When it comes to making mesmerizing music, the kind that really takes its hold, sometimes it’s all about the lyrics and storytelling, and other times it’s the next big radio anthem, but for Orgy founder and frontman of industrial band Julien-K, Ryan Shuck, it’s neither of those. For the new Julien-K album Harmonic Disruptor, Shuck wanted to get back some of their early energy and attitude from their Orgy days, and they looked to their old gear as a way to turn that switch back on.
“We just broke that shit out and did what we do,” Shuck told American Songwriter. “When we started Julien-K, we wanted to do something different and we put away all the Orgy stuff, the gear and our paintbrushes if you will.”
Julien-K frontman Shuck along with bandmate and guitar mastermind, Amir Derakh, both founding members of Orgy traversed every alt landscape and trialed every style since the band’s formation in 2008, from darkwave, industrial, metal, indie and alternative, and after doing almost everything under their ever-evolving but still niche electronic music umbrella, they said it was time to give their fans what they were craving, a new track list of songs that could have been part of Orgy’s Candyass album.
“We broke out all the original gear we used in the Candyass album and we used that palette to create something we would have in the ‘90s with young teen angst,” Shuck said. “We wanted to explore that again for our fans and for ourselves.”
Some of the almighty gear Julien-K dusted off from their Orgy days, to revamp their sound included vintage Boss pedals, Korg Minilogue analog synthesizer, and Mike Morin modified Marshall JCM amps.
At the height of this exploration and trip to the past, was “Stronger Without You,” a sultry, industrial rally-cry positioning toxic relationships as a kind of apocalyptic scenario, overflowing with the sarcasm and edgy persona of Shuck.
“It’s sort of like the tale of a very toxic person who ends up choking on their own negativity,” he explained. “I always use apocalyptic imagery when talking about relationships, it’s just a very Julien-K thing for me to do. And of course, there’s a little sarcasm and everything as usual, looking at relationship issues as the apocalypse-as any lead singer does.”
Shuck is really the epitome of a rock ‘n’ roll frontman, something akin to Steven Tyler meets Marilyn Manson, so it was somewhat surprising to hear the exact opposite of sarcasm when he shared how he wrote the vocal parts for the title track, which was heavily transformed by the passing of Chester Bennington, who was Shuck’s bandmate in supergroup Dead by Sunrise.
“I didn’t know what to do on that song until Chester died,” Shuck recalled. “I don’t know how to explain it but it was like his spirit took me over. I couldn’t get the pain out unless I screamed and I remembered him teaching me and showing me how to do those things. I never tried to do that in our songs, commercially anyway, and when I did, Amir was like ‘well you just took it up another notch, have fun doing that live’ and I was like ‘fuck!’”
Both Shuck and Derakh have long-standing, vast experience in the industry. Derakh is a Grammy-nominated engineer and Shuck is an avid businessman and producer. But even as well-versed as he is in electronic instrumentation, he still turns to more traditional and stripped-down methods of songwriting with a guitar and vocals. And it is the complete opposite of how Derakh writes songs for Julien-K.
“I’m the singer-songwriter in our band, I’m the kind of guy that can go down to Starbucks and make 300 bucks, I’ve got a pretty good voice and I can sing some shit with my acoustic and girls will want to go out with me,” Shuck laughed. “So, I write a lot of my songs using a guitar in some way typically and then we bring it in to the Julien-K world when the band digs it and add all the synths and everything together.”
“But when Amir drives a song he will come in with a more finished sounding demo that is just music, no vocals and ask what we think,” he added. “He’s a Grammy-nominated, serious engineering genius so he comes in with great well-recorded ideas and if it triggers something in me, we know it’s a Julien-K song.”
And other than triggering or prompting each other with songs, Julien-K only looks to the opinion of their fans, as they have been the ones financing their projects over the years. Julien-K has always been an independent act, without the support of a major label and depends mostly on crowd-funding for their records. This was not by not by choice but for the good of the band in a territory where labels often don’t provide much for bands like in the past, where you could land a deal and have all the ins and outs taken care of like in the days of Orgy. But that’s not to say the band is opposed to it.
“We would love to do a partnership with a label that will actually tell us what they can do and agree that if they don’t, we can be let out of the deal,” Shuck said.
This type of agreement or mutual performance clause is typically unheard of in the biz, especially with label giants that would have the means to front the kind of resources and support Julien-K is looking for with such a great following.
“We weren’t going to sit around on our hands so we always handled it by going to our fans,” Shuck said. “They’ve supported us and we’ve always gotten enough resources from them, that’s it’s almost like a small label deal. We answer to no one but our fans.”
The crowd-funding model Julien-K depends on is vastly different from what they previously experienced with Orgy in the ‘90s, when they were signed with Warner. Schuck explained it was a different time of the industry, where there were still good people looking out for awesome bands, who would fight for their careers when few else would. And that with the presence on radio and TV is the largest disparity nowadays in the business.
Even without a model team, radio presence or MTV appearances, Julien-K has accomplished everything they set out to do and wouldn’t do any of it if it weren’t for their fans and the connection they try to foster with every show and every song they write.
“At the end of the day we realized that the times of getting a record deal or a million bucks from a publishing company, just doesn’t exist anymore, the landscape is just different,” Shuck said. “I just want Julien-K to be an entity that makes enough money to be worth doing and is beholden to no one and can play shows so I can communicate with people.”
Harmonic Disruptor is out now everywhere including Spotify and you can join Julien-K’s crowd-funding rank of fans here by purchasing a copy of the album.