SYSTEM OF A DOWN's SERJ TANKIAN Explains Why He Finds Touring To Be 'Artistically Redundant'

May 21, 2024

SYSTEM OF A DOWN frontman Serj Tankian was a featured guest on a recent episode of the Soul Boom With Rainn Wilson podcast, a series of intimate conversations, hosted by comedic actor, producer and writer Rainn Wilson, exploring meaningful and inspiring topics that tickle the mind, heart and soul. During the 70-minute chat, which can be seen in its entirety below, Serj spoke about his reluctance to embrace the touring lifestyle that characterized SYSTEM OF A DOWN's early years. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "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, "Down With The System", 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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