Yelle: Life is Sweet

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Yelle’s Pop-Up (Astralwerks) is the perfect album for teenage girls. It makes one think of pink bedrooms, princess phones, and neon-painted nails; sugary-sweet candy and sun-dappled afternoons spent calling secret crushes and giggling down the line. It achieves this effect even if you don’t understand the French-only lyrics, which explore every relationship-related thought that races through a young girl’s mind, from the ups ‘n’ downs of lovers’ games (“Ce Jeu”) to lesbian fantasies (“Les Femmes”) to dissing boys because they suck (“Je Veux Te Voir,” “Dans Ta Vrai Vie”). There’s even a veiled ode to masturbation/sex toys (“Mon Meilleur Ami”), in the vein of Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop.”

This could easily be annoying, but it’s charming instead–like the best American pop, Pop-Up is funny, naïve, and sometimes dirty, but it’s also smart, and backed by extremely catchy electronic beats crafted by producers Tepr (a.k.a. Tanguy Destable) and Grand Marnier (Jean-François Perrier). Yelle herself is 25-year-old Julie Budet, a lanky, doe-eyed singer/erstwhile rapper with a taste for fluorescent leggings, high-top Reeboks, and sassy comebacks.

Budet and Perrier hail from Brittany in northwest France, a rocky piece of countryside by the sea known for cider, crepes, and medieval monuments. The two met seven years ago at a high-school party; Budet was in a pop band, and Perrier was a drummer in a Beastie Boys-esque rap-rock outfit. In 2005, they started working on tracks in Perrier’s bedroom, and quickly completed “Short Dick Cuizi” (later to become “Je Veux Te Voir”), a track dissing TTC rapper Cuizinier for his pyjama-like t-shirts and lack of sexual prowess. Internet hype and a deal with eclectic French label Source Etc. followed, and electro-house producer Tepr–who already had two albums out on the little-known idwet label–was brought into the fold to help knock out a full-length in a little over eight months.

The three have been touring nonstop since Pop-Up was completed, striking a chord with their catchy songs and Budet’s on-stage charm, which is a much more accessible brand of cool than that of a certain Parisian ingénue whom she’s often pitted against. We took the trio for peppermint tea and cupcakes at New York City bakery Sugar Sweet Sunshine, and found them to be just as cute and nice as their music implies.

XLR8R: Did you have a concept for the project when you started?

Yelle: We just wanted to make music that was really fresh and really happy. At the time there were a lot of French bands making heartbroken, depressing songs, like ‘My life is really hard and I’m not happy.’ It was important for us to make music to make people dance and smile and have fun.

What kind of stuff did you sing when you were little?

Yelle: I looked like Madonna. I was always singing in front of my mirror, inventing some lyrics about my dogs or my friends or my life. It was like a fairytale. Since I was a little girl I’ve lived in a kind of dream. I’m always thinking everything will be better, a kind of utopia.

Did you have a fairytale childhood?

Yelle: Yeah. For me, it is really difficult to talk about problems because I had no problems when I was young. I was a bad student when I was in high school, but that’s because I was dreaming all the time.

You went pretty quickly from making songs in a bedroom studio to being on stage at festivals. Was it difficult to perform live initially?

Yelle: It wasn’t really difficult to get onstage for the first time because I did theater for seven years. The first show was in Paris in November 2006 at this very trendy club called Paris Paris. I was really frightened because it was the beginning of our internet success, and it was really hard for me to imagine how it would go. I said to myself, ‘If I can do this tonight, it will be okay after. If it’s really hard tonight, maybe it will be really difficult in the future.’ The crowd was really cool and after that I thought, ‘Okay, I can do this.’

Do you think of Yelle as a character?

Yelle: It’s not a character. It’s a part of me who can explode on stage and have more fun than in real life. I’m not a shy girl, but maybe just a little... When I’m Yelle, I like to wear more colorful clothes and be sexier.

You’ve made the perfect happy pop album. What’s next?

Yelle: I’m a big fan of Depeche Mode, their sound and melodies. I’m a big fan of M.I.A., too; this crunk style she has, really hard and really rude. I would like to mix the two and make something powerful, but with lots of work on the melodies and harmonies, and maybe with instruments like violins. I would still like to make pop music, though, because that’s my culture.

Did you have a certain feeling you were going for with this record?

Tepr: It was more about a state of mind than specific bands. For “Tu es Beau” we wanted to have a very ’90s Eric Serra feeling [he scored Luc Besson movies].

Grand Marnier: When we were doing the record I was thinking about that American sitcom Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. That funny spirit but filled with teenage angst and teenage stories. Conquering the world with flashy colors and a cool state of mind.

Tepr: In “Les Femmes,” which is a very special slow song about homosexual love between girls… by the end of the song I was in the clouds with rainbows and unicorns and teddy bears on clouds. And Teletubbies. It’s more about color and picture references than music.

This is, obviously, a very cute record. What do you guys think is cute personally?

Grand Marnier: Cupcakes.

Tepr: A Shetland pony running in the fields.

Grand Marnier: By cute, do you mean sweet? Adorable? I love cereal boxes, especially Rice Krispies. I’m in love with whoever designed that box. It’s one of the things I think is very cute and nobody cares about it. Oh, and I like when girls have a space between their two front teeth–if a girl has that, I automatically like her.

Tepr: I like when a girl has a lot of freckles, like the Milky Way.

Grand Marnier: Yeah, I also like when a girl’s eyes are slightly cross-eyed. Just a little bit off. Very small. Very precise.

Precise imperfection, eh? What track are you most happy with on the album?

Grand Marnier: “Les Femmes.” We wrote it in the studio as an emergency last song. It was really intensive to compose and I love the result. It’s modern and pop and slow. I love “Tristesse/Joie” too.

Tepr: My favorite song on the album is “Mon Meilleur Ami.” It’s a song about dildos and stuff like that. It’s not about the lyrics though; I like it because it’s an uptempo song with a dirty bassline and lots of claps. It’s really ghetto, really club, really dance–it’s the other side of Yelle. When we perform that song live it’s always really tense. I like that part of
Yelle a lot.

Was writing the album difficult?

Grand Marnier: Not difficult but irregular. Some days I was very inspired and I wrote two songs a day. Sometimes I would do nothing for two months. I was afraid because I didn’t know if I was able to make an album. I didn’t know how inspiration comes. When you don’t know what your creative process is, you can’t trust yourself. In the end, I learned there are no rules. Patience is often the best.

Tepr: We thought we were not good enough at mixing. We did the songs, we did a pre-mix, and we were happy with it but then we thought, ‘Yeah, let’s go to a big studio and mix it again.’ In the end, it was not better, just more clean.

How did you two work together?

Tepr: During the studio sessions, I was usually finishing a song while he was producing a new one. He was fast to write new lyrics and I was fast to record the keyboards. He likes cheesy gimmicks. At first when I would listen to stuff I’d be like, ‘You can’t do that,’ and then it would get into my head.

Grand Marnier: I really like simple and catchy melodies, like cartoon sounds and ringtones.

Did you ever get to a point where all this cute happy stuff made you crazy?

Grand Marnier: There is not only cuteness. The songs have a basis of bass, which is often fat. When we are in the studio composing sometimes we just have fun and play hardcore. We are [balanced]. We are not 100 percent cute.

Tepr: We both come from hardcore music. I’m a big fan of Refused, and he’s a big fan of Biohazard and 25 Ta Life. That’s our stuff. But we did songs with clouds and teddy bears for the girls.

What’s one song or track you wish you had made?

Grand Marnier: “Faith” by George Michael. It’s got a perfect balance between the rhythm and the melody, and such an ambiance.

Tepr: “Shake the Disease” from Depeche Mode. It’s like four tracks in one, it keeps changing and it’s very complicated. It’s very special and very mainstream at the same time, and I love that kind of song.

What is the weirdest thing for you about America?

Grand Marnier: People are always hugging for everything!

Tepr: They’re always saying, ‘That’s amazing. You’re really amaaaazing. I looove you.’ Sometimes it’s too much for us.
Grand Marnier: We don’t know what to say to that because in France you are more just being gentle and polite all the time. In the last two days we’ve met so many people for the first time and they’re like ‘You’re amazing!’ But that’s cool… it’s not a problem.

Tepr:Yeah. We will go back to France and be like, ‘Hey, we have a lot of fans in New York.’ And the next time we come back and the same people will maybe be like, ‘Hi,’ and that’s it.

Download "Je Veux Te Voir (Club-Club Version)"

Teen Beat!
The Yelle team answers cute questions about girls and candy.

What’s your birthday?
January 17, 1983. Capricorn.

What is the best thing you own?
I always have to have a big purse with me.

What quality do you like most in guys?
Humor. It’s the most important for me. I couldn’t be with a guy who doesn’t say some stupid, funny things.

What quality do you like the least?
Boys who don’t have clean nails.

What’s your favorite candy?

Grand Mariner
When’s your birthday?
July 14, 1981. Cancer.

What is the best thing you own?
My motorbike. It’s a small 125 Yamaha. It’s grey.

What quality do you like most in girls?

What quality do you like the least?
Girls with too many mannerisms, like always talking loud, waving their hands around, trying to act cute….

What’s your favorite candy?
Chocolate little bears with
marshmallow in them.

When’s your birthday?
May 23, 1980. Gemini.

What is the best thing you own?
My MacBook.

What quality do you like most in girls?
It makes me hurt each time but… ambitious girls.

What quality do you like the least?

What’s your favorite candy?
Must be Mars bars.