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Julien-K: Dark and sexy

American band Julien-K is designed to conquer the European scene. Their debut album “Death to Analog” shows a large spectrum of ideas connecting electronics with rock and is published now in Europe by Tiefdruck Musik. Ryan Shuck and Amir Derakh – known as guitar players from platinum winning band Orgy - look back on nearly three decades writing, engineering and playing music beginning from metal and becoming more electronic. Is this the band we are looking for which adds a new piece of revolution to the world of music? We got the answer from Ryan Shuck, vocals and guitars, and Amir Derakh, keyboards and guitars, in Hamburg.

How did you meet Tiefdruck music – who are usually more in rock and metal - and decided, they would be the right partner for you to publish your debut album “Death to analog” in Europe?
Ryan: I heard about them through the singer of the band Orgy, Jay Gordon. We met with Daniel of Tiefdruck Musik in Paris, and we came along pretty well. He is definitely close to the kind of mind that we are and ready to try some new paths.

“Death to analog” was first released on March 2009 in the USA. How were the reactions on it?
Ryan: Great, yes, the reactions were great. The album already is in some charts and inside of the Top 10 of electronic charts. I heard from a lot of fans it’s their favourite record. We sign every day a lot of CDs; we sign Orgy-CDs, Dead by Sunrise CDs, Linkin Park CDs and Julien-K CDs. Those fans from all the other bands do really love the Julien-K. They really support it and come to every show. We wanted to create a record which we would love and the fans would love, too. When I step out and watch from outside on Julien-K, I ask the question, what would I like, what would turn me on. Right now it would be a band that has a look like we have on stage and how we perform. We want to play electronic music that really rocks. We want to create real rock concerts but with an electronic feeling, darker and sexier. We started Julien-K for this reason.

There exists the statement of Ryan “why is there no band out there which really creates something new, something revolutionary…” Does Julien-K want to be such a band?
Ryan: I think, actually there is no band out there which brings the entire package that we are. We pay much attention to the look, the design, the fashion and on all the little details together with the vibes, so that people can really invest emotions in it and get inside close to it. The music together with the packaging is what we stand for.

How do you create your music and songwriting, how do you work together? You announced that Ryan would have the foot on the gas and Amir his hands on the wheel… What does this exactly mean?
Ryan: Yes, I say go go go, and he says, where exactly. We both have the ideas. A lot of my ideas come along with his ideas.
Amir: I guess, because I really want to be a producer. He comes with a lot of ideas, and I have to figure out to where these leads and to make a sense from a big picture. The lyrics mostly come from Ryan, I do add some titles. The lyrics are honest about real life situations like relationships, dilemmas and survival, not giving up, pushing ourselves, pushing us forwards.

What’s with the drum lines? Do you give ready lines to your drummer Elias or does he add ideas by himself?
Amir: Well, basically all what you hear on the record is programmed, there is no live drumming. It’s all done in the computer. Elias is mainly our live drummer for the shows. I personally do the final work. I take care that everybody fits into the whole picture.

You work close together with Chester Bennington, singer of Linkin Park, with whom you founded the band Dead by Sunrise – what is his part in Julien-K?
Amir: We can’t define a role for him, because he helps us in a number of different ways. He helps to write better vocal parts. He helps Ryan to become a better singer. He helps us in many ways in the studio and even outside of the studio in a managing way. We like to call him our executive producer. He is like a brother; it’s like in a family.

The album was mixed by Tim Palmer, who worked together with U2, The Cure and Him. What can you tell about his work, what did he add?
Amir: He gave us the final ten percent which completed our work.
Ryan: When our work was finished it was pretty good enough for a release. It was done. A lot of people would say, oh, yes, it’s done. But we like to give our work outside of the band and to try to reach 110 percent. I don’t really like my own vocals; I personally don’t like my voice. I am not this kind of super secure person. But Tim went in there, and after his work was done I really appreciated how he treated it. How he treated my vocals it made me feel afterwards much more comfortable with the result. It sounded more unique and better.
Amir: We live with the songs and we get to a certain point, you know, and we mix by ourselves until we come to the point where I want that somebody else takes it and do things about I would not think, because I am too invested and I want to hear something new. I want to hear it brought to life. I want to be excited about it again. If you work with a good mixer, that’s what happens. Tim went in and helped us to finish and co-produce the songs together, even to write together. He actually played some guitar in it, came with a couple of drum parts, we really collaborated together.

A record with quite much collaboration – in a couple of songs I worked together with my cousin, a very talented piano-player, and a couple of songs together with Oscar-nominated song-writers. We are pretty fortune to work with them. And outside of the band we co-operated with an Italian electro-duo; we were collaborating with all these different electronic artists from all around the world on the new record. It’s cool, it gives us energy from different places outside of our way beside the stuff we do. We don’t feel like we have to write everything; we keep on learning and we like the exchange. It makes it interesting, so it doesn’t sound all the same. We let all these influences from outside in.

You worked already together very successful in the band Orgy. What makes the difference between Julien-K and Orgy?
Ryan: I think, in Julien-K we are just more free to dive deeper into the electronic side. With Julien-K we want to create electronic music that rocks and that can played outside together with all the rock-bands, you know. Orgy was always a sort of a battle between to be more a rock band or more an electronic band. Even we use guitars in Julien-K it sounds very pure electronic. A sound that in Orgy we never got. Orgy is a quite complex and difficult band. May be, we could have done some things with Orgy like now with Julien-K, but our singer wasn’t really open to it. The band became a bit of stagnated.
Amir: We wanted to work with other people to learn and grow and to develop as song-writers, musicians. But Orgy was really defined; it was a pretty closed project. We never could really go outside and work for instance with a new producer, with whom we always wanted to work with. With Julien-K we do all what we want. If something turns out what is really cool, we just do it. With Orgy we went more on the known path of a rock-band, but with Julien-K we go deeper into the genre which we live.

There are a lot of influences and genres to discover in the new Julien-K album. Do you have favourites?
Ryan: Depeche Mode is definitely a huge influence. I love The Cure, I love Duran Duran, but I love more heavy music, too.

You call Julien-K´s music darker. What means darkness to you, if you think about songwriting?
Ryan: We often take things like pain, even in songs which sound happier and more like pop, even in a song like “Forever” there is still a bit of a tragic in. The theme of love and commitment has references to loneliness and need and the darker things in our life.

In the 60th and 70th there were a lot of social, political and even religious messages connected with songs and inside the songs. Does music nowadays still contain messages?
Ryan: I think, it does contain still messages, but not pronounced as they were used in the 60th or 70th when actually it was more new to do that. I can say that I put my thoughts about economic or social things or about life situations inside, but I try to do it in a way that people are able to pull their individual meaning out of it. It’s told in a way that’s universal. I don’t want to become this to be the message of the band at all. I want the message of the band to be more about the music and about the emotion. My hope or my goal is to write something people can identify with.

But to go back to the question, I think, absolutely yes, bands like Rage against the Machine they have really strong and obvious political messages. I can’t personally say that I like it, because I don’t want to get taught by a fucking rock band.
Amir: I don’t think that fans of bands like System to a Down do care so much what’s going about, they just catch the energy. May be, some of their fans are really hardcore and they get in for real and take every detail, but not the majority. For them it’s the energy and the vibes.
Ryan: I hate, if things are so super profound. I mean, I try to deliver emotional messages. I do have a pretty strong political view and I could announce this in a message, but I like to paint abstract. I don’t want to bother the whole band with my point of view. We are all together here, and we have to make sure, that I write things, these guys can get in, too.

You work on many different projects and you are very busy - to keep Dead by Sunrise, Julien-K and all your other business rolling´ - even you own three restaurants - means to invest a lot of energy. How do you get your energy back – where is the gas station for your engine?
Ryan: That’s a big question. We do a lot of different things. I go out party. I by myself love cool hotels. Actually the restaurants give us some energy, we get in there, some music is playing and the vibe is right. You have to find out in your life that gives you your special thing, for instance to go out in the streets, fucking some chicks and to be crazy or taking photography or going into a club and having a real great wine, listen to cool music, watching the people, the fashion, the moves.
Amir: Well, travelling and touring is tiring for us, and we get our inspirations by walking around, discovering different cultures and special places.

Something special in Hamburg?
Amir: There is a lot in Hamburg, we really like the city. We feel very comfortable here. It doesn’t feel like a foreign country. This town has definitely a kind of energy. It feels very similar in some ways to L.A. It’s very different compared with the other towns in Germany like Berlin for instance. Berlin was very weird; there is something very dark under the line there. There are for sure cool things, but I felt a bit like out of place and uncomfortable. It’s interesting what kind of energy you can receive from different cities in different parts of the world. There are places which can be very foreign like Taipei, for example.
Ryan: But Japan is really foreign, too, really clean and amazing things everywhere, the fans are amazing, some of the best.
Amir: But it’s so foreign there, the whole mentality is just so odd compared to what we are used to. And then we come to places like here and we don’t feel that way. Nothing here feels odd to me. Travelling gives me a lot of inspiration and adds things to my life and keeps my brain working. I think about all those experiences how I can twist that in what we are doing.

I saw there just was an European tour with Dead by Sunrise. You played four gigs in Germany – how was this going, how were the reactions of the German audience?
Amir: It was amazing. It was really cool to see the people singing to every single song we played.

Is such a tour also in plan for Julien-K?
Ryan: Yeah, we were talking about it during the last days. We would like to do nothing more than to take Julien-K to Europe. I think, Julien-K has really this sort of design for this kind of audience in Europe. We, of course, have a lot of fans in North and South America. Orgy had a pretty huge success in America, but with Julien-K it will be hard to become nowadays as big as with Orgy or Linkin Park.
Amir: The funny thing is, somebody was asking us – do you guys have any bands which you like to call an influence that comes from the US? We were all like dumbfounded. Everything we like comes from England and from here, from Europe.
Ryan: A band I absolutely love is Rammstein.
Amir: Honestly, we make music for Europe. Of course, roots like blues and rock n roll are everywhere inside, but we were not really influenced by things like grunge music and typical American consumer music.
Ryan: This will be a really exciting thing for us to come here to Europe. I think that Julien-K is really a powerful live-band and does completely sound in a different way than all the other bands we were playing with. You have actually to see us live.

Thank you very much for the interview. Are there any famous last words to say?
Ryan: Buy our fucking record!
Amir: Come to see our shows! Thank you!

Julien-K are
Ryan Shuck – vocals, lead guitar
Amir Derakh – guitars, keyboard, backing vocals
Elias Andra - drums
Brandon Belsky – keyboard, bass guitar


Author: Andreas Torneberg, Photos: Julien-K
Date: 2010-03-25

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