Cheerfully idiosyncratic in
an old-school, Frank Zappa way, System of a Down is an unlikely arena act.
Nevertheless, in the decade since the progressive metal quartet formed at an
Armenian Christian school in Los Angeles, it has become one of the most
popular and outspokenly political groups in rock today.
Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John
Dolmayan released their eagerly anticipated fourth album, "Mezmerize," in
May, after keeping fans waiting for more than four years after 2001's
"Toxicity." Now, as the band prepares to release "Hypnotize," the second
installment of its double album, on Nov. 22, it is touring with another
equally strange and creative act, the Mars Volta.
I spoke with Tankian from his home in L.A. shortly before the start of
SYSTEM OF A
DOWN; THE MARS VOLTA; HELLA
6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
Q. I saw one of the club gigs that launched "Mezmerize"
at Metro in May. Now you're headlining the Allstate Arena. Did you
ever think System of a Down would become an arena band?
A. It's been 10 years, so we've been working at it step by step.
It's not like we had one radio single and went from clubs to arenas. We've
been steadily working, and "Hypnotize" is going to be our fifth album. It's
a trade-off: You get more people, so the energy of the crowd is amazing. But
we're trying to get as much of that club sound as possible.
Q. What was the thinking in splitting "Hypnotize" and "Mezmerize"
into two releases?
A. Simply put, it is a double record, and the type of music that
we have, although it has pop arrangements, it is still progressive and it
starts and stops and has tempo changes, so listening to more than 35 or 40
minutes at a time is absolutely exhausting to me. We've always liked short
records and not putting too much onto the plate.
Q. The group has always been outspokenly anti-war and
anti-administration, yet you don't preach about your views in concert. Do
you think the audience connects with your message?
A. Music in general is an intuitive form. It can be intellectual,
but generally it's a right-brain activity. I always give "B.Y.O.B." ["Bring
Your Own Bombs"] as an example: You don't have to be anti-war to appreciate
the satire in a song talking about a hypocritical war. It's more intuitive:
You get it and you feel it more than you think it. Later on, if there is
some thinking, that is fine. If there isn't, that's fine, too.
Q. People talk about the role music played in stopping the war
in Vietnam. Do you think that's still possible today?
A. Music, again, touches the heart, not the mind. It can affect
the mind, but only after it has affected the heart. With Vietnam, there was
a whole cultural and social movement that precipitated that, with the media
showing clips of what was going on. People were really finding out the truth
and realizing, "Hey, this is not something that is part of the American
dream." Music became a part of that culture. I don't think music created
that resistance to the war; it was a part of it. At best, true art is a good
representation of our times, and a truthful correspondence of what is going
on doesn't create that change. It may help bring that change to an emotional
place in our lives, but it doesn't create that change.
Q. But you're optimistic that we'll see a change?
A. I think I'm already seeing a change. It's gradual, but there is
a change in attitude toward Iraq. Although they're not showing film of
soldiers dying, people do realize that there are deaths every day and that,
"Hey, this is a war I might have supported years ago because of my feelings
about Sept. 11, but this is definitely not the right thing. It's the wrong
war in the wrong place." Music has a place in that, but it is mostly people
realizing the truth about what is happening in the world.
Q. Both albums contain a mix of songs with heavy messages, like
"B.Y.O.B.," and tunes that are simply scatological silliness, like "Violent
Pornography." Isn't that a bit schizophrenic?
A. I have a hard time being serious all day. I have a hard time
being serious for more than three seconds! It's all part of life, and
lyrically it is a combination of a lot of things that Daron and I write
together. "Violent Pornography" is a funny way of talking about media and
where we are today -- things we show and things we don't show.
Q. How do the songs come together?
A. It's a balance of ideas. The way that it started is that Daron
would bring in most of the music and I'd bring in the lyrics. As time
progressed, I'd start to bring in more music and fully written songs, and
Daron progressed as a lyricist and a singer, so he was able to bring in more
completed songs. That balance has created better songwriters out of both of
REASONS FOR LIVING
As fans of psychedelic rock giants Pink Floyd continue to hope
for a full-fledged reunion tour in the wake of the band's performance at
Live 8 and the news that it will reconvene again in November for its
induction into the U.K. Music Hall of Fame, a new DVD offers a rare look at
the start of its career nearly four decades ago, when it was fronted by the
soon-to-become notorious acid casualty Syd Barrett and building a reputation
as the freakiest British band during the Summer of Love.
"Pink Floyd: London 1966-1967" features the quartet performing at the
legendary UFO Club in London, making the scene at the 14-Hour Technicolour
Dream at the Alexandra Palace (a much cooler "happening" than Woodstock) and
playing in the studio during its first recording session with American
producer Joe Boyd. Much of the footage hails from director Peter Whitehead's
film "Tonite Let's All Make Love in London," and scenes of the band are
interspersed with appropriately stoned flower children contemplating the
universe, go-go dancers stripping and gyrating, Yoko Ono doing performance
art and John Lennon dropping by to check it all out (the two hadn't met
The disc only includes two songs, "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Nick's
Boogie," but at 17 and 12 minutes, respectively, that's plenty of
mind-blowing music to get you through at least a bong or two. The DVD will
be released Tuesday through Snapper Music, and at under $20, it's a
patchouli-scented, paisley-covered Day-Glo bargain.