On 'Dearest Everybody,' Inara George Steps Out Of Her Father's Long Shadow

May 7, 2018
Originally published on May 10, 2018 10:26 am

Lowell George always took the road less traveled — even if it didn't lead to the bank. The revered singer and guitarist of Little Feat told Chicago's WXRT as much in 1979, two weeks before he died at just 34 years old.

"I like takin' chances," he said. "And I really can't get up in the morning and think about the goals of being successful. 'Cause what is success? It certainly isn't money. I mean, money helps, but doing something that you really like doing as a profession is really success to me."

His daughter Inara was ready to follow in his footsteps, even as a child standing backstage at her dad's shows. "I remember hearing the music, and then in my child's mind deciding like, 'I'm going to dance onstage!' " Inara says of one such night. "So I danced onstage."

Inara George was only 5 years old at the time of Lowell's death. After her freshman year in college, she started a band with some friends for fun called Lode. "Music kinda happened," she says. "I always shied away from it because of my dad: I just thought, 'Aw, I don't know how to do that.' "

Geffen Records thought differently, and signed Lode. They didn't last long, but George soon moved onto other bands, including The Bird and the Bee, her indie pop duo with Greg Kurstin. In the mid-2000s, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success, powered by George's voice and lyrics about love and romance. "It's natural in your 20s to sing and want to talk about the tumultuousness of growing up and the angst of love," she says of that time.

George is now 43, happily married with three kids. She says she's found midlife to be a great time to look back and to come to terms with aging and the memories of those no longer around and it's that spirit that guides her latest album, Dearest Everybody. Shirley Manson of Garbage says she remembers receiving an early copy of the record from George: "When she sent it to me, I said, 'You've made the best record of your career, in my humble opinion!' "

Manson says that in an industry where women are usually written off when they hit 30, what George is doing is brave — and timely. "I think it was a powerful statement by a woman: taking a look back and not trying to play the young ingenue, which is what most young women in music tend to fall into," she says. "She was willing to look at some of the themes that aren't explored very regularly."

That raw honesty didn't click quite as well with the music industry. Inara didn't have any luck shopping Dearest Everybody to major labels, so she released it herself. Her producer Michael Andrews says her music doesn't fit easily into any particular genre — and that's part of its strength.

"If her music was like a movie, it would be one of those quiet movies that no one knows until it wins an Oscar or something," Andrews says. "And then everyone's like 'Yo, you gotta see that movie!' "

His favorite track, "Release Me," almost didn't get made. He says he had to convince George to include a song she wrote about her father, nearly four decades after his death.

George says she initially wrote the song as a 70th birthday present for her mother, thinking it way too personal for public consumption.

"I wrote this song for her about being left behind," she says. "It's complicated, because you're supposed to move forward, but it's very difficult sometimes for people."

George says she's learned a lot from the unconventional approach her father took to his craft. "I've been the best at doing the best that I can / I've spent my life in the shadow of a man / Now I want to be the writer of this song," she sings in "Release Me," stepping out into her own light.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to meet someone now whose life has been shaped by an absence. Her name is Inara George, and her father died when she was just 5 years old - back in 1979. He was Lowell George, the co-founder, singer and guitarist of the revered 1970s band Little Feat.

(SOUNDBITE OF INARA GEORGE SONG, "STARS")

MARTIN: She has built her own successful career, but Inara George has never really confronted her father's death in song the way she does on her latest album, "Dearest Everybody."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STARS")

INARA GEORGE: (Singing) we were waiting for the end. I had a dream. And as I watched...

MARTIN: Alex Cohen of member station KPCC has the story of a woman confronting middle age without her dad.

ALEX COHEN, BYLINE: Lowell George always took the road less traveled even if it didn't lead to the bank, as he told radio station WXRT just two weeks before he died.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOWELL GEORGE: I like taking chances. And I really can't get up in the morning and think about the goals of being successful, 'cause what is success? I mean, it certainly isn't money. I mean, money helps, but doing something that you really like doing as a profession is really success to me.

COHEN: And his daughter Inara was ready to follow in his footsteps even when she was 4, standing backstage at one of her dad's shows.

I. GEORGE: And I remember hearing the music, and then - in my child-mind - deciding, like, I'm going to dance onstage. So I danced on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COHEN: After her freshman year in college, she started a band with some friends for fun. They called themselves Lode.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

LODE: (Singing) Color in their arms for just a little while. They (unintelligible) just to make the newborn smile.

I. GEORGE: Music kind of happened. I always shied away from it because of my dad. I just thought, oh, I don't know how to do that. I'm not going to do that.

COHEN: But Geffen Records thought differently and signed the musicians. Lode didn't last long, but George soon moved on to other bands, including a duo with Greg Kurstin called The Bird and the Bee.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A BROKEN HEART")

THE BIRD AND THE BEE: (Singing) Cry as much as I want to. I know I can't have you. I wipe my tears away, away...

COHEN: In the mid-2000s, the duo enjoyed critical and commercial success thanks in no small part to Inara George's voice and lyrics that often focused on love and romance.

I. GEORGE: It's natural in your 20s to sing and want to talk about the tumultuousness of growing up and the angst of love and angst of youth.

COHEN: But then something happened. Inara George grew up. She's now 43 years old, happily married with three kids, and the idea of writing what you know seemed a bit less interesting than it did in her 20s.

I. GEORGE: A typical day is I'll wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 - getting breakfast ready, getting everyone off to school. And then you have this short little bit of time before you have to pick everyone up from school where you try to get everything done, whether it's grocery shopping or the gutter guy is coming (laughter).

COHEN: But then Inara George realized that midlife wasn't just gutters and groceries. It's also a time of looking back, coming to terms with aging and the memories of those no longer around - themes, she thought, could make for good songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLOW DANCE")

I. GEORGE: (Singing) Last night, I slow danced with younger men. Do you remember who I was? I was that girl again. Last night...

COHEN: In this song, George sings about saying farewell to her younger self. It's one of a dozen tracks on her new album.

SHIRLEY MANSON: When she sent it to me, I said, you've made the best record of your career in my humble opinion.

COHEN: That humble opinion belongs to fellow musician Shirley Manson, frontwoman of the band Garbage. Manson says in an industry where women are usually written off when they hit 30, what Inara George is doing is brave and timely.

MANSON: I think it was a powerful statement by a woman taking a look back and not trying to play the young ingenue, which is what most women still in music tend to fall into. She was willing to look at some of the themes that aren't explored very regularly.

COHEN: But that sort of raw honesty wasn't necessarily what the music industry was looking for. Inara George didn't have any luck shopping the album to major labels, so she released it herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A BRIDGE")

I. GEORGE: (Singing) I wish for you. It's just a simple thing. I want to see you everyday. I want to hear my children say your name.

COHEN: It was produced by Michael Andrews, who says George's music doesn't fit easily into any particular genre, and that's part of its strength.

MICHAEL ANDREWS: If her music was like a movie, it would be one of those quiet movies that no one knows until, like, it wins an Oscar or something, you know? And then everyone's like, yo, you got to see that movie.

COHEN: Andrews adds his favorite track "Release Me" almost didn't get made. He had to convince Inara George to include a song she wrote about her father, Lowell, nearly four decades after his death.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RELEASE ME")

I. GEORGE: (Singing) My love, I will always love you, but never will I forgive you for being gone for so long.

COHEN: George says she initially wrote this song as a 70th birthday present for her mother, thinking it way too personal for public consumption.

I. GEORGE: I wrote the song for her about being left behind, and I think that's - it's funny. I get chocked up about (laughter) it. I think that's something about people dying - is, like, being left behind is really - it's complicated 'cause you're supposed to move forward. But it's very difficult sometimes for people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RELEASE ME")

I. GEORGE: (Singing) I've been the best at doing the best that I can. I've spent my life in the shadow of a man. Now I want to be the writer of this song and a love not just a longing...

COHEN: Inara George was only 5 when her father died, but she feels like she is able to learn a lot from the unconventional approach she took to his craft. And she plans to keep following in those footsteps. For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RELEASE ME")

I. GEORGE: (Singing) So won't you please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please release me. Release me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.