System Of A Down Singer Given Major-Label Imprint

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For more than a year, System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian has been selling records by underground bands on his Web label, Serjical Strike, and now the organization is going mainstream.

Well, sort of.

System's label, Columbia Records, has granted Tankian an imprint and will release new Serjical Strike albums next year by three relatively unknown acts — Bad Acid Trip, Kittens for Christian and Slow Motion Reign.

"None of these bands sound like each other or anyone else, which is what makes them interesting to me," Tankian said. "I like it when labels present original music that don't necessarily signify or focus on one genre."

All three groups are from Los Angeles, and Tankian has known the musicians involved for years. Records by Bad Acid Trip and Kittens for Christian are due in the spring, and a Slow Motion Reign disc is scheduled for the summer.

Bad Acid Trip — singer Dirk Rogers, guitarist Keith Aazamii, bassist Chris Mackie and drummer Carlos Neri — formed in the early '90s and play frenzied, experimental metal filled with quirky guitars and demented vocals. System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian will produce the band's next record, which may include Tankian remixing a track.

Kittens for Christian — singer/bassist Hiram Fleites, guitarist Neil Young and drummer Kevin Phillips — released their first record, Building a Socialist Work Ethic, in 1996. The band creates urgent music with staccato guitar and floods of reverb. Its next LP will be produced by Dave Trumfio (OK Go, Baldwin Brothers).

"They're like an art-rock band," Tankian said. "They're kind of goth-y. The music's very driving, like Sonic Youth, and the vocals are a bit off-ish, like Jesus Lizard and a little [Jim] Morrison, but they have their own character."

Slow Motion Reign are the most commercially viable of the Serjical Strike bands. Tankian will produce their still-untitled record. The group — singer/bassist Narek Pogosyan, singer/guitarist Sam Babayan, keyboard player Erwin Khachikian and drummer Vigen Sayadian — is poppy and melodic, performing songs reminiscent of Britpop groups like Oasis and early Blur.

"Their songwriting is beautiful," Tankian said. "They have wonderful textures and song harmonies, but they're still pretty much a rock band."

In March, Serjical Strike will release Serart, a collaboration between Tankian and Armenian multi-instrumentalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan (see "System Of A Down Frontman Gets Even More Eclectic On New LP").

"The album's done, it just needs to be mastered," Tankian said. "It's very visual. It's almost like watching a movie because none of the songs are necessarily similar. It's kind of a mix between world, experimental, electronic, and it's jazzy with very scat vocals."

Tankian plans to release around five albums a year on Serjical Strike, and he said he'll continue signing bands that inspire him even if they have no apparent mainstream appeal.

"What is commercial viability?" he asked. "There was a time when System of a Down wasn't considered marketable. I want to keep putting out good music."

A System of a Down spokesperson said Friday that the band will release an LP in the fall, but no further details were available.