It’s six days until Serj Tankian’s inaugural solo debut, Elect the Dead, hits record stores, and yet, the wild-eyed System of a Down frontman is already mulling his next album and the direction he wants to take with it. In fact, the dude’s stockpiled about 4,500 songs he’s written over the last few years from which to mine.
“They’re not all like [the songs on Elect the Dead],” he said (see “System Of A Down Frontman Serj Tankian On Intimate Solo LP: ‘I Believe In It’ “ ). “They’re not all rock or pop or anything like that. I’ve got classical music, electronic compositions, experimental songs, noise, punk, metal — I have a lot of different types of music because when I have free time, I write music, regardless of what project I’m working on at the time. I will always have more material than I can afford to release.”
For album numero dos, Tankian is thinking he’d like to take his sound in a more orchestral direction, with jazz numbers interspersed throughout.
“I have some songs written and recorded for it, and I think it will be a more jazzy, orchestral record, which is kind of what I wanted to do with this [Elect the Dead],” he said. “If you strip down all these songs from Elect the Dead into their original form — with pianos, strings, acoustic guitars — they’re very classically written songs, but they kind of asked for the rock instruments. I kind of ended up with a rock record without even anticipating it myself because the songs asked for those dynamics — of drums and guitars. So I started arranging them that way, and when I was done, I was like, ‘Damn, I came up with a rock record again.’ For the next one, I think I want it to be a really heavy, guttural record without the heavy instruments. That’s the next challenge for me.”
With System of a Down on an indefinite hiatus (see “System Of A Down Aren’t Breaking Up — They’re Going On Hiatus” ), Tankian will surely have plenty of time to work on Elect the Dead‘s follow-up. Like the rest of his bandmates, Tankian felt it was time to take a break from System, so he could “make the record [he] was meant to make.” And no, he hasn’t been approached to work with Achozen, System bassist Shavo Odadjian’s project with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA ; or Scars on Broadway, the side project started by SOAD guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan. Not yet, anyway.
“I think it would be too much like System if that were the case,” he explained, “but I am looking forward to hearing [Scars on Broadway's] music. The stuff I’ve heard from Shavo is amazing though. The thing is, we’re all friends. We started out together, and we formed this amazing band that we’ve been a part of for 11 years. We put out five records, and we’re supportive of each other and what we’re all doing.”
For the foreseeable future, Tankian will be on his own — well, that’s not entirely true. On Friday in Chicago, the setting for Serj’s first live gig as a solo artist and the first date on Tankian’s tour with opener the Nightwatchman (a.k.a. Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello), he revealed his backing band to the world: the Flying Cu–s of Chaos, or “FCC” for short. The group features Primus’ Larry LaLonde and Buckethead collaborator Dan Monti on guitars, Mario Pagliarulo on bass, and others.
“The FCC stands for Federal Communications Commission, the agency that penalizes people, journalists, artists — people that cuss in the press,” he said. “Not the politicians; they’re obviously immune to it. So I thought it would be cool to make the FCC a cuss word. That way, they can penalize themselves.”
Tankian and the FCC will soon head over to Europe, the singer said, to open for the Foo Fighters, who he teamed up with during the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards for a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia.” He said he plans to spend much of next year on the road in support of Elect and also admitted that he’s slightly nervous about playing live without System behind him.
“It’s more like nervous-excitement energy, to get up and do it again with a different outfit and stuff,” he said. “But I’ve been onstage at different events in the past with different bands by myself, so it won’t be that bad. Yes, I’m a little excited, a little nervous, but it’s what I do.”
On Elect, Tankian does what he’s always done — expressed his thoughts on political issues and “life in general.” He said that “romantic relationships, the war in Iraq, hypocrisy over genocide denial, film, other music, poetry and other artists” all had a bearing on the project. But Tankian’s political musings aren’t anything new; he’s long been one of the artists whom fans have relied on to take a stand on political issues. These days, speaking out is in vogue, with several artists finally publicly chiming in with their views and ire over the current state of the world. But why did it take so long for others to join the crusade?
“Part of it is the backlash from commercial culture on people that speak out, and I felt a lot of that after September 11 when I wrote ‘Understanding Oil,’ ” an essay he posted on System of a Down’s Web site soon after the attacks on New York, he said. “We had a lot of people dropping [System single] ‘Chop Suey’ from radio at the time because of that essay. There was a strong reactionism prevailing in the country, based on what happened on September 11, which is understandable. Years later, when we can look at things with more intellect, in a more balanced way, and see how our democracy’s been hijacked into abusing our patriotism to do things in other countries — like occupying other countries, wreaking havoc in other places based on oil concerns or strategic geopolitical concerns — then we’re a little more aware. People are saying, ‘Yes, our name was abused to do all of these things, but I am not for those things anymore.’ And that’s where we’re at right now. Public opinion has drastically changed, and a lot of artists are speaking out, which is encouraging. But it’s always easier to speak out when public opinion is on your side.”
Beyond touring and working on his next LP, Tankian recently teamed up with Wyclef Jean on a track called “Trouble Again” for the ex-Fugee’s forthcoming offering, Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant, which is due December 4.
“He sent me the track and said, ‘Check it out, and let me know what you think and if you want to do something on this,’ and I thought it was a very progressive song,” Tankian said. “I like progressive music — things that change, tempo changes, parts that change. I thought it was a really great song, and I did my own poetic, rhythmical talking — if you want call that rap, go ahead, but I wouldn’t — and some other little taglines here and there.”