be a nice combination.
That's really cool. It sounds like this has been a meaningful project and also something to really keep you busy throughout the year.
Inara George: Yeah, it was something, ’cause I was having trouble write… Recording and writing my own music, I just don’t have this mental space for it, so it was nice to feel slightly creative in that… In this way.
Do you see yourself doing more of this in the future?
Inara George: I don’t think it takes up that much time, ’cause I’m not… All I said was, “If you have any tracks lying around.” A lot of people just have unreleased music, that they’ve never released before, and so… And in some cases, some of these songs were released prior, I was like, “Well, if they didn’t get a lot of attention the first time, maybe they’ll get more attention this time.”
I know it's like choosing children, but do you have any favorites that you've put out in this whole thing so far?
Inara George: I feel like it is sort of like choosing children… I don’t think I could say… I think the thing that I’ve enjoyed is that each one has its own feeling, and then I have my friend Alice Lynn has been doing the art, and it’s kind of cool to see… I always love that when art kind of ricochets or cascades to another thing where you see a song and then it’s my interpretation to put those musics together… The songs together, and then to see Alice interpret what her hearing of it is. I don’t know it’s… And also that the initial project was based on something that Terry Allen had gotten me involved with, so it’s like these… The reverberation of art affecting art. It makes you realize… Everybody’s albums are like that. It’s because I listen to Rickie Lee Jones and Prince and Wilco, my first record sounded a certain… Whatever the thing is, and then my record inspires the photographs and then the artwork, I don’t know, it’s like you realize we’re all just so… We all owe each other so much in terms of our inspiration, to say that anyone is original is ludicrous, ’cause we’re all part of each other, I guess.
I love that. A second “circle of music.” That brings us to Volume Six. Who is Dev Marvelous and how did he end up getting involved with your project?
Inara George: Well, Dev is a fan of The Bird and The Bee, and I feel like we’d had some interacting on my Instagram page, he had gotten in touch asking about getting rights to the music, and I was like, “Well, Greg and I don’t really have the right… We had publishing deals. So you have to go through that.” But I said, “But you can just go online and get it.” It’s like to cover a song, it’s not a big deal.
So he did it, and then he sent me the link, he was about to release it, and he sent it to me, and I just thought they were really cool. So I just thought maybe I should help him release these, and maybe because it’s through me that he might get some more attention. But it was obvious to me that he’s an excellent musician, and I think it was cool ’cause Greg and I are interpreters of music. To see him interpret our music, it was not a straight cover, he did his own thing with it, and I just thought he was really cool. So I asked him and he said yes, and then we made it the next Road Angel Project, so we’re excited to be doing it.
You know, they say don't meet your heroes, but maybe in this case...
Inara George: (laughing) Well, we haven’t met each other yet, but he might be disappointed.
That's so wonderful. Do you see the Road Angel Project continuing for as long as it needs to? Are we going ad infinitum?
Inara George: I don’t know. I think that the reality is, is that… In terms of the pandemic and how it’s exposed kind of the underbelly of our culture and our society, is that people always need help, and the idea that anyone should have to deal with certain things on their own is insane. So I don’t know. I suppose I could get busy… And also I don’t wanna impose on musicians, ’cause musicians have to make money as well. They have to… Their product is valuable and it should be. But at the same time, sometimes you just have a song laying around and it’s never gonna see the light of day. So I guess that’s the thing, it’s like, I’d love to be able to have a couple versions of this where we can get some traction and actually make a good chunk of money for Sweet Relief.
That would be wonderful. If someone wants to get involved with Road Angel, is there a way for them to reach out and get in touch?
Inara George: I think just through Instagram, I suppose. Although, I’m worried. [chuckle] I don’t wanna get inundated with music, but I think… You never know. People already ask about it. But I don’t know. But yeah, I’m happy to keep doing this. It’s really fun, and I think for someone like Dev, he’s a good enough musician where I’m sure he’ll have a career, I just don’t know… He’s I think 24 or something, I’m just not sure he would have been given this opportunity to share his music. And he’s just as talented as anyone else I know who’s working at this.
It feels like we might be entering a new era where the Road Angel Project includes artists you don't know, whom you're discovering for the first time through this project.
Inara George: Yeah. I mean yeah, I’m game. I like… I think it’s… Sometimes I think about me or my career or my talents or the things that I’m not good at or… I think there’s a lot of luck that goes into this music thing, and there’s a lot of people who have a lot of skills and are super, super talented. And I also think it’s a lot of like… I think you have to have a certain attitude if you wanna be super successful. I’m not sure I have that drive. [chuckle] But I think that there are plenty of people who will never be given the same attention or respect as I would, as I have been given, and I think that’s just circumstance. I don’t think it’s because I’m more talented than anybody else. There’s plenty of people that are more talented than me, I’m fully aware of that. So I think sometimes it’s just unfair. But then people… I don’t think it’s wrong, I think it’s just what it is.
The thing about Sweet Relief is it doesn't discriminate like that.
Inara George: It doesn’t, yeah. It doesn’t. I think you have to be a musician that makes your living making music. I think that is the one discrimination. But there are a lot of people that do that. And from people who work at some club, bar in Kentucky, if you’re doing lights there and you lose your job or you get sick, that counts.
That’s wonderful. Aside from this, what's been going on for you music-wise over the past year, and do you have any plans coming up?
Inara George: Well, Greg and I made… We did make a record over… I mean, sometimes I feel silly saying I haven’t done anything, ’cause we did make a Christmas record over the quarantine. And I did it… It was the first time we’ve ever made a record, not together, so I was… I recorded my vocals in the closet over there, and then he had a studio, and so he would send me the tracks and I’d just sing over them. So we did do that, so we put out a record last year, which is not that long ago. I think our next plan is to do another record of originals. I think for Greg and I it’s like making records is just fun. And we’re not… At this point, there’s no… I don’t know, I think it’s like… Maybe I’m being ageist against myself, but I just… I feel like I get to a certain age and I’m just like, I don’t… I don’t wanna take press photos or make videos, it’s like… It just seems so ridiculous to me. I think it’s fun, but I just, I’m not… I don’t need to do that. So I love making records though, I love writing songs, I love singing, but I don’t love all the other stuff that goes with this music thing.
Well, we'd always love to hear more from you, for what it's worth. Deconstructing the music industry with Inara George – I'll take it!
Inara George: I know, I know… And also, I wanted to be clear, I love working with all the producers I’ve worked with… It’s not that I have anything against white male producers, I just think it’s interesting that that was sort of the standard in my world. And I guess… I don’t wanna ever disparage someone just because of who they are. It’s just that… I think it’s more disparaging the business, is that why… Why did we think that was the right way to go?
Yeah, why was (and is) that the normal?!
Inara George: Why was that the normal. Yeah. ‘Cause it is still the norm you know. I think these young ladies are really… They’re coming in guns blazing. I just know way more girls that are doing production and engineering… It’s a different world.
Wow, that's incredible. That’s the kind of change we want to see happening.
Inara George: I think so, yeah.
One of the things I love about the Road Angel Project is that it’s really been a collective, communal effort. That being said, for volumes 7,8,9, do we see any more Inara George or The Bird and The Bee originals coming down the pipeline?
Inara George: I don’t know. Maybe, yeah. I mean, I think that I haven’t really recorded that much stuff, so I think I just… I mean, yeah, sure, if I can’t get anybody else to give me a song, I’m sure I’ll… I can do it. I’ve written a couple of songs over this year, which is a smaller amount than I usually write, but… No, I did pretty good. I wrote those Christmas songs. I’ve been hard on myself. I’m like, “I haven’t written anything,” but I’ve written like… I’ve written like 10 songs over the last year, I feel like that’s a pretty good amount.
How many do you usually write a year?
Inara George: I have no idea. I’ve never… I feel like I’ve had… I’ve been prolific at times, and then sometimes I just don’t do it at all. It just depends.
I understand. Inara, congratulations on this project! I hope to see it live long and prosper. It's been an honor to speak with you, and I hope to connect again in the near future. Otherwise, I wish you and your family all the best.
Inara George: Thank you, you too. I appreciate you shining light on this and Sweet Relief.
“La La La” – Dev Marvelous x The Bird and The Bee
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