SERJ TANKIAN Says He Knew Early On That SYSTEM OF A DOWN Couldn’t Stay Together For A Long Time

In a new interview with Patrick Ritter of the WSOU 89.5 FM radio station, Serj Tankian explained why he felt, from SYSTEM OF A DOWN‘s early days, that the complex dynamics within the band and the resulting clash of egos and creative tensions would ultimately led to the group’s demise. The singer said in part (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “John [Dolmayan], my drummer who’s also my brother-in-law, recently — he’s got an incredible memory. My memory is not as good, but he basically said, ‘Yeah, ever since ’99, you were looking and going, ‘This can’t continue this way.” And I think it had a lot to do with the discrepancy between our attitude and Daron‘s [MalakianSYSTEM OF A DOWN guitarist] attitude toward the band and toward everything that was happening. I think for Daron, he had grown up with this becoming his everything. In John‘s case, for example, even though he’s played drums since he was eight years old — I think it was eight — he’s done many, many things in life. He’s had a comic book company. Shavo‘s [OdadjianSYSTEM OF A DOWN bassist] done other things as well, even though music’s been a big part of his life. But for Daron, it was the only thing. And I had done many things in life — worked in different industries, got a college degree and went into music almost late, later than all the other guys, definitely. So I think there was a lack of appreciation of stuff happening or whatever it was. I can’t remember the exact circumstance, but I felt like there was something wrong with this puzzle that I don’t think we could solve from a very early time. And music had become my everything at that time. I had screamed at the gods saying that I wanna do music. And I knew that was my vision. I knew I’d be doing music for the rest of my life, no matter what, with or without SYSTEM OF A DOWN, ’cause that was my calling. But early on, I could see that schism, that schism developing.”

In his recently released memoir, “Down With The System”Serj revealed that his SYSTEM OF A DOWN bandmates had auditioned a new vocalist after he had asked out of the group in 2017. Serj said that his disdain for touring led to his decision to tell his bandmates to carry on without him so they could continue living their dream. Tankian later learned that the band had begun looking at new singers, and he also shared that in “more recent years”, he had pitched a close friend as a potential replacement but he didn’t think the band ever seriously considered the offer.

Tankian previously addressed how his relationship with Malakian has evolved over the years, particularly as it relates to their collaborative partnership, earlier this month in an interview with Tom Power, host of “Q” on Canada’s CBC Radio One. He said: “Well, changing the dynamic is basically years of time and the progression of the band, the success of the band, everything that happened in between the day that we met and now, basically, so 25, 30 years. A lot changes in that time. And so I think that’s a part of it.

Daron‘s been a lifer and he’s incredibly serious about his music and he’s incredibly protective of his music and vulnerable due to his music,” Serj explained. “All of those things kind of go together. So it’s those things, I think, that created some of the creative differences that we started finding. And it’s also our progression. Listen, when Daron and I started working together, I didn’t really write a lot of instrumental music — I mostly wrote lyrics; I was the lyricist; I was the singer. And he didn’t write any lyrics; he just wrote music. But as time progressed and I played more musical instruments and I started becoming a songwriter/composer and he started writing more lyrics, we started kind of covering each other’s territory. And I was okay with that. If he wrote lyrics, I was trying to encourage him to write more, because I believe in artistic growth. I believe in progression. I don’t believe in things staying the same way, for music’s sake. Otherwise the music becomes the same thing over and over again. That progression is necessary in every artist’s life or in every group’s life. So I was very encouraging of that. And I just wish that I got some of that back. And so that wasn’t the case, and it was disappointing. And it became a creative difference over the band’s path, and whatnot, over time.”

Asked why he wanted to write about this in his book, Serj said: “A lot of it has been publicized in a very sensationalist format by media, music media mostly, and I kind of wanted to put it in a proper perspective and grounding perspective, but with love and with balance and understanding that these things happen. This is normal. You have a relationship and you have differences in opinion as [to] how you wanna go forward, whether it’s a band or a marriage or whatever it is. And these things happen. And so I wanted to take that aspect out, I wanted to take the sensationalist aspect out of the whole thing and be, like, this is not only what happened, but this is how I see things.”

Tankian also addressed the fact that SYSTEM OF A DOWN has toured intermittently since ending its hiatus in 2011, but has only managed to record two songs in the last 19 years, “Protect The Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz”. Released in November 2020, the tracks were motivated by the conflict between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, with all proceeds supporting humanitarian efforts in SYSTEM OF A DOWN‘s ancestral homeland of Armenia. Along with other donations from fans on their social pages, they raised over $600,000.

“We haven’t been making new music,” Serj said. “We only put out two songs when the invasion of Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh happened in 2020 by Azerbaijan, because we felt like the Azeri trolls, the government-sponsored trolls were taking over social media and the news networks, and the victims of these attacks weren’t getting the word out. So we became kind of obsessed with getting the word out, because we were seeing our people suffer. So we put out those two songs because of that and we donated a lot of the proceeds for that to the cause as well.”

Asked how he balances the love and obligation he might feel toward his fans, those who love SYSTEM OF A DOWN, and the internal struggles within the band, Tankian said: “That’s an incredibly smart question. It’s really hard catering — when you’re an artist, it’s really hard catering. If you’re an entertainer, catering is [what you do], but if you’re an artist, then you’re just creating what comes to you. You’re almost unaware of what people want. Yes, if it’s something heavier, you know people are gonna like it more. But if you’re a good songwriter, you could do both. I do orchestral music, I do film music, I do rock music — I do it all. So I enjoy ’em all, but I know that if I do rock, more people are going to listen to it than a piano, instrumental orchestral piece of music, soundtrack kind of music. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t do both, as an artist. So it’s hard to really cater to people’s feelings. What I love is, and I know that I can speak for the rest of the guys in the band, that no matter what’s going on with our creative difference or the band not making new music or not touring fully or whatever, everyone’s incredibly appreciative of what we have in terms of the love that we get from our fans and the way that people react to our music and the way that we get all these e-mails about how it’s changed people’s lives and all of that stuff, and that is mind-blowing. It’s the biggest honor. And when I meet people on the street, I’m still incredibly honored that someone would pick me out and look at me in a positive light, not knowing who I am personally, but knowing me through my music, through our music, let’s say. And I think that’s a great fucking honor. I feel blessed for it. But it doesn’t mean that that thing should continue forever either.”

SYSTEM OF A DOWN played its first live show in 11 months on April 27 as one of the headliners of the Sick New World festival in Las Vegas, Nevada for the second year in a row.

“Down With The System” was released on May 14 via Hachette Books.

Malakian has resurrected his SCARS ON BROADWAY project for its first live appearances in five years: October 5 at the BMO Stadium in Los Angeles as the support act for KORN, and October 11 at the Aftershock festival in Sacramento, California.

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