By Khatchig Mouradian
The following interview with System of a Down’s frontman Serj Tankian was conducted on Oct. 16 at the Paradise Club in Boston, Mass. Tankian is on tour promoting his new album—set to be released on Oct. 23—“Elect the Dead.”
Khatchig Mouradian—Talk about your experience putting this album together.
Serj Tankian—Making this record has been a real learning experience, a strong positive experience for me, and very organic. I have my own studio, I go in and record as I please. I have hundreds of songs and I picked out songs that would lend themselves to my voice for this particular project. I recorded all the pianos and most of the strings (I brought in a couple of string players but I wrote all the string parts), programmed all the drums, then brought in drummers later to play them live, performed most of the guitars, most of the bass and vocals, pretty much produced it myself and recorded it myself and put it out on my own label through Warner, the distributor.
K.M.—You say, “With this record all success or failure rests with me. It made me realize that I have an amazing life and I’m getting to make a lot of my dreams come true.” Talk about those dreams.
S.T.—Well I have dreams every night. [Laughs.] I love doing music and it’s become my work. It was my passion and now it’s also my work. I’ve also devoted part of my life to learning other things around me, whether it’s spiritual, political or ecological. And, you know, I have a lot of things I want to accomplish. But accomplishments aren’t really important personally. I enjoy this process of not just putting a record out but involving different people, different video directors, different artists, website designers and journalists, and enjoying the process and learning from the process.
K.M.—Referring to the song “The Unthinking Majority,” you say “it is unlike any song on my solo record and meant to inspire collective action.” What collective action would you like to see?
S.T.—Ultimately I’d like to see some type of deep perspective and understanding of what civilization means. I think we’re all addicted to this thing called civilization that started 10,000 ago. We as Armenians have been at the beginning of that civilization, yet we don’t know what we were before civilization even as Armenians. We just know that we had multiple gods like the Greeks and many other cultures, but we don’t know much about those times and where the true character of spirituality comes from. So it’s very important for me to explore our indigenous past, not just as Armenians but as humans. We’re a part of the progression of things on this planet. A lot of radical changes are occurring and will continue to occur, and it’s important for us to know where we stand.
K.M.—You mentioned civilization. You’ve said, “Civilization itself is not sustainable. Civilization is over.” Can you explain that?
S.T.—At the current rate of progression, based on overpopulation coupled with the accelerated rate of destruction of the world’s natural resources, civilization is scientifically unsustainable.
K.M.—Talk about the role System of a Down played in…
S.T.—Ending civilization? [Laughs.] That would be a great question! Sorry, what was your question?
K.M.—The role System of a Down plated in your career and your life.
S.T.—It’s been my band for 11 years. It launched my musical career. It included my friends that I’ve played with and learned from and love and care for. And it’s brought me to where I am today to explore the type of artistic avenues that I have been exploring and to be able to have a platform of speech. But System of a Down is not a brand, it’s a collective of four friends that are artists that play together when they so desire, and I am a part of that collective, and my voice has always been a part of that collective.
K.M.—From music to poetry to grassroots activism, where do you find yourself and how do you feel in these different avenues?
S.T.—I do whatever, I follow my heart, you know? If I feel like making a call and doing something in terms of activism or going out there and planting something or if I feel like writing a song, it’s just all a part of the natural progression of my life.
K.M.—What do you have to say about the current discussion regarding the Armenian Genocide Resolution?
S.T.—I just said it on a radio station in Boston. You can’t deny a genocide or holocaust based on political expediency. It makes absolutely no sense. If we claim as America that we’re a democracy then we have to look in the mirror and ask: Can we lie about a genocide or hold off its recognition for the sake of geopolitical or strategic gains or a military occupation that is unfair in itself? It’s trying to undo one mistake with another mistake and it doesn’t make sense. That’s why a lot of Congressmen are behind the resolution, and it passed [the House Foreign Relations] Committee and I’m confident that it will pass the House. And it’s got Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s support.
I feel like there’s always going to be an excuse. You know, we’ve waited 92 years, but ultimately I want to go further and say, recognition is not that important. Recognition is one part of the just solution. If someone came to my house, killed my family and robbed my house, I’m not going to run after them for a hundred years and beg them to recognize that crime. That makes no sense, I’m going to take them to court and I’m going to loudly request justice, and that’s what needs to be done ultimately. But obviously, we all know that this is the first step, so we got to keep the goal in mind.
K.M.—On the same issue, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that “The passage of this resolution indeed will be very problematic for everything we are trying to do in the Middle East.”
S.T.—I’m scared of everything they’re trying to do in the Middle East. Maybe the resolution will help them put their asses in place.