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LAist Interview: Obi Best

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Photo by Koga for LAist

Alex Lily, an integral backing force for the prominent pop duo the Bird and the Bee, has gone solo. Her 2008 debut Capades is a beauteous amalgam of conscientious tunes that make you think as much as they make you bop. And she wants you to live in the swirling, whimsical world that is her head.

LAist: How did you start singing?

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OB: My mom would hear me sing Carmen and stuff like that when I was a little kid on my swing set. And I've always been really interested in music, but I didn't really learn to play anything until I was 12. So until then I would sing and make these really sad chicken scratches that were like physical notation, just like lines on a random piece of paper. I just used singing a lot to come up with things. But I wasn't really interested in learning how to play an instrument. So finally I got a piano when I was 13.

LAist: If we were back in high school and I had to come and find you, where would you be and what would you be doing?

OB: When I ask people about me and my crowd, it turns out that we were known as the freaks that hung out by the cars, which I think is one of the greatest descriptions but also kind of sad and pathetic because I kind of thought we were cooler than that. And why are we hanging out by cars, like that's sort of not a very good spot. We also had this dusty little patch of grass that we picked to smoke weed or other things. You know drug-taking, being promiscuous.

LAist: Back to the present. You sing back-ups for the Bird and the Bee. How did you guys meet?

OB: Well I had been admiring Inara for a long time—her solo stuff, actually. I sort of landed in the east side and went to Tangier, one of those collection of places that people gravitate towards that has interesting music and independent, cool stuff going on. I would stick around and talk to her. She's very charming and fun to talk to. I played a show at the same venue as the other booker that books both Inara and my band. He had heard that she was looking for background singers and he told her, "Why don't you ask the girl from Colorforms?" I knew her, but she didn't know who I was. So it was kind of fun getting a call, asking me to join her band.

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Obi Best - "Origami"

LAist: Are you still backing the Bird and the Bee or is Obi Best taking precedence?

OB: Yeah! They were doing their own thing, but now they actually want backing singers again. They're doing a lot of tracks electronically, but then they also think it'd be cool to have six girls singing. So I think were going to be doing some shows next year.

LAist: The question you probably hate the most: How much of your musical sensibility can be attributed to the Bird and the Bee?

OB: Oh, I've actually never been asked that question! Anytime I'm really inspired by something, I write things. The funny thing is that the material that people compare to the Bird and the Bee is the material I wrote a long time ago, before I knew them. So I think sometimes people sort of read into it because they know I sing for them. That's fine if people think that because they're great. Production-wise the stuff that Greg does is really awesome. I'm sure there are moments where I do sound more like Inara. Just like any singer you hang out with a lot though, you tend to pick up on their mannerisms. But I don't know how much I sound like the Bird and the Bee. I think sometimes I do things that are just less tasteful. Their production and stuff is very sparse and cool.

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I was definitely inspired by Greg's piano lines. Like on songs like "It's Because Of People Like You," how it's lacking contrapuntal. I've always been interested in that stuff, which is probably why you end up playing with people that are similar. Because you're interested in what they're doing and somehow you end up working with them.

LAist: For the people who haven't heard anything from your debut, what can they expect?

OB: I tried to make each song its own little world. The song "Origami," for example. I think I was successful in making it feel like it was housed in its own whimsical world. And I try to figure out each song, like what is this about and where does it live? Me and my friends always talk about how our music is described. We've decided that maybe I should call it "fancy-pop" because it's a little pompous and aware of itself. But sometimes I worry that when I say "pop" people think that means that it's not serious, that I'm not honest or that it's not emotional—which it is. I think the description goes beyond fun, jumping around sort of stuff. I'd say hopefully you'll remember some of the melodies, they'll stick with you.

LAist: Which comes first the vocal melody or the music and does it make a difference?

OB: It does make a difference. Music first, but never melody first.

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LAist: Have these songs been sitting around or are they relatively fresh?

OB: Not entirely old. Some are a few years old, but most of them are about two years old.

LAist: Most of your songs seem like tell-all affairs. Do they reveal personal experiences that actually transpired?

OB: Some of them definitely. "It's Because Of People Like You" was written when someone left a note on my car. Most of them are pretty tied to reality but go off the edge a little bit.

LAist: What's your favorite thing about LA?

OB: I tend to care more about atmosphere than anything else. And I like to eat at this place called Colombo's. It's not that great, but it's kind of this blast from the past place. There's this old-time band and they make me happy. When you're in LA it can seem so devoid of character, but then there's these little spots. Yeah, whenever you're in LA, just go to this little spot in Eagle Rock called Colombo's. That's my pitch.