Jan 2016 12

Continuing to forge its own exciting and darkly sensual path, Julien-K invites the audience to embark on a new adventure with a lightning campaign for a new song and video.
Julien-K - Mannequin Eyes Banner


An InterView with Ryan Shuck & Amir Derakh of Julien-K

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Operating on the outskirts of the music industry and eschewing conventional categorization, Julien-K has for over a decade evolved from a side project to an exceptional musical entity with a strongly devoted and every growing fan base. With the 2015 release of California Noir – Chapter One: Analog Beaches & Digital Cities, the band’s third album marked a monumental achievement as the result of a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, tripling its projected goal while also delivering a darkly sensual style of electrified rock that was as melodic as it was danceable. With Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon already in production, Julien-K is showing no signs of resting on its laurels, clearly intent on pleasing the fans by embarking on a new step forward with the January 12 launch of a lightning campaign for the new single and music video, “Mannequin Eyes.” Ryan Shuck and Amir Derakh were kind enough to speak with ReGen Magazine on the eve of the campaign to offer some insight into the path Julien-K has forged, touching on the new song and video, engaging the fans and encouraging their participation in the creative process, with just a few hints of what lies ahead for this looking to experience Nightlife in Neon!


How pleased are you with the audience’s response to the album now that it has been out for some time and you’ve had the opportunity to perform some shows and let people really hear the music?

Shuck: We are really, really happy; the response has been amazing. I think that this is one album that we are extraordinarily proud of. We made it with our friends in mind, and I think that the payoff was huge. We really tried to make an album that we would love and that our fans would love; we really thought about that the whole time. It’s great!

You are now doing a crowdfunding campaign for ‘Mannequin Eyes’ (via IndieGoGo) – in what ways is this a follow-up to California Noir?

Shuck: It’s a really, really cool video and a single. It’s a bunch of really cool curated content that is kind of put together in a really awesome way. It’s sort of our answer to the three songs that were released before the album; they were put on iTunes about eight or nine months before the album. We kind of just did that with no press, no fanfare, nothing… we just put it out and let people know, just to see if people would like the direction that we were headed in. When we saw that people kind of liked it and we were trying to figure out what to do, that’s when we sort of ended up coming up with this crowdfunding campaign and the unique way that we did it. We thought on this record that we might do the same type of thing, but we would like to get our fans involved in promoting the new release.

Derakh: Yes, it’s basically a setup; just like what we did the first time, as Ryan is saying, but this time will be a little more structured. Last time was an experiment and it was successful, but this time, we thought that we could do it by engaging our fans completely with each aspect of it, including the video and the new single. It’s funny, because a lot of the ways that these things come together isn’t a very typical way. With a record label, everything is… you know, it’s like, ‘Until you guys write a hit song, we’re not going to release a single or make a music video.’ And we don’t do it that way. When we write a cool song, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the best song we’ve ever written; it might even be different stylistically from the rest of the record – because we listened to ‘California Noir’ versus some of the other songs on the album, and it’s quite different. Video ideas happen for us. ‘California Noir’ was Ryan’s idea to go shoot out at the Salton Sea, and the whole thing just came together. We kind of do things that way. We don’t really look at it as ‘a single,’ and we’re not really going to radio stations and working all the old outlets like we used to. We’re not doing that; when something comes together, there’s basically synergy and we move forward with it.

What happened with ‘Mannequin Eyes’ was that I actually had the idea for that video a long time ago, but we never had a song; I didn’t know what the song was until we wrote it, and when we wrote it, it came together very quickly – the song was written in one night, which is a record for us. But it took some time to get it right. It’s a very cool song – it’s very minimal, it’s different, and it’s something we haven’t really done before. So, the song and the video came together, and that’s when this whole plan started hashing. We do have some other songs, but they’re good for the record and perhaps not really the best representation as individual songs, so we didn’t really want to release anything else. We had The New Division do a remix of ‘Mannequin Eyes,’ which turned out really well, so that will be included. What’s really cool is that the fans are getting the video before anybody else – we’re not putting it out on YouTube or anything like that until the fans have it first.



Shuck: Part of the point of this is that we are asking the fans to basically release the video for us, and to promote it with us and for us. We want to involve them in the process, and I think people will notice that this video is a lightning campaign and will run for only half the time. We’re not asking for a ton of money; we’re really just asking for enough to recoup the costs of promoting and continuing to move along. If it turns out good, then we know that we have a new model by which we can at least fund the music… at least, and that’s a big deal for us. We can make money playing and other stuff, but we can’t actually make enough money to make a record…

Derakh: And videos!

Shuck: Yes! Because the videos, we have found, have been a massive part in promoting the band and defining the band and getting people to understand the band. I think with this video, we really did something very, very cool and new. I hope people will be able to tell by the commercial snippet.

On the ReGen: Digressions podcast, we had discussed how crowdfunding is a new system by which the audience become patrons of the arts, and Julien-K does seem to be an excellent example of this mindset.
Having now mentioned that ‘Mannequin Eyes’ is something new and different for Julien-K, what can you tell us about the song/video and what it means for the band in terms of your development or evolution?

Shuck: ‘Mannequin Eyes’ is definitely a taste of Nightlife in Neon. I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to have hit singles or something like that because we’re not in that world, but it is a great new, fresh view of Julien-K, and we’re definitely using it to see if fans dig it and what we’re doing… because that’s Chapter Two.

Derakh: I think that I always like to take a step back to move forward; I always like to look in the past for something that stylistically can help produce a sound that will be forward thinking – going backward and forward at the same time, and I think that this is a really good example of that. I’ve just kind of had it in my head that I wanted to try something… well, when I say that it’s something that we’ve never done before, it’s because in some ways, the song is very simple. It’s very straightforward as far as the instrumentation, but the arrangement is different and interesting. It’s really hard to explain, but I definitely got very influenced by new wave and minimal wave, so when you take that and kind of mix it in with what we always do, which does have those elements and industrial elements, and there’s always a little bit of a pop element as well… and that’s really Ryan, I guess, more than me. Ryan really has some pop sensibilities, while I tend to be more abstract in the way that I write and do music. That’s why it’s always good when we do music together, because you’ve got a good mixture of those two styles, and I think this one really shows that off. Also, we wrote this one with Eric Stoffel, who is from the band Decode Radio; he’s very talented, and he definitely helped out, just as he did with songs like ‘California Noir’ and ‘Strange Invisible.’

It’s interesting that with each album, Julien-K works with a different set of peers in the writing and production; for instance, on Death to Analog, you were working with Chester Bennington with Dead by Sunrise, and on We’re Here With You, you worked with Bryan Black and Sharooz… how much are these collaborations reflective of where Julien-K is trying to take its music?

Derakh: Most of it happens very organically, and we never really force our collaborations, although we do sometimes pursue certain people occasionally just because we like what they do. A lot of the time, it’s just friends and even relatives that we just write or work with, and I don’t think there’s a lot of rhyme or reason to it. For the second album, there was a plan; from the very beginning, I wanted to work with electronic DJs/producers on that record… that was very much by design, and I basically had met all of these people over the years doing Circuit Freq Records, so I had all of these different connections and I was putting it out to all of these people, like, ‘Hey, would you guys be interested in doing a writing session when you’re in town?’ I prefer to work together in a room rather than over the internet, although we did a little of both, and we got some really interesting results. Sometimes it was just a drumbeat or something, and it would turn into something like ‘Cruel Daze of Summer,’ which turned out to be one of the best songs we’d ever written. Most of the time, it’s not planned; it’s just coincidences that we meet people or someone’s interested or we’re interested, and sometimes it just doesn’t work! There have been other times where things just didn’t happen or go anywhere. We really like working outside the box and experimenting. Ryan and I can write a lot and we write some good stuff together, but I think when we get that extra input, it helps us not only be better writers, but to also possibly bring something to the table that neither of us would do on our own.

With your music transcending and incorporating various styles, and with many bands labeling their music with their own categories or genres, where do you think music as a whole has yet to go, either technically or musically? What are your thoughts on where music is headed?

Derakh: Well, I think EDM has kind of peaked. I think now you’re going to just see a lot more DJs trying to have a band, because I think people are eventually going to say, ‘I don’t know if I want to see this guy standing up there pushing buttons.’ Eventually, they are going to get bored of it, and the artists will too – I’m sure it must be boring for Calvin Harris to stand up in front of a huge crowd and hit three buttons. I mean, he’s getting a huge paycheck, but he’s got to get bored at some point. The money is great, but I think at some point, they’re going to want to do something more. Depending on how much talent they have or where it can even go, I think they’re going to start doing a lot more. We’ve always been kind of doing that – even in Orgy, we were doing things technically that weren’t even supposed to be done, and they kind of didn’t work at first. We figured it out along the way, and I think we’re always, constantly playing with that as it evolves and devolves around us.



You’re crowdfunding a video for ‘Mannequin Eyes,’ and there have also been some fan-made videos like the lyric video recently released for ‘Strange Invisible’ and Don Vaccari’s for ‘She’s the Pretender,’ and this relates back to the campaign and involving the fans – what are your thoughts on other ways to pursue the fans and increase their participation on such an artistic level?

Shuck: That’s a really good question because that stuff happens really organically. Don’s painting was something that he sent to me, and we just jump on that stuff! When we see something cool like that, we just go for it – it’s just kind of an instinctual thing. I’m not going to act like we’re some huge visionary band and that we have some master plan to involve our fans in every aspect of what we do. A lot of what we do is very personal, and we’re kind of alone and working together in a room, and it’s kind of traditional in that way. But I think our situation is very simple – we have to be able to get our core audience to partner with us so that we can continue to create new music, and if we can’t do that, then we can’t do what we do. That’ll probably drive a lot of what we do and how we do it. The best way that we know how to do it right now is by trying to really, really talk and listen to our fans like they are our actual friends, because almost all of them actually are! We know our core fans personally, so we try to listen to them and they like the same stuff that we like, and we keep that in mind when we do what we do. I think with IndieGoGo, we did a lot of fan participation and gave them perks along those lines, and we’re going to continue to try to think about how we can do that. But because we’re such a small band, we can’t tour a lot because we don’t make enough money to play a lot of places. We can’t offer a ride on the bus with us. We don’t sell a bunch of bullshit packages. We try to sell packages that we are going to honor, and it’s going to be really special and it’ll be really cool, like the live performance and that kind of stuff. By the way, we included three mixed songs from the acoustic performance, which are completely live – there’s no overdubbing, no cutting, no retouching… it’s literally just us live acoustically. It’s really cool and there’s nothing like it out there. This is a bit of an EP, but I think we’re just thinking of it as a fan-driven video promotion package.



Derakh: Exactly! It’s really just a setup; it’s not going to be another six months or something until the record is done. That’s not at all what it is.

Shuck: The record is actually nearly recorded.

Derakh: Yeah, most of it is pretty much done. I’ve already mixed about half of it; there are a half dozen songs left, and Ryan’s going to do vocals on a couple of them and then I’ll mix them, so we’re not that far away. We thought it would be cool to do this, and see what happens when we keep it simple. It’s not going to be like the big album campaign that we’re going to launch, and we are working on all kinds of new stuff for that. That will only be at most a few months after this… at most!

Shuck: I think it’s important for our core fans to know that we are really testing a new system and seeing if it’s going to work. We have a calendar of releases that are very close to being ready for launch that we are going to start putting out more regularly. If this new platform works for us and our core group of fans support us, then we can put out a lot of new music a lot more often. This is a big test for us to see if we can continue. We’re not trying to make a ton of money; we are trying to get people excited.

Derakh: We know already that at the very least, an album campaign can work since we did it last yea…r as long as we don’t fuck it up! We need to kind of keep the ball rolling. It can’t just be that we put out one record a year and leave it at that. We need some other things as well, and we actually have lots of ideas of other things we can put out and we’ve even talked to our fans about it to see what they think would be cool and what they would want. We want to be able to try other things and that it’s not just an album; it could be a video, or an EP, or a compilation of some sort. We just need to keep the ball rolling a little more than the standard one album each year formula. That’s kind of our master plan, if you want to call it that, but it’s not even that big a deal – we just want to keep people engaged so we can give them more music.

I also think it’s a little backwards how we’ve been putting our music out and using IndieGoGo, because typically with these crowdfunding campaigns, people are asking for the money to go make the record and do all that stuff… but where we come in, we can say, ‘Oh, the record’s already done! Now we’d just like you to pay for it.’ And that’s just what anybody would do if you had a record label; somebody fronts the money and then you buy it. Well, we’re the ones fronting the money! We’re the label. We’re the ones working hard to be able to afford the equipment and putting in the work in over the past year to make this record, Nightlife in Neon and ‘Mannequin Eyes’ and whatever else. We’re basically asking you to help us pay for it now, whereas most of the time, it’s the other way around – ‘Give us the money, and then two years later you’ll maybe get something… or maybe you don’t.’ (Laughter) I’m almost thinking that at some point, I’d almost like to try that approach of going into something… I already have an idea for something in the future, and I have a direction and an album title; we’ve already discussed it as a band already. ‘This is what it’s going to be called, and we’re going to work on songs, and we’re going to let you be a part of it!’ We would get people to be a part of it while we’re doing it, and they get to say, ‘Yeah, that’s really cool’ or ‘That’s really stupid.’ The idea is to maybe develop something with them for once. I don’t know the logistics of that right now though. It could be really interesting to just do what most people do on crowdfunding and be even more engaging during the creation process. Whereas, we’ve just done it with the fans in mind, and they’ve been happy, so that’s cool. And we’re doing it again with Nightlife in Neon; this second chapter is definitely going to be interesting – it’s not like Analog Beaches…. It’s different.


Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, ‘Mannequin Eyes’ IndieGoGo Campaign


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