Serj Tankian On His Symphony, Jazz Fusion Record, And Moving Forward


Huffington Post
July 2 2013

Posted: 07/02/2013 12:24 pm
Andrew Fish.

There’s a chill I get sometimes when I know I’ve dug too far into
someone’s work or philosophy during an interview, a silent request
to change the topic before things get weird. I’ve never felt that
with Serj Tankian, no matter what I’ve ever asked him, which is one
of the reasons I was looking forward to talking with him again. He’s
basically the ideal subject — friendly and articulate with a seemingly
bottomless aptitude for detail — so when I learned I’d be connecting
with him about his full-orchestra album and new jazz record, I knew
I wouldn’t have to hold back.

Known for his high-decibel, borderline operatic vocals, Tankian has
been taking some creative quiet time, at least in a relative sense.

Even as he’s back to rocking live with System of a Down, his two latest
solo projects are comparatively low-key. Released this month is Orca,
his first traditional symphony, recorded at Brucknerhaus in Linz,
Austria, and on July 23rd comes Jazz-iz Christ, a wide-net jazz
fusion project — both featuring elements of traditional Armenian
melodies. Tankian’s new efforts have actually been completed for
over a year, but he waited to release them in order to get Harakiri,
his 2012 rock record, off the ground first. “I didn’t want to release
three records at once,” he laughs during our Iconic Interview chat.

“I’d be in the studio all day,” Tankian recalls of the period when
production of all three overlapped. “Let’s say I’d sent a song out
to the flautist in Switzerland to add some flutes. I’d be working
on Harakiri and I’d get an email saying, ‘I uploaded the flute solo
to your Dropbox.’ So I take a break from the Harakiri song, download
the flute solo, throw it into the jazz track, balance it, see where
it’s sitting, make some changes, and go back to the Harakiri track —
that kind of a thing.” On his constant shifting of gears, he offers,
“Your mind is not segmented like genres of music on the radio. It’s
open. As an artist, as a writer, as a musician — whatever your
moniker of choice — it all comes from the same source.”

Meticulously assembled and packed with guts and pathos, the albums
come through as musical meditations with a subtle brand of buildup
and climax. Tankian’s favorite moment of Orca is its quietest,
at around six minutes when it breaks down to a single cello and a
couple of piano chords. “At that moment,” he says, “my eyes would
always water up, and I’m like, what the fuck? I would ask myself,
why is that moment of this piece, without lyrics, without a context
of what this actually means, doing this to me? To me, that’s the
beautiful thing about being able to do this. As an artist, I’m very,
very lucky that I can introduce different speaking patterns, those
emotions, that I haven’t been able to in the past.”

Tankian has worked in the orchestral arena before, when he morphed his
first solo album into his second and recorded 2010’s Elect the Dead
Symphony with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Jazz-iz Christ,
on the other hand, injects electro-pop, dance-hall synth, funk, and
classical into old-school jazz, and it’s unlike anything we’ve heard
from him before — and it’s wild. “Jazz, to me, is an improvisational
genre,” he says. “It’s what you want to make it. It’s technically
designed as such. The beautiful thing is the moment, and jazz is a
music of the moment.” With Orca and Jazz-iz Christ, Tankian has set
himself free and you can feel it.

The multi-genre musician and singer will tour with System of a Down
in late July and August and then take his symphony through Europe
in September. I asked if tensions would need to be addressed before
SOAD starts up again, after the online hubbub a few weeks back about
the state of the next System album. “Before we play together, we’ll
definitely share a coffee and have a conversation about it; that’s not
an issue,” Tankian shares. Regarding a new album, he adds that “you
need each other to do it together, and everyone’s got to be on the
same page.” To clarify, I sent Tankian a note after our interview —
does he see himself committing to a new System record at some point?

The answer I received was “Yes.”

Read the full interview at To learn more, visit or For a taste of Jazz-iz Christ,
check out this “Waitomo Caves” track for some serious funk and one
of the truly dopest distorted flute solos.

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