In France’s Brittany — an area so rich in Celtic lore that the wizard Merlin is reputedly buried there in a tomb called a dolmen — locals like longtime coastal resident Julie Budet are raised to respect superstitions.
So it’s no surprise that the singer — who with her significant other Jean-Francois Perrier (aka GrandMarnier) records and performs as the techno-popping Yelle — shivers in fright when she hears the floorboards creaking in her 17th-century cottage or the rickety garden gate wheezing in the wind when she’s walking her dog at night. It reminds her of the legend Ankou, a wraith pushing a death cart with unoiled wheels that announce his malevolent presence.
“In Brittany, the Ankou is really stuck in people’s minds,” she says. “Ever since my father told me that story when we were children, we were always listening for him at night, and now all this creaking I hear lately sounds like the signal he is coming.”
But the couple will never move, as signified by the giant ship’s-anchor replica Budet is photographed with on the cover of remix edition of the new French-sung album, “L’ere Du Verseau” (“The Age of Aquarius”).
After releasing four discs since “Pop Up,” its dazzling debut in 2007; touring the world behind stars like Katy Perry; and even toying with a permanent move to America, the couple has decided to stay put, and — especially during the pandemic — are happy where they are.
“I’m really attached to my country, and to my place in Brittany,” Budet says. “It’s by the sea, there’s a big marine industry here, and I realize now that I just don’t want to live anywhere else. That’s the meaning of the anchor. My house was the first one in the neighborhood, and it was owned by the guy running the shipping company, and he could see everything happening below, every ship coming in and out of the bay.”
Rooms in the Yelle estate once housed illicit goods that the Breton Coast Guard confiscated from smugglers, like rum and tobacco, before the Nazis occupied them during World War II. Now they’ve been converted to a high-tech home studio, where the band composed rubbery, disco-retro “Verseau” songs “Karate,” “Menu Du Jour” and “Mon Beau Chagrin.”
There’s a sinister lyrical pall hanging over some cuts — all ironically penned pre-COVID-19 — such as the synth-sinewy “Noir” and bubbly “Peine De Mort,” both dealing with grimness and mortality.
“Noir” was inspired by the masks, the cheerful disguises people wear to conceal their darker inner personas, Budet explains, and “Peine De Mort” (which translates to “Death Sentence”) concerns the passing of her father two years ago and the existential void it left behind.
“How do you live without someone that you’re around all the time?” she asked herself. “You go through different phases — you’re angry, you’re sad, but at some point you’re just happy, reliving the good memories of this person. And now I’m happy, because I can finally let him go.”
Looking back during lockdown, Budet, 37, realizes that Yelle has featured a death-centered tune on every album, although she’s not certain why.
The tradition is going deeper, getting stronger every year, she says, the older she and GrandMarnier get.
She hopes fans will appreciate the gravity of the work, but ultimately she wants “Verseau” to be perceived as a feel-good, dance-across-the-nightclub effort — even though there are no discotheques currently open to patrons.
“It’s really important for us to have something more faith-filled, more optimistic to say,” she says, adding, “‘Karate’ is really about opening your eyes and opening your heart, and showing how good of a person you can be, even if you’re just alone in your bedroom. It’s simple, but efficient, and I really like songs like that.”
Meanwhile, Budet and Perrier are happy that three art-scene acquaintances have moved nearby.
She says, “None of us know if we’re going to have any work in the next few weeks or months, and we spend time together outside, keeping a social distance, of course, just talking about it — how we can continue to pursue our passion now that it’s gotten so complicated. I mean, I’ve done live DJ sets on Facebook, but it’s really frustrating to try and imagine something new and different from people seeing you in a venue, touching each other and jumping around.”