Sunday night was spent in great company, which I really never expected to be in with this particular guest list. Guests stepping in and taking a seat at any of the tables mismatched perfectly in the comfortable ‘den,’ the guys of Julien-K were walking around and greeting both familiar faces from the shows and new ones- like my own- drinks of wine in hand as they went table to table, chair to chair.
We were all started off with chips and salsa (I ignored the guacamole) and drinks, seats slowly but surely being filled. I ended up sitting beside a woman I just knew I had seen before, and turns out I was right- she had been at the LPU X Despair Faction meet up last year for Carnivores in Hollywood. She was also the AFI fan that won the LPU raffle and gave us Soldiers the prizes instead.
My table was filled with kind strangers, Ryan himself sitting his childhood neighbor and friend with us. My awful, selective memory remembers him as Josh. He laughed remembering when he’d throw rocks at Ryan, but he assured us it wasn’t just at Ryan; he threw rocks at all the kids around the neighborhood. But he also remembered him as an amazing skateboarder. Professional level, he described Ryan’s skills.
Our orders were taken very shortly before the band took their seats, playing around with their instruments- Fu had his keyboard set up and Amir had a 60’s drum beat machine, but for their particular sound- it was as bare and acoustic as we could have Julien-K as.
Ryan kept wiping his hands and apologizing for any mistakes, promising they’d pull the plug and start over if they messed up too badly.
I first heard Julien-K perform eleven years ago at Project Revolution and then enjoyed their songs over the years, my second show being in 2013 for Ryan’s birthday ‘bash’ at The Viper. I’ve definitely heard Ryan for quite a while; so believe me when I say his voice is at its best with California Noir, absolutely stunning bare as it was Sunday night.
My expectations were completely blown as my food was set down in front of me and they started playing just a few feet in front of me, hardly above eye level, the stage an intimate one in front of the table with the evening lights outside behind them. The emotion in Ryan’s voice is effortless and natural, truly mesmerizing as I almost forgot about my Czech goulash.
The set list was as good as my dinner: She’s the Pretender, Palm Springs Reset, Cast Into the Sea, California Noir, I’ll Try Not to Destroy You, Eviscerate, and Let Down.
Palms Springs Reset was written in his ‘favorite place in the world,’ literally running from the pool to his room to record into his phone part of what is now ‘Palms Springs Reset’ as he explains he has the memory of a fish and if his sudden inspirations aren’t recorded, they’re gone. He went back ten minutes after to put his feet back in the pool.
California Noir, the album’s title track, sets the tone for the album’s feel, written about finally being able to move down to ‘sunny Southern California’ where Ryan has achieved many musical opportunities- Orgy, Julien-K, Dead by Sunrise- and the name and overall vibe came to him after a meeting in his usual ‘black skin tight clothes’-
“I had eyeliner from the night before, and we got done with the meeting and I’m like ‘okay, cool- so bye!’ I picked my surfboard and my backpack like a total nerd, and they were like, ‘what the fuck are you?’ And I’m like, ‘California noir!’ and then it was like [light bulb]! That’s fuckin’ awesome, that’s exactly what we are!
We look like the beach but we’re like gothic kids! California noir!”
I’ll Try Not to Destroy You is as he joked, written because Amir suggested writing something ‘positive’ for once. It’s written to his loved ones and friends, as a sort of apology for his chaotic nature but a promise he does care for them deeply.
The performance was ended with a loving ‘shout out’ to one of his closest friends. I’m sure Melissa also knew in an instant he meant Chester, finding myself almost squealing out when they started ‘Let Down.’ He had told him to come by to sing it, but with his ankle and his recording with both Stone Temple Pilots and Linkin Park, it wasn’t likely, Ryan deciding to give the song a try.
It’s hard to ruin music, even acoustically, with a stunning voice.
Julien-K will be turning ‘inwards’ a lot more, turning to their loyal fans and connecting more like they did with this intimate gathering. They’re excited for their New York album release and have a special event for Los Angeles. If all goes as planned- keep your nights open for May 1st and 2nd.