BURBANK, California — "You know how when you meet someone as a little boy and he turns into a man, you will always remember the little boy?" System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian asked recently.
"Well, we've got that," he continued. "You remember what our roots are. As we grow up as men, you can see that we are evolving, but you remember us as little boys."
So explains what to expect from System's upcoming ambitious double album, Mezmerize/Hypnotize.
"You will hear a difference, you will hear a growth, but you will always hear us," Malakian said. "All my favorite bands tend to have those kinds of careers. They kind of re-create themselves, but they re-create themselves, they don't re-create into somebody else."
System of a Down's first new music since 2002's Steal This Album!, which was mostly leftovers from 2001's Toxicity, will blend familiar elements (skittery riffs, Middle Eastern-influenced rhythms, harmonized vocals) with new, mostly sonic, touches.
"I personally came in very focused with how I wanted everything to sound on this record opposed to our other records," said Malakian, who wrote the music and most of the lyrics and also sings more than ever on the albums. "I think our guitars were a little muddy on our other records. On this record I think it's a lot more crisp. We've got the best drum tone that we've ever had on any of our records. And the performances, each individual musician, everybody is performing much better than we used to. We've all stepped up and grown up with what we do, so that's definitely reflected in the songs."
One of those songs, "Cigaro," was recently leaked online and became an instant hit on KROQ-FM in Los Angeles as well as other stations. Another song, "B.Y.O.B.," will actually be the first single. System will shoot the video later this month before the track hits the airwaves in March.
"I don't know if I'll direct it by myself, but I would love to have some kind of influence on it," bassist Shavo Odadjian, who co-directed the "Toxicity" and "Aerials" videos, said. "I would love to collaborate with someone else. I love doing that."
Choosing a single proved especially challenging after the band recorded more than 40 tracks and decided to release them as a double album (see "System Of A Down To Release Two-Album Set In 2005"). "We had a lot of songs last time, too, but this time I think they join together," Malakian said. "You feel like you want to show people what you're doing right now."
System are calling Mezmerize/Hypnotize a double album, although unlike Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, for example, the first half (Mezmerize) is due in April, followed by Hypnotize six months later.
"[Mezmerize] is going to have plenty of material, and we want people to sit with it before we give them the second one," frontman Serj Tankian said.
"Songs tend to lose character if you bunch them all together," Malakian added. "Some people throw [together] as much music as you can throw on a CD and it doesn't really do each individual song justice. They end up getting lost in the shuffle."
System recorded the tracks in the fall but worked on them throughout most of 2004.
"We're a live band, so what we do in terms of recording is we work out the songs for a long time and let them live with us, and if we want to change something over time, if we are uncomfortable about something or think something could be better, we would know it before anyone else steps in," Tankian explained. "When we go into recording, we don't ever walk in and say, 'Oh, let's write a new song in the studio.' It's always like we've got all these songs that we've been living with as a band for at least six months to a year. And that makes it so much easier recording it. If everyone is much more fluent, more comfortable, there is no hesitation. Sure, we change things here and there in the studio, but a lot of it is well-digested."
Track titles other than "B.Y.O.B." and "Cigaro" include "Hypnotize," "Lost in Hollywood," "Violent Pornography" and "Kill Rock 'n' Roll," which revolves around the line "I killed the rock 'n' roll in you."
"We have a really tough time explaining songs because we would like everyone to take something else aside from what we think of the song," Malakian said. "But ['Kill Rock 'n' Roll'] is about being a murderer and enjoying it at the moment, but actually having a conscience about it after you are done."
Well, OK then.