Hello, to start things off, it is interesting to note that you were originally a singer, it seems that you’ve made your debuts back in 2002 before creating a Myspace account (https://myspace.com/jullianchampenois) and a YouTube account (https://www.youtube.com/user/jullianchampenois) between 2005 and 2006, similar to numerous other young artists back at the time. That much can bear witness to the fact that playing around with your vocal chords has always been your passion as well as your vocation. What is it that lead you to get started in the music industry and eventually to believe in the slumbering potential of your voice ?
Hello and thank you for going out of your way asking those questions. I can tell that you really did your research well and that’s quite impressive ! I started playing music back in 1998 playing guitar while I was playing cover songs of Noir Désir and Manu Chao songs but I was mostly singing songs that I wrote myself. I’ve always been passionate about music, lyrics and of course voices as a sheer medium of communication and instrument. I’ve mainly been self-taught or learned thanks to my friends, though I also spent a year in a music school back in 2002. After that, I started performing on-stage on a regular basis, all alone at first but then as a part of a band named JAGM within which we went on tours during 3 years and even recorded an album (Interrogation Affirmative). My connection with singing has always been an instinctive, natural and spontaneous relationship. I’ve mostly written my songs in order to sing things that I just deeply wanted to say, to tell or to shout.
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By fastforwarding up to the present, one can see that you’ve founded a band of 4 music artists (composed of two guitarists, one accordionist and one double bass player) and that you practiced music for 15 years now. You’ve played on-stage and been recorded for the radio, however according to your biography (https://voixoff.jullian.be/fr/), it was your meeting with Justin Douiliez (RTL’s radio producer and voice-over artist) that truly shook things up. What was it at that very moment that made you change from being a singer to a voice actor ? As we can effectively witness that you’ve released a first album back in 2012 before doing a demo in 2013.
After leaving JAGM (2003-2006), I’ve resumed playing solo. During that time, music was my top priority, including regarding my livelihood. Thus I started an another project by recruiting musicians that would accompany me as I was singing. In total, when taking into account my time with JAGM, with my second band and my solo days, I’ve performed almost 300 concerts in France, Spain, Finland and Belgium.
I first started being in contact with the voice-over industry about 7 years ago. It was mostly about sound illustration for a friend’s website. After that, I’ve been involved in other projects, and working a lot in my studio. I began to own microphones, audionumerical workstations, softwares, sound cards and other shenanigans in 2005. Ever since that time, I’ve developed my knowledge in audio recording and processing. It was at the end of 2016, which would become a key moment of my professional life, that I decided to invest myself into voice-over full time. A mix of desires, thoughts and coincidences guided me on this peculiar path that is now my main job. I’ve taken then some lessons with Justin in order to carry on my training. I already knew each of the ingredients of a good voice-over: voice work and technique, emotional management, audio equipment, sound recording knowledge and editing skills. The only thing left was to mix those up like when making a recipe, while incorporating all the oddities of this job.
One has to distinguish the difference between voice acting and voice-over, since the first involves synchronizing one lips with the actor’s or character’s. I’ve never worked as an actual voice actor.
That same demo, which was simply named “Demo 2013”, includes two songs that one may consider as predictive regarding Disco Elysium as they’re respectively titled “Ivresse” and “Qui sera le nouveau ?” (“drunkenness” and “Who will be the new one ?” in French). How were you considering video games in your life up until that point ? Did the thought of using your voice to the benefit of the video games industry ever crossed your mind back when you started voicing over ?
I wouldn’t call myself a gamer, though there’s a couple of game that stayed in my mind ever since I was young which I really enjoyed playing. There’s for example Zelda, Dune, Age of Empires… Those were heavily history-related and narrative-driven games, like Disco Elysium. I remember starring as a voiceover artist a few times before Disco Elysium, but this peculiar job was my first real one in the game industry.
Indeed, after I was done with “Interrogation affirmative” by JAGM and “Origines” by Jullian, I took a break from the everyday life of being a musician and a singer-songwriter. That’s when I composed and recorded those two songs on my own, the latter marking that said break as well as a transition towards new things. Regarding the so-called prophecy, one can interpret it the way they want, as inebriation (Ivresse) is almost as universal as it gets and bound to all kinds of fortunate events in my life. “Qui sera le nouveau” announced the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
Since you define yourself as a music producer, a singer and a lyricist, are you considering releasing a new album someday ?
Absolutely. I kept deepening my musical knowledge over time as well as developing new creation techniques, learning to use new instruments, electronic devices, sound design, to mix, to compose orchestral music…I really enjoy composing playing with notes and sounds, exploring sounds landscapes, and those are things I do on a daily basis with lots of passion. And although I come up more often with instrumentals than lyrics, sometimes that’s all it takes.
I had invested much time and money in my musician career. I’ve written and composed entire songs, funded and managed the production processes, built a dedicated website, etc. When “Origines” was released and was met with a pretty positive critical reaction, however still within a niche so it didn’t pop on some label’s or manager’s radar, so decided to take some distances with the music work and went on making music only when I was feeling like it. Thus it wasn’t my main source of income anymore. I went for a break at this moment. Though I recently resumed releasing new songs, and there’s a lot yet to come, as one can witness on my YouTube channel. Stay tuned!
Within the biography that is available on your website as well as in your Twitter bio (https://twitter.com/julliannailluj), it is written that you’re fluent in Spanish, English and Chinese. Did you learn those languages while you were a singer or as you became a voice actor ? Indeed, some companies you worked with were German or Deutsch and that the ZA/UM studio, which created Disco Elysium, is Estonian.
I’m fond of languages as I’m fond of music, it always comes back to communicating in the end. I’ve learned English at school, I took Spanish classes in Spain for a year and I’ve learned Chinese simply by living in China during 3 years. So I didn’t come through this for the sake of music or voice-over. However, those languages come occasionally in handy since I also write some Spanish and Chinese songs, which you’ll be able to hear soon enough. Moreover, English plays a major role in Disco Elysium as the entirety of the voice acting is in that language. Furthermore, I speak English with about 90% of my clients even though I’m mostly doing French voice-over. As a rule of thumb, I’m recording in English because my client wishes to hear a fluent English with a French accent, like it was the case regarding Disco Elysium.
During one of the very first trailers of Disco Elysium relased back in 2017 (when this project was still under the codename of “No Truces with the Furies” ), one may notice that you weren’t the one voicing over the character Kim Katsuragi yet. How and when have you been contacted by ZA/UM ? Was you dubbing Kim Katsuragi initially intended or did you have an another character in your mind at that time ?
I was approached by a voiceover casting agency which was hired by ZA/UM in order to find Kim Katsuragi’s voice actor. I did an audition during summer 2019 and I ended being chosen a few days later.
You state having perfectly mastered speaking French, Spanish and English with a “French accent”, is it the peculiar asset that made the difference for the development team ? Indeed, many of Disco Elysium’s characters have the same oddity despite only speaking English.
French accent was a feature required by the development team, along other vocal attributes such as tone or personality.
It may sound like a funny question but how did you deal as a Belgian with voicing over in English an Asian character coming from a fictive country ? It’s quite the offsetting cultural blend for such a character (who experiences racism during the story while being proud of his current nationality and having never been able to relate to his Asian origins).
I lived abroad during 5 years and I’m fluent in multiple languages. I once was this Belgian guy in Asia. When I read the script, dialogues and Kim’s biography, I found multiple similarities between my personal life and his and it was a thrill to take advantage of these parallels when I was performing.
What did the development team tell you beforehand about the game and more specifically your character back when development started out ? Did they provide you with in-game footage, scripts, background elements or even the plot ? How did the studio introduced you to your future job ?
Regarding the casting, I had received a sheet containing Kim’s few first prompts alongside a short description of the character. Then after I was selected, I was given an access to the game’s beta, in which I immersed myself with delight and curiosity, discovering its landscapes and tone… Game’s co-producer Kaur Kender instructed me not to change anything about my way of speaking. Turns out that they were specifically looking for my own voice to dub Kim Katsuragi. I was very flattered and it really put me at ease.
Then obviously, the intent of every sentence and every single word had to be understood given the context where it’s used and had to be transposed in the game itself. In the studio, artistic director Jim Ashilevi and sound engineer/voice actor Mikee Goodman, were the ones guiding throughout all scenes, sentence after each sentence. We were pleased to regroup every morning and spend entire days in the studio. They were describing the scenes in which Kim was involved, the context and the purpose that would serve each word. The setting was very professional but also very friendly.
The description section on your YouTube account defined your band as « subversion and evasion, passion and goosebumps” with “reggae, rock’n roll and flamenco”, thus wouldn’t you happen to resemble more to Harry than to Kim in real life ? As Kim is akin to a quiet force that keeps the hero delusional side in check, which correlate with the fact that you can use a “calm and comforting” tone according to your website. Which side of your persona are you imbuing your character with ?
That’s true, and even though this definition is kind of old, I can relate more to the exuberant, passionate,excessive and slightly crazy aspects of Harry as well as its wanderlust and thirst for passion and partying than Kim’s aloof personality. Nonetheless, I have both sides and also have a lonely, quiet and composed side like everyone else, the latter appearing when I’m deeply focused on creative activities. I’m quite fond of this duality. Thus I obviously called upon this second side while embodying Kim.
Did your way of embodying your character change along the way ? Did you find difficult to record specific quotes as you were progressively connecting with the latter ? Did some of those influenced you ? Which ones ?
The first day was the longest as well as the slowest one. We had to find the right tone, conceive Kim’s vocal’s vocabulary, explore the range of intonations that would fit his character. It wasn’t about following a preset but rather starting from scratch, with the guidance of my two talented coworkers. The next few days followed by in a more smoothly fashion.
There’s a really marking quote that Kim Katsuragi may say to the player as they meet him for the first time while having put enough points in the “esprit de corps” character trait. The latter implies that even though he barely knows Harry, he would still risk his life for his sake. How would you describe the equilibrium that reached this duo that is theorically as mismatched as it can get ?
I would make a comparison with ancient wisdoms such as the Yin-Yang concept in the Asian culture, or the Western adage “opposites attract”. Dualism is inherent to existence itself. As there’s no music without silence nor is there day without night or men without women…This contrast between Kim and Harry but also with the rest of the characters in Disco Elysium, offers an in-depth spectrum of psychological themes, which creates such a deep, well-built, realistic while fantasist storytelling.
Kim Katsuragi can strike as cold because of his professionalism in the eyes of a player who didn’t get to hear this peculiar sentence. But one may quickly notice that he’s way more empathetic that one gives him credit for as his interactions with the hero are intended to not rush him while he’s in discomfort. That is professional conscience that put a focus on human relationships to a degree. It even ends up making senseless the competition between Kim and Harry that their bosses intended. Did you ever imagine that your character would as liked as he is now by the playerbase ?
I wasn’t expecting that to be honest. I got numerous and very nice comments from people wanting to let me know that they liked my voice on top of loving the game. It is a pleasure.
Let’s say that we’re on the night of the 13th of December 2019: Disco Elysium just won the award of the best indie game (against Outer Wilds) as well as the award of the best storytelling (against Death Stranding and Plague Tale: Innocence). Did you ever imagine that this game would be such a huge success when you were still dubbing your character ? Have you immediately seen the potential of this project when you first join its conception ?
As soon as I played the beta version of the game, I realized just how much it set itself apart from the bunch. There was so much of humor, insight, a depth in the fields of psychology, human relationships, history and even politics. It was an uncanny blend of genres, which was unheard of in the video game industry at the time, at least from my perspective.
However I was clearly not expecting that this game would win so many awards, although I was hoping so and carefully following the liveshow. I remember well the evening of the 13th of December 2019, on which Disco Elysium was awarded with numerous distinctions.
Was participating to a video game creation somewhat fulfilling ? Are you currently working on other related projects ?
Spending entire days with two people directing my voice play was extremely enriching. I was truly invested in my vocal role and it has greatly honed my skills and experience. I loved doing that and I would love to do that again.
Before finishing this interview, I may now ask the next few questions emphasized on the game itself.
Kind of humorous question : If you played this game, what was the psychological profile of a “Harry-embodied Kim” ?
I did two playthroughs, for I lost all my progression from the beta version of the game when when it was officially released. During my first run, I made Harry in my image and I played the game as if I was in it. Though, I turned him into a mindless, muscular and bloodthirsty brute and made the funnier and bizarre choices the second time.
How does it feel to be judged by a character with the same voice as their own ?
When I hear my own recordings, I take some distance from the gaming perspective, I am reviewing, judging and analyzing my work. It’s not that I hate it or anything but I’m more focused on the sheer technique rather than anything emotional during these sessions.
From an actual singer standpoint, what did you think of Harry’s karaoke scene ?
My friend and co-worker Mikee Goodman, who was working as sound engineer on the recordings, was the one who sang. Mikee is a really good singer and I love the tone he used during that performance, which reminds me of Tom Waits’s.
What is your favorite scene or quote in that game ?
It is difficult to only mention one peculiar scene, I gotta say that this game gave me a good laugh quite a few time when I was all alone in front of my computer screen. Some punchlines are just so incredible! Furthermore, the way they handle the plot is so surprising, whether it is during the opening sequence or when Harry can’t sleep and end up dreaming of facing one-on-one his doppelganger hanged on a tree, which quite the nightmare fuel…
And it is on this note that I would like to conclude this interview. I’d like to properly thank Jullian Champenois, for his dedication and availability. You will find links to his social medias accounts below, in case you wanna thank him again, follow his latest feats or discover his music (I personally recommend the latter by the way).