Ukulele & Languages

Different countries,
Different cultures
one common language... the ukulele.

An interview with Valérie Charlot from Les Poupées Gonflées

26 2010

I have featured a cool video of  Les Poupées Gonflées in one of my Weekly Ukulele World Tour post before and when I saw that they were about to release an album in which the ukulele played an important part, I set out to interview Valérie Charlot, the ukulele player in the band. Valérie seems to be seriously smitten by UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome).

Version française de l’interview des Poupées Gonflées ici.

Here is my translation of the interview. To read the original version in French, click here.

U&L: How was the band Les Poupées Gonflées formed? Can you introduce the different band members?

Valérie: Les Poupées Gonflées have been around for a year and a half but I started writing songs in the Poupées Gonflées style about 2 years ago. After writing my first originals, I started looking for accomplices!

Bebop was an obvious choice as we had previously been singing together in a band (swing) and because we had been friends for a long time. She plays the guitar as well as unlikely percussions (everyday life objects used as musical instruments such as keys, a necklace, a watering can…).

Meeting Titi was a stroke of good fortune. She plays the acoustic bass.

I play the ukulele and chromatic concertina. My uke is a soprano Kapono from New-Zealand, made of koa, which I really love. I sometimes steal my son’s Hamano to get a more muffled sound. I dream of a Koaloha (like you Armelle) or of a Lo Prinzi, in koa as well. I am also tempted by a soprano Chevalier but I will first invest in an electro-acoustic Risa to play on gigs.

As I had already written songs for Bebop and Titi’s personal repertoire before starting the Poupées Gonflées project, they both trusted me to write songs for the band.

We started rehearsing intensively about a year and a half ago and did our first gig in October 2009 (as first part for a band). Our first CD was released in October 2010 so as you can see we have not waisted any time!

Les Poupées Gonflées sing Où est-il?

U&L: What would you say are the characteristics of your band Les Poupées Gonflées ?

Valérie: A rather cheeky sense of humour which speaks to women and makes men laugh. Elaborate vocal harmonies, modest but effective instruments. No musical taboos whatsoever.

U&L: You are working on a new CD which is going to be released in January. What will be on the CD and how much ukulele will be featured ?

Valérie: We’ve just recorded 14 tracks, 11 of which being original songs. The CD also features an adaptation of Django Reinhardt (vocals), an old French standard completely revisited with the help of a skillful arranger friend _ the only man of the crew with Mathieu, our sound engineer_, and a cover of a song by Ricet Barrier (an old rogue from the Chanson Française and a ukulele player).

The ukulele is prominent in our repertoire except on 4 of the tracks (one of them being an a cappella song). All the rhythms are played on the uke. I write all the songs on the uke and check all vocal harmonies with the piano as I only have 2 vocal chords!

U&L: There is a lot of vocal work in your songs, how do you work on vocal lines in your songs? Do you write lyrics first and then work on the instruments or do you start from a melody played on an instrument ?

Valérie: This varies quite a bit. For example, in the song Badoum I started playing a few chords, the melody then came by itself and the lyrics followed. However in most cases, I am guided by the lyrics. On one of the songs the melody came to me while driving, so as you can see, there are no constants.

Les Poupées Gonflées : Les Copines de La Femme de Mon Mari

U&L: Do you sing your songs A Cappella to adjust your vocal lines ?

Valérie: I write the vocal lines and I then input them into a software program called Finale which makes beautiful music sheets. I then submit them to the other two and I try to take their tessitures into account as I know them well.

We make the necessary changes at the end of the first rehearsal, I rework my music sheets and it takes us about 6 weeks to get a song which sounds really right, especially when the song includes a chorus of harmonised voices.

U&L: You have recently played as first part for Bob Brozman, how did that feel ?

Valérie: It has such an effect that I first refused. We were in the middle of our recordings in the studio and I wanted to remain calm and composed…

But as the request came from our excellent friend and inspired musician Mathieu Presqué, I eventually changed my mind two hours before the concert (so I didn’t have time to get stressed out!)

We played Stand by Me on ukulele and lap steel guitar for the first time in front of Mr. Brozman himself!

Besides the excellent evening I spent in his company (he is delicious and his concert was excellent) it will remain a good memory, especially since I am a fair rhythm ukulele player and not at all a ukulele hero!

Les Poupées Gonflées performing Carlito

Les Poupées Gonflées on MySpace

Les Poupées Gonflées on YouTube


  1. Herman Vandecauter on the 26th of November 2010 @ 21:33

    J’aime ce trio! Une belle page sur ton site!

  2. Ron Hale on the 27th of November 2010 @ 03:04

    Easily one of the tastiest treats in the ukulele world, but they needn’t restrict themselves to us, of course. I’ve a feeling that France as a whole welcomes them.

  3. Armelle Europe on the 27th of November 2010 @ 11:31

    Herman : Contente que tu apprécies ce sympathique trio!

  4. Armelle Europe on the 27th of November 2010 @ 11:35

    Ron: I think the ukulele as well as the vocal harmonies are very much part of the Poupées Gonflées sound and identity. So I wouldn’t say they ‘restrict’ themselves by using the uke.

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