Serart / System of a Down
Silent Upoar: I know you hooked up with Arto after seeing him at the Armenian Music Awards and then had him work on an Outro track on Toxicity...
Serj: He was actually on some other tracks on Toxicity as well, in the bridges and stuff like that.
SU: Oh really?
Serj: Yeah, he's in that little middle bridge solo part in Science.
SU: Cool. What did he play on that track?
Serj: What did he play on Science in the middle part? He played a little bottle filled with water and some percussion, he is a percussion master actually.
SU: What made you decide to go for it, and do a full length with him?
Serj: He was such a compelling artist, just looking at him and the way he creates. He can take just anything, any household item or anything, and make music out of it. He's got music flowing so hard through him that it just...I just really, really wanted to do something like that with him, it was just obvious. And the full length aspect, we just walked into the studio and did a whole album in six days so it was nothing to think about, nothing to plan no time for all of that you know.
SU: I know you've said the recording sessions were somewhat spontaneous.
Serj: Very much
SU: Was there anything you defined early on that you didn't want to do? Like you wanted to stay away from something real structured or say something that sounded like somehting System would do?
Serj: No, no. We didn't define anything. The only thing we defined was where the studio was, because we needed one. That's the only definition we had. It was very spontaneous. I didn't know what he was going to do. He'd walk into the booth and do something, come out and I'd be like whoa, what was that. And they'd walk in not knowing what I was gonna do and I would do something and come out, barely with any fixes or overdubs and go whoa, what was that. And we'd just proceed without thinking about it. It was really fun stuff.
SU: Was it recorded with the idea of, ok this is a song and this is a song, or did you just record a bunch of stuff and then say, ok we can cut this up here and make a track, this will make a track, etc?
Serj: No, it was done as tracks and some of the tracks were put together or cut apart or used as intro or whatever. But generally it was done as tracks, knowingly this is a new song we should do. Here we go, let's start something.
SU: Well I think it's fair to say that the majority people that hear about this will probably hear about it because of your associations with System of A Down and other things you've done. Do you think the album is strong enough that it would get noticed on its own if these associations weren't already out there?
Serj: The album is creative enough and it's original enough for it to be something else from anything else out there. It's nothing like System of A Down. It's not rock, it's not metal, it stands on it's own as a moment in time. It's not my solo project, it's not my side project it's a moment in time with an amazing artist that I wanted to collaborate with, and people should just understand that.
SU: How different was the creative process associated with it, compared to working with a full band?
Serj: We've done on the spot stuff with System of A Down, we always do it on tour between songs. We've even written certain songs in the past like that. But most of what we do is more structured, stringent, and it is worked on and perfected. It's fun doing that of course, I write songs like that, and Daron writes a lot of songs for System that are like that, but this was just doing a whole album of the top of your head with like a real, real trust in the moment. That was really fun.
SU: I imagine it would be somewhat refreshing to go from the more structured process of System to something totally spontaneous.
Serj: Absolutely. Again it taught me to trust the moment and whatever is coming right then, whatever it is, and not judge it or think of peoples perceptions of it.
SU: What made you decide to bring Shavo in to throw down some DJ stuff?
Serj: Oh, I called all of the guys I said, hey if you want to come in and do something out of the ordinary feel free, and Daron wasn't around, I think he was at a hockey game that night, and Shavo came and wanted to do some DJ stuff, my brother did a little piece and a couple of friends came, Jenna Ross is a female vocalist, she leant her beautiful voice to some tracks and my friend Via did a guitar solo on one of the songs. It just became very organic, nothing pretentious, nothing planned.
SU: You said before that all the vocal tracking was done in a very improvisational style. I read somewhere that you said, there were no vocals or set lyrics that were planned out.
Serj: There are vocals, but no really set out lyrics. I actually have some lyrics, because I am so used to doing lyrics, that there were times that I needed words to grab onto the emotion, but generally what I am doing is non-lyrical and 100% of what Arto is doing is non-lyrical.
SU: I understand the name Serart was taken from the first three letters of both of your names. Is there another meaning or reason behind choosing the name this way?
Serj: Correct. Yeah, Ser in Armenian means "love" and Art is "Art" in both languages I think in Armenian and English, it's both our names together and it's also like the art of love and the love of art at the same time if you switch it around. It works pretty well. It's not very easy to pronounce that's why marketing asked, "are you crazy" and I said yes.
SU: I haven't seen the retail CD, but you describe the album as very visual. Is there a strong visual element to the art of the album? Did you work on that at all?
Serj: Yeah we actually used an amazing, very capturing photo of a child, taken by a photographer named Bob Sasha who's done some cool work. That's the cover, and the inside has a bunch of our pictures and credits and all that. The album is also going to have a DVD included.
SU: I read that you prepared a short film set to make some of the tracks. I was wondering if that was going to show up somewhere in the album.
Serj: Yeah it's going to be a DVD along with the album for retail and it's a 12.5 minute film with a mix sound of the whole album. There just mixed collages that this guy Matt Amado did an amazing job on. It's kind of like a very moving type of visual collage film.
SU: So has the project sparked your interest in working with other musicians, or trying something similar to this again?
Serj: Absolutely. I like the idea of working with really, really creative people and trying things I haven't tried before because it just makes me grow as an artist. It's interesting for me also as a person. Like this weekend I got up onstage with Zakur Hussain, Bill Laswell, Lily Hayden, and a bunch of artist that wrote a song in UCLA and sang with them, it was just beautiful, in the moment and improvisational. They are all amazing artists. Watching Zakur Hussain play was like the highlight of my weekend. It was pretty cool.
SU: Do you think this will ever turn into a live performance, like a one-off show?
Serj: Possibly, possibly, not right now though. We're going to release it and if certain artists come through with the passion to want to do something, then we'll do something cause it's going to take a lot of people to play with on this.
SU: I noticed the album is being released on your label Serjical Strike, do you have any other planned releases for this year?
Serj: Yeah we've got three other bands that we've signed that we're releasing this year. One is a band called Slow Motion Reign, and it's a band that I'm producing. They're a four piece with beautiful Beatlesque harmonies, two singer songwriters, just amazing, amazing artists. They'll be coming out on Serjical Strike Columbia. And then another band called Bad Acid Trip which my guitarist Daron is producing currently. They are like this thrash core really crazy experimental thrash core heavy band.
SU: I think I've seen them before, it might have even been opening for you guys a long time ago.
Serj: Yeah, you did. They're humorous too. They have an amazing stage show. Hopefully their record will be out by summer. The third band would be Kittens for Christian. They are more of an 80's goth rock, throw back type of band, but very rock based, kind of reminiscent of early Jesus Lizard and Birthday Party, minimalist vocals and lyrics.
SU: You mentioned the producing. Is that something that you're getting into more, that you enjoy doing?
Serj: I'm enjoying doing it, but I enjoy so many different aspects of doing art based stuff, that I don't always necessarily want to stick to one. I want always be writing, I want to always be producing and do a little, maybe film stuff, do collaborations, do a band, a book and whatever.
SU: As far as the label, are you very involved with the running of the label?
Serj: Absolutely. It's a lot of hard work, I'll tell you that.
SU: We actually started one ourselves about six months ago. We just picked up our first band. You're definitely right with the work.
Serj: It is a lot of work. Four releases in one year, I knew it was a lot of work, but it is A LOT of work. But it's very interesting, and a huge learning experience for me, teaching me exactly what the behind the scenes decisions are, who makes them, why they make them, what are the best choices, how to do original marketing and not do what other people are doing, and you know, there's creativity everywhere if you look for it. So it's cool.
SU: I know you are a person with pretty strong political beliefs I just wanted to see what your opinion was on the war with Iraq; not so much if it's right or wrong, but what you think the next step should be.
Serj: Well first of all, there is no war with Iraq. That's the first thing to realize, that there is no war with Iraq. And if there would be a war, it would be an invasion, you can't call it a war if one person started attacking, it would turn into a war of course, it will start out as an invasion. I think it's very important to note that the most important thing thinking about all of this and dealing with all of this and talking to friends and all of that, is that it's our choice. We're made to feel it's not our choice whether we go to war or not because the administration has their own agenda and oil companies have their own agenda, and the world is against it, and they have their own agenda and their own reasons. They make us feel like, and the media makes us feel like this is going to happen no matter what, this is going to happen. That's bullshit. I don't buy it, I don't buy that this is a predestined thing to force a country to go to war with another. I think it's our choice as people, as American citizens. And I think, just how they stole the presidency away from us they're kind of stealing our souls right now and leading us into a world that's going to be very dangerous for our kids.
SU: True, and with that said now, what do we do? There have been protests, which don't seem to have an effect. Is it that more people that feel strongly need to get active with it.
Serj: Make your voice heard and you visualize a world of peace and not a world of war. If enough people get together and actually think, THINK ok, I'm using the work think, if enough people get together and THINK that the war's not going to happen, good luck creating a war. I firmly believe in that. In the old times it used to be called the power of prayer.
SU: And it is funny that earlier you called me out when I said "the impending war on Iraq". It's interesting how I see myself picking up things from the media. I mean that's what the media has coined this whole thing, that's what you read, and I don't believe that way, I believe more along the lines with you, but yet it's almost like if you're not careful, you get so brainwashed with it, you say things without even noticing.
Serj: Yeah that's why I haven't had a television for four years. I bought one for DVD's and movies, but I don't have cable and I don't have tv and I refuse to get it because number one I don't have time, and number two I'd rather get on the internet and dig the news that I'm interested in rather than have someone sell whatever they want to sell to me.
SU: I know you just worked with Michael Moore with the video for Boom, just kind of going with that, I'm sure you saw Bowling for Columbine.
Serj: Yeah, an amazing movie.
SU: It's so dead on with how the media tries to instill a sense of fear in everybody and make them feel they don't have a choice.
Serj: Fear sells. It makes you stay at home and buy a lot of canned foods.
SU: One last thing, I heard you're working on an album with TripHop, called Bad Girls.
Serj: You know what, that's like 2 years ago. I just wrote a bunch of songs and had her sing over them. I've never released them, I don't have any intentions right now of doing anything with it and uh, I'm not sure what's going to come out of that. It came out of one interview where I kind of mentioned it, and everyone kind of picked it up. It's kind of cool because now I know people are listening.
SU: Yeah, people are interested in it.
Serj: Yeah, I'm not sure if it's a project we're going to release or not. At the time it didn't work out, but I've done a lot of songs with different types of music that I'll release in one form or another over time.
SU: That's cool. Do you have anything else right now that you're working on, that you know is going to be coming out?
Serj: There are a lot of pending things, but nothing concrete for me to talk about.
SU: The last thing I have is, it seems like you have so much going on do you ever get any sleep?
Serj: That's a really good question. I try to get sleep. There are days I don't get enough sleep and it works against me at the end of the day, but I do try to get sleep. It's important, rest is important. Sometimes I've realized more than sleep, it's those times of complete solitude and peace you can go into for a half an hour or an hour. There have been days where I've been in the studio and I've gotten out and I had a signing to do and whatever, I was so busy I didn't get any sleep at all, that happens to all of us, whether in college or whatever, cramming right. I've noticed the best way I've been able to handle that is by keeping myself completely loose and relaxed the whole time and having at least an hour of complete relaxation even if I don't get sleep to reenergize my body and it's been ok. I've been ok with it. Of course if you stay up another day, then good luck.
SU: It's been a real honor talking to you. I've been a System fan for a long time.
Serj: Cool man, thanks brother. I appreciate your questions, they were really cool.