The Many Layers of Amir
Few artists can lay claim to the fact that they've spent more than two decades surviving in the ever-changing world of popular music. But then again, the word artist doesn't aptly describe the work of Amir Derakh, a highly successful guitarist, songwriter and producer whose musical roots date back to the early 80s Los Angeles Metal scene.
Capitalizing off of his own, exclusive guitar work that helped make Orgy a success, Derakh teamed up with Yamaha in January 2003 to design a signature six-string electric guitar, the AES-AD6, which features a longer neck than a typical electric guitar, advantageous for the instrument to be tuned low. When played, the guitar delivers an explosive tone and an aggressive, edgy, electronic induced, hard rock sound sought after by many of today's younger musicians. Derakh also designed a second custom seven-string guitar, the AES-RS7, for Ryan Shuck, the other guitarist in Orgy, with features similar to the six-string. Derakh said the guitars he designs are also unique visually, adding to the instrument's mystique and complimenting its one-of-a-kind sound. Right now, Derakh said he's creating “my most radically designed guitar yet” with Yamaha, details of which are still under wraps.
Derakh, best known for his groundbreaking guitar synth work as a member of the platinum selling electro rock outfit Orgy, has been spending most of his time lately behind-the-scenes. He recently wrapped up production on “Radioactivist,” the debut album by the Sacramento thrash punk quartet Red Tape, which is due out on Roadrunner Records in early 2004; and produced a track on the Gold-selling soundtrack album to “Freaky Friday,” the blockbuster summer movie in which Derakh also had a cameo appearance.
In January 2004, Derakh was named one of 75 “Masters of Metal and Hard Rock” by Guitar Player magazine for his combined fret and synth work in Orgy, which, according to the magazine, revolutionized the sound of late nineties hard rock and metal and spawned dozens of imitators.
However, what is virtually unknown about Derakh's artistic wizardry is his technical and inventive skills designing customized guitars: axes that produce a certain type of sound for guitarists seeking something different. One such guitar, a black and red Jackson “Disrupter,” a futuristic looking instrument designed and conceived by Derakh that produced the patches of twisted synth and heavy crunching sounds on Orgy's “Vapor Transmission,” is showcased in the Hard Rock Café's top 10 pieces of rock memorabilia.
In an interview with the magazine Guitar Player, Derakh explained how he got his guitar to produce the crunchy guitar and synthesizer sound that helped Orgy score a top 20 hit with their interpretation of the New Order classic “Blue Monday.”
"Our sound is a sound that an outside producer or engineer couldn't give us because it's tied to our personal visions," Derakh said. "We use so many combinations of pedals, amps, and effects in the studio that we have to write down every tone formula to even come close to the record live,” says Derakh. One formula the guitarists used on Vapor Transmission was splitting their signals. One half fed a miked Marshall JCM 800 and 4x12 Celestion Greenback-loaded cab, and the other went into a Boss Hyper Fuzz plugged directly into the board. The result was a cranium-crushing sound-- thick with midrange and bass, but with an almost static sounding, alien treble frequency.
Derakh's obsession with finding a signature guitar sound has a long history in the annals of rock music. He received his first guitar synth from Grover Jackson, the founder of Jackson Guitars. Derakh used the guitar synth to experiment with different sounds, much in the same way guitar virtuoso Steve Vai exploited the instrument on his experimental solo album “Flex-Able,” as a member of the 80s metal band Rough Cutt, a group that cut two albums for Warner Bros. Records thanks to some early demos that were produced by metal icon Ronnie James Dio. Purists frowned upon Derakh's use of the guitar synth, but would, years later, be instrumental to the success of Orgy, proving that Derakh was way ahead of his time.
Derakh's guitar work with Rough Cutt led to an endorsement deal with Jackson guitars, where he developed the company's first double-neck guitar and customized the bodies of Jackson guitars with wild paint jobs and camouflage designs that, to this day, people still inquire about, a Jackson spokeswoman said.
According to a Jackson news release, Derakh has remained one of Jackson Guitars' longest running endorsees of custom-built guitars, a feat unimaginable in an industry where the average pop artist has a lifespan of less than five years.
Prior to the demise of Rough Cutt, Derakh appeared on the Hear ‘N Aid record, an all-star heavy metal album that helped raise money for famine relief in Africa, which, during the time, was a popular cause amongst musicians and actors and followed in the footsteps of the massive success of “We Are The World.”
From the ashes of Rough Cutt came Jailhouse, a poppier sounding band than their previous outfit, but one that was still entrenched in the melodic, hard-rock, sound that dominated the music scene and national sales charts in the mid to late 80s that resulted in major record labels scooping up any band off of the Sunset Strip that epitomized that genre. Jailhouse released an EP; “Alive in a Mad World,” recorded live at the Roxy in Los Angeles, for Restless Records in 1987. A second album was shelved, but was finally released in 1998 by DeRock Records, an independent label based in Canada.
As the eighties came to a close and with Seattle's grunge scene moving in on metal's turf, Derakh saw many of his contemporaries fade away into the pages of Rock N Roll's history books, never to be seen or heard from again. But Derakh never considered leaving music behind for a life as a nine to fiver. Having spent most of his life perfecting his style he was now more determined than ever to stake his claim when the second coming of hard rock returned in the mid-90s to claim a new generation of fans. First, however, Derakh enrolled in a two-year program at UCLA to learn the intricacies of studio production and engineering, a side of the business he had been fascinated with since he was 12 years-old, when he first started tinkering with his mother's television set.
Jeff Jaworski, singer and guitarist for Red Tape, says Derakh's fascination with electronic gadgetry is what made Red Tape's debut album authentic.
"Amir is like a gear head!” Jaworski said. “He's got tons of gadgets but it's old vintage stuff that you can't find at Guitar Center! It's the real stuff that rockers used in the 80s. We used a mixture of his gear and our gear to enhance our guitar tones."
Derakh immediately entered the studio after completing his coursework at UCLA and soon earned a reputation for his forward thinking production and engineering skills. Bands, including the Grammy Award nominated hard rock outfit Spineshank, sought him out because he brought a lot to the table in terms of his mixing, arranging and production skills. His work behind the board for critical darlings The Eels led to mixing & engineering gigs for bands like Danzig and Coal Chamber. Derakh's passion in the studio and easy going personality so impressed the band Coal Chamber that they recorded the tongue-in-cheek song for Derakh, “Amir of the Desert,” which appeared on the band's self-titled 1997 debut album.
That same year, Derakh teamed up with Jay Gordon and Ryan Shuck to form Orgy, and the band were signed to Reprise Records via Korn's Elementree label. Orgy's debut album, “Candyass,” was a monster hit, selling nearly two million copies and spawning countless imitators and Derakh clones. Derakh and co. reentered the studio and released the critically acclaimed “Vapor Transmission,” the band's Gold certified sophomore release, in 2000. In an ironic twist, Derakh received the Les Paul Horizon Award for Most Promising New Guitarist at the Orville H. Gibson Guitar Awards in 2000, an honor bestowed upon a musician who has spent nearly twenty years honing his craft and performing throughout the world before tens of thousands of fans.
Derakh's popularity skyrocketed almost overnight and he soon started appearing on television and in movies. He had a cameo appearance playing himself on the Aaron Spelling drama “Charmed” and in 2003 year he played the House of Blues emcee in “Freaky Friday.”
Derakh already has a full plate set for 2004, including the release of a new Orgy album, Punk Statik Paranoia, and a coveted side project, Julien-K, with Orgy's Shuck. Julien-K, Derakh says, is a band that's deeply rooted in electronica and sounds like a hybrid of Depeche Mode and The Chemical Brothers. The band, which showcases Shuck's excellent vocal skills, has set up a website--www.julien-k.com--featuring some of their new material.
Barely a few months old, Julien-K has already penned the theme song for “Team Dark” on Sega‘s “Sonic Heroes” video game after being approached by a Sega executive who just happened to be a fan of Rough Cutt.
Derakh in his home studio
In his spare time, Derakh can be found spinning CDs at some of Hollywood's hottest nightclubs, a hobby he's been nurturing for more than a decade.
“I really like to turn people on to new music. I get a thrill out of it.”