The band Orgy was a synthetic and stylized outfit which struck hard in the late 90s with its debut album, “Candyass.” Mixing an intriguing blend of rock, electronica, and glamour, the group vaulted into the spotlight on the strength of their innovative music – though having a spotless New Order cover in its back pocket didn’t hurt, either. Following up with its sophomore album, 2000’s “Vapor Transmission,” Orgy pushed the envelope further, creating a parallel universe populated by the hedonist cyborg spawn of Phillip K. Dick. It appeared to be nothing but bigger and better for Orgy, but then the bottom dropped out. Having parted ways with Reprise, moving to singer Jay Gordon’s D1 label, and preparing for potential member shakeups that never materialized, the band released its third album, “Punk Statik Paranoia,” four years after Vapor, and almost as an afterthought.
It was around this time when rumors began to bubble up concerning an upstart side project called Julien-K. On the initial, stripped down version of its website, Orgy guitarists Ryan Shuck and Amir Derakh offered a glimpse into their future, with samples of electronic pop songs teasing the audience. The album was to be titled “Death to Analog” and its release was meant to be quick and severe, but it was delayed, and delayed, and delayed again. Six years after Julien-K’s formation, “Death to Analog” is finally being released.
But contrary to expectation, the band has not been taking it easy. Including keyboardist Brandon Belsky and drummer Elias Andra, the Julien-K entity has produced video game scores and a slew of remixes, toured on a regular basis, performed as a DJ act, and even created a mirror group, known as Dead by Sunrise, which features Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington on vocals. But with the release of Julien-K’s debut album, the big wait is coming to a close, and as frontman Ryan Shuck explains, the fun begins.
Second Supper: The Julien-K website has been up since 2003, playing samples from the songs that are just now coming out on Death to Analog. What took so long?
Ryan Shuck: It didn’t have much to do with the songs being done, but more to do with the business end – deals and issues that didn’t pertain to music. We got caught up in a bunch of extraneous bullshit that prevented us from releasing the record when we wanted to, which had to do with the business structure of how we wanted to release the album. It’s not that we didn’t utilize the time – we wrote the Dead by Sunrise record at the same time.
SS: Any specifics?
RS: We were going from a larger label to a much larger technology company. We started a new company called Level 7 with an executive named Henry Nicholas and a company called Broadcom. We were encouraged to create a new distribution platform. It would have brought economics back into music and changed everything. But now, [Nicholas] is under serious fire from the government, and that froze our ability to perform for that company. We scrambled and changed our plan, and now we’re doing it the more traditional route.
SS: What ideas did you have to change the industry?
RS: I can’t give a lot of details because some of it is proprietary information, but let’s just say we would have had Apple in our sights, and it would have been ugly.
SS: How did Julien-K form?
RS: We sort of faded into Julien-K out of the disintegration of Orgy. We didn’t know that Orgy was going to not talk to each other for three years.
SS: Was that around the Punk Statik Paranoia phase?
RS: Yeah. Punk Statik Paranoia was a record that we didn’t really intend to put out. It was really a B-side record, and it got cobbled together and brought out without a lot of us signing off on it. It was during those sessions and in trying to do a third record when the band reached a level of out of controlness that would have made Motley Crue proud. We stopped calling each other, did a lot of drugs, and there was excess everywhere. We were successful, so we could do that.
None of us have quit Orgy – it’s still a band and we’re still friends – but Amir and I just kept writing. We’re the electronic guys in the band, the Depeche Mode guys, much more likely to write it on our keyboards. Orgy made it more rock. So Julien-K became this electronic side project we were working on, and we imagined the name as an alter ego to Orgy, an android persona that we could go out and have a dual life under. It ended up becoming the main focus.
SS: Aside from Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, and a few other exceptions, there’s really an absence of electronic groups in the mainstream that avoid using guitars and live drums as an almost disclaimer. Whereas Orgy was more of a rock band that used electronics, Julien-K seems more like an electronic act that occasionally uses guitars.
RS: Yeah, I think you accurately described what we’re doing. We write from a totally electronic standpoint. Occasionally, we need guitars on something, but there are a lot of songs on the record which have no guitars at all. Orgy would have never done that.
I think that I agree; there aren’t many prominent bands that are at their core electronic. What we’re trying to do with Julien-K is be that electronic band, that flag-bearer. Our creed is that we want this to be passionate, honest music, with lyrics that you can actually get into that are real, that are my diary. We want to have melody. We want to deliver songs. We don’t want to just be so abstract and have such fuck you attitude; we do want these songs to work in a pop sense.
SS: Do you feel that many electronic musicians go the vague, vacant, jaded lyrical and musical route?
RS: Most electronic bands that are out right now – and I like a lot of them – are like a pair of really cool new leather boots that you wear for a while. After a while, you’re not ashamed or embarrassed of them, but they just don’t work with what you’re doing anymore. That’s exactly what I don’t want to do. When we started Julien-K, it was a straight electro band. We didn’t even know who was going to sing. I was no lead singer; I sang in Orgy, but I wasn’t the lead. It took Chester Bennington and Amir to coach me and help me understand that I could actually be the lead singer. We almost fell victim to that jump off the electro, because we were always doing that type of music, but we stood back and said that we didn’t want to be a part of this act. We’ve got to write songs, songs that you could play on an acoustic guitar or a piano, even though we’re going full-on electro.
SS: I saw Orgy play a show in 2004, and it looked like you were working yourself up to be a frontman, sharing a lot of the singing with Jay. At that point, were you trying to psyche yourself up?
RS: In all the bands I’ve been in, I wrote and sang vocals. On some of those records, the vocals are me singing. Live, I sang a lot. Jay was always really comfortable with that because he liked to be able to perform and jump around, and that gave him more ability to catch his breath. It gave me the ability to stretch out and find my legs and become what we are now. I give Jay a lot of kudos for allowing me to have that freedom and encouraging me to do that.
SS: How did you round out Julien-K?
RS: Brandon was an intern in Orgy, our engineering assistant. He was just a kid back then, around 16 years old, and he worked on our last record. The more I got to know him, and especially after Orgy faded out, Brandon started becoming this tall, cool looking, super hard worker – and he could play every instrument, and sing. We started working on music together, hanging out, and just being friends. It sort of organically happened that Brandon found himself becoming part of the band.
With Elias, after we learned that this would be a band and not just me and Amir, we set out to find a drummer that would make us rock, that would turn us from this electronic band to a truly powerful live act.
SS: Even though Death to Analog took years to be released, Julien-K has done a sizable amount of touring, alongside such acts and events as Projekt Revolution and Mindless Self Indulgence. Did touring influence the final recordings on Death to Analog?
RS: A lot of it is translating the recording to a live act, but we designed the music because we’ve been in a multi-platinum touring band for 10 years. We have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing when we write, in terms of having to translate to live. We write like a hip-hop band, like an electronic band. We sit in there, and there are keyboards everywhere, programmed shit. We have guitars in our hands and work things out there. I’ll jump up and sing a melody. We don’t really play it live, but somehow there are songs that – even in Orgy – would turn out live! They would really, really work well. We usually will change them a little bit as we start playing them, rewrite a part so it will feel a little better live. That’s cool. I feel that songs should have a different feel live, that there should be something special about it live. And then the studio version should be the definitive example of the song, what you wanted to achieve in the studio. I have a lot of fun with that; we make the studio version as awesome as we can. Live, we let it be what it’s going to be, and it really worked out well.
SS: In addition to the band itself and the album, Julien-K consists of a DJ act, and the group is always remixing songs as well as providing soundtracks to video games. Did you always see Julien-K as something bigger than a band releasing albums?
RS: Absolutely. It’s a creative team. Julien-K is two bands: Dead by Sunrise where Chester sings and writes the main body of work, and Julien-K where I sing and write the main body of work. There’s also a production team; as we speak we’re producing a band called The Delta Fiasco, an amazing band from Liverpool. And it’s a remix team. We’ve only been doing a few remixes a month. We scored the entire game of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. That’s an entire album of music. We have three hours of music coming out this year! It’s pretty ridiculous.
We do all these different things, but to make it easy, it’s a group of friends: me, Chester, Amir, Brandon, Anthony Valcic, and Elias. We’re all these different things, but Julien-K is the identity.
SS: Considering that Dead by Sunrise being comprised of all the members of Julien-K, how is its music different?
RS: It is very different; I’m amazed by how different it is. It’s much more a rock band. There are keyboards because we are who we are, but most songs start out with an acoustic guitar. It’s written more like a traditional rock band. They’re straightforward, really good songs. I think the Dead by Sunrise record is probably going to be a big record. You can’t act like Chester’s not the singer in it, and everything he sings sounds amazing. He’s the primary writer in Dead by Sunrise, so it’s going to have a completely different feel than what I would write in Julien-K. The cool thing about it is that Dead by Sunrise allows us to go be that band, a heavier, song oriented rock band – and still make it cool and dark and edgy with electronics added to it – and we have Chester singing. He’s the best singer in the world! And then Julien-K allows us to be complete purists. We can focus on staying true to what we wanted to do – be a dark, melodic, electro-pop band, and not worry about branching out into those other bases.
I just heard the rough mixes a couple of days ago, and I have a feeling that this is going to be a lot of work!
SS: Is there a conflict, touring-wise?
RS: It’s going to be pretty complicated, but what we’re going to try to do is create something really cool for our fans. It is the same band, so there are a lot of really interesting things we could do. We haven’t booked any touring for Julien-K because we’re finishing the Dead by Sunrise record right now, and we’re trying to wait as long as we can wait to make any plans. Linkin Park’s recording a record right now, too. They’re totally supportive of Dead by Sunrise and Julien-K, and we’re all friends. There are a lot of interesting possibilities where it could go.
SS: Any possibilities of doing a combination Julien-K/Dead by Sunrise show?
RS: Of course. There are thoughts, and even more than that, but it’s all just talk right now. Let’s say Dead by Sunrise played some radio festival in Europe. Well, obviously Julien-K will be out there, too, where Julien-K, on its own, may not have the ability to go to Europe immediately. We have a lot of really great options. We can play Dead by Sunrise shows, and in between play Julien-K shows. We can do Linkin Park shows, and in between play Dead by Sunrise shows. There are some really cool things that we’re talking about doing, and they’re not going to be hard to do, but the hard part is making it work on a business level. There are logistical disasters that we’re going to have to figure out to make things work, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be a pretty interesting year as far as touring. We’re going to do things that really can’t be done by any other band.
SS: Are there any plans of doing future Orgy material?
RS: I wouldn’t say never. We’re definitely talking. Jay, Amir, and I have been talking recently, and kind of rekindled our friendship. We’ve been talking about doing some shows, or a big show – maybe a Coachella type of thing – but Amir and I aren’t capable of committing to Orgy this year. We love Orgy; I think it’s still cool and still relevant, and I’d love to do more stuff.
SS: It seems as though things are coming together for you professionally. Where are you personally?
RS: I have such a huge backlog of music built up in the past four years in the desert. It’s hell, going through all sorts of terrible personal things. Chester had a pretty serious battle with addiction, and we all lived together during the recording of both of these records. Our friendship grew to a level that’s incredible. Everyone is like brothers. We shared each other’s problems and miseries. Everyone went through a lot of huge changes. In the middle of it all, some random thing like the U.S. government leveling its sights on the CEO of my company and fucking our entire plan up happened. There’s such a backlog of music that I desperately want to get it out and be judged by it, and have people accept it or shun it. I want people to know who I am, where I’m at, and what I have to say. That will allow me to allow new music to come inside my head. I always get these ideas and inspirations, and I sing them onto a voice recorder. I have 35 songs on it right now, but I can’t even think about recording them because I need to get this huge fucking pile of music that I think is amazing out. People are going to be blown away when they put together Dead by Sunrise and Julien-K, the Transformers soundtrack, all the remixes that are out, and they realize that this group of people has been putting together a library of awesome music. It’s real, it’s authentic, and I just desperately want to release.
SS: Are you going to be releasing this material at a much faster clip than in the past decade?
RS: Definitely. A lot of it’s going to come out. Under the current deal that we have, we don’t really have any obstacles to putting music out. We can crank out music pretty quickly.
SS: You used to be a professional hairdresser. Is it something you still do?
RS: I have four clients, and they don’t pay me: Amir, Brandon, Elias, and occasionally Chester. I still cut Jerry Popoff from the band Lit, all my friends that come over to my house. I cut my girlfriend’s hair occasionally.
SS: It’s a labor of love, now.
RS: Yeah. I do it because I’m good at it. The band’s image and the way we look are very much designed. Everyone can do a look, everyone’s into fashion and style naturally. But from the top there has to be a directive of the way a band is going to be packaged, and it’s just as important as the music. It’s fun. It’s real. We live this. So my background in hair is really useful, but I own three restaurants, I have 100 employees, I’m in three bands. It’s stupid. I can’t have a job.
Julien-K’s debut album, Death to Analog, is available March 10th.