For Daron Malakian, there is no System of a Down — there's only Scars on Broadway, the band he formed with System's drummer, John Dolmayan, soon after the Serj Tankian-fronted act went on an indefinite hiatus back in 2006. Let there be no confusion on the matter: Scars is not a side project, it's Malakian's band — his only band. And we'd all better get used to it.
"There's no talk of System doing anything," said Malakian, System's gifted guitarist and one of the chief creative forces behind the alt-metal maniacs. "We're not planning on doing anything. If anyone's holding their breath for a System record, they're going to turn blue and pass out. It's a long ways away, if it ever even happens. We don't even talk about it — none of us. This is my band right now."
In fact, Malakian said he plans on releasing at least two Scars on Broadway records before he even starts to think about System's next opus. And with the way he's been writing songs lately, chances are there might be a third Scars LP before System's triumphant return.
"I should be finished with vocals in the next couple of weeks," he said of his band's forthcoming self-titled album, which he doesn't expect in stores until after the summer. "All we have to do after that is mix the record. I've been in the studio for months now, and we had 15 songs when we first hit the studio in September. We tracked those 15 songs, and then I had, like, maybe five or six songs I felt I really needed to get off my chest. So I took the band back to my house where we were rehearsing, and in a matter of a month, we had those songs written, and we headed back into the studio in late November and tracked those additional songs."
That gives Malakian 21 songs he can use for Scars' inaugural offering. "Now the tough part's choosing which songs will make the album," he explained. "About 18 of them compete well with each other, when it comes to the quality of the song and how I feel about them. If it's not some of the best material I've ever done, I don't want to use it."
With all these songs on tape, would Malakian consider releasing two albums back-to-back, as System did in 2005 with Mezmerize and Hypnotize? "I don't want to do that again," he said with a relieved chuckle. "I mean, it's possible. I do want people to hear the rest of the songs in some way, shape or form. Maybe we'll release an EP or just get them out there online."
Of course, Scars on Broadway have been percolating for some time now, but no one knows just what to expect from the album — some might listen to the record thinking they're getting System of a Down Lite. But Malakian, who compliments Dolmayan's drum work on the LP, said that's the wrong approach to take with Scars.
"I think [John is] playing better now than he ever has," Malakian said. "The music on the record is more rock-driven. ... See, there's two sides to my writing: this really aggressive, heavy, attitude side, and then there's the softer, vulnerable side. You got both sides with System, and I feel Scars has that same dynamic, but it seems like the heavier stuff is more driven, in a rock way, and a lot of the stuff is more ... I hear a lot of my '60s influence coming out in these songs. I hear it as being less of a metal band too. Nothing against metal ... I think there are some overtones that are still there, in the music. But we're more of a rock band than a metal band, and that's just the natural evolution of where I am with my writing."
Working on the Scars record wasn't much different from working on a SOAD record, Malakian said. But it was different — and the guitarist is nervous about how his new band is going to be accepted by the System faithful.
"Most people assume that the process was different for me, but it wasn't," he said. "My approach of how I write and how I've written songs — nothing's changed. The only difference is ... I knew I was singing these songs. Usually, if I have somebody else in mind to sing a song, that person automatically comes out in my writing. It's sort of like writing for a character in a script. This time, there weren't two characters — just me. So it catered more to my style, my range, my vocals, my lyrics. The one difference is I didn't have Serj on my mind while I was writing these songs, because I knew he wouldn't be singing these songs.
"And I have to admit, I am nervous, but I have always been nervous when it comes to putting out an album," Malakian continued. "I always want to grow and top myself."
While Scars on Broadway have no definite touring plans yet — they've assembled a band of hired guns and are hoping to hit the road late this summer after debuting at the Coachella Festival in April — Malakian can't wait for people to hear what he's been working on.
"It's another evolution," he said. "Everyone who hears it says [that]. Anyone who has heard it says it feels like it's a natural evolution, and it is an evolution. It's a different sound that doesn't completely branch away from what my signature stuff is. It does have its own life, its own identity, which was not easy to achieve. But I'm still growing as an artist, and personally, I'm still writing stuff I feel is powerful. I haven't lost my fire as a writer yet."