System of a Down had one of the biggest stories in 2020 when they reunited and released two new songs for charity to benefit Armenia. Now Serj and Shavo have joined Zane Lowe on Apple Music to discuss their new songs “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz”, why they hadn’t come back before now, except as a live act, and more. Watch the video and read some excerpts now courtesy of Zane Lowe on Apple Music.
Shavo: Right before… I mean, when it was happening, when it started, all of us were shocked to the point of like it was like fight or flight. We fought. It was the automatic reaction to fight. And I wanted to say it. I swear I’m not saying this because it was said by someone, but I think we all want it to say. John took the initiative and said it. And, once he said it, we jumped to it. It wasn’t a delayed response. Like we let the text sit. The text was right away responded. And, to my surprise, everyone was involved. Everyone was into it. Daron right away said, “Oh, I have something so we could save time.” Because we could have gone in there. We could have sat there and written music. We all have stuff happening. We all have thoughts. But he had something ready to go. And this is so time sensitive. It was so time sensitive that I’m so happy that it happened the way it did. So, the way it felt was that. I had this unexplainable emotion to help to this urgency to do whatever I can do. I can’t grab a gun and go. I’m not trained. That’s not my forte. My forte is doing what we do. And it came together just to say, even hearing the song, and then once we did it, the emotions, every time I heard it, ran really deep. Even listening to the music, there was moments like, let’s say I’m playing it to someone, I would have to kind of step back and look away, because it’s not political to me. It’s personal. It’s very personal. We’ve said this all at separate times. It really is. So, it touched so many different emotions in my heart, and I’m proud of us for being able to put everything behind and getting in there and doing this. I was so proud of every member from everywhere. Yeah.
Serj: For me, it was a no brainer. As soon as John hit us up and said, “We should do something.” I’m like, “Yeah. Absolutely.” Because it’s one thing to kind of sit down and go artistically, what do I like? What do I want to do? What is the direction forward, whether as a solo artist or as a member of a band? It’s another thing when your brothers hit you up and go, “There’s a war going on. What are we going to do?” It’s a whole different thing. And so, we were all, like Shavo said, on the same page immediately. And just thinking, we got to put this out in three days.
Like we want to get it out as soon as possible. Because, for me, I’m not sure people are aware, but when Azerbaijan and Turkey decided to attack the peaceful people, Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh, and they not only launched a military campaign with tanks, and drones, and all this stuff, but they also launched a huge disinformation propaganda campaign to try to create false parity in the press. And they lied from the first minute and said, “Oh, Armenia is the one that attacked.” That wasn’t true because the Armenians were protecting their lands and they came to attack. Like they had to come to it. Like, it’s impossible the other way around. And they’ve been using this propaganda and disinformation in the press to create false parity from day one. Given the kind of lack of investigative journalistic abilities these days, everyone would just post whatever Reuters wrote or post whatever anyone wrote and add their own two cents on it, instead of sending someone. That happened later.
So, for me, we needed to fight this disinformation and propaganda. And the best way to do it was to create this incredible reaching out to tens of millions of System of a Down fans that could energize all around the world and say, “Oh, this is actually happening, and this is important to these guys.” And have excitement around it. And we basically, how do you say it? We broke into their propaganda immediately. Like the release of the song and the press around it f-ked up their propaganda campaign, at least for a little while.
System of a Down Tell Apple Music About Reuniting As A Band…
Shavo: Personally, man, from day one, even when we disbanded for a little while in ’05, ’06, I’m always a supporter. I’m always on the side of like, this needs to be going on forever. We never we’ll call it quits. I will refuse. I don’t care. I’ll refuse if anyone else does, we’re calling it quits. I’m not going to call it quits. As long as we’re all still alive, we’re going to be the unit that we are. I am still in. I think I’ll always be in. Look. I’m 47 years old. This has been a part of my life more so than not. We started when I was 21. The majority of my life, this is involved. I’ve worked my heart out for this. So has everyone else, and I feel like we’re a forest and it just shows by us coming back, doing two songs, how we inspired or how we’re inspiring and helping inspire a nation and people. How such little does so much. Like I said, beggars can’t be choosers. I’m very happy and satisfied with what we have. It’d be great to go further and inspire more and do more in our way. There’s no set rules. I always have said this, it’s not like if we do more, it’s going to require this much other stuff. It is what it is at this point. We do what we feel. We can not do nothing for the next 10, 15 years. We don’t know. We might be able to do something next year. I don’t know. I’m just saying, I’m there. The thing is, is that for it to come out as good as it did and as good as it might in the future, we all have to be on the same wavelength and be as content and happy with what we’re doing. If one of us is not, it won’t be what it should be or what it needs to be. That’s the deciding factor of if we should or not. In 15 years have we had, and we did it with someone less heartened, if someones heart wasn’t as much as the other two or the other three or the other one, it wouldn’t be what it needs to be. I say everything I’m saying, in the mind state of, hopefully we all feel the same again, to do it again. If we don’t, I’m not going to take this much. I’d rather take the full thing.
Serj: Absolutely. No, it felt beyond special. It felt very natural and it’s something we’ve done for so long together and especially having a cause that, for me, that was the most important thing. It’s one thing, like I said, it’s one thing to do something for yourself and for your band and for music itself or whatever you want to call it, for your career or for your business. Or it’s another thing to do it for something completely outside of yourself in every way, donate the proceeds and the song or the group of the songs become a part of the activism, a strong part of it. I think that’s unique that we’ve done that with this band. We’ve done it in the past throughout our music, with different songs. Obviously, we have songs that are not necessarily socio-political and are fun and, and, and all sorts of stuff. I think when we have done this, we’ve done it really well. This time, it’s exceptional in that sense, not to praise us or anything like that. The fact that we used it exactly, we used it as a weapon, unapologetically, and that’s what it should’ve been. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. It felt really great. The future is unseen. We will see what happens. The vibe is very positive. As long as we’re on the same page, we can continue doing stuff, if we’re on the same page.
Serj Tankian Tells Apple Music About The Philosophical Differences That Prevented an Earlier Reunion Of The Band…
For me personally, it has become harder and harder to tour physically. The actual … the shows are the best. I wish I could just play shows in the same place. But the travel gets gets to you physically and body and we’re not getting younger. That kind of a thing, that’s a part of it for me, to be honest. But I totally love touring. But when it comes to the actual creation part, it’s not personal, just as you stated, Zane. It’s philosophical. It’s the way you see things and see the way you see the music going forward, what it means to you, what System of a Down might mean to you. There has been a discrepancy in that. But that obviously didn’t stop us from jumping on board for doing something for our people, which is beautiful. I don’t know what else to say. I think that’s that’s where it’s at.
Serj Tells Apple Music About Working With Rick Rubin on “Chop Suey”…
Serj: Well, what I want to tell you now is let’s veer away from 9/11. One thing I do remember about that story lyrically, and you’ll appreciate this because I know you’re friends with Rick, Rick Rubin, is that while we were … while I was writing the lyrics, Daron had written some lyrics for the song and the chorus and stuff. But I was writing majority of the verses and all the rest of the lyrics.
At one point we were in the studio and I remember I was kind of stuck on the middle eight section, the breakdown section. Rick goes, “Let’s take a break. Let’s go to my house, let’s have some lunch.” So we went over to his house. He had a beautiful library. And he said, “Go pick a book. Just use your intuition and just pick a book.” I picked a book and just opened to a random page, stuck my finger out, and it was … what was it? The breakdown, the “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Suddenly it became a Jesus thing. I’m like, “Oh my God the self-righteous suicide became a Jesus …” It just lent itself. And I’m like, “Oh my God, the universe literally wrote those lyrics.”
System of A Down Tell Apple Music About “Chop Suey” Reaching No. 1on Billboard on 9/11…
Serj: More than making the song, the memory that hits me, as soon as you said, “Chop Suey!” and the time that’s gone by. “Chop Suey!” was released in September. I don’t know if … Shav, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I want to say a day or two before September 11, 2011.And on September 11th, when the whole planes crashing into the World Trade Center, that catastrophe happened, our “Chop Suey!,” our song was number one, our album was number one. Our album was number one. It felt like the whole world was exploding. They took our song off the radio. “Chop Suey!” was …because it had the word suicide in it, self-righteous suicide. Everyone was calling us going, “How did you guys know,” and all this stuff. We’re all weirded out and figure out trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
Meanwhile, we go on tour because we were booked to a tour on Toxicity, the record, which obviously has the single. Every day I remember those … Shav will remember the different orange and red and danger, basically, the news basically saying the danger signals.We’re in front of giant crowds. Meanwhile I had written something called “Understanding Oil,” which was basically a way of understanding what was going on, a way of reaching justice multilaterally that people didn’t want to hear because there was a lot of reactionism going on right after 9/11, obviously. It was a daunting time. When I think of Chop Suey!, I can’t think of how we actually sat in the studio and worked on it. I’m thinking of 9/11, going on tour, thinking we might die any night.The anxiety. We had death threats, we had all sorts of stuff. It was f-king insane.
Shavo: It was so wild. For me, as I recall, I think I’ve said it before. The morning of that day of 9/11, SoundScans came out for the week before on Billboard. We had a tour a couple of days later called the Pledge of Allegiance Tour. That was the name of the tour, the Pledge of Allegiance to America. It seemed pretty contrived, kind of contrived, the whole thing we did. I woke up to the morning, my phone blowing up. I didn’t … and I was trying to … it was those last couple of days at home. I was trying to really get … knowing I’m going on tour in a couple of days. I answered the phone. It was my mom. My mom’s saying, “Turn the TV on. There’s chaos happening in America.”
Shavo: I turned the TV on. I saw it. It was like 9:15. I saw a tower fall. My phone beeped and I went to the other line and it was my manager. He goes, “Congratulations, you are number one on Billboard.” In the same thought process of, “What’s happening in New York?” I’m in LA. What’s happening in New York? Then, “Oh, whoa, we just went number one.” Remember, it was our second record. We weren’t famous yet. We had a record. It was very humble. We wrote this other record and we released it. This was going to be our first tour for our second sophomore record.
Shavo: Yeah. We didn’t know where they were. I started calling everybody. I started calling, because our crew back then were a lot of our friends. Our drum tech was one of Daron’s best friends in the world. We knew him as a friend. Started calling where he is. Such a crazy time. Then they banned “Chop Suey!,” Like Shav said, because of that. Then they went deep into our record and said songs like “Jet Pilot” had conspiracy theories in there.
Serj Tankian Tells Apple Music About The Ongoing Fight For Armenian Justice…
One of the things that I need to do, that we need to do as a diasporan Armenian community, is the war hasn’t stopped for us. We’re going to continue to find justice and go after, through our representatives and international institutions, we need to arrive to justice, sanctioning Azerbaijan and Turkey, recognizing Artsakh, and bringing those guilty of war crimes to justice.
Serj Tankian Tells Apple Music About Filming An Episode of Parts Unkwown With Anthony Bourdain in Artsakh…
So, I’ve been there twice, in 2001, I want to say, and in 2017 was the last time that I went. And, man. The rolling hills, they’re like deep canyons and really high mountains. It’s like a really unique place. Very beautiful topography and a great place to actually like New Zealand, it’s a great place to grow food. Great climate, micro climates and the people are incredible because they are, I mean, they’ve been there for 2,500 years. They’re indigenous people from 500 BC on those lands. They’ve never been displaced until today and they’ve lived on those lands. I always believe that people start to mimic the lens that they live on, the mountains and the greenery and the topography and the lakes. They become part of them. They become intrinsic to the people’s nature. That’s what I saw when I went there. Just beautiful, just beautiful landscape. In 2017, Anthony Bourdain went there. I had invited him to go to Armenia and he magically took up the offer and we ended up doing it for CNN Parts Unknown. It’s really, really sad to see what has happened now. That a part of it is lost, Azerbaijan. It does not have status, which is very important for nations to start recognizing Artsakh. The French Senate just did that a few days ago, yesterday or the day before. That’s a huge plus. I think US Congress needs to recognize Artsakh and start putting some sanctions on Azerbaijan and Turkey for their war crimes.