Interview: Serj Tankian
Thu, 06 Mar 2008 09:51:08
Few artists can match Serj Tankian in terms of creativity. His voice has become a true enigma: diverse, entrancing, schizophrenic and downright infectious. With multi-platinum metallic pioneers System of a Down, Tankian virtually rewrote the rulebook for heavy music, coupling political and spiritual lyrical themes and a quirky, yet poignant vocal delivery. Going it on your own isn't always the easiest thing. However, with System of a Down on a current hiatus, Tankian managed to craft an intriguing and catchy solo debut in the form of Elect the Dead. Songs range from all-out arena-ready rockers to more contemplative fare, and Tankian has pushed boundaries even further, evolving to the next level. Taking some time out of his current tour supporting Foo Fighters, Tankian sat down with ARTISTdirect to discuss his solo debut and much more.
Elect the Dead evokes a lot of imagery and feels very visual conceptually. Did you have certain stories in mind that you wanted to tell on the record?
Each song has its own story, and the record's not really a concept album. However, there are a few underlying concepts that seem to pop up throughout. One of those concepts is the trial and loss of civilization. The other is the human construct and end of the concept of time itself which somehow coincides with the first. There are political, humorous, as well as personal stories to boot.
How would you describe your personal, creative evolution that's happened on these songs?
I think that my experience over the years in writing songs, recording, doing collaborations, producing and putting out records through my label, Serjical Strike, gave me the experience, focus, and confidence of releasing Elect the Dead in the exact way I've always imagined. I've learned a lot making this record, bettering the quality of songs, arrangements, envisioning the tone/sounds and achieving them.
Was this album especially exciting for you, being your first solo offering?
Absolutely! It's a new direction, a new way of doing things, an exciting new approach to making a rock record as a composer without a band, and yet sounding like a live band recorded. It was extremely refreshing and emancipating to make Elect the Dead for me.
It seems like your lyrics have gotten even more poetic. What was it like writing them for this record?
The lyrics on this record are more intimate than anything I've done before, since it is a solo record and I'm not really representing anyone else.
The music transcends genre constrictions and truly stands out, because it's still catchy, but thought provoking at the same time. Did you go into recording this with a completely "boundless" attitude?
I never really think of what or how while I'm writing. Music comes from the universe, and at best, we're skilled presenters. The only thing I intentionally pay attention to is trying to present songs with as much quality and dynamics as possible.
Did you draw inspiration from any new sources for these songs?
Many of course, I am inspired by all experiences in life.
How has your live performance evolved for the shows in support of the record?
We do a Vaudevillian comedy meets heart-attack-serious social commentary, dressed as English Gentlemen with top hats. It's all about the top hats [laughs]!!
Have you continued composing while on the road?
Yup, I've written three new songs on this tour alone, and another three over January vacation.
You worked with so many great directors on the videos. Considering he also used "P.L.U.C.K." in Ararat, would you ever want to work with Sweet Hereafter director Atom Egoyan?
Funny you mention that. Atom's a very good friend of mine, and we always visit each other when I'm in Toronto, or when he's in L.A. I would LOVE to compose one of his films, and we've talked about finding something to do together soon.
Given all of your experiences in music and beyond, would you ever consider writing a book to chronicle everything?
Yes. I've wanted to write a book about the politics of spirituality or the spirituality of politics. I want to connect all modern experiences and put them in perspective of life and the living, including music.
What's next for you as an artist?
More film and video game compositions, compositions for Plays/theater, a new solo record more in the jazz/orchestral vibe, and more. Check out www.electthedead.com for electoral reform ideas for this year's elections.
Photographer: Daragh McDonugh