is what you would call a Renaissance Man.
He is the charismatic and insightful singer/songwriter of the highly innovative and ingenious band System Of A Down
, a band known for their unique sound and highly political overtones.
He is a poet. During his time with System, currently on hiatus, he released a book of his poems titled Cool Gardens
. He is a film composer, having written the score for the film Bug
. Something he hopes to do even more of in the future.
In 2001, he started his own record label, Serjical Strike
, which has released a number of albums from an eclectic variety of genres. The most recent SS project is his own solo record, Elect The Dead
, which he produced, and is set for an October release.
Serj is also a highly regarded activist. In addition to forming the organization Axis Of Justice
, with Tom Morello
(formerly of AudioSlave), a foundation dedicated to raising awareness for many social and political causes, he petitions tirelessly for recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government. Those efforts were most recently documented in the film Screamers
. His Armenian heritage is something that is very important to him, and prevalent in his music, politics and everyday life.
Argie Plakas: Your Armenian background seems to have a great influence on you. Correct?
Well, I grew up listening to my father sing traditional Armenian music. And though he couldn't make a living out of it, it was always his passion. In fact, I am looking at helping him put a record together in Armenian that I want to release myself through my label, Serjical Strike. Another influence, is the question of justice regarding the Armenian genocide. And I also still love the language, I'm fluent, I both read and write in Armenian.
What does the title of your record Elect the Dead mean?
|"I kind of wrote every little bit of the record from A-Z, played most of the instruments."|
The title is open to interpretation, like all the lyrics, which makes it more powerful and perfect to internalize it's meaning. But when I've asked friends what it means to them, I've heard some really cool interpretations. One was, we don't many great leaders now, so we should go look at the ones from the past, who have passed away. But the best interpretation that I heard was, that the victims of the epitome of civilization should be the ones deciding who are next leader should be; those who have been unjustly led to die. But honestly, to me it has nothing to do with elections or leaders, it's about electing yourself. To really be responsible, and using the wisdom beyond the physical and material world, beyond history itself. To tap into the spiritual world, and to not only pick the right people to represent us, but to represent ourselves in the right way. If we did that, I think we would be in a much better place.
Is it true you played every instrument on this record, except for drums?
Yes. The way that I did the record was, I started playing the piano, then guitar with rough vocals. And then I filled everything on that and basically programmed all the drums, wrote all the drum parts with electronic samples, and did all the guitar, bass, strings, keyboards, vocals, and finished everything. And then I got a couple drummer friends to come in and replace my drums. So, I kind of wrote every little bit of the record from A-Z, played most of the instruments, and then got drummers to play the drums, and finally cellists and violinists to play a couple other things.
What was the recording process like for you?
Very organic. When I was inspired I would go in and work on songs. Some of the songs are from way back. And a lot of them were written last year. And most of it was recorded last fall.
How is this solo record different musically wise, than System of a Down?
Musically I think it's a lot more layered. It's a lot thicker. I don't want to give the wrong impression of what it is or isn't, it's hard to describe music. But there is a lot of layers and stuff. There's a lot of piano and strings. A lot of things that we couldn't do with System. And lyrically it's alittle more intimate. Even when I was writing by myself with System, I would have to consider everyone else's feelings about what I'm writing. But in this case, it's a solo record, so there's a certain extra vulnerability, the extra connection, more of a direct connection.
Do you see yourself back with System of a Down someday?
|"The album's title is open to interpretation."|
The possibility is there. We're all friends. We are taking an indefinite hiatus. We're all doing our own thing, exploring, and having new adventures, which is very important to artists. If we all feel we have something to say together, in the near future or far future, System will be there for us.
The video for The Unthinking Majority was recently posted on your website, www.serjtankian.com. Will you be doing videos for any other songs as well?
We will be doing MTV style videos for single songs. But we're also doing indie videos for every song on the record. I have a bunch of amazing indie director friends that are already working on it. Some of them are almost done. And some of them will be done in the next month or so. To me, the best thing about this record, besides being kind of like a direct result of very focused vision of my artistic efforts, is the fact that, in every way, we're trying to multiply the artistic factor of record out there. We are trying to get really creative with regard to publicity and promotion. We're also having every journalist that's interviewing write a little piece about a sentence that I wrote. So, we're compiling a poetry book of all the journalists that are interviewing for this record. And at the end of October, we're either going to choose the best ones and put them on the website, or do a PDF of the whole thing to download for free.
Well, I'd like to throw my hat into the ring
Yeah, you have to, you have to.
I'm assuming there is going to be a tour involved with this?
Yes, absolutely. I've put together a back-up band. We are going to be rehearsing soon. I think we're going to be doing a promotional tour first, around the time of the record release. And playing some radio shows at the end of the year. And we'll probably do a proper tour and festivals next year.
You've mentioned to me and to other journalists as well, that you would like to write a book someday Is that still something you'd like to add to your resume?
I think so. But I would need enough time away from music to focus and do it. But I don't really like repeating myself a lot. And I like doing different things. I've done a poetry book, and I have thousands of unreleased poems, maybe I'll put them out someday. For now I'd like try and do more.
What would you like to impart if you were to write a book?
Well, one of my hobbies, since music stopped becoming my hobby and became my work, is foreign policy. So, I'd like to do my own foreign policy analysis of the world. And the relationship of nations, and try to encourage a spiritual undertone to replace political ambivalence.
Speaking of politics, what are your thoughts on the upcoming political election and the candidates involved?
|"If we all feel we have something to say together, System will be there for us."|
(laughs) I've got lots of thoughts! Well, I saw the YouTube debates with the Democrats, and I thought that was really cool.
Any particular candidate that you really like?
Well, there's pros and cons about a number of candidates. On a personal level, I think there's a number of candidates that have the potentiality, experience, and the know how to be able to do a decent job. My only fear is that we've gone so much toward extremism in American politics today that it's going to take an extreme person to get us out of it. So, on a personal level if I were to pick one candidate to best represent where I am politically, it would probably be a very leftist candidate, probably Dennis Kucinich.
Serj, you are obviously an extremely creative person. Do you think that type of creativity is easy for everyone to tap into?
I think creativity comes from the Universe. It doesn't come from us. It comes from collective consciousness. At best we're skilled presenters. So, it's out there for all of us to be able to feed on and to be able to present. But some people can be more focused on it and develop the tools and skills to be able to be presenters of that, and some people don't. And that's ok. We all have our own vision and own little part of this whole establishment of life.
I would imagine you're probably really looking forward to this juncture in your life?
Yes, it's really exciting. I've never done anything like this before, so it's new, it's exploratory. It's fun!
Interview by Argie Plakas
Photos by Greg Waterman
|Elect the Dead will be released on October 23rd.