When we think of one-hit wonders, we are reminded of the most embarrassing people on planet earth. The burnt out wannabe rocker, the deluded pop singer, Shifty Shellshockand Crazy Town, the guy who had that one novelty hit they play at the supermarket. These people are easy targets and often, well, idiots.
I have been to the mountain, friend, and I can confidently say that Eiffel 65, the Italian trio best known for their 1999 robo-hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” defy that stereotype. I know this, because I talked to E65 frontdude Jeffrey Jey, and he was awesome. He’s also multilingual and can sing, two skills my monotone self is lacking.
This isn’t the only thing that Eiffel 65 has taught me. I learned that like many groups known for being one hit wonders, the group are technically two hit wonders as their second single “Move Your Body” peaked in second place on the UK chart. Jeffrey also schooled me on the time he met Bon Jovi, singing “Blue” in Mandarin for the Iron Man 3 soundtrack and most importantly, having one hit is a hell of a lot better a lot better than none hits.
Noisey: Is being a musician your full-time career at the moment?
Jeffey Jey: Always. For the last 23 years that’s been the only thing I’ve been doing.
You were part of the early wave of mainstream acts to use auto-tune since the funk era. How did you start using it?
It starts off with the vocoder. We had "Blue" rolling and we didn't want to limit the way we were using instruments in the studio with synths and drums so we expanded this idea to the voice too. That's what got us started using vocoders and auto-tune.
Do you think you might have influenced someone like Kanye West?
Well, I really don't know if we can say that. What I can say is that we were part of a process that was already ongoing. We had Cher back then with auto-tune and Daft Punk were already using vocoder in a great part of their productions. It was something that came out of the 70s scene so we picked up something that was already moving around us. We somehow pushed it a little bit, but it was something that was already there.
Did you see the interview with Daft Punk talking about how they loved “Blue”?
I read a few posts about it on my Twitter or Facebook, but I never saw the actual interview. That would have been really nice because that’s a great honor for us. Daft Punk, I think they’re really really great. They have definitely put an important page in the book for electronic music.
How did you come up with the name Eiffel 65?
We were producing a lot back in those days and we noticed that we were wasting a lot of time trying to find names for the new projects so what we did was we took a week or so to create as many new possible names as we could. We made a database on Excel that we were fetching from time to time and when "Blue" came out we fetched Eiffel from the list and that was it. Then what happened was we had the label copy [of “Blue”] on our producer’s desk and he was writing a phone number that went over the paper he was using and ended up on the label copy. The last two digits of the phone number were six and five so the graphic artist thought we put that in our name afterwards so it was a really curious way to get to that.
What about the lyrics for "Blue?"
It speaks of something I believe in a lot. I think that everyone has their own color you know? They filter their entire lives with that colour. So the things they buy, the houses they buy, the people they want to see, the places they live, the cars they have. They all reflect that color, it's incredible that everyone has that. So I used a metaphor. It's a way of saying with my filter I have a blue house, a blue window etc.
"Blue" was recently featured in Iron Man 3. Were you involved in that process?
Well, we were asked to help somehow get this thing rolling. When I was called, they were saying, "Listen, we might have ‘Blue’ in Iron Man, we have to provide a Mandarin version of the song." I was like, “What!? How am I supposed to be singing in Mandarin?" The guy says, “Well we have a teacher and we can work this thing out." So I was in the studio like two days after with the teacher working out the words for the intro and I actually did sing the entire intro one afternoon in Mandarin and I've heard that it sounds pretty good. That was an interesting process to go through, because I was so used to singing "Blue" in English. I've sung it like a thousand times. The biggest surprise for me was actually going with all my friends to the movies and being like, "Ok, guys I know the song is in the movie, but I don't know where" and it was the only thing playing during the Marvel and Paramount intro and I was like "Oh my god, we are in the intro to this movie." That was a really big thrill.
Though they may look old now, the computer graphics for the "Blue" video were pretty high-tech at the time.
Well that came from our great love of video games and we had a video department that was working a lot on 3d at the time. So we were lucky enough to have some input into what we wanted and it worked out perfectly, we had people working there who now work for Dreamworks and on stuff like that. We were lucky enough to have this thing pushed a lot on kids who were looking at this as a sort of cartoon thing and that helped turn it onto families and getting "Blue" to a bigger audience.
You guys worked with a green screen?
That was really funny because we didn't have any green screen experience at the time. Moving around and acting like we were in a movie was kinda like a new level for us. It was something we'd never done before and we had no reference so we had to imagine that something that was there that wasn't. I had a great time doing it. There were Martians and all that kind of stuff, you had to be surprised and do an expression.
One of my early musical memories is watching you guys on Top of the Pops, where you've performed twice. How was that experience?
Well, I have to be honest. I really didn't understand what we had done until after we did it. At the time we were touring and going around so fast we didn't have time to realize, "Oh my god, we're doing Top of the Pops." We were playing the Dodger Stadium in the US and I'm standing right next to Jon Bon Jovi, and I'm like this is not happening. Normally if you have the time to understand you would get the sensation that this is actually happening. When I did get the feeling that we had done Top of the Pops was when I got the prize at home and when we finally stopped touring. I thought, "We actually did it." It was like something we lived, but with some delay. We were eating in cars and sleeping like 2-3 hours a night. It was really, really hectic.
Was that performance pre-recorded?
There were lots of places where we were not allowed to actually sing and because there were lots of artists jumping in, it was really hard to sound check everybody. We were mainly asking for an open mic so I could communicate with the people and I don't like lip-syncing, I think it's terrible.
How do you feel when you look back on that period in your life? Is it unreal?
Well it is something that you don't normally live through on an everyday basis. You don't sleep a lot, you're eating in strange places with strange food and it goes by so fast that you really can't hold onto it. If I could go back and change something I would probably somehow make it easier for us to relax from time to time and not have to go through everything so fast. But that's the way it went, and I am lucky it went that way because we did actually go through great parts of the world, go on TV shows, meet people and thank the fans for giving us the opportunity to be what we are today.
How was meeting Bon Jovi?
We didn't even realize what was happening. I shook The Edge's hand at the MTV Music Awards and we spoke for a while and we were hanging out with people like Robbie Williams, big names. Even touring with these guys, we were seeing Lenny Kravitz, we had Beyoncé on a radio tour with us and like I said, I realized all of this when I got home and started telling my friends about it because seeing their faces like "OH MY GOD YOU WERE WITH BON JOVI!?" and we were like... "Yeah." They would be like, “Well aren't you surprised about this, aren't you happy about this? And I was like ... “Holy shit, yeah I am.” When you are there in the moment it really just doesn't hit you that hard.
What was it like returning home after touring non-stop and the sudden success?
I have to be honest, it was nice because you start missing your family and getting to see your friends. Even going to the movies was something really hard to be fitting in during those days and actually having the opportunity to slow down just a little bit and catch some air made going home nice and getting back on tour even better.
Let's talk about the song "My Console." It's pretty unique to hear a song all about videogames, are you still a big gamer?
You kidding? I still play (laughs). I got the Ps4 at home, I get Assassins Creed going when I can. I love it. Once you're into videogames you are going to take that to the grave, there's no way you're going to get rid of it. If you still have that little kid inside of you, you're taking that console to the grave with you.
Were you ever sponsored by Playstation?
Strangely no. That's something I would have liked, not being sponsored with money or anything like that, but I would have loved to write a song that would have ended up in a game or being part of a videogame somehow. We got "Blue" and "Move Your Body" on Rockband and that was nice, but back in those days having something put into a videogame that you really could have played like a soccer game or something that would have been nice. That would have been really special, being part of it, but we didn't have that opportunity back then.
People always simplify musicians down to their hit songs. How do you feel about that?
It's always going to be like that and music is really incredible in that way because you are your last “thing.” What's really good back in the day is that when you had a hit everybody knew about it, but if you had a flop nobody knew about it because you didn't have the internet like you do today. No social media to get what's going on in your life in everyone's hands. Now days your hit is there as much as your flop is. But I think that's not the best thing to be concentrating on if you are a musician. The only thing you can be concentrating on is having a lot of fun in doing what you are doing and hopefully someone's going to like it. That is really the only way to keep yourself alive in this business.
Do you feel you've written better songs that went unnoticed?
I don't really look at it that way. I don't know how to live music that way. We try to keep it down to having fun as if it's like going to a friends house and playing around on a computer and being surprised at what comes out rather than concentrating on programming. There are other people that work for you that do that for a living. I think that as an artist the best thing you can do is be concentrated on your feeling inside the studio and keeping yourself alive that way. If you start keeping your head on the business, like I have to write a song like this and this is what's working out best on radio etc, you're not writing music for yourself anymore. If that steps out of your life as an artist, somehow you're going to be in trouble. If you really love music, you're always surprised at writing something new. That's the only way to live. If that's not something that keeps you awake and stops you from sleeping, something inside of you changes and turns making music into hell.
Why do you think your second album Contact! didn’t have the same impact as the first?
You really can't tell, ya know? You really don't know why something works out and why something doesn't. Maybe it was just the change of sound, I don't know. You would have to go interview all the people that didn't buy the album, what we did was write a new album and try to keep up we were doing with the first.
When I look at musicians that had a period of popularity, it seems like they go two ways. They either keep making music or they fall off into drugs or something like that. Why do you think that is?
That's a tough question. I can really say that the music business for an artist can be consuming if you actually start measuring yourself or your success. That could be something hard to handle and it is true that sometimes the higher the highs the lower the lows. So going really high can make falling a lot longer and a lot stronger. That's a part of everyday life, you know. That happens with your friends, that happens with your family, that happens with your everyday job so it's something you have to learn to handle. You have to learn to look inside of yourself and see what you really want to be, and what you really want to do. Some people don't like ending up in that kind of mechanism and just jump off. That's the reason why many people that were in the music business just end up giving up or letting go because that becomes just too consuming for them. It’s something that you have to face in every day life, you're going to get married and you can divorce or you’re going to lose someone that you really care about like a friend or something like that and that's hard to handle just like going up and down with music. Of course being in the music industry is not as hard as losing a friend, but it is something that you have to learn to handle and take care of because that is going to make you a stronger person.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @NZJimmy