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Serj Tankian Answers Fans Questions

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Band Photo: System Of A Down (?)

SYSTEM OF A DOWN frontman and solo artist Serj Tankian recently answered several "frequently asked questions", posting the answers on his MySpace page:

Q: "Elect The Dead" [is] your first album released since SYSTEM OF A DOWN went on a hiatus in 2006. What was it like to make an album on your own?

Tankian: I've wanted to make a solo album for quite some time. When I was in the thick of it, I felt possessed. It was like swimming in the depths in that ocean of creativity. My mind was always tuned into the project, even during sleep. It's a nice form of exorcism, getting all of that stuff out emotionally and also channeling sounds from the universe. With making this album on my own versus with a full band, there are certain vulnerabilities and intimacies you can only express by yourself, when you're representing only yourself. And lyrically I consider this record a lot more vulnerable and intimate than anything I've done with SYSTEM. There are love songs, pain songs…very personal songs. And of course there are political songs.

Q: How would you describe "Elect the Dead" to someone who is not familiar with the album yet?

Tankian: "Elect the Dead" is a rock record that takes you on a journey with different types of genres integrated, different lyrical themes digested, and many fun and colorful moments to enjoy. It's more intimate, orchestral, and exploratory all at the same time, yet a very quality album. In fact, it's the best work I've ever done in my life to date.

Q: What is the status and future of SYSTEM OF A DOWN? Do you have plans to record another album with SOAD in the future?

Tankian: SOAD is currently on an indefinite hiatus after 10+ years of being a touring and recording band. SOAD is not a corporation that needs to put out a product every year to sustain. We're a group of artists and we create music together when we want to. We are enjoying prioritizing other artistic and personal efforts. We're all friends and supportive of each others' art. If and when we need to speak as one to the world, the world will be aware.

Q: Do you write and record other genres of music?

Tankian: I've had my own studio and have been writing music for many years. I have over 400 or 500 pieces total of all sorts of musical genres. Some are used for films, video games, collaborations, remixes, SYSTEM, and some for my solo stuff. Some of these songs I've had for a number of years in demo form, others were written last year.

Q: The end of civilization is a theme that seems to run through most of the album. Can you talk a bit about what that means to you?

Tankian: We're addicted to this concept of civilization- we can't imagine living outside of it because we've had it for 10,000 years, all of what we call history. But according to archaeologists, humanity has been on this planet for millions of years in indigenous form. Based on the current progression of overpopulation coupled with the accelerated rate of destruction of national resources, civilization is scientifically unsustainable. We know this thing is ending, and what are we doing about it? We're just making plans to slow down its death.

Q: How did the material on "Elect The Dead" come together? Did you play all of the instruments in addition to producing the record?

Tankian: Much of it is culled from recordings I've amassed over a long period of time, up through this past year. I have such a backlog of material and when I was going through everything, the songs on the album are the ones that stood out. When I wrote everything, I wrote it on piano and acoustic guitar, and I didn't know I was going to arrange it as a rock record. Producing this was something — in the beginning when I first started, I was a little skeptical about it, because what if I succeeded as an artist and not as a producer? So I had that in the back of mind, but I really knew what kinds of sound I wanted from the tones, what kind of guitars I wanted to use, how I wanted my pianos, strings and vocals to sound. I was very involved, and knew what I was going for, so as I went along, layer by layer developing the songs, it was getting there, so I didn't want to bring someone else in and change things at that point. But I had to do that, to step out into the control room, take my artist/songwriter hat off, put on the producer's hat and say "How could this be better, is this the best it could be" at every point in the game. I did have the help of some close friends/artists to collaborate with. Dan Monti, my engineer and guitarist played on the record, as did my friend and opera singer Ani Maldjian. John Dolmayan (SOAD's drummer) and Brian "Brain" Mantia (PRIMUS, GUNS N' ROSES) helped by playing drums.

Q: What is the concept behind creating a video for each track on the album?

Tankian: There's a two-fold idea behind it. One is to multiply the artistic factor of the record, and the second reason is in today's music industry, with file sharing and downloading we have to offer something a lot more than just 12 songs on a record. We need to offer multiple ways of connecting with our fans, with the people that listen to our music. I always like involving really artsy friends, whether we're going to do artwork for the record, website stuff or videos. So I gave 12 different video director friends songs, one for each, and a small budget, and said "He, go crazy. Do whatever art idea you've wanted to experiment with in the past. I don't want a treatment, I don't want to see it until it's done." It turned out to be some of the more amazing videos I've ever seen coupled with music.

Q: What does the album title mean?

Tankian: I am more interested in how people interpret the phrase "Elect The Dead" than what I may or may not have intended. I named the album after the track, which is a spiritual song about love, life and death and is the heaviest song on the album without having any heavy instruments.

I have gotten some great responses from friends/colleagues as to what the meaning could be.

1) The current leaders are not qualified enough to lead us through these trying times, so we need to look for guidance from past leaders (Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, JFK, etc). The living ideas of the dead are more powerful and effective than the dead ideas of the living.

2) The victims of the epitome of civilization should elect our next leaders so we can live in a more just society.

3) We need to gain the wisdom from beyond history, from beyond the material and physical worlds, to be able to deal with not just electing our political leaders today, but learning how to elect ourselves as leaders.

Q: What is the Axis Of Justice organization that you co-founded about?

Tankian: Axis Of Justice is a non-profit organization started by Tom Morello (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE) and myself in 2001. You can download or copy our mission off of the website (www.axisofjustice.org). It's both a fund to donate to other just causes and a political platform for things that we decide to intervene in. We have taken up diverse causes such as labor issues, co-op farming, feeding the homeless, recognition of the Armenian genocide, Article 301 in Turkey (freedom of speech) with Amnesty International, the war, etc. Any fight for justice is worth it.

Q: The Armenian Genocide issue is on the news these days. Do you feel pleased with the (still unofficial) recognition of the genocide from the American side? And how do you feel now that this issue is directly linked with the prospect of a Turkish invasion of North Iraq?

Tankian: I think that both parties in Congress have ultimately been made tools of U.S. strategic interests (some people call it Empire) whether willfully or against their will. The administration, the defense industry, the oil industry, and K Street Lobbying firms hired by Turkey at a rate of $300,000 per month have all lobbied congressman effectively for the removal of the Genocide Bill from the house for this year. Nancy Pelosi (Speaker of the House) has been very supportive but "National Security" is the ugly trump card used by all to remove inconvenient truths that are essential for us looking into the mirror as a democracy. I am still hopeful that the truth will prevail no matter how much the U.S. feels dependent on Turkey. The truth is the other way around, but of course what does truth have to do with politics?

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