On its surface, “J’aime les oiseaux” is a bright electro-pop-rock paean to birds, with a shout-out chorus. But there’s a deeper current to the song by Yann Perreau, from his fifth solo album, Le Fantastique des astres. Avian flight was inspired by the acclaimed Quebec singer-songwriter’s experiences after ingesting ayahuasca. And Perreau is grateful for what the psychedelic brew—taken by indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin—has opened up for him.
“It’s very purifying, a beautiful thing,” says Perreau, reached at his Montreal home. “This latest time, I was in a circle of friends and we were accompanied by a shaman who sang and people played percussion. Afterwards, it was as if I’d been walking all day in the forest, whereas we’d been in a cabin all the time, singing and living the hallucinations.”
Perreau first took ayahuasca in 1998, in response to the breakup of his first group, Doc et les Chirurgiens. “It was a shock for me, a defeat. A shaman proposed a vision quest, with seven questions for me to come up with, about what I want to change, which direction I want to take, my relations with others. You have to go to the shaman before sunrise, near a tree in the forest. Then he leaves you, without food or water, for 24 hours to reflect on your questions. And the shaman calls on spirits.
“Some of us believe in these things, others don’t,” he adds. “I’m someone who can be skeptical, but I like to play with that. If those spirits do exist, so much the better—and if they’re not there, I’ve still lived something spiritual, psychological, physical, and unique. I’ve always been someone who’s experimented, and disliked routine. I’m careful to stay alert. Before the latest ayahuasca experience, I’d been worried because there were major things about to happen in my life: my wife was pregnant with our second child, and I needed to write the songs for a new album. I thought of taking ayahuasca again, and came out feeling I’d grown. It’s not a drug, it’s a medicinal plant. It’s very strong, but if you’re accompanied and you’re doing it with motivation and not just to trip out, then something happens. In my case, it works.”
Animation artist François Fortin’s video for “J’aime les oiseaux” is outstanding. It begins meditatively, as gulls fly over a tranquil blue sea to white cliffs, then through city streets, as the song transforms into pulsing dance-pop. Bosses and office workers gyrate on the terrace of a skyscraper beside a big screen that displays the real Perreau performing—as patterns and colours wash over his body and swarms of birds soar to the beats.
“We didn’t have a big budget,” the singer says. “But he submerged himself completely for a month, 16 hours a day. He’s a perfectionist and a true artisan, and he likes to learn by creating things. For ‘J’aime les oiseaux’ he pushed to the limit a particular animation software that he’s just developed—and the result is amazing.”
Yann Perreau plays Le Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver on Saturday (June 18), as part of the Festival d’Été Francophone de Vancouver.