You don’t need to know French to know that Freedom Fry’s new French album, L’Invitation—out April 9—is destined for the post-Covid dancefloor, or rather la discothèque.
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Freedom Fry is the project of musical collaborators and married couple Marie Seyrat and Bruce Driscoll. Now based in Los Angeles, the duo originally hail from Paris, France, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, respectively. And despite the fact that they initially started working together with the goal of setting Seyrat’s French lyrics to Driscoll’s music, L’Invitation is their first fully French affair.
“I’ve always written poetry, and I started writing lyrics a year before I met him, in French, without knowing how to write music,” Seyrat recently told American Songwriter over the phone. “So that’s what I was struggling with—I was missing the element of music. When he came along a year later, he was the missing piece for that. And for many other aspects of my life, not to be too cheesy. But it’s strange how life [works]: when you need something, it suddenly appears.”
That was ten years ago. Since then, Freedom Fry have established themselves as prolific folk-pop practitioners, but L’Invitation is their dreamiest, danciest effort yet. Musically, it’s a major departure from the wistful, Americana-tinged fare on their last album, Songs from the West Coast, released in 2020, though both records share a sunny spirit.
In L’Invitation, that spirit manifests in resplendent, technicolor electro-pop. According to Seyrat and Driscoll, the album is about new beginnings and staying positive. Standout disco-hewed numbers “Corde Sensible” and “Gang Des Filles” could soundtrack a never-ending night out, but the record as a whole feels like the musical equivalent of someone reaching out their hand to pull you to the dancefloor—or maybe to a Ryan McGinley photoshoot or a secret rave in the woods. Wherever we’re being taken, it’s definitely a warm, happy place. “We’re very positive people,” says Seyrat, “which is strange for musicians, I know.”
Freedom Fry spoke to American Songwriter about writing and producing French-pop disco stunners from their backyard studio, embracing optimism, and channeling Serge Gainsbourg. Check out the full interview and listen to the duo’s latest singles below.
American Songwriter: Where are you right now?
Bruce Driscoll: We are in the back, actually by our studio in the back of our house. We live just south of Hollywood.
AS: Have you been there for most of the pandemic?
Bruce: We’ve been here the whole time, basically, locked away.
Marie Seyrat: We’re lucky to have a house. We have an outdoor area to hang out, so it doesn’t feel like we’re confined in a little space, which is good because we have a toddler.
Bruce: We have a two-year-old, which, if you know anything about the terrible twos, let me tell you…
AS: They’re real?
Bruce: They’re real! It’s not a myth.
AS: So when did the songs on your new album come together?
Bruce: I think a year ago. We always write so far in advance, and I don’t think we initially even knew it was going to be a whole album of French songs. We thought maybe we’d do another EP. We always kind of think in terms of singles, but then this batch started to come together and it seemed obvious to try something we hadn’t done before and do a whole thing in French.
Marie: But we’ve always talked about doing this since the beginning.
Bruce: That was the initial idea for the band. When I met Marie, I heard her sing in French and I said, “Oh, we should do something where you sing in French,” and it took us this long to actually do something that was a full album in French.
AS: When was that?
Bruce: That was April, actually, of 2011. So it took us a decade to do it.
AS: Had you written much music in French before this project, Marie?
Marie: So, when we met, I was not in music at all. But I’ve always wanted to be a singer. I’ve always been singing for my friends. It’s something that I loved, however in France it didn’t seem feasible. But a year before I met Bruce, for some reason, I don’t know why, I started writing lyrics. I’ve always written poetry, and I started writing lyrics a year before I met him, in French, without knowing how to write music. So that’s what I was struggling with—I was missing the element of music. When he came along a year later, he was the missing piece for that. And for many other aspects of my life, not to be too cheesy. But it’s strange how life [works]: when you need something, it suddenly appears.
AS: So this idea for a French record was on the back-burner for a decade?
Bruce: We live here [in the United States], so the focus was always doing songs in English, and a few in French here and there. [We did] a lot of covers that Marie would translate into French.
Marie: Yeah, we did a lot of covers throughout the past few years actually.
Bruce: When these [songs] started to come together, it felt like a cool thing, like, let’s try to release something with a focus on France, ‘cause we’re always trying to do something different and not repeat ourselves too much. So it felt like a good opportunity to do that. And with the pandemic, you know, we’ve been home so much. We had the opportunity to really focus on writing and making sure the songs sounded how we wanted them to.
AS: Where are you both from originally?
Marie: I’m from the center of Paris. That’s where I grew up, and I moved here in 2007.
Bruce: I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan, originally.
AS: So was French your first language, Marie?
Marie: Yes, I started learning English when I was three years old though.
Bruce: Some people say they don’t hear your accent.
Marie: I think I do have one, but it’s mainly when I’m tired.
Bruce: Well, when you’re tired you also start speaking in both languages without realizing it.
AS: For those that don’t speak French, what are some of the lyrical themes?
Marie: That was interesting, too, because usually we write lyrics together, and for some reason it was hard for me to be the one solely in charge of all that. Coming up with different themes initially was a struggle because I’m not used to that exercise of being on my own in a room and trying to find all these subjects at once.
Bruce: I think a lot of the [record]—you can tell me if I’m wrong—a lot if it is about starting again, like a new beginning.
Marie: It’s exactly that. Or, if you fail, you’ve got to believe in [what you’re doing] still. We’re very positive people, which is strange for musicians, I know!
Bruce: Yeah, we’re optimists.
Marie: We wrote [the album] during the pandemic. Things got hard, even for us.
Bruce: Things were dark. 2020 was such a dark year.
Marie: I was forcing those positive thoughts to come out of me and [forcing myself] to put them on paper and in music. It was therapeutic throughout the year for me. It was a nice exercise. I do believe in attracting positive when you think positive, so that’s what we try to do on a daily basis when things are difficult.
AS: Did you record in your backyard studio?
Bruce: Yeah, everything for the most part was recorded here except we hired a string arranger [Richard Curran] for quite a few of the songs, who was based in Manchester. We also have a drummer friend [Simon LeSaint] who we met on tour with Stromae back in 2015. He was Stromae’s drummer. He played drums on I think three of the songs. He’s in Belgium. We were doing each other favors: he would have me play guitar on some of his songs, and then I was like, “Want to play drums on this one?” So he would do it and then send me back his tracks and they were great. We just rolled with those for three of the tunes.
AS: Musically, how would you compare L’Invitation to your previous releases? To me, it definitely sounds more dance-y.
Marie: Yes, I do think we have a lot of genres though.
Bruce: I would agree that it’s more of a dance-y record.
Marie: I do feel like, in France, music tends to be more disco, and that’s what I’m drawn to.
Bruce: There is a funky undercurrent in a lot of French popular music. Like, basslines get funky. They’re not afraid to put a dance beat behind something.
Marie: We love Serge Gainsbourg, so that’s always something that, when we write in French…
Bruce: Yeah, [I was also] going for chord progressions that are less typical and trying to just choose some things that are tonally a bit different than what we’ve done before. Not doing basic one-four-five things, just trying to push it and find melodies that are strange and fresh-sounding to us.
AS: What are some tracks that best achieve that quality?
Bruce: I think “Le Point Zero” has a very interesting chord progression, and yet it doesn’t feel too avant-garde to listen to—it still feels catchy. We’re always trying to push the boundaries but then somehow keep it memorable enough to have that catchy element. That’s always something that’s important for us. I think “Le Point Zero” is a spinoff, in a way. The beginning chords are a bit Nirvana, and then they loop in an interesting way.
Marie: My favorite one is “Le Coeur.”
Bruce: It’s very Gainsbourgh.
Marie: And also “L’Invitation.” It’s a little more rap-like. Well, not rap…
Bruce: It’s a spoken vocal, in the verses.
AS: What are some other French influences or inspirations?
Marie: I mean, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Bruce: Yeah, the whole Gainsbourgh family is very talented.
Marie: We listen to Clara Luciani.
Bruce: You always listen to Vanessa Paradis. We always love Phoenix, Air, the ones that have made it over here, too.
Marie: Something I’ve recently discovered is “Les filles désir.” That’s a song from Vendredi sur Mer. Soko is a singer that I like listening to—she’s a French singer.
Bruce: Polo and Pan. There’s a lot of great French bands. They just have really good melodic sensibilities that appeal to me—to both of us, obviously.
AS: You mentioned that you’re both optimists. Where else have you found optimism over the last year?
Bruce: Our son—he’s the next generation. He has no idea what he just lived through. He had to wear a mask, but he’s just smiling through all of it.
Marie: Sometimes you have time to sit down and do nothing, and I think those are the times where you question yourself and things get darker. Because [our son] was filling so much of our time…
Bruce: We didn’t have time to stew or get too depressed.
AS: I know you’ve done some virtual performances, but have you missed being in front of audiences?
Bruce: Yeah, it’s definitely a weird, alienating feeling to just talk to a phone screen.
Marie: Yeah, you want to see people’s reactions. It’s an exchange.
Bruce: You want to see, “How do these songs work when you do them for people in real life?” Because you write them, there’s that initial phase where they sound great to you in the studio, and then, like, a month or two later after you’ve heard them a million times you kind of hate them. Not really, but you’ve heard them and you’re too close to them.
I think that first time you play them for an audience again—or whenever you get to play them for an audience—you kind of get to hear them again for the first time in a way, because you see people responding. We haven’t had any of that with these songs, so I’m anxious to get back out and perform some of these newer ones for people. We also have an album that we released during the beginning of the pandemic. We never played those for an audience, so there are two [Freedom Fry] albums that haven’t seen the light of day in terms of a live show.
AS: How will you celebrate the record release this time around?
Bruce: We filmed a release show that we’re gonna premiere on YouTube. We don’t get to travel much, since we mostly play in California, so it’s a nice way for fans in France or anywhere else in the world to watch a set.
Marie: There’s also a new song coming out at the end [of the premiere].
L’Invitation is out April 9.