When catching this past summer’s “Revolution 3” tour at Long Island, New York’s Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, I ended up being very impressed with the unannounced first act, Julien-K. Featuring former members of the band Orgy, Julien-K started recording in 2003 and first hit the road in 2007. Its debut album Death To Analog was released in 2009 and featured contributions from Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. Over the years, Julien-K has toured with bands such as Linkin Park, Mindless Self Indulgence, Evanescence, My Chemical Romance, Filter, and HIM.
Before co-founding Julien-K, frontman Ryan Shuck had played with Korn’s Jonathan Davis in Sexart. Some of those Sexart songs would wind up on the first Korn album, and things would later come full circle with Korn helping Orgy get its major label deal. But Shuck has also had tremendous success beyond writing and playing music, finding himself as an entrepreneur in multiple fields. In turn, he has owned a recording studio, a fashion line, a tech company, and multiple restaurants. Julien-K guitarist Amir Derakh has been a partner with several of those restaurants.
I had the pleasure of doing some Q&A with Ryan Shuck about his entrepreneurial path, and several other topics. More on Julien-K, including upcoming tour dates, can be found online at www.julienk.com
Let’s kick things off with the music video for “Photo Voltaire”.
Why did you make the jump from the musician to an entrepreneur?
Ryan Shuck: My first entrepreneurial outing was probably being a hairdresser. Maybe 25 years ago, I guess when I was 18, I became a hairdresser and that’s where I met Jonathan Davis and we formed our first band together. We ended up writing songs like “Blind” and “Daddy.” Korn ended up signing my band Orgy and the rest is history. Now I’m going back on tour with Korn this fall with Julien-K, so it’s been a very very long and awesome relationship.
There’s a point to me telling you all of this stuff. Doing hair taught me a ton of entrepreneurial skills. How to meet people and connect with people quickly, how to read people quickly, how to basically look for opportunities just walking into a room, and doing it in an authentic and honest way, because if you’re going to be successful as a hairdresser you actually have to make people look good. Really, you have to make them look good and you have to make them feel good for a value-for-value transaction. So I learned a lot about the economics of deals and value-for-value trades, and I learned a lot about connecting with people quickly and powerfully and it really played into my natural personality traits.
My first major, I guess, company was a fashion line that I did when I was in the height of Orgy’s popularity. I got a fashion line called Replicant Clothing. I leveraged the fact that we were on MTV all the time to land us a massive deal, I think it was 200,000 pieces with Hot Topic. They were the big retailer at the time. That would probably be one of the first kind of boardroom-style meetings that I went into and I knocked a deal out of the park.
I had a friend of mine who is a very, very well-known huge technology CEO, who was just becoming my friend at the time, named Henry Nicholas, who very very much encouraged me to continue thinking like an entrepreneur. In his words, “Don’t just be a stupid rockstar who just does drugs and hooks up with girls and loses all his money.” He always encouraged me and told me that I was more than just a guitar player in a band, and I took that to heart.
The restaurants sort of played off of that. I knew that I could purchase the two Gypsy Den restaurants that were next door to the hair salon where I worked, at least the first Gypsy Den was. The owners were friends of mine for a long long time. I did their hair, so once again the hairdressing thing kind of played in my favor, and after becoming a rock star and touring all over the place and making a lot of money, I finally had some time off. I came back home and I realized that it was possible for me to maybe invest and buy these businesses. I didn’t know anything about restaurants, so when I started dating one of the girls that worked at the restaurant at the Gypsy Den, Emily (Meyer), who became my fiancee, and the owners of the Gypsy Den for quite a while were saying they weren’t interested in selling but they would sell it to me only if I was interested.
Once I started dating Emily and I sort of got a feel for what that business was, what it could be and the fact that I could probably pull this deal off, I had a little bit of investment help from two friends of mine. Largely my own money and went in and did the deal, and we ended up knocking it out of the park. And Emily turned out to be a really good partner and we ended up opening up Lola Gaspar with the same group and I included Amir this time.
From there we ended up having five restaurant locations. I’ve closed one since but opened up another one, and we’re even potentially working on a sixth restaurant. So it’s been a crazy rollercoaster ride, and it’s been one of a lot of successes and a lot of failures.
Let’s take you back a few years with the video for “California Noir.”
Having so many projects and businesses going on, I must assume that you are a positivity-oriented person. Has it always been that way?
Shuck: Yes… I generally have always been a creative, positive person, and I have always been someone who has the attitude of figuring out how to make something work or why on Earth couldn’t we do it. The joke in our band is I’m the gas and Amir’s the wheel. That is in many ways true but I think it downplays the fact that we’re at a point now where I actually personally lay out spreadsheets with our financial projections of our tours, of the restaurants, of any business that we’re in or that we’re going to engage in. And very very much I’m responsible for a lot of the deal-making and putting together the teams and all that kind of stuff.
Amir absolutely is someone who is like a controller and a manager in a way in that he very much can direct me and slow my roll when I get so gung-ho to do some of the stuff. One of my major weaknesses and pitfalls has turned out to be how easy it is for me to walk into a room and literally start a company in the room. I mean, just in a matter of weeks, deals seem to happen and sometimes it’s too much and sometimes it becomes too much for us to manage and be a part of.
In this part of my life, I’m really really really having to learn to hold back more and to not get involved in so much stuff, and I’m really having to learn how to manage my natural energy and my ability to start fires. I am very very aware after a lot of catastrophes that have happened by me moving very quickly and doing very big deals very quickly that I do need to learn to slow the fuck down.
In terms of my attitude, I definitely approach things with a positive attitude. But I am a classic lead singer and never forget that I am an artist, even though I can do spreadsheets. I have a serious problem with clinically-diagnosed depression. It’s definitely gotten worse. The more that has gotten on my plate, the more losses I’ve incurred in terms of my best friend Chester Bennington, that was a massive one. But even before that, I was dealing pretty heavily with depression and a lot of it seemed to stem from dealing with the complexities and the (business) risks involved and being so deeply involved financially in all these businesses which don’t always go well. You could have three restaurants that are doing great and you can have two restaurants that are dragging the entire thing down.
In addition to that, music is not always this great money-making adventure. In fact, we went through years of not making money, and I used my natural ability to think outside of the box and figure new solutions out and we finally figured out how to do crowdfunding… This has led to us profitably touring the entire world now, releasing multiple albums and completely independently getting back on our feet and building a business. So through all that, there’s definitely a lot of battles with depression. There was a near-suicide, there have been all sorts of bad stuff, so always keep in mind that even though I approach all my business positively, I still have the serious serious battles with addiction, depression and all the bad stuff that goes with being dynamic and a very real artist and lead singer.
The first restaurant that I was involved in or with are the two original Gypsy Den restaurants. The Gypsy Den was the funky, cool, coffeehouse, vegan, vegetarian-leaning cafe in Orange County. They are icons in Orange County. When we bought them they were very much like a cash register-type business. We in a few years turned them into monsters that really did really well. Took the businesses completely above board and made them, you know, official tax-paying (businesses)… From there we branched off and ended up getting different partners for different endeavors like 2145, PBLC TRDE and more.
Have a look at this video that helped make Julien-K’s Indiegogo campaign so successful.
Are there any other musicians that are partners in your restaurants?
Shuck: Amir, my bandmate, is my partner in 2145 and Lola Gaspar, and Anthony Valcic is my bandmate in Julien-K, a partner in 2145. Amir and I are also partners in PBLC TRDE, which is going to be opening up in Santa Monica, and we’re essentially just partners in pretty much everything that I do. I pretty much offer them a piece of whatever it is they want to be part of. That’s the way we sort of operate.
Have you always been a foodie?
Shuck: I don’t know that I even consider myself a foodie now. Restaurants for me have always been places where you go to get inspiration and meet with people. It’s more of like a social place that has a design element and food involved. I’m extremely into design and spaces and all that good stuff. So for me, it’s very inspiring when I go to restaurants that have killer designs and are designed in a way that is very social. And I love restaurants where you can bring a group of your friends and you can sit down and work on business or have a great get-together or whatever it is.
Good food is certainly important. I’m not necessarily into a bunch of crazy foodie-style foods if you will. That’s probably in quotation marks. I personally like simple food. I love healthy food, I like clean food. I don’t really consider myself a foodie. Like I said, there are so many elements to what makes a restaurant fantastic, and a lot, I mean, it’s down to even the staff. Like, a staff that has a look and a vibe and a personality. And I like a space that has inspiring design elements, so these are all things that I’m looking at when I walk into a restaurant.
The food obviously has to be good but I don’t necessarily go for a foodie aspect. I’m not the type of guy that is going to go try a restaurant because it has, you know, a deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich. That sounds disgusting to me. And I don’t care at all for any of that kind of, you know, experimentation and stuff like that. But I am the type of guy who would go to some new restaurant that’s in an alley that has a roll-up door and it is designed in some sort of crazy cool unique way and also has wonderful food. That is much more attractive to me.
From that self-titled first Korn album, that Shuck contributed to, is the classic “Shoots and Ladders.”