SYSTEM OF A DOWN's SERJ TANKIAN On Opening For SLAYER In The Late 1990s: 'We Were F***ing Scared'

November 15, 2023

In the latest episode of "The Disc Dive", presented by Knotfest host Ryan J. Downey, Serj Tankian, the frontman of SYSTEM OF A DOWN, looked back on what it was like for him and his bandmates to open for SLAYER around the 1998 release of their self-titled debut album. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "We were fucking scared, bro, on stage. It was bootcamp, just surviving, learning how to work an audience. 'Cause SLAYER audiences will hate everyone else, obviously, But that brings back a lot of memories, because it was our first tour as well. And Daron [Malakian, SYSTEM OF A DOWN guitarist] was all glammed out. I had, like, weird shit on my face. And they would look at us, like, 'Who the fuck are these fucking idiots?' And we had to impress from, like, not just base zero point, but negative point. We had to get up there and score points. And that, my friend, was incredible bootcamp as touring artists, that really, really kind of made us. It molded us."

Three and a half years ago, SYSTEM OF A DOWN drummer John Dolmayan told the "Let There Be Talk" podcast: "Our first tour was with SLAYER, and after you play in front of a SLAYER crowd, everything else is easy. And they were very accepting of us, very supportive, and the people were super nice to us, and they would actually listen.

"SLAYER audiences can be brutal," he continued. "[SLAYER singer/bassist] Tom Araya came up to us and said, 'Let me know if you have problems,' and they would watch us every night, they were so good to us and supportive and nice people, and I miss them dearly.

"I miss Jeff [Hanneman, late SLAYER guitarist who passed away in 2013]. He was such a good guy. He would share music with us and come hang out with us, and we were just this little band driving around in an RV. We got to know [SLAYER drummer Dave] Lombardo as well at the time. He's a sweet guy, and [later SLAYER drummer Paul] Bostaph, of course, was a very nice guy, great drummer. Our first tour in the U.S. was with them, and they took us to Europe as well, and it was us, SLAYER and SEPULTURA. What a great trio that was — a great experience for us."

In March 2020, SYSTEM OF A DOWN bassist Shavo Odadjian told the "Ya Neva Know" podcast about what it was like to tour with SLAYER: "SLAYER, if you're opening for them, they [the fans] don't like you. It doesn't matter who the fuck you are because you ain't SLAYER. SLAYER fans, they're so hardcore. They're, like, 'I don't give a fuck about this, SYSTEM OF A what?! What, they're wearing makeup?!' Because we used to do all sorts of theatrics… It comes from KISS and all that stuff. Appreciating what KISS did. I don't like all their songs, but I dug what they did with their vision. So we're playing songs like 'Sugar' with, like, eyeliner on and makeup on, and these guys are ready for 'Raining Blood', and they go, 'Fuck these guys!' And we get booed."

Shavo added: "But I think it built us. It made us who we are — I swear — because if that didn't happen, we probably wouldn't have the balls to stay up there. We never left. They booed us, but we never left. It drove us. And four months later, they took us to Europe for the first time. So the first tour ever in America and the first tour ever in Europe was with SLAYER. And they just dug the fact that we didn't give a fuck, and we did weird shit with metal and funk and everything else we just did — waltz and polka — and we just love music, bro."

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.

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