Serj Tankian

July 5, 2012

I am Serj Tankian. AMA.

Here we go. Ask Me Anything.

First off, thanks for doing this. This is the first AMA I've made sure I get to when it started.

Now, questions:

  1. What's your writing process like for your songs? How do you come up with them, what inspires you, how do you come up with the music, etc.

  2. What's your stance on media piracy?

  3. What, in your opinion as a musician, is the most important/influential album of the past 25 years?

  4. How in the hell did you come up with Vicinity of Obscenity

EDIT: He (vaguely)answered this one here

Edit: Bonus/selfish 5th question: I love Holy Mountains. How'd you come up with it?

Again, thank you so much.

  1. I write on multiple instruments as starters. Piano, guitar, sometimes electronically, even the ipad as a sketchboard. Inspiration comes from life, philosophy, conversations, art, film, music, etc.
  2. More people listen to music, less pay for it. it affects artist's income from recording and composing, not touring.
  3. Pink Floyd The wall
  4. Don't ask :)
  5. Daron wrote the music and I most of the lyrics.

What's the strangest encounter you've had with a fan?

This :)

Was it a mutual decision that Daron was gonna sing as much as he did the last years?

When you're in a band together as partners, you all need to put in as much as possible. So I have always been encouraging of more output creatively from all the guys.

Hey Serj, I can't wait to here some new material from you and SOAD, and I just have two questions for you.

1) Was any of the material that you wrote for your album ever intended for a SOAD album?

2) What do you think of Richard Cheese' cover of Chop Suey?

1) I wrote Harakiri as a solo record. When you have a fully encompassing vision for a song or a record, it's worth going it alone. If you don't collaboration seems suitable. 2) I liked it very much

Any plans for a new System of a Down album any time soon?

We have not made any plans at this moment. When the time is right, everyone will be made amply aware.

What was it like working with Buckethead, and do you plan on ever collaborating with him again? 

It was really great. We brought in 11 different singers to participate in Buckethead and Friends "Enter the Chicken". I'd love to do it again one day if it works out.

Hi Serj,

Thank you Serj, for your music, activism and generally....your work. Your music has joined me since my teenage, I always get happy when I hear any of your art. Don't you dare to die...yet!

If you ever need a favor, another groupie for your army, a human sacrifice or stuff, look to the south and ask :)

Again, thank you \m/

EDIT: Formatting

1) Yes, but I still think he's a better choice than Romney. Part of Obama's lack of success on certain issues is due to his obstructionist opposition. He should take the correct stand as he did during his Senate years on the ARmenian Genocide. 2) Maybe one day, why not? We'll see

3) I love composing and doing music in all ways and fronts. I feel honored to be able to do what I do for a living, so I won't stop. 4) I read, and compose when I'm not doing music :) 5) Time will tell. 6) Answered above.

Why is "Chic 'N' Stu" the title of a song about pizza?

2 Lakers announcers

Favorite shisha flavor? Favorite arabic meal?

Shisha flavor: not sure since haven't had many Arabic Meal: Too many that I enjoy

I'm not really here for a question. Just wanted to say thank you for writing Soldier Side.

Thank you :)

Love your music.

One simple question: Which band do you think that is just starting out right now will make it big?

Hard to tell. So many factors in whatever making it big means today. Unfortunately the ones with best chances are on the cheesy TV shows.

Hey Serj, as a big fan of Primus I was excited to see Larry LaLonde playing guitar in your touring band. How did that process go about?

Met Larry through Brain who played on Elect the Dead. Been friends since. He's back with Primus of course so we have Jeff Mallow on 2nd guitars.

Ok, I just want to know how your evening was when you took this picture btw love your work!

Major Edit: dude you're awesome! Thanks for the response.

Can't you tell?

Are some of the words in your lyrics purposefully meant to sound as if they could be other words?

Edit: This is what I meant, oh well darn

Don't know either of those songs, at least consciously. Good question though

I'm sorry if this is personal, but what are your current religious views?
And how do you come up with the lyrics to your songs? They're unbelievably creative.
And what's your favorite instrument to play?

Also, you're awesome, and I love your music :)

EDIT: Also, who are the Kombucha mushroom people?

1) I believe in the interconnectedness of all things. That is the base of my spiritual practice. 2) Lyrics come to me when I'm open to receive them either in free form poetry or lyrical. The trick is how to adapt them correctly to music and cut out the fat. 3) Piano's my favorite instrument to play, though I love them all.

I've been a fan of yours since I was in 6th grade (1999), so I have quite a few questions:

1)No 2) Hopefully one day 3) probably by end of 2013 4) Amazing..not yet. 5) Yes, in Sept with the FCC 6) He wanted to sing more. 7) Playing live together. He's awesome :) 8) Yes, but I won't tell you which. 9) Thanks

will you let your hair grow back, like 2005 ?

Maybe one day

What modern bands would you want to attend the concert of?

Not sure what a modern band is. I rarely listen to new bands since I'm always busy creating music.

I absolutely loved your Elect the Dead Symphony CD. What made you want to a concert with them, and would you ever want to do another one?

the APO asked me to do an event with them. Couldn't turn down working with an orchestra. I have just finished ORCA, my first real symphony. So after the Harakiri touring cycle is done, we're gonna hit the road with orchestra to do a hybrid show with ETD Symphony and Orca.

are you going to come to some countries like Colombia?, it would be cool if you come there . and so i want to know, how have you felt with S.O.A.D. and soloing, witch one was better?

One day hopefully. There is no better, really. I like doing them all.

Do you have any plan of doing a Latin America Tour? Greetings from @soadvzla !

Just did one last year with System. We'll do it again solo maybe this time.

For the music video ariels, that kid seemed to be the pinnacle of physical perfection, which is why he looked so strange (the idea being that perfection is ugly to us because our beauty is in our flaws). Am I far off?

Not sure. are you? All art should be left open to interpretation. Funner that way.

When do you think the American government will finally choose to recognize the Armenian Genocide? (btw, I love your music, both with System and as a solo artist. I'll be seeing you guys in August.)

Because these events also exist in our archives as history in the U.S., it would be best to honor our own history in speaking about it in all honesty. Soon I hope

As a fellow Armenian, thank you for raising more awareness to the Armenian Genocide through music, and other various activities. The more people that know the better.

With that out of the way, what are some of your favorite songs to perform live? Either solo, with System of a Down, or anything from Axis of Justice?

Since you will get a lot of questions about favorite bands, what is your favorite movie, or even favorite genre of movies?

1) No favorite songs or ice cream flavors. 2) MANY films in many genres.

Would you ever do a collaboration with Gogol Bordello?

I have done a song with Eugene and a friend of his in Brazil to come out on their project. More soon.

My friend is a really huge fan, and wanted me to ask some things since he couldn't get on...

1). Why exactly did System break up?

2). What was the inspiration for the song "Lie, Lie, Lie?"

3). What does B.Y.O.B. stand for?

4). What is your inspiration for the song "Vicinity of Obscenity?"

1) SOAD never broke up. 2) Figure it out 3) Bring your own Bombs could be one interpretation. 4) Dadaism

Have you ever encountered racism from other bands/managers whilst on tour or elsewhere in the industry for being Armenian?

Not really

What is your favorite substance to spread on delicious toast?

I don't spread on toast

What matters more when collaborating musically? Great finished product even if lots of personal conflict? Or everyone moving generally in the same artistic direction from start to finish?

Having a great time and making great music irrespective of anything.

What happened to Johnny and Robert?

They stayed in the UK

Hello Mr. Tankian, thank you for taking some time to answer some of our questions. I will get straight to my questions :

What do you hope people get out of your music?

What did you end up learning as a musician? Did your music help you realize anything you didn't know or overlooked before?

Edit: What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

I have missed every opportunity to meet you, it seems every time I have gotten a chance, it gets taken away either by school or finals. I missed both your book signing in Glendale and your concerts. Still, thank you for doing what you do,for being a great person, and inspiration to many.

1) Whatever they see in it. 2) I learn everyday doing music. which is why I like making different types of records/projects.

What is your favorite/least favorite SOAD song? Favorite/least favorite to perform live?

Don't have favorites.

Is there anything you've said no to, that you later wish you had said yes?

Yes, I mean no :)

Hey Serj,

I'm an Arizona fan, and I noticed a while back that you're listed as part of the boycott against us due to SB 1070. Now that the Supreme Court shot down a good chunk of it, are you still boycotting us? If so, I would assume the boycott extends to System as well. Am I correct in assuming this?

Thank you very much!

Looking into it now that things are changing. Good question.

Hello Serj, welcome to Reddit! Thanks for doing this!

  1. I've always been amazed by your musical talents, and I have to know, where does your inspiration come from? I understand that a lot of it is inspired by politics and genocide, but what about songs like "Lie Lie Lie"?

  2. Also, what is the most memorable thing to have happened to you (or just in general) in your lifetime?

1) Music comes from collective consciousness. 2) Being born

Serj! A few questions:

  1. Who's in the Harakiri touring line-up?

  2. Whats the story behind California Nightmare? I had no idea it existed until recently, and it is quite a different kind of tune.

  3. Is there a reason you never played Stealing Society in System?

  4. Aside from System in August, Will we be seeing you in Boston this year?

1) the FCC with me. 2) Haven't heard of it. 3) Not sure why. 4) Possibly.

Hey Serj, first of all I want to thank you for doing this AMA and want to say because of your work, along side the guys from System, that I started playing the guitar. Also music is a big part of my life now since then in which I started playing piano and drums as well. Anywho my questions are. 1. How long does it normally take for you to write a song lyrically and do you ever have writer's block more than usual? 2. What are some good tips one should take into consideration when writing music?

1) Some songs take years to develop, others hours. It's hard to tell. 2) Be honest

Hey! First off, I'm a big fan. I really appreciate and enjoy the music you make.

  1. What are your future plans in music? What do you hope to do that you haven't done yet?

  2. If you weren't in music, what would you be doing?

  3. And finally, do you have any funny stories about fans? Have any of them ever propositioned you?

Thanks a bunch for doing this AMA!

Edit: Ninja Edit

1) After Harakiri and touring for it, I have 3 records and a film to release. Jazz-iz-Christ, Fuktronic, and Orca records, My Year is film-web series most likely. 2) Music 3) What do you think?

ok so i am also a huge SOAD fan and you guys actually inspired me to try to play an instrument. i play bass now and i was curious...will you guys ever come play in Minnesota? i mean i know you yourself is gonna come play a knotfest. but ever a tour date for MN?

Yes, one day again soon I"m sure

What have been your favorite songs you've written/performed, both for System of a Down and your solo work?

I don't do favorites in music, colors, ice-cream, you name it.

Serj, No real question. I just wanted to say thank you for giving us great music for many many years! Also, for making my years growing up as a teen listening to SOAD very enjoyable. I love all your work! Once again! Thank you so much!!

Thanks for that :)

First of all, thank you for doing this. What do you think of the political situation in Mexico right now? Does it have what it takes to overcome it's challenges? Thank you in advance Bonus question: Do you plan on doing a concert in South Texas?

1) Economically Mexico's doing better than last few years, or maybe U.S. is doing worse. Legalizing all drugs is a noteworthy proposition for the country given the drug trade's death ratio. Many other things of course but no time here. 2) No plans now, but sometime soon hopefully.

Serj, I talked to you for a few minutes while seeing Prometheus Bound in Boston last February, I just wanted to know why you chose to put "Weave On" on Harakiri since you also used it for Prometheus? Steven Sater autographed my vinyl lp of Imperfect Harmonies saying "Weave On Ryan" =)

It worked perfectly on the record with its punk vibe.

What else have you been politically advocating for? I know there is PETA, but do you support any other groups? Occupy for an example? How about Aremenia and it's democracy/EU status?

Also love the music as a solo artist and as part of System of a Down. Thank you for your time!

Through Axis of Justice, Tom and I have supported many organizations and NGOs over the past including Greenpeace, Amnesty, Labor unions, Food banks, homeless shelters, tsunami relief orgs, etc.

I've read Orca, Jazzischrist, and fuktronic are coming out this year. I don't really believe that but when roughly will the first of the 3 come out? Thanks.

They'll come out sometime next year

What is your best advice to new starting, young artists? Who are fully serious about their work. What do you find is most effective for those trying to really break in. Young as in 17+. I have always wanted to know what you would say about this. This means alot to me, thank you Serj! *Mr. Tankian (although I don't think you mind the name edit. haha) Your politically active and message ridden art is one of my biggest inspirations!

First off, thanks. Advice for a new artist: You can now make your own music easily given technology, and get the word out given the internet. But you have to create a fire in your own back yard before infecting the world. Sell out your local club and go from there.

Hey Serj. I love your new music . I do have a question for you. What was your in septh meaning behind the song "empty walls"? the music video i think describes some of it , but not all of it. And why did you choose kids for the music video? Thnk you , and you have the most unique version of music and an exelent voice . Thanks -justin .

Thanks Justin. Music like all art is better interpreted by the listener.

I've been a SOAD fan for a long time now and i am finally getting to see you guys at your first stop on the east coast tour in Camden and i can't freaking wait! My question is do you have any idea what the set list is going to look like?

edit* Thank you so much for answering, you're awesome! I imagine whatever you guys decide will make for an incredible show.

Not yet. Haven't done rehearsals yet.

I am seeing you guys in MA in August on my birthday. Will you guys be playing "Prison Song?"


First off, let me tell you how much I LOVE SOAD and your solo career (Beethoven's Cunt being my favorite song of your solo albums). What is your favorite song to perform?

No favorites.

Thanks for the awesome music, dude. It's been great watching your band create music that inspires thought and makes people question everything. Your music videos are also done fantastically well.

My question: If you weren't doing music or were unable to produce music (for what ever reason), what would you spend your remaining life doing?

Not exactly sure. I would start a music software application company,maybe :)

Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA! I have a few questions for you.

You’re my favorite musician, ever. And please tell John Dolmayan that he is the best drummer I have ever seen.

1) I have the same religion as the tree outside your house. 2) Wake up 3) No plans yet. 4) Hopefully, I'd like that.

I would like to start by saying keep it up. I was a huge System fan, and I almost hate to say it but your music is better than System of a Down was. I hated seeing the divide, but I'm glad it happened.

My question for you is the following- Have you ever considered collaborating with any big-name DJ/ Producers? You've got such a great singing voice as well as a hard rock voice that you could EASILY make magic with someone like Tiesto or Infected Mushroom. That would also send a whole new fan base your way that otherwise would have never heard your music.

Anyways, of all the music I've heard in my life, yours is still the greatest to me. Musically perfect and far more innovative and creative than anything else on the market. Thank you with blessing this planet with your work.

-Matured Existence-

I have thought about it. I've had some DJ friends do remixes but never really fully collabed yet. One day.

Did you ever expect to experience so much success in North America?

Success is doing what you love and doing it like a madman.

How are you?

Great, thanks ;) Hope you are too.

What do you like to do more; jam in a studio or play live shows?


What inspired you to write Gate 21?????

The bird

  1. What has it been like working on Orca? Has there been a learning curve for you, or has it come naturally?

  2. Is there and order you usually go by when recording your music? Such as writing a piano part first then moving to guitars?

Congrats on your newest album! Thanks for sharing your gift with the world!

1) Orca has been a huge learning experience indeed. It's a nice balance of score and classical with bombastic unique moments for that genre. 2) It's usually piano or acoustic guitar first, unless I'm doing it electronically on the screen.

My best friends and I met when we were 13 years old over Chop Suey. We went together to the Atlanta SOAD concert as freshmen in high school, saw you on your solo tour, and now, 8 years later, we're flying to Michigan to see you again. I can't even believe how close we've grown over your music. You've had a huge impact on all of our lives, from opening our minds on political issues and bringing us up when we were down.

What has been the most life changing thing that you've experienced since becoming SOAD's front man?

Thank you so much for this AMA. Can't wait to see you in August!!

Life changing? System's success gave me the ability to do what I do for a living in music without fear, the ability to communicate and help create discussion on things I feel are dear.

When you write music do you ever save stuff for system of a down songs in the future?

i don't think of what my music will be used for when I write it.

Besides your own, what music currently makes you nod your head and say to yourself "this is interesting"?

There's a lot to mention here.

Hey Serj! I've always been curious about this. During the Mesmerize/Hypnotize tours, how come all of the older songs before those albums were played a half step up instead? Was it just easier to do, so you guys didn't have to constantly switch the guitar and bass between songs? Or was there other reasoning behind it? Oh and could you acknowledge my existence please? :D Anyway, your music is always inspiring, and I look forward to any future releases you dish out!

Existence acknowledged :) Good question actually on the last few records. It was a way of changing it up. Keys affect moods in composing.

What is your biggest fear?


My entire family are huge System fans, and you guys were my first musical love. Much respect!

Question from my mom: Which SoaD album are you most proud of?

Question from me: I read somewhere quite a while ago (I believe soon after Elect the Dead, but I could be wrong) that you wrote several hundred lyrics in the span of months (or it could have been a year or so, I don't remember clearly). If this is true, how do you manage this? And are there any specific periods of the day you prefer writing on?

1) Steal this Album 2) Before going to bed is the best time to write poetry. You can then use them to create lyrics.

What was the story on you pursuing your solo career?

Did it help you, as a musician, find a better approach as to writing better/newer material?

Finally was it more memorable for you, at times, as opposed to touring with System Of A Down?

Edit: I would also like to know what influences you on writing your songs? They seem so random most of the time but I would like to know what you feel when writing. Also, thank you so much for doing this AMA

It gave me more avenues of expression and experience beyond my original band. Remember everyone is first always a solo artist then joins a band. Otherwise, what band would one join?

Hey Serj! Fellow Armenian here, I've been a fan since I was 8 years old.

I was wondering if you have used drugs while writing music, and if so which ones?

Also, which is your favorite SOAD album? My personal favorite is the first one.

Thanks for giving me some great music to listen to over the years.

1) While writing music in the past pot here and there though not recently. 2) Steal this Album

Why don't you write a song in Armenian?

I did. It's on Imperfect Harmonies called Yes it's Genocide.

How does your approach to writing differ from each album? Did you write Elect The Dead with the symphony aspect in mind originally?

1) I try to do something different with each so I can grow as a composer and express myself in new ways. 2) No

Was there any beef between you and Daron? I remember when ETD and Scars self titled came out you both claimed you didn’t listen to the other guys album and sounded like something was wrong.

When you're in a band together, there are artistic quarrels but we've always been good friends with much respect. When our albums came out we were both touring so it took a second to catch up with the other guys' projects.

ATTENTION SERJ - As a kiwi (NEW ZEALAND FOLK) and knowing that your a recent resident here... what made you want to live here in NZ? Its amazing to have you in our country but what made you choose a dual citizenship? ... on another note i was a young man when I first started listening to you in the 1st self titled album... obviously things have changed in my life as in your lyrics and music (both with the band and going solo)... yet ive felt your music has evolved (for the better) and changed my understanding of politics and life because of that... so thanks for that! I honestly appriciate the effort youve put into the music as well as speaking out politically.. Wish there was more people like yourself out there! Enjoy NZ!!

NZ has many wonderful positive things and is one of the best places on the planet, but my reason for going there and becoming a resident is based on an intuitive feeling of belonging from the first time I was there. Thanks for the other comments mate.

Do you ever see yourself expanding your creative horizons beyond what you have accomplished so far? Writing novels or directing films? Also, how do you stay grounded when touring and playing the same music over and over again, making it seem as exciting for each and every fan?

1) Yes, I have a non-fiction prose work in mind having to do with the intersection of spirituality and justice for the future. Also scoring a new video game and will be doing more film scoring in future. 2) Good question: You have to find something new and exciting every day in every city, even if you're performing the same songs.

I got my first job when Mezmerize first came out. It was in a candy shop, and when we started to close down we would blast that cd. Everyone in Helen, Ga could hear it every night through the speakers that played outside from 9-10. Really good memories when I think of that album. No question.. just a huge fan of all your work!

Thanks :)

Why did you leave your keys up on the table?

I just read "He Wanted to" Below...I'll take that for 100

Hi Serj! I've been a huge fan for over a decade now, and while this isn't a question, I wanted to share with you a drawing I did of the back-cover of Toxicity almost 9 years ago at age 14 (that I still proudly display in my bedroom). I just wanted to say thank you for the music. You and System of a Down got me through my teenage years and have inspired both me and my art.

Oh wait, I do have a question - how excited are you for Heavy T.O.? All the best from Canada! - Gina

If that's the 2 festivals in Canada we're playing..Looking forward to it.

Will you ever release a CD with a bunch of cover songs? That would be AWESOME! -I loved your cover of "Girl" by the Beatles.

Thanks. Maybe one day.

What is your opinion of the current state of the music industry, and where music is going as of late?

Multi-device, worldwide streaming is the next delivery vehicle for music.

What was the inspiration for "Cigaro"?

for Daron, not sure. For me, Cheney.

Your singing is amazing in its uniqueness. How did you develop that fast-paced style?

Coffee..just kidding. Not sure. I don't know what I can't do with my voice, that's how.

I grew up with an open letter of yours about the Armenian Genocide on the wall of my bedroom (I'm half Armenian) and listened to quite a bit of SOAD (including a great show @ 9:30Club in DC).

Now here you are doing an AMA on the site I co-founded (quite the mindjob) -- I've gotta know, how the hell did you hear about this site?

A friend

If you could only use 6 pieces of gear on your new record what would they be ?

hmm..with a computer and a mic, you don't even need real instruments

What was the last song you listened to?

Just rehearsed with the FCC on the new material for harakiri, so the last song I listened to is the one we played- Uneducated Democracy.

[No question]

Thanks all...Ciao

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Serj Tankian conducted on Reddit on 2012-07-05. The Reddit AMA can be found here.