Expanding Musical Universality: An Interview with Yelle

As Yelle prepares the release of their new EP on February 11th and debut of their latest track, “L’Amour Parfait,” Antidote offers an interview with Julie Budet from their last Montreal appearance.

The sound booms from the speakers as I enter Montreal’s The National venue. It is nearly empty except a few staff readying the bar and the sound system for tonight’s show. I watch as they all go about their business, when through the front door walks Julie Budet, along with Jean-François Perrier and Tanguy Destable. The three members of the French dance ensemble Yelle. Julie, who’s stage name is Yelle, walks by smiling and saying “Bonjour” to everyone she walks past with a quiet modesty. If one didn’t know better she could be apart of the staff, that is, until she walks onto the stage and starts her rendition of Robyn’s “Who’s That Girl?” in french, “Qui Est Cette Fille?” The cover was from an iTune promotion which consisted of Robyn covering Yelle’s hit “A Cause Des Garcons” in return. The speakers fill the room of the empty theater with synths and drums as Yelle flawlessly flies through the song with ease, clearly this girl has more to her than a modest “bonjour.”


Yelle is a electronic band who’s success comes from the acclaim they received from their debut, Pop Up. The song “Je Veux Te Voir,” a song responding to, and dissing, the French rapper Cuizinier of TTC. The song was originally released on Myspace, (when Myspace was still common in 2006) and peaked at number eleven on the French singles chart, and charted in the rest of Europe as well. The song is their biggest hit to date and was a bold and fun introduction to the band. “Je Veux Te Voir” crossed borders with ease thanks to it’s catchy and risque lyrics, along with the poppy electro sound before the popularity of Lady Gaga and dance music today. The album that followed “Je Veux Te Voir” was full of interesting dance-pop sounds and melodies that gave Yelle an audience of indie-dance fans worldwide, with or without knowledge of French. Their songs could also be seen in ads for Telus, the show Entourage, and videogames. The album became an indie hit, eventually reaching number eight on Billboard’s Electronic Albums Chart. After relentless promotion and touring for Pop Up, the band retreated home to France to take a breath and create their sophomore release, Safari Disco Club. The new release contains a progression of Pop Up’s sound, an evolution of the dance-ready beats and synths that make the band’s music cross language barriers with ease.The album has received critical success and Yelle are once again in the process of promoting and touring behind the new record.

Soon after that brief “bonjour,” I go back stage with Julie to discuss the band’s new album Safari Disco Club, the first release in 4 years since their debut Pop Up. She quickly arranges the chairs next to the dressing table as if I am a guest in her home, and with heavy touring since the March album release date, dressing rooms may be her home. Yelle politely begins the interview, her smile being the ultimate contrast to the rainy dreary day outside.

Originally from Saint-Brieuc, a small town in the east region of Brittany in France, Yelle effectively speaks english after years of international tours, but her demeanor is still of a well-raised french girl, eager to discuss her music and open to anything. The new album, Safari Disco Club, is an upbeat disc full of impressive synths and instrumentations from GrandMarnier (Jean-Francois Perrier) and Tepr (Tanguy Destable), along with Yelle’s sharp lyrics and vocals that sweep across the dance-ready soundscape. Audiences are taking note of Yelle’s impressive musical output with an opening spot on Katy Perry’s new tour and a second invitation to the Coachella Festival. Julie discusses Coachella as “totally crazy and amazing, it’s the festival I prefer [most] in the world. It’s sunny, it’s hot, and everybody really is happy and just wanting to have fun.” She continues to say that “even if it’s a little bit hard because of the technical conditions,” giving insight that “you have just 20 minutes to get ready and do sound check and everything.” The upbeat vocalist summarizes that “it can be really complicated but each time, in 2008 and this time (2011), we had a blast. We played while the sun was going down, it was the perfect timing, it wasn’t too hot. It was perfect.”

Touring and festival shows have been Yelle’s life since Safari Disco Club’s release in March. When asked if touring was different this time around after their massive promotion for Yelle’s debut, Pop Up, Julie responds that “it’s not so different. Maybe the different thing now [is] they know the songs, they can sing it… even if they don’t understand, they try to do it, and I really like that,” a massive smile across her face between words. “They are singing and enjoying the old songs, and discovering the new ones and I think enjoying [them] too. After the shows we always try to spend some time with the crowd, do some photos and stuff, and we have really good feedback, it’s really positive for us to hear that. Maybe for the first album we were discovering everything, everything was new and we try to continue to enjoy everything because we don’t know what will happen in one month, one year, life can change like (Julie snaps her fingers) nothing. So it is important for us to enjoy every show.”

One of Yelle’s recent tours was opening for Katy Perry in the UK for her California Dreams Tour. A great opportunity and platform for the band, allowing for a new audience to hear their upbeat songs, pumping up the crowd before the pop starlette takes the stage. Julie says the crowd on the tour was “really fun and happy young girls [that] just want to dance and party.” When asked who she would love to tour with, Yelle contemplates, saying, “ I don’t know. It’s hard to open for a band because you enjoy the moment, because even if the crowd isn’t here for you, they still are dancing and having fun, but it’s not you they are waiting for. I think if we were opening for a band like Depeche Mode or Prince, it would be really hard because the fans are really into it and don’t [necessarily] like to have an opening act, but [instead] just see the band they like. So it can be hard to play before somebody.” Julie pauses and the smile creeps back over her face, “but I’m a big fan of Kate Bush, so yah it could be fun.”

When Julie is on stage, their is only one rule: dance. The band’s drums hit hard filling the venue with a beat, while synths float around the room, circling over Julie’s vocals. The question that comes to mind, what makes Julie dance? “The pop from the Eighties, you know, Cyndi Lauper and Prince, I like the melodies and energy they have.” As clear from the group’s music, influence vary for Yelle as Julie continues, “I like to go to the clubs and listen to cool Dj’s, a few days ago we were in New York and Grand Marnier and our friend Julien were mixing in the club and were playing a remix of Adele by Jamie XX (Jamie Xx’s remix of “Rolling in the Deep”), and it was really good, we really enjoyed this moment, even if it’s totally different from the sound I was talking about. I like to dance all the time to really different music, I like rap music” she giggles, “yah, I like that too.”

Je Veux Te Voir
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Yelle’s debut, Pop Up!, was a french electronic party, full of catchy tracks like “Je Veux Te Voir” and “A Cause Des Garcons.” The album became an indie success with fans including Lily Allen and performances at huge festivals like Coachella. “You know, when we began to work with Grand Marnier, and on our music, it was really weird for us to think of something international. We were thinking, okay, one day, maybe we’ll sign to a label, do some gigs in bars and stuff, and yah maybe we’ll play one day in Belgium or Switzerland cause they can understand [french]. We weren’t thinking of doing a tour around the world.”

The unexpected success of the band is not being taken advantage of by the band. Julie continues to say how they “try to enjoy every trip, every country, to discover new people. Sometimes it’s really difficult because we don’t have time, but we try to visit…” Julie’s face lights up as she elaborates, “in the van, to be in the van and make stops in little towns, and yah, it’s the real tour being in the bus with everybody and eating hamburgers in truck diners.” She laughs, but is sincere in her love of the simple discoveries of the world.

yelle-3After the surprise results of the debut, and the touring that followed, Yelle took a breath before jumping back into the studio. Unlike many artists today who pump out music at a fast pace to stay on top, Yelle’s next album would come four years after their debut. Safari Disco Club proved an evolution of their sound, without alienating what made Yelle so delectable in the first place. The band went home to the small area of Brittany in France to regroup. When asked if the group writes on the road, Julie says that they “are not like a rock band, jamming, writing and composing music on the road. We really like to take the time to do these things. So when we finished the tour, we wanted to take a break for 3 months, and then after that to begin to work on the new songs.” The young artists have a patience and are appreciative of their success, taking things slow and never for granted. “It’s really important for us to separate things, and we were on tour and wanted to enjoy the tour, and on break, we want to enjoy the break.” She acknowledges that inspiration does come in odd places sometimes. She mentions that “even if we had some ideas and are recording it in the car, [when] you have an idea it is really cool to have this little thing, (pointing to the recorder on the table between us), but we like to be in the studio and to be focused, maybe it took 4 years to do this record, but we needed this time.”

One of Yelle’s most famous songs from Pop Up is “Je Veux Te Voir,” a rap dissing a man in numerous ways. Many of the tracks Julie has recorded involve men as a theme, another hit even titled “A Cause Des Garcons.” Her views on feminism come up and whether Julie is a feminist for her large audience of dancing fans. Julie announces that, “[Yes,] I think I’m a feminist, like most girls. I have this thing in me; I want to fight for my rights and women’s rights of course, but i don’t like this word in the [sense that], I don’t want to be a leader or something.” She continues “I think its really a private thing, even if, of course, you need to express it and fight [for it] with all the people. I don’t want to use my songs for feminism, even if sometimes i talk about it so…” Julie stops and starts laughing, an acknowledgment of the conflicting answer, “we can say yes.”

While proceeding to discuss her lyrical themes and process, the question arises if there is anything Julie would not write about, or put on an album. Again, Julie considers the question, making sure she is confident in her decision. She responds that “for the moment its really hard for me to talk about politics, for example, maybe one day i will do that. I cant do it for the moment [though], I think its really hard to find good words to express that, for example, the song “S’eteint Le Soleil,” we wanted to write a song like that on Pop Up, but we didn’t do it because we weren’t ready, and on this new album we were like ok, maybe its time for us to talk about that. The song is about the day the sun will go down and disappear and its about ecology and stuff and death and everything, and sometimes its not easy to find good words for everything.” She decides that the topic of politics is not her strong suit, “its very complicated for me at the moment but maybe one day. Julie finishes her answer with “I don’t know,” always leaving the door open for unknown possibilities.

I ask Julie if there are any possibilities for an English album, those catchy synths and beats have helped developed a large english audience who love the group with or without knowing all the lyrics. The question is a tricky one for the chanteuse, after some “mmmm” and thinking, Julie decides “I don’t know yet, maybe one day, but for the moment its important to keep the french language cause its easier for us to express this way, but why not? yah, maybe.”

Que Veux-Tu
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Yelle knows what they are comfortable with, how they want to make music, tour, and enjoy their success. The band, and in specific Julie, know how they want to improve as well. During the recording of Safari Disco Club Julie took vocal lessons to improve her voice. I asked her how the lessons have changed her performance while touring this time around. “It’s different, because I can control my voice easily and protect it too.” She elaborates telling a story about touring for Pop Up, “it was on the first tour, we had to cancel a concert one time because I totally had no voice. It was in Australia and I realized it could happen and [that] it’s a real instrument, [it] can be really fragile, so I took singing lessons to know everything about preparing exercises and stuff. I wanted to sing more on the new record and to be more confident, even if on Pop Up it was okay. I wanted to see if I could push the limits.” Julie transforms into a proud student before my eyes as she cheerfully talks of sending emails to her vocal coach. “She watches all the videos, and when she sees something she doesn’t like she’s telling me, look at your back! You’re not in the good position, and it’s really important, it’s not a done deal, you have to practice all your life if you want to continue to progress.” She repeats that “even if it was okay on Pop Up, I wanted to work on it again, and I think I will continue to do that, even if I’m not working everyday. I try to do that one time a week, take one hour and practice.” A pause of contemplation before she continues, “yah, it’s really important for me to think you can progress all your life.”