by Rachel Swain | Banner Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis
The Ye-Ye’s are bringing a classic ‘60s sound to Chicago and they’re doing it with panache. They recently shared their passion for music and style with The Urbaness.

Chicago musicians Heather Perry, Lindsay Weinberg, and Erica Jaree Verbarg are reviving a pop music genre that swept Western Europe in the 1960s. Yeye (pronounced “yay-yay”) gets a modern makeover from these stylish ladies who are bringing their own brand of Parisian pop to the Chicago arts and music scene.

The Ye-Ye's are:

Heather Perry – Bass and vocals

Lindsay Weinberg – Keyboard and vocals

Erica Jaree Verbarg – Drums and auxiliary percussion

Q: How would you describe your band?

Heather: Our band is a modern interpretation of 1960s French pop. Yeye was a genre of music that swept Europe in the ‘60s and it wasn’t just in France it was also in Spain and Italy, but I’ve always focused on the French singers. I think it’s different because for the first time it’s all women playing. Back then it was just the front woman singing and the producers, writers, and band were all male. I think in certain ways we spin a modern take on it. For example, there’s a song we do called “Gong” where the verses are really sort of traditionally ‘60s, but then we take the choruses and we felt like it could be really punky. That’s not there in the original version. So, sometimes we mash it up!

Q: How do you go about developing a sound in terms of arrangement and tone?

Erica: For me personally, I listen to the song and try to get as close to it as I possibly can. Heather and I will start with bass and drums, because that’s the core of a lot of these songs. Then when we add everybody else in, little flavors start to come out.

I think it’s different because for the first time it’s all women playing. Back then it was just the front woman singing and the producers, writers, and band were all male.
Once it’s muscle memory, then we can start to feel where we can grow and add our own ideas. Our idea is to modernize it and make it something sexy and something that could be done with dance and something that’s not so structured as it was in the ‘60s.

Lindsay: I think that one way that we’re getting that sound, is bass and drums, basic stuff. But then, some crucial elements of the sound are, like my keyboard. I have this great keyboard that recreates these vintage organ and electric piano sounds. One of them is a piano that has these strings in the background and it has this shmaltzy, lovey-dovey, magic sound. Heather went and bought a couple of specific hand percussion instruments, which it turns out are really crucial. Like castanets. There are castanets in tons of these songs! To have that little “tick-a-tick” really lodges into that vintage, familiar thing. It’s this thing now that’s coming to life from the past.

Heather: I think the hand percussion and back up vocals are a huge part of what makes our sound reminiscent of the era. We’ve had a few different people just join us as additional auxiliary percussionists during shows. They don’t understand how crucial things like tambourine, castanets and woodblock and shaker are to these songs! If I could, I would have an auxiliary percussion orchestra! Also, we all sing for the most part. The soaring harmonies and intricate back up vocals are a big part of the sound.

Q: Are all the songs from the original Yeye genre? How do you go about selecting the songs?

Heather: I would say maybe half of the songs are original Yeye songs. Then we’ve also taken some American and British hits from the ‘60s and translated them, like “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones. We do a French cover of “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes. Lindsay and I are working on a cover of “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” I have a personal treasure trove of original Yeye music. So, I pull those songs out and then [the band] will mention songs that they think would be a great translation. Lindsay wants us to do “Do You Love Me Now That I Can Dance.” We collectively pull all our favorite ‘60s hits and if I can find a French translation that already exists, that’s a huge plus. If not, then I do my best to create one.

Q: Is the translation challenging?

Heather: It is tough! I have some resources. My best friend lives in Paris right now, so she’s helped. I have a former roommate who I’ve emailed about translations. He’s a native French speaker. I need that native speaker to double-check my work. I just studied it in high school and college. And, with pop music there’s tons of slang that I just don’t know. My French textbook didn’t tell me how to say, “Work it on the dance floor!” I don’t know what the right translation for that would be; mine would probably be far too literal.

Q: What has been the coolest gig you have played so far?

Heather: I would say the Fly Honeys’ show. We have a good working relationship with The Inconvenience, an umbrella, theater, dance, and art company. Every year they have this huge, amazing cabaret fundraiser. A huge part of that is this main burlesque act. That was our debut. This band only happened because I was working with Erin Kilmurray from the Inconvenience and told her we love these old French songs.

My French textbook didn’t tell me how to say, “Work it on the dance floor!” I don’t know what the right translation for that would be; mine would probably be far too literal.
She said, “Why don’t you just put together a band and do a couple songs for the show?” Then everyone loved us so much! So, things have taken off from there. Because of our association with the Fly Honeys and also Erica runs her own burlesque group called Les Soubrettes, I think we just have a good working relationship with really smart, sexy, female-fronted and run burlesque acts. Which works well for us because we’re all ladies and we’ve got a really strong style and aesthetic that goes along with the music we present.

Q: What about the visual aspect of this band?

Erica: We’re the ‘60s girl band, but we all kind of have our own take. I think we’re a personality-styled group. You have the crazy one, and you have the smart one, and you have the fun, singing one!

Heather: Even the Yeye singers from the ‘60s had their own personality. Sylvie Varton was the really smoky, vampy one and sometimes I think that’s Erica. Then there’s Francoise Hardy who was the more naturalistic one and maybe that’s Lindsay or me. There’s the schoolgirl Yeye, there’s the vampy Yeye, the iconic, sophisticated, French, Godard-style. There’s a lot to play with.

Lindsay: I think that it’s an important element. We’ve played at burlesque shows, at the opening of a salon, and at a female only arts feature that had its own photographer and we had our own style shoot as a part of that event. In all of the events that we’ve done, style has been a crucial element.

Listen to the Ye-Ye's perform a cover of "Gong Song":

The Ye-Ye’s are planning a digital music release for mid-March and are playing April 4th at Mars Gallery 1139 W Fulton Market from 6pm - 9pm. For more information on the band and upcoming events, please visit their Facebook page.