Musical Serj against war machine

Edmonton Journal, Canada –
March 15 2008

Musical Serj against war machine

Sandra Sperounes, The Edmonton Journal
Published: 6:59 am

With: Fair to Midland
When: Sunday night at 8

EDMONTON – Artists are often the last to learn about some of the
smaller, but not less important, details of their careers.

Until a few days ago, Serj Tankian didn’t even know Sunday’s show was
moved to a larger venue — from the Edmonton Event Centre to the Shaw
Conference Centre — due to an overwhelming demand for tickets.

"Really? That’s great. Wow. Awesome. Thanks for telling me. I wish my
agent would tell me these things," he jokes, chuckling as softly as a
shy cat.

Onstage or in the recording studio, he turns into another beast.

Whether on his own or fronting the Armenian-American ambassadors of
theatrical metal, System of a Down, his vocal acrobatics are as
powerful as the first four letters of his last name — perhaps an
inappropriate metaphor, considering his staunch antiwar views.

Tankian’s non-profit organization, Axis of Justice, repeatedly
denounces the war in Iraq. He lobbies American politicians to
officially recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915, which killed an
estimated 1.5 million citizens.

His solo debut, Elect the Dead, is littered with images of burning
bodies, vanishing hereditary lines, dead farms, oil brigades and the
damning prayer: "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." One of
those songs, Empty Walls, appears on the soundtrack to Body of War, a
documentary about a U.S. soldier wounded in Iraq.

"I think it’s important for people to be involved with things that
are above and beyond themselves and their own interests," says
Tankian of his political activism.

"We’re here for more than one purpose. Whether you do it through a
non-profit organization, whether you do it with just friends or by
yourself, volunteering for things, I think we’re meant to work
collectively to achieve certain goals."

Which means he’s not content to simply rage against the machine; he
also offers solutions. His latest venture,, provides
suggestions to reform U.S. politics, including abolishing the
convoluted concept of the electoral college, which requires more than
a four-year degree to figure out.

Yet even with America’s perplexing voting system, Tankian admits he’s
encouraged, albeit cautiously, by the upcoming presidential election.

"It’s a shake-up," he says. "It’s cool, but we’re behind the times.
Are we complimenting ourselves for being 50 years late? So, it’s
kinda funny for me, but I think it’s definitely interesting. We went
into the last election with (John) Kerry and (George W.) Bush
fighting over the Iraq war and yet Bush won, and now it seems like
it’s almost impossible to win supporting the war. I think that makes
a major statement as to how public perception has changed in the last
four years."

Tankian’s solo debut, on the other hand, isn’t much of a change from
his previous work. Elect the Dead could be another balletic,
ballistic System of a Down album — with the addition of piano and
strings. As usual, his vocals run the gamut — from Kermit the Frog
to operatic — and his lyrics are as absurdist as they are grim. He
refers to honking antelopes and uses "la la la la" phrases like a
five-year-old taunting his enemies.

Humour, Tankian believes, is sometimes more effective than heady talk
about democratic reforms.

"Originally, I had very serious lyrics and they were great, powerful
and the music was powerful and vaudevillian, but they weren’t working
with each other," he says of Lie Lie Lie.

"I had a hard time putting my finger on it — I liked the lyrics, and
I loved the music — but why wasn’t it working out? Suddenly, I
realized that I was barking up the wrong tree and that the music is
so fun-lovin’ and comedic and that the lyrics were too serious. So I
literally ripped up the lyrics and improvised them."

His fun-loving spirit is also on display in an electronic press kit
filmed to promote Elect the Dead. In the deadpan video, posted on
YouTube, Tankian plays a variety of cliches in the music industry —
including the geeky journalist, the money-obsessed label executive,
and the disinterested producer, who sends texts to his friends while
the hairbag engineer does all the work in the studio.

Which begs the question: What’s Tankian like as the founder and owner
of his own label, Serjical Strike Records? (One of his prog-rock
signings, Fair to Midland, is his opening act.)

"I think I’m generally really good and open until things go bad and
then I bring down the whip and all hell breaks loose. It takes a lot
to get me going, but when I do, I get going. I change things. Change
is good."

[email protected]

GE T TANKED: Listen to songs from Serj Tankian’s solo CD, Elect the

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