It's the End of the World as Serj Tankian Knows It, and the System of a Down Frontman Feels Fine

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Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 5:00 AM

click to enlarge ROBERT SEBREE
  • Robert Sebree
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Remember back in early 2011, when birds plummeted from the sky, and fish died en masse? These dead critters are at the heart of System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian's new album Harakiri, which is out today. Inspired by what he sees as a Cassandric clarion call of nature, he assembled this record at his home studio in Calabasas. "Do [animals] know something we don't about the coming times or the sustainability of the environment?" he posits.

Tankian's been at the helm of Glendale multi-platinum art-metal band System of a Down since their inception in 1994. Their 2001 album Toxicity graced the CD racks of millions of Hot Topic shoppers, and has been both derided as awful nu-metal and begrudgingly praised for a contrarian style; think of it as Fugazi being violated by Dream Theater.

Born in Beirut and raised in L.A., Tankian has an extensive C.V. beyond the band that made him famous. He's been honored for his genocide-awareness campaigns in his parents' native Armenia, he's written plays and poetry books, and he's founded nonprofits. Musically, besides the rock-oriented Harakiri, he's recorded a symphony, a jazz record (called Jazz-Iz-Christ) and an electronic album, though none of them have confirmed release dates yet.

The relentless 44-year-old songsmith gives us the skinny on all of them at his woodsy Calabasas lair, which is hidden in the canyons above Malibu. His vibe is more "perpetual grad student" than "professor." Dressed in a loose red T-shirt and sporting an overgrown soul patch, his slight salting of gray belies his youthful appearance; his slightly accented "dude" and "man" betray his non-American upbringing.

Reclining in his cluttered studio, he's eager to chat, and also wants to listen to music -- his music. "You wanna hear my symphony, man? I just finished demo-ing it with synth strings on my iPad," he says. "We're looking for an orchestra right now to record it. I'm thinking the Bruckner [from Linz, Austria], since their space is all set up to record."

A symphony, really? Actually, it's not his first. The Auckland Orchestra supported his 2009 Elect the Dead solo tour. He calls this one Orca, and it's kind of cool and epic-sounding, actually.

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