Music Interviews

Interview: System Of A Down

“Hi sweetie!” System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian greets everyone warmly, no matter how tired – or sick – he is.

“I just woke up feeling real sick today. I’ve just been too stressed recently.”

More like overworked. Ever since the release of Toxicity, he’s been touring, remixing, producing, recording.

His latest project is Serart, recorded with Armenian multi-instrumentalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan.
Tuncboyaciyan, besides fronting the Armenian Navy Band, has also worked with some of the best of the crop, such as Chet Baker and Al Di Meola. An eclectic mix where cultures and genres intermingle, Serart is the sonic collision between a metaller and an avant-gardiste.

musicOMH: You saw Arto performing with a Coke bottle…?
Serj: I saw him onstage at the Armenian Music Awards two years ago. There are a lot of musicians but very few artists, I always say. And he’s definitely, definitely an artist. He did this drum ‘n bass thing… making these Old World type of sounds with a Coke bottle.

musicOMH: When did you start working together?
Serj: I had Arto come down and do some tracks on the Toxicity sessions with System and became friends there. And then probably six months after that, we did Serart.

“Music all comes from one place, and it’s really the same. It’s just different colors and different ways of representing it.”
– Serj Tankian

musicOMH: Do you think some of your fans will be surprised by this album?
Serj: Some will. I think they’ll be more laughing than anything.

musicOMH: You’re opening them to different musical avenues.
Serj: To me it’s just one moment in the studio with an amazing artist that I had no choice but to work with.

musicOMH: Did you use anything weird?
Serj: The weirdest instruments we used were the traditional instruments!

musicOMH: You didn’t make any yourselves?
Serj: We used everything in the room. I had brought in a bunch of toys for me and Arto to play with besides traditional instruments. But Arto’s amazing, like he uses his pockets to make bird sounds. Everything’s an instrument.

musicOMH: Did you work with others as well?
Serj: I had a couple of friends come in and Jenna Ross came and sang on Narina and a little back-up on Devil’s Wedding, and my friend Vah did one guitar solo in Devil’s Wedding. Shavo (Odadjian, System’s bassist) came and did some scatching on a couple of the songs, DJ stuff.

Arto Tuncboyaciyan
Arto Tuncboyaciyan
“Arto’s amazing, like he uses his pockets to make bird sounds. Everything’s an instrument.”
– Serj Tankian

musicOMH: How does it feel working on something so different?
Serj: Well, the thing about Serart to me was not about metal. It was about improvisation to us, structured songs. And that was a really, really beautiful experience in that sense. I had some songs I had recorded and programmed ahead of time, but most of the work that we did together on the record was done on the spot without thinking about it, without intention, spontaneously.

musicOMH: Michael Moore directed the Boom! video. Did you choose him for his stance on the war?
Serj: I only had Michael in mind for Boom! because Michael has a very prominent and intuitive appeal to people. He can tell the truth very bluntly, in a way people understand, and eventually politicise people that would not be politicised otherwise.

musicOMH:Has rock stardom given you a voice?
Serj: I have just some type of a voice. But we all have a voice; we each have different listeners.

musicOMH: But you have a wider appeal than the average person.
Serj: Yeah, but it’s subjective. I think it’s important for some people to say what’s in their hearts and to act upon it, because we only have one life to live.

musicOMH: Was there a basis from which you improvised?
Serj: No, the basis of our sound was whatever improvisation we came up with on the spot. I think a lot of the sound touches upon many different indigenous cultures. Music all comes from one place, and it’s really the same. It’s just different colors and different ways of representing it.

musicOMH: And the four releases on your label Serjical Strike?
Serj: The first release on Serjical Records is Serart, obviously. Then we have the bands that we signed, one of which I’m producing called Slow Motion Reign, – they’re an amazing Beatlesesque type of four-piece. They’ll probably be out by September, October. The next band is Kittens For Christian. We’re going to release them in September. It’s pretty much straight-up rock but very Goth-influenced, reminiscent of early Jesus Lizard, Birthday Party. Then there’s a band called Bad Acid Trip, which Daron (Malakian), my guitarist, is producing. They’re some old friends of ours and they’re this amazing thrashcore band.

musicOMH: When should SOAD fans expect new material?
Serj: Probably – maybe – end of 2004.

musicOMH: What does Serart mean?
Serj: Serj and Arto first of all. And ser means love in Armenian. It’s like the love of art and also can be the art of loving.

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