Interview: Inara George on An Invitation

An Invitation, by Inara George and Van Dyke Parks, is a truly welcoming and rewarding album. Since she’s performing songs from the album at Largo this weekend, today we quiz Inara on some of the subtleties of its lyrics, and ask her to share the joy of collaborating with one of modern music’s greats.

The arrangement of the songs definitely has the feel of a musical. The album even has an overture. Was musical theatre a big inspiration for the songs?

I wouldn’t say musical theatre…but definitely musicals… as a kid I loved watching film musicals with Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Jane Powell etc… as well as some of the Disney cartoons. Sleepy Beauty was a favorite of mine.

When you wrote these songs, did you know they would be getting Van Dyke Parks’ orchestral treatment?

For some of them I did, others were much older songs.

When you heard the arrangements finalized for the first time, with the orchestra playing along to Van Dyke Parks’ notation, did it significantly change the meaning of the songs for you? What artists or music did it evoke?

I would imagine that it would be a turning point for anyone…. I have never experienced anything like it. That my poor plucking on a guitar turned into this magnificent orchestra was pretty mind blowing. And as much as the arrangements have a very Van Dyke sound to them… it was amazing to hear how he interpreted every nuance of my voice and playing that he had heard on those early demos… he really took everything into consideration.

There are allusions to fire and fireplaces all over this album, e.g. in “Bomb,” in which the protagonists are “chopping up our home for firewood.” Was there a conscious choice to include so many fire references?

Is it all over the record? I can never remember… I know that it’s in Bomb… I suppose fire is a nice way to expose transition… I like the feeling it brings up.

What’s the reference to being a “pet salamander” all about?

Being so lovesick that you don’t care what kind of attention you get, as long as you get it. Like a kid carrying around a salamander in a mason jar.

I notice that some songs contain references to your words being snatched away in the air or taken away by ghosts. Are you scared of losing your voice, literally or figuratively?

Both… but I don’t think about it too much…

Do you feel that Van Dyke Parks’ involvement in the project will lead to unfair comparisons between your work and, say, that of Brian Wilson or Harry Nilsson?

I think people want to compare your music to someone else no matter what you do… So I don’t have any fear about it. And if they compare me to those guys it would be a great honor.

Which project did Parks do a better job on: An Invitation, or Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird?

That’s not a fair question… kids always win.

Are there any other artists or singers you’d like to collaborate with next?

In the new “the bird and the bee” record we have a song called Diamond Dave… we’re trying to get him to be in our video. Keep your fingers crossed…

Inara George w/Van Dyke Parks @ Largo
Sat 9/13

» Read Dan’s album review
» Buy the album at Amazon
» Inara George on Myspace