Serj Tankian - conducted by Mike Cox  

Serj Tankian - Elect The Dead

December 2007

MVRemix: Serj, in regards to "Elect The Dead" your solo debut on Serjical Srtike/Reprise Records, you have been quoted as saying "the title is open to interpretation" tell us a little about your interpretation.

Serj Tankian: I am more interested in how people interpret the phrase “Elect The Dead” than what I may or may not have intended. I named the album after the track, which is a spiritual song about love, life and death and is the heaviest song on the album without having any heavy instruments.

I have gotten some great responses from friends/colleagues as to what the meaning could be.

1) The current leaders are not qualified enough to lead us through these trying times, so we need to look for guidance from past leaders (Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, JFK, etc). The living ideas of the dead are more powerful and effective than the dead ideas of the living.

2) The victims of the epitome of civilization should elect our next leaders so we can live in a more just society.

3) We need to gain the wisdom from beyond history, from beyond the material and physical worlds, to be able to deal with not just electing our political leaders today, but learning how to elect ourselves as leaders.

MVRemix: You basically took the true punk rock DIY ethic to a new level. You played virtually every instrument on the new album aside (as I understand) from guest drummer's Brian "Brain" Mantia (G N R and Primus) and SOAD (System of a Down) drummer John Dolmayan. One can only imagine the process. After almost 10 years recording with SOAD it must have been quite the transition. Did it feel smooth and natural?

Serj Tankian: Much of it is culled from recordings I’ve amassed over a long period of time, up through this past year. I have such a backlog of material and when I was going through everything, the songs on the album are the ones that stood out. When I wrote everything, I wrote it on piano and acoustic guitar, and I didn’t know I was going to arrange it as a rock record. Producing this was something- in the beginning when I first started, I was a little skeptical about it, because what if I succeeded as an artist and not as a producer? So I had that in the back of mind, but I really knew what kinds of sound I wanted from the tones, what kind of guitars I wanted to use, how I wanted my pianos, strings and vocals to sound. I was very involved, and knew what I was going for, so as I went along, layer by layer developing the songs, it was getting there, so I didn’t want to bring someone else in and change things at that point. But I had to do that, to step out into the control room, take my artist/songwriter hat off, put on the producer’s hat and say “How could this be better, is this the best it could be” at every point in the game. I did have the help of some close friends/artists to collaborate with. Dan Monti, my engineer and guitarist played on the record, as did my friend and opera singer Ani Maldjian. John Dolmayan (SOAD’s drummer) and Brian “Brain” Mantia (Primus, Gun N’ Roses) helped by playing drums.

MVRemix: Speaking of Serjical Strike, your new label I've noticed the association with Reprise. Is it an association of contractual or logistical necessity?

Serj Tankian: Our deal with Reprise is on Serj Tankian "Elect the Dead," and not on any of our other records. We are not tied to any major label and can take our acts anywhere ultimately.

Some bands we've released indie ourselves (Buckethead and Friends, BAd Acid Trip, Kittens for Chrisitan), others we've put out through majors (Fair to Midland on Universal, Axis of Justice CD/DVD on Sony, and Elect the Dead on Reprise/Warner).

MVRemix: Your back-up band F.C. C. – I love the name. It's an oblivious jab at the institutional powers, the self - righteous few with the power to punish and the right to censor. Care to elaborate?

Serj Tankian: FCC in the U.S. stands for the Federal Communications Commission, the governmental body that levies penalties for swear words in broadcasting. We decided to make the FCC itself a cuss word to outline the hipocrisy of their existence. Our band is called the Flying Cunts of Chaos.

MVRemix: Having just wrapped up the U.S. leg of the tour, care to shed some insight on what it was like heading a new line-up?

Serj Tankian: I remember that it felt very comfortable getting on stage as a solo artist from the first show on. We've already played arenas in the UK with the Foo Fighters, and a host of shows on our own in Europe and the U.S. to promote Elect the Dead.

MVRemix: Was the vibe natural? Was the acclimation smooth?

Serj Tankian: Very

MVRemix: Having played all over the world, do you prefer to play stateside or over-seas?

Serj Tankian: Both can be very fun depending on the season.

MVRemix: On that note, have the fans embraced the new project or are they constantly requesting SOAD songs? If so do the SOAD requests get old?

Serj Tankian: We've had an amazing response to the new songs on Elect the Dead and have not heard any SOAD requests from the audience. I think everyone knows that this is a new project and have embraced it.

MVRemix: I have heard you're covering "Holiday In Cambodia" live on tour. Nice choice. Any other covers in the line up?

Serj Tankian: Beatles' Girl

MVRemix: As everyone knows, you are politically motivated. After posting the "Understanding Oil" essay post - 911 you took a lot of flack. The ensuing years have found you championing several causes, are your convictions as strong as ever?

Serj Tankian: Yes.

MVRemix: Do you really think music (and or musicians) can make a viable impact in the Political arena?

Serj Tankian: Music is an intuitive medium, and if communicated correctly has the ability to inspire and change people's hearts. The hearts change the minds, and the minds can change the world.

MVRemix: Speaking politics, in early 06' you and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine had the rare opportunity to interview imprisoned Journalist/Political Activist Mumia Abu-Jamal (who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia Police Officer). What was that like?

Serj Tankian: It was a really eye opening interview with a journalist who is well read and well spoken. He has been made the example despite the lingering questions of injustice in the case, and he's well aware of it.

MVRemix: And for the final redundant question…any plans for a SOAD reunion?

Serj Tankian: SOAD is currently on an indefinite hiatus after 10+ years of being a touring and recording band. SOAD is not a corporation that needs to put out a product every year to sustain. We’re a group of artists and we create music together when we want to. We are enjoying prioritizing other artistic and personal efforts. We’re all friends and supportive of each others’ art. If and when we need to speak as one to the world, the world will be aware.

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Serj Tankian (System of a Down) Interview

"I have such a backlog of material and when I was going through everything, the songs on the album are the ones that stood out."