Philippe Beer-Gabel, the front man/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist for Paris, France-based indie-pop band General Bye Bye is a little surprised by American response to French songs “You may know that France is not exactly famous for its music,” he tells Xpress. “The thing is, the prejudice with France is that we’re all stylish, drinking wine and eating cheese all the time.” Which, he adds with a laugh, “is basically not far from reality.”
But, thanks to technology and a rising interest in musical fusion, French pop has not only been widely embraced by audiofiles, it carries a certain chic cache. For Beer-Gabel, who derives much inspiration from American music — Blonde Redhead is often mentioned — bringing his band to the U.S. was a major goal.
Last fall, while General Bye Bye singer Jana Klein was too pregnant to perform, Beer-Gabel made a trip to the U.S. to attend the Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. and to visit Austin, Texas. “It seemed the perfect time to check what was happening in the U.S., because often what happens in the U.S. happens in Europe five or six years after,” says Beer-Gabel. At the summit, he learned about promotion and was introduced to artist-funding platform Kickstarter (currently being used by local musicians Aaron Woody Wood and Kellin Watson for their album projects). Beer-Gabel decided to try Kickstarter as a way to float a U.S. tour. “We did not succeed because we're too small, but I learned a lot and we launched another project on Feed the Muse,” he says. Using that online tool (its tagline is “Fueling Creativity $1 at a Time”), General Bye Bye met its goal. And, says Beer-Gabel, “We managed to do it in only 15 days because now I really get how to raise money for music.”
General Bye Bye’s particular brand of pop is hooky, melodic, irreverently cheerful and relentlessly upbeat. It’s also in English. "We sing in English because the weight of words in French is a bit different. I'm not saying that English is a shallow language, but French words are a bit heavy. We have maybe only two songs in French, but we never perform them," says Beer-Gabel, who, among other day jobs, teaches both French and Swedish. But English is his singing language of choice and so the band works with a Scottsman to get their wording just so. “British English and American English are very different languages so I prefer to be very careful about this," explains Beer-Gabel.
Still, the songs take on a particular lilt, the phrasing and syntax unusual enough to set tracks like “Alphabet” (”I give you L for Lullaby, I give you O for Oh my my, I give you V for Vanity, I give you E for you and me”) apart from the current deluge of indie-pop offerings. The simple sweetness of General Bye Bye’s songs are also a clue to the band’s accessibility, and what has inspired fans to fund the U.S. tour.
"We don't expect to have 10 million fans,” says Beer-Gabel, who writes personal emails to General Bye Bye’s followers. “We prefer to know the fans personally. If you know your one thousand followers, then you can work with them." In exchange for donations to the tour, the band exchanges goods like jam, language lessons and even French kisses — a commodity that Beer-Gabel seems presently surprised to find is in demand.
Another way the band has been connecting with its audience is by booking its tour accommodations through CouchSurfing.org. The website allows travelers to meet friendly folks who can offer up a sofa and possibly kitchen privileges. That’s how Beer-Gabel arranged last fall’s Austin trip, and how he made two Asheville connections: Former WNC residents The Baker Family Band and local musician Dup Crosson of Saint Solitude. "When I decided to launch a tour, I contacted him and he was nice enough to send me a huge list of venues," says Beer-Gabel. Crosson shares the bill at General Bye Bye’s Asheville show this week.
The French musician speaks highly of the generosity of people he’s met in booking his U.S. tour, but he’s also enthusiastic about the country itself. In Europe, “We have a lot of stories. We have a heavy background and the tendency is to always look behind and never look forward,” says Beer-Gabel. “You wake up in the morning, you have an idea and someone says 'Yes, but…' In the U.S. I have the feeling that if I have an idea and I speak about it, everybody is excited and that motivates me to accomplish it."
— A&E reporter Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: General Bye Bye with Saint Solitude, Wages and Hold Your Horses
where: A night of French. And pop. And French-pop.
where: Club 828
when: Friday, Aug. 20 (8 p.m., $5 advance/$8 doors. club828.com)