SYSTEM OF A DOWN's SERJ TANKIAN Is 'Okay' With Losing Some Fans Over His Activism

May 16, 2024

In a new interview with NPR, SYSTEM OF A DOWN frontman Serj Tankian, whose 2021 documentary "Truth To Power" charted the impact of his political activity and growth as a musician, both with and without SYSTEM OF A DOWN, was asked how he feels about possibly losing some of his fans over his activism. He said: "I'm okay with that because an artist isn't supposed to please everyone. An artist is supposed to basically try to receive through the collective consciousness whatever truths that we're trying to live by, the truths of our times. If we can't do that as artists, then we're entertainers. From day one, you have to make that choice: Are you an entertainer only or are you going to be an artist? If you're an entertainer, that's cool; there's many entertainers I follow and love. But if you're going to be an artist, then the road is not going to be easy. You're going to have to be honest with yourself and everyone else at all times, and people are going to like you and people are going to hate you, and that's okay."

He continued: "I was more of the activist in the band than anyone else. There was always this push and pull between the message and the music. The other guys, rightfully so, didn't want the music to be victimized by the message at all times. I understood that because I loved the music as well, but when there was [a message] that needed to be dispersed, I felt like that was just as important, if not more important, than the music."

In a separate interview with Books On Pod, Tankian touched upon how learning about his grandparents' Armenian background in his early teens prompted him to become an activist.

"When you're in a democracy and you are afraid to speak the truth because of backlash, that's when you feel like that something's really wrong," he said. "And mind you, that, coupled with growing up as an Armenian-American in Los Angeles, paying taxes to a country that is not properly recognizing the genocide of our ancestors, a democracy not recognizing proper history because of political expediency, because of Turkey being a NATO ally, and they didn't want to recognize it, just dirty political fucking geopolitics, that makes you an activist. That made me an activist. That made me someone who fights for truth and justice, not just having to do with Armenians or Armenian issues, but many issues — in the U.S., human rights issues around the world and even animal rights, climate issues. You see the world of injustice and justice, you see that imbalance, and you wanna kind of tip the scales up because you know that that's gonna make the world a better place in every way."

He added: "I've always spoken truth to power, but only because I cared. If I didn't care, I wouldn't speak my mind."

Tankian's autobiography, "Down With The System", was released on May 14 via Hachette Books.

Tankian is best known as the lead singer of the Grammy Award-winning rock band SYSTEM OF A DOWN, but he is also a solo artist, composer, activist, painter, poet, and filmmaker. Since launching on to the rock scene in 1993, he's performed for millions of fans and sold more than 42 million albums worldwide. He's also a proud Armenian-American and a dedicated activist; along with Tom Morello, Tankian co-founded the non-profit organization Axis Of Justice, which strived to bring together musicians, music fans, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice. He has composed scores for many films and television series, had his paintings exhibited in galleries in the U.S. and New Zealand, and released two books of his own poetry. He has also been an executive producer on multiple documentaries, including "I Am Not Alone", which tells the story of Armenia's 2018 revolution and which won awards at the Toronto International Film Festival, DOC NYC, American Film Institute Festival, and the Palm Springs International Film Festival, among others. Tankian lives with his wife and his son, splitting their time between Los Angeles and New Zealand.

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.

SYSTEM OF A DOWN co-headlined the second installment of the Sick New World festival in Las Vegas on April 27.

The quartet will next co-headline a one-off concert with DEFTONES at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California on August 17.

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