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Serj Tankian
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Serj Tankian - August 21, 1967

Interview with Serj Tankian

Before the word 'fan' meant nothing more to him than something with which he warded off the notorious Los Angeles summer heat, System of A Down's frontman, Serj Tankian, was just your average guy who had taken odd jobs like working at a car wash before owning his own successful software company. A college graduate, Serj had no idea that he'd soon find himself the lead singer for one of today's most appealingly original hardcore bands. After impressing the hell out of Rick Rubin, (one of rock's most legendary producers) during a show at the Viper Room, (one of L.A.'s most legendary nightspots) Serj and his schoolmates were about to break new playing ground in the American recording scene.

After signing with Rubin and releasing their 1998 self-titled debut, the band - which also includes guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan - gained even more momentum and critical acclaim as they continued mesmerizing crowds with their dynamic live shows. The proud parents of an album that's already gone gold, the group has just finished recording two covers, Black Sabbath's "Snow Blind" and Wu Tang Clan's "Shame" which are due out on separate compilation albums. About the Wu-Tang cover, Serj jokes, "It's the first time I've ever ended a song with the word 'bee-autch!'" The group is also hitting the road with Metallica and Korn this summer for a big-venue blast that promises to give concert-goers a show well worth paying for, even at Ticketmaster prices. And if recording, touring, and writing material with his bandmates for their highly anticipated sophomore album weren't enough, Serj is working on his own personal projects with a yet unknown female vocalist and some other musical creations that are - trust me on this one - nothing short of avant-garde.

Extremely soft-spoken, it comes as no surprise that this 32-year-old is able to fill the air with such sonorous subtlety on a song like "Spiders". But what about those reverberating roars that punctuate tracks such as the popular "Sugar" and "Suggestions"? According to Serj, it's really quite simple: "You think of a sound and then you do it." Seems easy enough. But what hasn't been quite so easy is getting this amazingly amiable guy to do much press. "I don't like doing interviews." What he also doesn't do is listen to mainstream radio or watch MTV. ("When I'm home from being on the road I might listen to public radio.") Though this fact may seem ironic for someone whose music is played on the radio (albeit not nearly as much as some of those just-add-water boy groups), it makes perfect sense to Serj,who good-naturedly laughs at the absurdity in being considered a rock star or a speaker for a generation. "I do music because I enjoy it. I do it for myself. It's one of my passions. My other passion is writing [poetry and prose]. If my music is commercially viable, fine. If it's not, it's actually probably better stuff."

In addition to music and writing, Serj is very passionate about educating the public about the Armenian Genocide. The machination of the Turkish government, the widespread extermination of the Armenian people in 1915 is an historical atrocity that has still not been officially recognized by the Turkish government. Despite international documentation which confirms that an estimated 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children lost their lives in the genocide (not to mention the massacres between the years of 1894-1896), it remains to be seen whether the Turkish government will ever recognize the abominable event or attempt to make reparations.

As Serj explains, "We're Armenian, a genocide occurred, and it hasn't been recognized. We've got nothing against the Turkish people. A Turkish family has helped save part of my family from the genocide. So you can't really blame the people. It's the government and what they cause. And even though the government is made up of people too, that's the structure that caused the damage. Institutionalizing things gives man the ability to do the evil he can't do on a personal level. It's very unmotivating, but you've gotta learn, you've gotta press on."

Another thing Serj is really big on is energy and vibe. "People aren't directing their energy; everyone's energy is dispersed. I think it only takes a certain percentage of people to change life on this planet. I think a group of people, be it a thousand or two thousand or ten thousand, across the world sitting in one place with the same purpose and thinking of one thing to become reality-whether it's peace or war-will make that thing become reality for the whole world."

As I sat down and soaked up some sun with him in his backyard, I got the chance to interact with this laid back dude who lives with his parents, brother, and family dog. An obvious fact to anyone who's met him, Serj is not a rock star. He's that genuinely nice neighbor who says hello whenever he sees you and is actually interested when he asks you how you're doing.

What is one of your favorite things to do?
Play basketball.

Really? Are you good?
Only when I do it consistently.

You're touring again this summer. Do you ever get tired of it?
It's got its pros and cons like anything else. Unlike most people who do the same thing in the same place, we do the same thing in different places, so there's some variety. But it takes away from your comfort, your luxuries of a bed, a shitter, and seeing your loved ones on a somewhat normal basis.

Do you see yourself differently now that you guys have become so popular?
I try not to see myself. When we wake up and brush our teeth there's a mirror in front of us. I try to see my life. I try to see what's around me.

Have you gotten any strange gifts?
I get people bringing me all sorts of things. I get sugar! I should've written a song about diamonds so then maybe people would bring me diamonds!

There are those who say they only write for themselves, not the public. Then there are those who say that if anyone's able to hold the public's attention, those individuals are spokespeople for society and should therefore say something that matters to society.
That's already limiting your art and what you do. That would automatically limit you to think about all these things before producing, which means that your product isn't as natural and guttural as it should be. I think that's just too processed. You can't think of everything. I mean, when you take a shit, do you think about how the shit's gonna come out?

You might think about where it goes and how it's gonna affect --
Not while you're shitting! Well…you might.

Sometimes I do.

After I flush I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm polluting the world!'

No way. It's natural.

Doesn't it go into the ocean?
It goes into dumps. Some of it is recycled. Some of it goes to the ocean.

Do you recycle?
We have a recycling bin outside. We do partial recycling.

Do you believe in God, gods, a Higher Being?
I don't believe in man's definition of God. I believe in a child's definition of God.

Which would be?
I'm not a child.

Do you think you had the answers when you were a kid? [Were you] closer to God?

Yeh. I think we were all closer to the oneness of existence as a child than we are today.

What do you think about when you are onstage?
Generally,nothing. I'm enjoying the vibe, feeling the energy and enjoying my band. I always smile at them cuz I love those guys jamming with me. But generally, I'm paying attention to nothing. I remember we played in Dynamo Festival one time and there were like 40,000 people in front of me and all I could do during the whole set was look into this field of cows to the left cuz I was enjoying that scene a lot. And it's not that I didn't appreciate the 40,000 people, but I was just enjoying that whole day vibe. When you're playing clubs at nights all the time, you miss that day vibe.

Do you feel you have any responsibility to those who listen to you? To fans? Are you available to them?
To a certain degree I am available to them. As far as responsibility, I'm not sure. My initial responsibility is to myself and what I think is right. I produce music for myself and the band produces music for themselves. We do it because we love it. It's not one of those things that you can fake. I guess you could [fake it] for commercialism's sake, but that's not what we do.

What is success? How do you define it?

I define success as being happy with your regular day.

Do you think that as long as you feel right about what you're doing it means you're living out your purpose?
Yeh. But that 'rightness' has nothing to do with the logical mind.

What do you think about moshing?
I think people should be compassionate and loving. The whole round thing is very indigenous, by the way. It's very tribal to go around in a circle in any type of dance format, whether it's clashing with people or not. It's a trip on its own. It's a way of attaining a state of euphoria, of some type of appreciation. The music and tribal drums usually accentuate that, so moshing itself is somewhat natural. But again, if done with compassion so that if you hit someone and they fall, you should pick them up or at least not try to make them fall in the first place. Everything can be taken to a negative plateau.

Have there been times when you've actually had to get on the mike and say, "hey, this isn't right"?

There have been many times when we've stopped security from beating someone up or stopped a kid from doing something in the audience. We don't like to alter the natural flow of what's going on, but things happen sometimes. The whole point of that night or day is for people to enjoy themselves and feel it in their heart. When you see that there's this one person who's just not getting it, you still love him, but you've got to let him know that that's not tolerated.

Is love the answer, Serj?
If it's not the answer then maybe it's the vehicle. It's the love bug! Love is like prayer in its purity, in its original form. The feeling of being possessed, the feeling of being within the natural elements, the feeling of bliss: that's prayer. Words don't make a goddamn difference.

The Famous Essay Writen after 9/11/01 by Serj Tankian
This essay was written by Serj two days after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.  It caused a lot of controversy, particularly because many readers seemed to miss the message.  Please understand, this essay is not attempting to justify the 9/11 attacks.  When it was published, many mistook Serj's intentions and consequently denounced him, but if you pay attention to this small excerpt, it is impossible to say that Serj tried to justify the 9/11 attacks: belief is that the terror will multiply if concrete steps are not taken to sponsor peace in the middle east, NOW. This does not mean that we should not find the guilty party(s), Bin Laden, or whoever they may be, and not try them. Put simply, as long as a major injustice remains, violence precipitates to the surface of life.
Keep an open mind when reading.  This essay is an attempt at analyzing both side of the conflict and advocating universal peace; in no way is it saying Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or any other terrorist organization or regime had reason to commit such horrific, intolerable acts of blatant murder.

This essay was originally published on, but was promptly removed by Sony.


Understanding Oil
By Serj Tankian

The brutal attacks/bombings this week in New York, and Washington D.C., along with threats of attacks there and elsewhere in the country have changed our times forever. While the mass media concentrates on the details of the destruction, and the blanketed words of politicians, I will attempt to understand and explain the events from the fence. BOMBING AND BEING BOMBED ARE THE SAME THINGS ON DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE FENCE. 

Terror is not a spontaneous human action without credence. People just dont hijack planes and commit harikari (suicide) without any weight of thought to the action. No one in the media seems to ask WHY DID THESE PEOPLE DO THIS HORRIFIC ACT OF VIOLENCE AND DESTRUCTION? 

To be able to understand the answer to this, we must first look at our U.S. Mideast Policy. During most of the 20th century, U.S. businesses have worked on attaining oil rights and concessions from countries in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. After WWI, secret back door deals by our State Dept. yielded oil rights from then defeated Turkey to fields in what is now Iraq and Saudi Arabia, in return for looking the other way at a crime against humanity, the Genocide of the Armenians by the Turks. Oil profits have been the motivating factors behind many attempts at counterinsurgency of democratic regimes by the CIA and the U.S in the Middle East (such as Iran in the 1950s, where the Shah replaced the Prime Minister who refused to give up oil rights to the U.S., and since the people couldnt deal with the Shah, an extremist government headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini ultimately prevailed). During the Iran-Iraq war, America supplied both sides with weapons and advice. These are not the actions of a rich superpower wanting peace. Lets not forget that Saddam Hussein, before being Americas vision of the Anti-Christ, was a close ally of the U.S., and the CIA. So what was the firm belief system of consecutive American administrations that caused all this to occur ? PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST WILL LEAD TO HIGHER OIL AND GASOLINE PRICES. Lets not also forget the power of the Arms industry, disguised as defense, that still sells billions of dollars of weapons to the area. Therefore it has not been in the short-term economic interest of the U.S. to foster Peace in the Middle East. Using the above reasoning, the U.S. has encouraged extremist governments, toppled democracies, as in the case of Iran to replace it with a monarchy, rigged elections, and many more unspeakable political crimes for U.S. businesses abroad. Lets not also forget the Red Scare. During the war between the then Soviet Union and Afghanistan, the U.S. armed and supported the Taliban, a fundamentalist Muslim organization, and allowed them to export opium and heroin out of their country to pay for those weapons. Therefore the Taliban rose to power and control with the help of the U.S.A. Today, the bombing of Iraq still continues, no longer covered by the media, the economic embargo still remains, killing millions of children, and recently, while the world and the U.N. General Assembly have cried out to bring in peacekeeping forces into Israel and Palestine, to end the escalated war and recent assassinations, the U.S. has vetoed the rest of the Security Council and has halted the possibility of peace, there, in the most volatile place in the world. 

People in Serbia, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan to name a few have seen bombs fall, not always at military targets and kill innocent civilians, as the scene in New York city yesterday. The wars waged by our government in our names has landed smack in the middle of our living room. The half hour of destruction closed down all world financial markets, struck the central headquarters of our military, and had our leaders running into bunkers, and our citizens into fear and frenzy. What scares me more than what has occurred is what our reactions to the occurrences may cause. President Bush belongs to a long generation of Republican Presidents who love war economies. The media has only concentrated on the bombings, if you will, and what type of retaliations are looming for the perpetrators. What everyone fails to realize is that the bombings are a reaction to existing injustices around the world, generally unseen to most Americans. To react to a reaction would be to further sponsor the reaction. In other words, my belief is that the terror will multiply if concrete steps are not taken to sponsor peace in the middle east, NOW. This does not mean that we should not find the guilty party(s), Bin Laden, or whoever they may be, and not try them. Put simply, as long as a major injustice remains, violence precipitates to the surface of life. 

Native American folklore, the Bible, Nostradamus, and many other major religious beliefs point to this era with the visuals of yesterdays disasters, and conditions of ecological disasters we experience daily in our lives today. War, rumors of war, famine, long burning fires, etc., are at our doorstep. We can prevail over this possible vision with the power of the human spirit, understanding, compassion, and peace. ITS TIME TO PUT OUR NEEDS FOR SECURITY AND SURVIVAL, ACHIEVED ONLY THROUGH PEACE, ABOVE AND BEYOND PROFITS, ESPECIALLY IN THESE TIMES. 


The U.S. should stop sidestepping the U.N. Security Council, and allow U.N. Peacekeeping troops and missions to the Middle East. Stop the violence first. 

Stop the bombing and patrol of Iraq. 

With todays gains in the use of alternative fuels, develop them to full usage with autos and other utilities, to make the country less dependant on an already depleting natural reserve, oil. 

By initiating peace, we would have already shaken the foundations of support for Bin Laden, and/or all those that sponsor activities like those we saw yesterday, and break the stronghold of extremists on the world of Islam. On the other hand, if we carry out bombings on Afghanistan or elsewhere to appease public demand, and very likely kill innocent civilians along the way, wed be creating many more martyrs going to their deaths in retaliation against the retaliation. As shown from yesterdays events, you cannot stop a person whos ready to die.