The last show Julie Budet and Jean-Francois Perrier attended before lockdown was in France in early March. Held in a former church in Budet’s hometown of Brittany, she remembers scrolling her newsfeed while in the front row and reading that French President Emmanuel Macron was in the middle of addressing the virus for the first time. The following Monday, Macron announced a nationwide lockdown.
Budet and Perrier, better known as Yelle and Grand Marnier, are the duo behind bright and irreverent electropop band Yelle. The two started making music together in 2001 and chose the name “YEL” for “you enjoy life,” bringing an ethos of joy and pleasure to early songs that brought them international attention like “Ba$$in” and “A cause des garçons.”
Their latest record, “L’Ère du Verseau,” means “age of Aquarius” in their native French. Released in early September, their fourth album is a couple beats away from that early music. It’s more emotive and melodic than their previous work, with singles like “Je t’aime encore,” “Je veux un chien” and “Karate,” that have a maturity born from experience. Despite the lockdown, the band stuck to their planned release precisely because of how hard the the situation at hand has been.
“The first week, it’s funny,” says Budet of quarantine, “because you’re home all the time. You’re calling your friends. The second week is weird, and the third week you’re depressed because you know it’s going to last.”
But that night in Brittany, their thoughts weren’t on the upcoming record. They had already recorded the music in 2019, and this past spring they finished filming the videos and released them as planned. Touring was no longer an option, however, and Budet says the implications of the pandemic for the music industry hit her when she heard about a club they played in Boston closing for good through Twitter.
A fan had tweeted that the last show they saw at the Boston venue was a Yelle show. It was over a year ago, but Budet remembers that night.
“I totally remember the place,” Budet says. “It was really fun and I was really sad because [I thought] maybe it’s the start of something really complicated in the U.S.”
Budet is alluding to the fact that venues in the U.S. depend on ticket and bar sales, whereas in France they receive government support, and the same holds true for artists. Although the band hasn’t been able to tour, they receive aid via a government program for artists and Budet considers herself lucky to recieve such benefits.
That doesn’t detract from her hopes that they’ll soon be able to play live. Yelle recently performed a virtual set, and the response was positive. She enjoyed the casual setup, but didn’t love the overall experience.
“Sometimes, we’re like, ‘Okay, not a problem.’ We’re going to have to change how we reach our fans, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we’re really depressed because we were planning something and then everything was scrambled. It’s still the same mood. We’re in the middle of a storm and have to adapt to everything.”
The artwork for the album features Budet’s face peering out of what looks a wetsuit against a murky background. It’s darker than Yelle’s earlier work, which draws musically on the ‘90s French electronic scene, but draws visually on lighter ‘80s French pop like Étienne Daho, Lio and Richard Gotainer.
“All the colors, the dance, the craziness,” she says of her influences.
The artists wanted to put out the message that crises can give way to something better.
“[Regardless of] the pandemic, it is a really complicated moment in France,” Budet says.
“Je t’aime encore” tells that story of a fresh beginnings on an intimate level. The song builds around a piano ballad motif, and Perrier’s synths mount as the words “Je t’aime encore” become insistent. It’s addressed to their French fans, Budet says. Early on, many listeners misunderstood their work because it wasn’t strictly pop or indie.
“Je veux un chien,” or “I want a dog,” is beat-focused like their past work and overtly sexual, but the meaning is complex. Budet’s wish for a dog became a song about the type of sadomasochistic connection you can find in a romantic relationship. The video has an outstanding, almost pornographic, quality. It’s hard to tell how much is tongue-in-cheek.
“As a woman, I can say, ‘Okay, I want to be someone’s dog,’ and I can have someone be my dog.”
Like everyone, Budet is unsure of what the coming months will bring. Any and all plans feel contingent, aside from a music video they have slated for a mid-November release. Budet can’t say what song they’ll use, but it will focus on her dancing. The band has their first live shows since the start of the pandemic booked for the end of October in France and Germany, but she has her doubts that it will go according to plan. A U.S. tour looks impossible for the foreseeable future, and the band can only hope that will change going into the new year. Until then, we have “L’Ère du Verseau.”
Visit www.yelle.fr to learn more about Yelle’s work and music, and follow @yellestagram on Instagram and @yelle on Twitter. Listen to “L’Ère du Verseau” on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube or wherever you get your music.
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