System of a Down Frontman on Relationship with Bandmates: “The Vibe is Very Positive”
System of a Down surprise-released two new songs this past November, their first music together in 15 years. Even so, the band members have insisted in interviews since that the “creative differences” that kept them as a live-only unit for a decade and a half will continue to do that, and that the special exception that saw the band unite around a political cause does not mean more music is on the way.
Parsing System of a Down interviews has become an art in and of itself, but one in which the band’s fans (and the media, by extension) are all too happy to indulge in. The latest: an Apple Music interview in which frontman Serj Tankian doesn’t shut the door on more new music — dare I say he even comes off as optimistic? — saying that “the vibe is very positive” between the four men at the moment.
First, bassist Shavo Odadjian brims enthusiasm… which certainly isn’t a new perspective for him:
“Personally, man, from day one, even when we disbanded for a little while in ’05, ’06, I’m always a supporter. I’m always on the side of like, this needs to be going on forever. We never we’ll call it quits. I will refuse. I don’t care. I’ll refuse if anyone else does, we’re calling it quits. I’m not going to call it quits. As long as we’re all still alive, we’re going to be the unit that we are. I am still in. I think I’ll always be in.
“Look. I’m 47 years old. This has been a part of my life more so than not. We started when I was 21. The majority of my life, this is involved. I’ve worked my heart out for this. So has everyone else, and I feel like we’re a forest and it just shows by us coming back, doing two songs, how we inspired or how we’re inspiring and helping inspire a nation and people. How such little does so much. Like I said, beggars can’t be choosers. I’m very happy and satisfied with what we have. It’d be great to go further and inspire more and do more in our way. There’s no set rules. I always have said this, it’s not like if we do more, it’s going to require this much other stuff. It is what it is at this point.
“We do what we feel. We can not do nothing for the next 10, 15 years. We don’t know. We might be able to do something next year. I don’t know. I’m just saying, I’m there. The thing is, is that for it to come out as good as it did and as good as it might in the future, we all have to be on the same wavelength and be as content and happy with what we’re doing. If one of us is not, it won’t be what it should be or what it needs to be. That’s the deciding factor of if we should or not. In 15 years have we had, and we did it with someone less heartened, if someones heart wasn’t as much as the other two or the other three or the other one, it wouldn’t be what it needs to be. I say everything I’m saying, in the mind state of, hopefully we all feel the same again, to do it again. If we don’t, I’m not going to take this much. I’d rather take the full thing.”
Then Serj added the following:
“Absolutely. No, it felt beyond special. It felt very natural and it’s something we’ve done for so long together and especially having a cause that, for me, that was the most important thing. It’s one thing, like I said, it’s one thing to do something for yourself and for your band and for music itself or whatever you want to call it, for your career or for your business. Or it’s another thing to do it for something completely outside of yourself in every way, donate the proceeds and the song or the group of the songs become a part of the activism, a strong part of it. I think that’s unique that we’ve done that with this band.
“We’ve done it in the past throughout our music, with different songs. Obviously, we have songs that are not necessarily socio-political and are fun and, and, and all sorts of stuff. I think when we have done this, we’ve done it really well. This time, it’s exceptional in that sense, not to praise us or anything like that. The fact that we used it exactly, we used it as a weapon, unapologetically, and that’s what it should’ve been. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. It felt really great. The future is unseen. We will see what happens. The vibe is very positive. As long as we’re on the same page, we can continue doing stuff, if we’re on the same page.”
“For me personally, it has become harder and harder to tour physically. The actual … the shows are the best. I wish I could just play shows in the same place. But the travel gets gets to you physically and body and we’re not getting younger. That kind of a thing, that’s a part of it for me, to be honest. But I totally love touring. But when it comes to the actual creation part, it’s not personal, just as you stated, Zane. It’s philosophical. It’s the way you see things and see the way you see the music going forward, what it means to you, what System of a Down might mean to you. There has been a discrepancy in that. But that obviously didn’t stop us from jumping on board for doing something for our people, which is beautiful. I don’t know what else to say. I think that’s that’s where it’s at.”
In a lengthy statement back in 2018, Tankian said a disagreement over how to split the band’s publishing profits and writers credits were responsible for the lack of new material.
In May of this year, drummer John Dolmayan said that the band’s three non-Serj members wrote 12 songs “maybe two, three years ago.” Two of those ended up becoming the two new songs System released in October, with all proceeds benefitting the Armenians displaced by the war in Artsakh.
Tankian recently revealed that some “rock songs” he wrote a couple of years back with System in mind will see the light of day as a solo EP this year.
Tankian and Dolmayan found themselves in a public war of words this past summer, with Dolmayan’s far-right politics very much at odds with the band’s lyrical messages.