In 2007, the French club-pop group YELLE achieved popularity in the midst of an enormous rift between past and present in the music industry. Early social networks like MySpace were only beginning to tap into the DIY aspects of file sharing that now dominate our day-to-day lives both socially and professionally.
2020 finds YELLE (aka Julie Budet and her writing partner GrandMarnier/Jean-François Perrier) on the brink of the release of a new full-length record, their fist since 2014’s “Complètement Fou.”
Given their experience in the murky waters of an ever-morphing industry, the duo should be adept at navigating weird professional curve-balls, but then, like all of us, they found themselves in the midst of a global pandemic which brought the creative industry to its knees.
Despite the unpredictability of the times, YELLE have just launched their new single, the shimmering, and tender “Je T’aime Encore.” The song finds YELLE in a more contemplative state than their fans may be familiar with, almost fortuitously mirroring our collective, confused circumstances.
We chatted with YELLE from her seaside village in France about the new album, and the surprising merits of releasing new material in such peculiar times.
Read the full Q&A after the jump!
It must be a weird time to be releasing a single, with artists and labels scrambling to shift things around in terms of album roll-outs and tours. Was it always your intention to release “Je T’aime Encore” at this time, and has the pandemic affected your timelines for this comeback?
Yes, actually, it was always meant to be released around this date. We really wanted to put out the song at this moment, and then the Coronavirus arrived, so we didn’t know what to do. But, I think because people are stuck at home, it’s probably the best moment to release a song. It’s a song about love, so, for me, it’s a good time to release it.
It’s really weird, because we don’t really have a vision for the future currently, but fans have already been giving us feedback and seem really excited about having a new song at this moment. So yeah, we’re really happy and excited to do it.
While people might expect dance floor bangers from YELLE, there’s a really introspective tone to this new single. Is there an incentive behind that shift in sound as the lead single from this album?
I really wanted to surprise people because, you know, with our songs, we really like to make people dance and to express something really positive to make people happy, but we were thinking it could be interesting to present another part of ourselves, and to try something different.
It’s really a love song for my country and for the French people. I thought it was important to come back with something different, a little bit darker and a little bit melancholic. These are also aspects of my personality, which I think I am ready to share, because I think I was hiding a lot of that.
I’ve always wanted to be the happy, funny, party girl, but I also have this darker part and I think its time to show a bit of it.
Did you feel you were tiring of that role as the entertainer with your previous records? No, no, no, never! You know, its always something really powerful for me to be on stage, even if I feel bad or sad or I’m just not in the mood or whatever. Just putting my feet on the stage, I forget everything. It’s my moment of expression, you know? Its never a question. I’m always happy to be on stage.
Does this more introspective tone reflect what we can expect from the record?
Yeah! I think, although it maybe sounds dark to say, even if I’m still full of hope for the future, for people, and the earth, that I’m getting older and I probably lost a little bit of hope in humanity.
It’s kind of sad, but I’m happy to express this way of being! I don’t want to hide this part of me. I think these themes were present in a different way on the previous record, but I wanted to be a little bit more direct with this one.
You mentioned that “Je T’aime Encore” is a love song. As with your other records, it’s sung in French language. Can you describe a little more what’s going on with this song in particular?
It’s like a parallel between a couple who are reflecting on their years together and trying to figure out how it is or isn’t working. So, despite being together and sharing that deep attachment, we cant understand each other sometimes, and you have to reflect on what is wrong with the relationship. Even when there may be a lot of love and respect and admiration there, you can still feel stuck.
It’s really me talking in the ear of my lover and trying to explain that they have to pay more attention and care to what’s going on, because things can always be complicated. It’s also about me admitting that I’m not perfect or without flaws, but that even when sharing an intense bond, we still have to work to make it all happen, even when you still love them, and that you will still have a long way to go together.
The new video is a collaboration with French hair-artist Charlie Le Mindu, and is directed by fashion journalist Loic Prigent. Can you tell us more about how you arrived at working with them, and the concept of the video?
We met Loic a few years ago in Florence, Italy at a Kitsuné show. We discovered that he’s actually from Brittany, which is from not far from my own town! I had admired his work for a long time, so when we were working on this song we had an idea in mind for the video, and we wanted to do work with Loic. He works in documentary, filming behind the scenes at fashion shows, and he always has this very intimate approach. I love the way he talks to people. You can tell he is really high off the fashion, and it’s really tender, which I really like. So it was a really good combination for the concept of the video.
We’ve been friends with Charlie for years and worked with him on the video for “Comme Un Enfant,” from our second record. We talked to both of them about working together and they were really excited because they were fans of each other’s work, but had never met. So we were like, “Okay, it’s going to be a really cool team.” Everyone was available in Paris and we shot it right before quarantine, so it was good timing!
Charlie’s work is usually quite extreme, and without giving anything away, what he does with you in the video is quite subdued, in comparison. Can you talk about how you arrived at the idea for a hair performance?
I didn’t want to change my style completely; I wanted something close to my personality. Charlie thought it would be cool to not change it a lot, because even though the single marks a comeback, and a new version of me, it is still me, so a complete transformation wasn’t needed for this new chapter that we were representing in the music video, just an update!
You were speaking of your relationship and love for your country and people. Paris has been through so many trials in the last decade, with the shootings that ravaged the music community, to the tragic fire at Notre Dame. I’m wondering if you can sense how this has affected the overall tone of the city, in terms of resilience, especially in the face of this current crisis?
I think French and Parisian people really don’t care about rules. It was really hard at the beginning of quarantine because people didn’t want to stay home. You know, French people want to go to bars and clubs and shows and whatever, so the government had to shut down everything. The French are more rebellious, they are not going to be willing to wait for better days, they are going to make the days better.
So, I think they are focused on finding solutions to have festivals and go to shows. It’s not possible for us to live in a country without culture, without music, art, movies, and theatre. Of course people want to respect the quarantine because they don’t want to be sick, and they want the sick to get better, but its about finding new ways to live, because it’s going to be very different after this.
Do you think that the French saying “C’est la vie!” speaks to that resilience in the face of adversity? Do you think it is misinterpreted as a sort of “whatever, shit happens,” rather than a reflection of their durability?
Yeah, you know, it definitely doesn’t mean “whatever.” It means things are this bad, but we have to find new ways to live, and deal with our lives as they change. Let’s find solutions, and it’s going to be okay.
Your early work came out when music was really beginning to be shared on forums like MySpace and DIY music blogs. I’m curious if you have any reflections on how sharing new music feels for you in 2020? How does it feel within the spectrum of your career?
As you said, we started with MySpace in 2005, or something like that, and it was already a new way of doing things. The music industry was falling apart and we already had to rethink the way people were going to find and listen to music. Since our last album, we weren’t ready to follow up with another album, but we put out like four singles, whenever we wanted to do it.
It was really cool to experience that you can just put things on Bandcamp or Soundcloud, however you wanted. MySpace was the beginning of all that, and today it’s just the way it’s done. I think it’s just important to evolve with technology and within your own time. It would be weirder to get stuck in the old ways of doing things, so I’m really happy to have grown through those crazy years.
Does running your own label make it easier or more difficult to navigate all the things you want to do?
We always did what we wanted with our previous labels, but having our own structure is really cool, even though it’s a crazy amount of work. It’s also really interesting to understand how it all works. I’m very proud of it, you know! I’m proud to have my own label and get to try new things.
We recently produced a band called Totorro who are totally different from what we are doing. They’re a math rock band, and we love them. It was really a good experience to do that, and maybe in the future we will have the chance to produce other artists, as well. I think it’s also interesting to have a vision for someone that maybe doesn’t have a vision beyond the music itself.
For YELLE, it’s really easy because we know what we want and we have a sense of the whole picture, with the music videos and promotional artwork and everything, so I think it’s really interesting to be able to help people who maybe don’t have a sense of how to do all that. For now I am happy to have the freedom to do all this for myself.
Do you have to rethink what you will do for live shows, now that you have an album coming out during a pandemic?
We’re thinking about doing some live shows, but we’re really absorbed in all the work we have to do around the single, because we are releasing it on our own record label. So it’s taking some time to figure it all out.
We will probably have to rethink everything about how we are going to do it. Even when there is no more Coronavirus, it’s going to take time for people to come back to venues, to clubs. We will probably get the album out still, but who knows if we will be able to do a proper tour at this time. It’s all a giant question mark!
Have you been watching any artists or celebrities going live on Instagram in lieu of public appearances? Have you been considering doing a quarantine-from-home show if you can’t tour?
I think its a nice way for artists to have something to do to express themselves while they are stuck in their homes, and a nice gift to their fans. I also think it’s really important as an artist to give some dreams to your fans, because just being alone in front of your computer for so long can be really sad and weird.
I don’t know how I could make it fun and exciting, say if I were to try and do a live-from-home show, myself. I really have to think about that! I wouldn’t want to do something super simple… You still have to imagine something different and exciting, even in that less professional context.
Your early releases like “A Cause Des Garçons” were linked to other amazing subcultures like the Tecktonik dance scene in Paris. Are you finding any comparable inspiration in 2020?
It’s funny because now I live on the countryside in Brittany. I really feel that, through the years, Paris was something really strong, with “The French Touch” and everything, but now there are more bands coming in from out of the city because it’s easier to share music. I really like that. It makes me proud.
Even though I feel really connected to the city when I’m in Paris, and I like to go to parties and clubs, it’s cool to know there are great venues, scenes, and artists outside of Paris as well. I feel more attached to that right now.
It must be weird to return to quarantine at the end of the day, despite all the excitement around the new single! Tell us how you’ve been filling up your evenings? Are you binge watching anything?
Well, right now I’m going to continue trying to light the fireplace, because I started it, but it’s wet and didn’t work. Then I am going to have a glass of wine and maybe call my friend. Who knows anymore?
— Q&A by Kevin Hegge (@theekevinhegge)