SYSTEM OF A DOWN's JOHN DOLMAYAN: 'SERJ TANKIAN Hasn't Really Wanted To Be In The Band For A Long Time'January 3, 2023
SYSTEM OF A DOWN drummer John Dolmayan has once again opened up about the band's stalled attempts to record a follow-up to its "Mezmerize" and "Hypnotize" LPs, which came out in 2005.
SYSTEM OF A DOWN has toured intermittently since ending its hiatus in 2011, but has only managed to record two songs in the last 18 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 have raised over $600,000.
Dolmayan addressed SYSTEM OF A DOWN's inability to produce more new music during an appearance on the "Battleline Podcast". He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Serj [Tankian, SYSTEM OF A DOWN singer] hasn't really wanted to be in the band for a long time. And quite frankly, we probably should have parted ways around 2006. We tried to get together multiple times to make an album, but there were certain rules set in place that made it difficult to do so and maintain the integrity of what SYSTEM OF A DOWN stood for. So we couldn't really come together and agree. And part of that is Serj's fault, and part of that is my fault, and Shavo's [Odadjian, SYSTEM OF A DOWN bassist] and Daron's [Malakian, SYSTEM OF A DOWN guitarist] as well. But at the end of the day, if you have a majority of the band thinking one way and one person thinking the other, it's very difficult to come together and make music thinking that person is important. And every member of this band is very important to the overall sound of the band. And you'll know this by listening to anybody's side projects; they're never quite that good compared to SYSTEM. In fact, I think a lot of 'em aren't very good at all. And when you compare that to what we do together as SYSTEM, you understand why the team matters and having certain talents come together and merge matter and that magic thing captured doing that matters."
John continued: "No matter what, Daron is one of the best songwriters I've ever seen in my life. What he does with [his side project] SCARS [ON BROADWAY] will never be on the same level or league as SYSTEM. That doesn't mean SCARS is bad; it just means it's not SYSTEM. 'Cause at the end of the day, he doesn't have me playing drums; he doesn't have Shavo playing bass and bringing in certain riffs and adding to Daron's music, and he doesn't have Serj bringing his melody and lyrics into the play. So it's all those things that make us SYSTEM."
Asked to elaborate on his comment that SYSTEM OF A DOWN "should have parted ways around 2006", John said: "I think we should have moved on, and if Serj didn't wanna be in the band at that time, we should have just moved on and done it with somebody else. But that's what happens when you're loyal and you really wanna make it work; you'll put up with things that may be detrimental to the health of the band or the health of the situation. Maybe it would have been better if we moved on and got another singer for an album or two and continued to make music and brought Serj back later if he wanted to come back. That probably would have been better. But as it is, I think we wasted 15, maybe 20 years of our lives waiting."
Pressed about what it is like for him and his bandmates to still perform live together, Dolmayan said: "When we're actually on stage, it's great. It's just getting to that point that is disheartening. We have one show booked for next year. One show. That's it."
According to John, several of the SYSTEM members would prefer to be a lot more active on the live circuit. "I think we would like to be working a lot more, but Serj also has a bad back now; he's messed up his back somehow," he said. "And he just doesn't wanna tour as much as the rest of us do. Look, if my wife told me that we were gonna have sex once a year, I'd be divorced. So you figure that out for what it is.
"I don't think this is sustainable," John admitted. "The rest of us wanna work a lot more than he does. Now I don't know if that means we're just gonna break up and forget about it and call it a career or if we're gonna move forward with somebody else or if Serj is gonna come around. Ultimately, the best-case scenario for me is Serj comes around and we can do, like, 15, 20 shows a year. Even that would be enough. We'd be able to go to places that we haven't gone in a long time and play in front of fans that have never seen us play. That's important to me."
Dolmayan added: "I don't know what's gonna happen. Even talking about SYSTEM kind of bums me out, because I know what our potential is. And I know that if we make an album, it'll be fantastic 'cause we have songs that have been ready for five [or] six years now; we just have to go in and record 'em. And I don't know if that's gonna happen or not."
The drummer concluded: "You only get one shot at life. Make the best of it."
In 2018, Malakian publicly accused Tankian of not wanting to record, with Tankian responding that creative and financial issues with Malakian led to the stalemate. In a message on Facebook, Tankian wrote that Malakian wanted to control SYSTEM's creative process, take more of the publishing money and be the only bandmember to speak to the press.
In an interview with Guitar World magazine, Malakian was asked about the chances of more new music from SYSTEM OF A DOWN in the near future. He responded: "I never say never, but at the same time, I'm not expecting to do any more with SYSTEM OF A DOWN right away or immediately after [these two songs]. It really does seem like our fans like these new songs. That's important to me."
He continued: "We've added two new songs to the SYSTEM catalog that are on the level with everything else that we've put out and our fans have accepted it that way, which means a lot to me. That's kinda where we're gonna leave it for now. If more happens later on, then we'll talk about that, but for now I will continue doing what I'm doing and everyone else will just continue what they're doing. It's all cool though, I'm really pleased with the response we got."
Two years ago, Odadjian discussed SYSTEM's inability to record a full-length follow-up to its "Mezmerize" and "Hypnotize" LPs during an appearance on MACHINE HEAD frontman Robb Flynn's "No Fuckin' Regrets With Robb Flynn" podcast. At the time, Shavo stated about the overwhelmingly positive reaction to "Protect The Land" and "Genocidal Humanoidz": "To me, this is all bittersweet, because I think we can still do it, but because of misunderstandings [between] bandmembers, we're not doing it. Look at us — we have a common cause. We get together, we do two songs, two videos.
"I'm that member that still everyone is like the best friend of mine, but they're not best friends with each other so much," he explained. "They are, but they have differences in opinions and stuff. I have a way of understanding each member and saying, 'Dude, we can overcome this.' It's not that big of a deal — no one fucking banged anyone's wife; no one did any of those things that can really destroy a relationship. It's just a difference in opinion of things. And I think people should be [able to] work it out. But because, I think, of what we had, I think it's, like, some people are stuck in what we had and some people wanna move forward and not do what we had and do something totally different, which is wrong too. I don't think we should do something totally different; I think we should do something that both agree [on]. And we're having a hard time [agreeing on a direction], and that's where we are.
"So, to me, it's bittersweet, because I see everybody, and everyone's, like, 'We love Shavo.' And I'm, like, 'I love you,' but then they can't work together."
Shavo went on to reiterate his belief that the differences between the SYSTEM members are not insurmountable. "I don't think anything so horrible has happened," he said. "We're all alive. We're all friends. I swear, when there's conversations going on, it's very legit, very loving. No one's hating on each other. They're very polite towards each other. Serj and Daron, when they talk, they're connected, they're nice to each other. No one's hating, no one's cussing, no one's saying 'fuck you', no one's saying 'you ruined…', 'you did this.' It's just that section that's fucked up.
"Daron brought these songs in," Shavo said, referring to "Protect The Land" and "Genocidal Humanoidz". "And we've worked that way before. A song like 'War?' was brought in by Daron — that was a Daron song; Daron brought that in, and that happened. And then there's a song like 'Sugar', where I brought that in. And there's a song like 'Question!' where Serj brought it [in]. So we have different ways of writing songs, [and] it should be like that again. But because of what's happened, I feel like it's kind of like become this big issue now.
"I think at the end of things, when we're old and gray, we're gonna look back and be, like, 'Fuck, we were idiots,' for not taking the time and seizing the day. I believe in seizing the day in everything I do, and that's what I do — that's why I'm so busy nowadays.
"Like I said, I'm telling you here, there's nothing that's happened that can't be worked out. So I always have hope. I'm doing everything knowing that SYSTEM's not dead, and it hasn't been dead."
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