Julien K started as a side project of Ryan Shuck and Amir Derakh, members of the seminal 90s death pop band Orgy. Officially formed in 2003, the duo quickly made a name for themselves and became one of the genre's leading figures. For over two decades, they have released critically-acclaimed albums and made tracks for popular video games like Sonic the Hedgehog.
We talked with Amir and discussed the band's history, success in the 90s, and what they've done with APM's indie artist library, Kinetik.
Hi Amir. Nice to be speaking with you, and thanks for agreeing to talk about your work in Julien-K. Can you start by talking about your background in bands?
Amir: Sure. I used to be in a band called Orgy, which had success in the 90s and early 2000s when we sold a few million albums. Once we disbanded, my focus shifted to Julien-K, a band I started with Orgy's other guitar player, Ryan Shuck. I've been the producer for both Orgy and Julien-K, and I still work independently as an engineer and mixer. I tend to say that mixing is my day job, and being in a band is my night job (laughs).
Julien K - Your Lies Are Like Fire (Video)
How did you and Ryan first come into contact with each other?
Amir: We met through Jay Gordon, the lead singer for Orgy. All of us were friends with the guys in Korn, and Ryan was actually in the first incarnation of that band. He co-wrote "Blind", which became a massive song. Jay told me that Ryan was looking to start a new band, so we got together, and things clicked immediately. Ryan also sings in Adema, another popular 90s band that I produce for.
How do you juggle all these simultaneous bands? Isn't that a challenge?
Amir: You just do it (laughs). When Ryan is on tour with Adema, we can't play shows with Julien-K, so it's either one or the other. In 2022, we did two tours with each band. Additionally, each group requires a different approach - Julien-K is a three-man act, whereas Adema is a full band, and the former is mostly programmed drums done in-the-box whereas Adema is a live band.
How influential was Orgy during your run in the 90s? Would you say the band had a significant impact on the rock scene?
Amir: I'd say we had some degree of influence, especially now that the death pop genre is experiencing a revival. A few of our songs got into the Top 10, like "Stitches," "Fiction," and our cover of "Blue Monday." We also had our videos on TRL, which was bigger than having a radio hit. Back then, we were lumped together with other nu-metal bands, but we were actually fusing nu-metal with other genres like new wave and industrial, and part of our sound came from drop tuning our guitars, which is something other bands like Korn and Coal Chamber also did. That said, we added melodies on top of our riffs, which made us different. Even Adema were probably influenced by Orgy, though they had more success than we did.
Orgy - Stitches (Video)
Did selling millions of albums in the 90s allow you to become financially secure moving forward?
Amir: There was more money to be made back then due to album sales, but it was up to each band member to manage their finances. Luckily, Ryan and I were smart with our money and now own three successful restaurants in LA, although music is still our main focus.
Can you talk about the work you do in helping to push other artists' music? How are things going with that?
Amir: We have a company called Framework that was started a year ago. It's made up of a record label, distribution arm, and marketing department. All the bands we work with are put through that system, including our own. It's growing quickly as other artists take interest in our services, which are similar to what a major label offers. To be honest, most major label deals come with horrible terms. It might be worth it if you're a pop star, but as a rock band, you don't need that kind of deal when all the same tools are accessible online. We're also able to keep costs at a minimum by outsourcing things on a need-be basis. We don't have a manager, though we might hire one to address specific problems, and it's the same with merch, PR, marketing, graphic design, photography, and studio locations. However, the two things we do have are a booking agent, which you need in order to do proper touring in the US, and attorneys for occasional legal advice.
Amir: It was, and it wasn't. The album did well in Europe, but the US label didn't get behind it, and there was no explanation why. Julien-K formed from frustrations within Orgy, but it was a side project that became our main one when we left the first band. Chester was actually a part of Julien-K from the start and wanted to be the lead singer, but we weren't sure it was a fit musically, so we created Dead By Sunrise instead. He had a bunch of song ideas that Linkin Park wasn't interested in, so he'd play us some of them, and we eventually started working on them. He lived at Ryan's during the making of the album and would use an acoustic guitar to make demos in the studio. The first of those was "Let Down." Within a matter of days, Ryan, Fu and myself turned it into what you hear now. When Chester heard the final version, he flipped out over how good it sounded and said we should make more.
Dead By Sunrise - Let Down (Video)
Where did the band's name come from?
Amir: Chester came up with "Dead By Sunrise" because he didn't want the band to be named after himself as if it was his solo project. That might've worked against us in the long run, but things were great until the label got involved - that's when things got weird. We had to do a lot of politicking to get the record out, and I think the release suffered because of it. I still think it's a great album, but I know what it could've been. I suspect the label head didn't want it to conflict with Linkin Park, but that wouldn't have happened since Chester had no intention of leaving them. Also, Linkin Park was very cool to us throughout and even let us play shows with them.
Do you know many records your different bands sold?
Amir: Not really. Orgy sold millions worldwide. I don't really know how much Dead by Sunrise sold. It did well, though not as well as it could have. Julien-K is an indie band, so it's less about selling records than about streaming and touring. Size doesn't really matter In this new era - you only need 1000 real fans to make money and be moderately successful. We had the #1 Indiegogo campaign multiple times in a row with the four albums we funded. We raised $50,000 for each of them, which is the equivalent of a record deal. We now have a Patreon that's been running for some years, and we might do another Indiegogo raise for the next album.
At what point did video game music come into play with composing for Sonic the Hedgehog?
Amir: That started very early, prior to Julien-K. Sega had approached me because they liked my guitar playing and asked me to do a theme for their video games. I went to Ryan and said it'd be a good way for us to get our name out. He could do the vocals and we'd call the group "Julien-K". So that was the band's first project. Sega had specific lyrics written already, so it wasn't 100% composed by us, but it was a great experience and we ended up doing more of it.
We've also had our music in movies like Transformers and Underworld: Evolution. The first Transformers film licensed, "Technical Difficulties," off our first album. Activision heard it and figured we'd be suitable to score the Transformers video game, so we did that too.
This Machine by Julien-K (Team Dark's Theme)
You're currently working with the APM to release production music. How did you get involved with that?
Amir: I'd met one of APM's music directors, Robert Navarro, through a mutual friend, and he later called me when the Kinetic label was formed. APM was looking to onboard music by real indie artists that tour and have a fanbase, as opposed to people who only make production music. I found that intriguing, and it led to a conversation about what material we could release on Kinetic. We have four songs on there at the moment, so we'll use that as a gauge for how things progress.
What do you hope to achieve with the releases you've done via APM? Are there particular outcomes you're after?
Amir: It'd be great to get some media placements since that would be a source of revenue for us. When our music ended up in Transformers, it played everywhere since the film was huge, and we got royalties for that. So any placements in science fiction or indie films would be great. Not everyone wants to pay to use Nine Inch Nails' or New Order's music in their films, and since our material is similar, we hope to land some cool placements.
It's been a great chat Amir. Thank you for taking the time. Do you anticipate doing any further releases with APM?
Amir: Not just now, but I'll be circling back with APM in 2023 to see what we can do. I like to leave things alone for a bit rather than bug people for updates all the time. So we'll see how things progress with what we've already released and take it from there.