SERJ TANKIAN Would 'Absolutely' Be Okay With SYSTEM OF A DOWN Continuing With New Singer

July 9, 2024

In a new interview with the "Broken Record" podcast, SYSTEM OF A DOWN singer Serj Tankian was asked if it makes him sad that he and his bandmates haven't been able to make a new studio album, nearly two decades after the arrival of "Mezmerize" and "Hypnotize" LPs, which came out in 2005. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Creatively, I keep on making music and making art and doing creatively what I'm meant to do. And if the opportunity arises for us to work together in an egalitarian fashion in the right way with the right vibe and the right influence, then we'll do it.

"In 2020, we put out two songs because there was the invasion of Artsakh and Armenia happening by Azerbaijan during COVID, and people didn't know about what was going on so we used the band and putting out new music as an opportunity to spread awareness and we were successful in doing so," he explained. "So hopefully it's not just the decimation of our people that's gonna take SYSTEM OF A DOWN writing new music, but I think when that time is, and I don't know if it is ever or if it will be, that would be amazing. But I don't get sad by it, because to me it is what it is. When it's right, then it happens. When it's not, it shouldn't happen."

Asked if he would be okay with SYSTEM OF A DOWN going on without him, with a different singer in his place, Serj said: "Absolutely. I've offered them that opportunity and been very supportive of it many years. If they wanted to do that, if they wanted to continue in a way that I didn't — for example, if they wanted to tour a lot and I just wanna do a couple of shows here and there, because I'm not into touring a lot, to be fair to them, if they wanted to do that, I'm totally open to it still. I'm not sure they want to do that. They haven't until now, and I think it would take something away from the prestige and legacy of the band itself, but as friends and as someone who cares very much about my partners, I would be okay with it."

Regarding what it is about the four members of SYSTEM OF A DOWN as individuals, the alchemy of them together, that makes the band so great as a unit, Serj said: "Everything that each person is — from their personality to their playing style to how they think, how they feel and the combination thereof — make SYSTEM OF A DOWN what it is. If you take any particle away from this compound, it's not going to be SYSTEM OF A DOWN. It could be calledSYSTEM OF A DOWN, but it's not going to really be SYSTEM OF A DOWN. Even the stubbornness and the creative differences, everything, the push and pull, the manicness, the calmness, all of the above is what makes who we are."

Last month, Serj was asked by Metal Hammer magazine about comments from his SYSTEM bandmate John Dolmayan last year in which the drummer claimed that Serj "hasn't wanted to be in the band for a long time." Serj said: "John means the world to me. He's my brother-in-law, I love him, and I saw him just yesterday, but there are times he's got mad and said fucking shit. And look, there's times I've gotten mad and said fucking shit, too. The option has always been there for the band to move on without me, and John knows that.

"In the end, to me SYSTEM OF A DOWN is beyond the band," he continued. "It's our relationship together. And it means more to me than the band itself, or even the music itself. And that is hard for other people, maybe even other people in the band, to understand. But, as I saw from the stage at Sick New World [festival in Las Vegas] last year, the multi-generational appeal of the music we have made is mind-blowing, bro. Our music is more timeless than we ever imagined, and that is the hugest compliment for any artist."

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.

Two months ago, Serj spoke to the Soul Boom With Rainn Wilson podcast about his reluctance to embrace the touring lifestyle that characterized SYSTEM OF A DOWN's early years. He said: "We've had incredible, unexpected success as a very far-flung kind of progressive metal band with our 'Toxicity' record in 2001 and touring and doing what we did. And after many years of touring, when we were making the last few records which we made together, 'Mezmerize' and 'Hypnotize' — those recordings were done at the same time, then released as two records within six months of each other in 2005 and 2006 — before those sessions, when we first started those sessions, I told the [other] guys [in the band], 'Guys, this kind of cyclical thing that we're doing with making records for a year, touring for two years at that time, doing all this promo publicity,' it was just cyclical. It was, like, 'I've gotta stop. And I also wanna do my own thing. I have other artistic adventures that I wanna get on.'"

He continued: "Part of it was we had so much creativity and input coming into the band, specifically with Daron's [Malakian, SYSTEM OF A DOWN guitarist and vocalist] songwriting and me wanting to bring in music as well, because, over time, he became a better lyricist and I became a better musical songwriter, a better composer, so it became kind of like a push and pull, which is really good for bands, actually, 'cause it's a yin-and-yang kind of thing — two strong, creative forces. And it also broken up so many bands. So, before 'Mezmerize' and 'Hypnotize', I basically told the guys, 'Listen, I'd like to take a hiatus. I'm not saying I never wanna do this, but I'm saying I can't do this right now anymore. And I wanna do my own thing and also take time off and have a life, and all of that stuff.' It wasn't taken well at the time. I won't get into that. But years later, we started touring again in 2011, and it became a fun thing, 'cause it left… Nothing was totally resolved creatively, but it became a fun thing because we at least put everything to the side and said, 'Look, we're friends, we're brothers. We've known each other for a long time. We still respect and love each other. Let's go have fun and tour together.' And we've been doing that since. Not as much as they would like, let's say, or I'm not gonna speak for each and every person of the band, because that wouldn't be fair of me either. But generally I'm the least person that wants to tour. Part of that is physical, because it's tiring. I've done it for 20, 25 years, and I had back surgery a few years ago. I'm much better now and all of that. But part of it is that. Part of it is that it's artistically redundant after a while, because it's 'Groundhog Day'; you're repeating yourself. David Bowie said the first two weeks of every tour is basically — I'm paraphrasing — creative; after that, it's redundant, kind of thing, which is correct. So it's that. But I do enjoy playing with the guys, and when it's a one-off, it's actually fun, 'cause there's no pressure to do this whole rigamarang of a long tour or press or anything. You just rehearse together, make your dumb jokes, have food together, and then go and play that one show and it becomes a hoorah. So that's what we've been doing. And I'm grateful for that."

Tankian, who is promoting his memoir, previously addressed how his relationship with Malakian has evolved over the years, particularly as it relates to their collaborative partnership, in May 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.

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