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Serj Tankian : a complete artist


Serj Tankian is a complete artist. As a talented multi instrumentalist, he composed almost the entirety of his new solo album. He always challenges himself and tries new instruments and things to see what these can inspire him.

All his work is not to be considered only from a musical point of view : it is also the result of his reflections on the world’s state (both economic and ecological). These reflections are brought here very seriously, but also sometimes offbeat.

This interview is the ideal way, after listening to his album, to enter Serj Tankian’s universe and understand his way of thinking.

« I think that when you feel inspired, you’re right and that it is up to others to have an insight and try to understand what you’ve done. It’ not up to the artist to explain what he did. »

Radio Metal : You recorded four albums between 2011 and 2012. How do you explain the fact that you’ve been very prolific recently? Have you been more inspired than before?

Serj Tankian : 2011 was a crazy year and a lot of things were going on : I think that this ecstatic energy influenced me to finish a lot more projects than before. I had the musical Prometheus Bound that we finished in Boston, the Glaring Through Oblivion book, the tour with System of A Down over three continents, orchestral shows, political events, four music projects and a film also (laughs). It was a very productive year.

Do you think that in the future, you will keep that intense rhythm?

I don’t know: it depends on what I intend to do. I aim to do more compositions for movies, video games and put out records whenever I want, I guess.

Do you intend to do shows for every project you’ll make or are there any ones which can’t be performed live?

With Fucktronic, we’re doing visual representations with some partners with whom we’re working. For Jazz-Is-Christ, there might be a couple of events but no long-term touring. Most of the touring will be done for Harakiri with the FCC (note: The Flying Cunts of Chaos, his backing-band). I will also be touring for Orca in Europe and in the USA.

Some might say that four albums in a year is too much so that you can’t have a good insight on the music you are writing : how do you manage to handle this?

This is a really interesting question in terms of insight. I think that when you feel inspired, you’re right and that it is up to others to have an insight and try to understand what you’ve done. It’ not up to the artist to explain what he did. I don’t know if I answered the question but I definitively said what I wanted to ! (laughs)

« I think that using an instrument that you’re not too familiar with will force you to play around with different things. »

The album Harakiri was recorded with your touring musicians. Did you want like that to recreate the intensity of your live show on a record?

That’s interesting because it wasn’t my intention at the start but I think I’ve succeeded in doing that. Just like Elect The Dead and Imperfect Harmonies, I pretty much wrote Harakiri in studio, playing different instruments, using beats originally to do what I wanted to accomplish for the song. Then, I finished off the song with lyrics and vocals and brought others players to replace for example the drum loops with real live drums so that it will sound better. Mario (Mario Pugliarlo, bass) played on his bass and added some of his phrasing ; Dan (Dan Monti, guitars) made the guitars sound also better. So, all this really gave life elements to this project. When I was recording the Elect The Dead album, I worked with Dan on it but I didn’t have the others guys with me because we created the touring band FCC after.

You said in an interview about Harakiri that it is really good to pick up a new instrument or an instrument that you don’t typically use when writing music and see where it takes you. Do you think that being too comfortable with your music or with your instrument can kill creativity?

I wouldn’t say it would kill creativity, but I think that using an instrument that you’re not too familiar with will force you to play around with different things. This can be interesting if you use different keys or chord structures or in terms of arrangements, for instance.

Could you tell us which instruments you can play now?

I play a little bit of everything and compose on different instruments : piano, guitar, bass or electronic devices for beats, samples or loops. I also compose for orchestras. There are a lot of instruments in the place! (laughs)

What instrument will you try next?

I’ve been playing around with this cool, hybrid guitar-violin instrument. You can actually pick it or play it with a bow. I’ve used it for composing music for video-games. Really, I try any instruments I want and play them my way.

« I think that civilization is doomed, not humanity. »

The name of the album, Harakiri, refers to the ominous events of early 2011 when thousands of species of bird and fish died, without any good scientific explanation. What do you think this means? Is this a warning of nature, saying to all of us that something has to change?

I think that what you’ve said might be a possibility. I’m not sure what actual reason could explain this phenomenon, but what I know is that it hasn’t been properly and scientifically explained. To me, it was an ominous event to show that there will be massive changes around the world to come, and this is almost… biblical, if you think about it. It was a very powerful event. It’s the first thing I wrote when I started to work on Harakiri: it’s the reason why this album was made. I didn’t intend to write a rock record last year but this first song that came out and the music followed.

Do you think that humanity is doomed?

I think that civilization is doomed, not humanity.

« The complexity of the economic system allows CEO’s to get away with murder without being incriminated in any way because what they are doing is immoral but not necessary illegal. »

In the song ‘Figure It Out’, you say « CEO’s are the disease, why pretend that we don’t know ? ». Since we know CEO’s are the desease, why do we act like we don’t know ?

The way I wrote this is interesting, because it is a comical comment on a political thing. Obviously, the complexity of the economic system allows CEO’s to get away with murder without being incriminated in any way because what they are doing is immoral but not necessary illegal. It’s something we’ve all seen in the last couple of years. Many companies and CEO’s take huge bonuses while their company is failing : many people’s savings just disappear. So ‘Figure It Out’ was a cool and funny way to going after these CEO’s by saying “They are the disease so let’s go after them”. It’s comical but it’s a simple way of pointing out what’s going on.

« The main thing to keep in mind is that when you have an uneducated democracy […] where people ignore their own history, it is possible that they will be taken in a direction that may not be beneficial for them. »

You recently said in Guitar Wolrd : “Its better to have a benign dictator than a dumb democracy”. What kind of reactions did you get?

I don’t know, because I don’t read in the papers the public’s reactions ! (laughs) I suppose that some people will take it negatively while others will understand. The main thing to keep in mind is that when you have an uneducated democracy, and I don’t say this in a condescending way, where people ignore their own history, it is possible that they will be taken in a direction that may not be beneficial for them. That’s what I wanted to say. Education has a large role in this.

You frequently publish some news or some teasers on the internet: it really looks like you never stop. Do you think that nowadays, musicians constantly have to be on the web?

That’s a really good question. Marketing encourages people to put a lot of stuff on the Internet, for instance before the releasing of an album: sometimes it makes sense in what you want to express, but sometimes it’s horrible because you don’t want to overwhelm your audience or your friends. So we try to put out whatever we think is good.

One year ago, while you were recording this new album, you kept publishing extremely short trailers of the new songs. And it really looked like you were enjoying to make fun of your fans by « frustrating » them and giving them just 10 seconds of a new song. It looks like you really enjoy teasing your fans: am I right?

No. I only wanted to share the excitement I was feeling and the reason why I didn’t want to leak more than ten seconds of every song is because they were still in their primary form. When I leaked these songs, they didn’t even have drums. I didn’t want to put them out completely as they were rough and rudimentary at the time. I just wanted to share my excitement: and what better way than in a short video?

Could you give us some news on what are you are planning to do for the next few months?

Firstly, I will be finishing this promotional tour in Europe then go back to the USA to start rehearsing with the FCC as the new album will come out. There will be some international streaming events for the FCC album, some local TV events in the US, and then we’ll start a two weeks tour with System Of A Down on the East Coast. After, we do a tour with the FCC in the Midwest and West Coast and I hope the FCC will come in Europe in October to play and some new records will come out next year.

Interview conducted on June, 27th, 2012 by phone.
Transcription: Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net

Serj Tankian’s official website: www.serjtankian.com

Album : Harakiri will be released on July, 10th 2012 via Reprise Records.



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