1999. Nokia 3310s, glitter body gel, velcro Billabong wallets and watching boys skate badly. We were glued to Rage every Saturday morning and we used Napster (or a recording cassette player) for our favourite Top 40 tracks. And then it happened. The Euro-dance torpedo that is Eiffel 65’s 'Blue' tore through the Australian charts, forever altering our understanding of the phrase “I’m blue”.
Yes, 'Blue (Da Ba Dee)' was to become one of the most misquoted songs of all time,* going three times platinum in Australia. And now with the music industry awash with auto-tune, Eiffel 65 are, for better or worse, experiencing a renaissance as one of the earliest groups to embrace that sound. Before they fly down for the Fat As Butter festival
and their sideshows with N-Trance, we chit-chatted with Eiffel 65’s lead singer Jeffrey Jey about breaking new ground, their first trip to Australia and being labelled a racist.
: So you guys were one of the first groups to use auto-tune, is that right?
Exactly. Well, actually back then what we heard and listened to wasn’t auto-tune, but a vocoder. We heard this incredible effect and were wondering where it was coming from. Then we ran into a vocoder and started playing around with it and that’s what actually got us into that kind of sound. 'Blue' was the first song we were using the vocoder with. You can hear it at the start where the voice kinda freaks out, that’s the vocoder effect.
: Don’t take this the wrong way, but why did you like it?
: Well the main thing was that we were using the different effects all the way to the voice. Usually you’d mess around with the drums and mess around with the synths but you’d almost never touch the voice. Having the opportunity to break those boundaries gave us a really particular sound and made the voice sound really really really particular, and that became a mark for us. People could recognise us form that.
: Do you still like the effect?
: Yeah I do like it a lot and I do have the opportunity to use it. We do use it in a different way [now] than how we used it back then. It’s mainly used as a backing vocal now. I do think it still has a lot of colour and a lot to talk about.
: Was there any resistance to you guys using it? From your label or people thinking it wouldn’t work?
: Well I have to be honest, with me being the singer of the band I thought it was kinda weird in the beginning. In fact the first time we went to the states they expected us to be doing a total playback. It was really surprising, people were looking at us going “Oh hey, these guys really perform! They really sing and they actually play.” That was one of the hard parts about using the digital stuff on everything.
: I have to ask you about the lyrics for 'Blue', because surely you’ve heard some pretty original interpretations of them?
: Well, first of all, it does not say “If I were green I would die”, which is what a lot of people say. It [da ba dee] is just a simple way of saying “la la la”. And the lyrics talk about the way people see things. I think everyone has a colour, and they use that colour, without even knowing it, to filter the things they do, the way they see things and the way they live their life. And that’s what I’m talking about when I say “I have a blue car and a blue window and a blue girlfriend”; it’s a metaphor. We like to leave it [lyrics] open for the imagination. Some people think it’s just a silly song saying that everything is blue, and that’s okay too. If you get the meaning and think “Hey there’s a metaphor here” and you think that’s a cool thing then I’m happy with that too. The American guy who came up to me and said “Hey you’re a racist: ‘If I were green I would die’, well, I’m not really happy about that kinda side!
: Is this Australian tour the first that you’ve done since you’ve reformed? You guys did quite well here, sales-wise.
: We’ve been touring for almost two years now. Mainly in Europe. We know that we were triple platinum or something like that in Australia. We’re really excited to come over and thank all the people who gave us the opportunity to live this dream.
: How have the other shows been going?
: Like being back in the day. We have 18-year-olds singing the songs, jumping to the music, it’s a super party. It’s amazing. It’s like we travelled through time and brought all the people from back then all the way to today. We worked on different projects and later on we had the opportunity to understand that later generations were into the Eiffel 65 music and that there was a big scene of people wanting to see us live. And that was the spark that put us back on our feet.
: Do you have a new album coming up?
We have a few songs produced, I don’t know if you could call it an album but hopefully we’ll have a new single out soon. It’s going to be dance music, and you’ll be able to recognise it as Eiffel 65, but it’s going to be new.
: Lauren Bertacchini