Serj Tankian is not what he used to be. [He's better.] The Lebanese-born Armenian-American poet gone wild has blossomed beyond voice and hair into true fire and brimstone, melodic visionary perched on a cannonball soaring light speed through the heavens, striking chords from every cloud and raining from the heart.
His newest solo project Elect The Dead, where he plays just about every instrument, shows more range than the U.S. Missile System, exploding the parameters of "political" or intellectual music into realms of just good [stuff].
Sonic sanctuary is the term that comes to mind when describing Serj's voice. An angel scribbling into the margins of a book, unholy, contemplating the afterfuture while indicting the overbearing presence of the present (that's poetry mumbo jumbo for "you'll find it pretty cool to hear your son singing along with this album… You'll pat yourself on the back for raising kids with good taste").
"Now pop it in your Prius and listen." -Saul Williams
One of the most unconventional frontmen in rock, System Of A Down singer Serj Tankian emerges as a solo artist with his debut album Elect The Dead. System Of A Down, whose five genre-bending studio albums have sold over 16 million copies, went on an extended hiatus in August 2006. Since then, Tankian has been holed up in his home studio in Los Angeles writing, recording, and producing Elect The Dead. It is an album that showcases the writing and arranging prowess of a man best known for his inimitable vocals, incisive lyrics, and unwavering dedication to humanitarian causes.
“Making Elect The Dead, I felt the exact same energy as I did recording System’s debut in 1998, that sense of open experimentation, the idea that ‘Wow, I’m actually doing this…’ I was living, eating, and [breathing] this music every day. I’d wake up in the morning and the thought of working on a song was so powerful I couldn’t focus on anything else.”
Neither a mellow excursion into world music or the frantic war-cry of System that some had predicted, Elect The Dead is multi-faceted and multi-layered. It contains elements of psychedelia, classical, and the trademark surrealist images and skewed time signatures that Tankian has made his own. It is both thought-provoking and from the heart.
“It’s definitely a rock record,” Tankian says enthusiastically. “It’s a moving album with a lot of ups and downs, starts and stops, and tempo changes. It’s depressing but it’s uplifting; it’s jazzy but it rocks.”
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1967 to Armenian parents during tumultuous political times, Tankian lived in Beirut until 1975 when his family emigrated to Los Angeles. A graduate of Marketing & Business from California State University, Tankian was running his own business developing Propriety Vertical Industry Modular Accounting Software (surely a first for a budding rock star?) when in 1995 he co-founded System Of A Down with three friends from the Armenian-American community.
Over the next ten years, System rose to become one of the most inventive hard rock bands of their generation — a band with a conscience, a message, and a desire to constantly evolve. Tankian’s contributions included not only the confrontational and often cryptic lyrics, but also a unique singing voice heavily inspired by growing up listening to his father sing traditional Armenian music. Tankian sings in a cadence like no other: An abrasive, paint-stripping, pulpit-bashing roar one moment, a maudlin lament the next.
Having achieved their goals, the members of System Of A Down decided to pursue their own projects. Tankian continued his work with Axis Of Justice — the grass-roots activist organization he launched with Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello — and nurtured his own Serjical Strike Records. He also lent his vocal and remix skills to a number of artists, ranging from Tool and Deftones to Wu Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G., and published a book of poetry, Cool Gardens (2002), which remains a best-selling poetry collection. In 2003, he recorded a pan-international sounding album with acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Arto Tunçboyac--yan, under the name SerArt.
It should, by now, be pretty obvious that Serj Tankian is not your typical frontman.
Which brings us back to Elect The Dead. Forget the endless parade of collaborators, guests, remixers, or producers, the album is entirely Serj, though SOAD’s John Dolmayan and Brian ‘Brain’ Mantia (Primus, Tom Waits, Guns N Roses) do lend their drumming skills to the project, and guitarist/bassist Dan Monti and opera soprano Ani Maldjian make an appearance as well.
“With Elect The Dead, the sky’s the limit. There are no barriers between myself and the listeners on this album. It’s more direct,” says Tankian. “It’s liberating because all the choices are mine. With this record all success or failure rests with me. It made me realize that I have an amazing life and I am getting to make a lot of my dreams come true.”