Serj Tankian, the operatic-voiced frontman for System of a Down, is a demonstrator. He is a demonstrator of conscientious activism; he is a demonstrator of balancing and filtering the muse through multiple musical mediums.
And talking over the phone about his forthcoming solo album Harakiri out July 10th, Tankian is a demonstrator of artistic eloquence. The Lebanese-born Armenian-American poet, musician, and multi-instrumentalist talked with equal passion about the meaning of the title of his album Harakiri, his plethora of different musical projects, Sufi poetry, and whether System of a Down is working on new material.
Tankian also explained why he and a comrade went postal on a mailbox in the terrorist-themed Choose-Your-Own-Adventure teaser video for “Figure It Out.”
“On the wacky side, and the real reason I did it, is just because I can,” laughed Tankian when asked about the teaser video for “Figure It Out” featuring a mailbox being kidnapped, tortured, and even waterboarded.
Tankian said that the mailbox belonged to him; the government was cutting back on mail service, and Tankian wanted to engage in a little “violence for the sake of art.” At the end of the video, fans are given a choice to let the mailbox “Live” or “Die.” We chose “Die” and were as intrigued as Tankian with the sociological aspect of the video.
On the serious side, another meaning behind Tankian’s “Figure It Out” teaser video is the “ecological aspect of it,” the paper waste that occurs in an electronic age when that’s unnecessary.
“By not having physical mail and having electronic mail in every way whether it’s bills or anything I’m sure that would save a few forests if not more.”
Renowned for his activism as well as his art, Tankian said that his political awakening came at a “pretty young age” when he understood “the hypocrisy and denial of the Armenian genocide in the United States” and pondered the many truths being “held back for geo-political gain or political capital.”
One of these most recent truths Tankian is interested in exposing is what he considers the mass suicide of animals; scientists are presuming other reasons for the multitudes of unexplained animal deaths all over the planet. This is the theme of the title track of his album Harakari.
“It was really hard to believe and it was just like this major omen,” Tankian explained. “I was trying to make sense of it; spiritually, psychologically, what all of it meant.”
“All of the scientific explanations given for the deaths have been bogus so far. They’re kind of funny if you really read them. From firecrackers to not enough oxygen in the bay.”
Admitting that the album of a whole does have a “looming ‘Harakiri’ vibe overall,” Tankian said that the end of the “Harakiri” song personalizes these ecological circumstances which Tankian believes are all a product of nature’s instinctive reaction to stress.
“When we’re about to experience an earthquake, for example, fish that are in aquariums start jumping out. They know before the earthquake happens,” elaborated Tankian. “Animals, dogs; before a tsunami they run to higher places. They have a better intuitive sense tied in with nature than we do.”
“I think we used to have that, but we kind of lost it in what we call civilization; in the kind of growth of our psychological realm and technology and all this reasoning and science,” continued Tankian. “So, to me, it’s interesting that all of those species found life unbearable in some ways because there’s no other explanation than suicide. That’s really scary for us because if it’s not good enough for them than what does it really mean for us in terms of pollution, in terms of the way we live, in terms of the times to come?”
Tankian doesn’t believe it’s the end of the world though. At least not in a literal sense. There is talk about varied philosophical tenets of mysticism with Tankian saying, ”I think there’s a lot more awareness of what life means today and that’s a positive thing actually.”
He’s seen it on the recent South American leg of his tour with System of a Down. The “pre-dating Occupy” protests of the Chilean students over the inflated expenses of academia was an inspiration that Tankian can see bleeding into the United States. “I think it’s very important for us.”
Tankian is doing what he can artistically “get the muse out.” The artist said that he’s just finished a film and three other records including an instrumental jazz record, his first classical symphony called Orca, and an “almost British gangster soundtrack” electronic project tentatively dubbed Fuktronic with Jimmy Urine from Mindless Self Indulgence.
He’s also reached out to a hip-hop artist to possibly do an alternative version of one of the songs on the record and is looking into scoring opportunities.
“I’m really thrilled with the possibility of scoring films and video games,” said Tankian. “And now that my brush has way more colors than it used to , I’m kind of diving into that world more heavily.”
“Rock is easy,” explained Tankian. “It comes to me naturally and pretty quickly. This [Harakiri] is probably the fastest record that I’ve ever written in my life. The others, some of them, especially the orchestral and classical stuff, take a lot more kind of breadth and a lot more work.”
While Tankian thinks it’s a huge compliment that System of a Down fans are clamoring for new material, Tankian set the record straight.
“At this present time, we are not working on new music,” said Tankian. ”We’ve mentioned it, but we haven’t made plans to do so.”
“Everyone’s doing their own thing,” continued Tankian, saying that it’s been “a really healthy period” artistically. “Coming back together and playing shows–we’ve had more fun than we’ve ever had.”
“I don’t think there is a reason for it; I don’t think anything is forever…We are enjoying each other’s company touring and one day we’ll make another record. I just don’t know when or how.”
Serj Tankian’s Harakiri is scheduled for release on July 10, 2012. Get more info at serjtankian.com.