For it was a year ago on April 24 that i headed out to The Roxy to see a few bands. While waiting for the headliners that evening, i witnessed an orange, red, and blue flag being waived through the air. I had no idea of what was to be coming my way.

I witnessed four guys take the stage and assault my senses like the blitzkrieg. They had a unique, schizoid sound of phat sounds, arabic scales and rhythms, that would delight these ears and make me a loyal fan. I am of course talking of the one and only SYSTEM OF A DOWN!

It is a year later and i sit inside a Studio City restaurant with singer Serj Tankian and bassist Shavo Odadajian. Guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer Andy Khachaturian had prior committments and missed on the white chocolate that one of Serj’s friends from England had sent. Yum! During our conversation I learn that Shavo and I are huge Kiss fans and that Serj has his own software company. But the main topic of conversation was my favorite local band, SYSTEM OF A DOWN.

Rock City: First of all, tell us about the band.
Serj: (looking at Shavo) Why don’t you take that one!
Shavo: Ok. Daron and Serj used to play together in a band called Soil.

Rock City: Same band that is playing out now?
Shavo: No. I was a friend of theirs helping to book shows when they ran into a few problems with their bassist. They asked me to start playing with them then we had a situation with the drummer. We then auditioned for that position for 3 months. We tried a lot of flakes and then we met Andy.
That’s been almost 2 years now.

Rock City: Who is the driving force behind the band?
Shavo: Different guys for different reasons. I tend to be the business man booking shows, but we all do our part to make sure things get done.

Rock City: What defines your unique sound?
Serj: We have more than one avenue of influences. Daron is always writing and bringing in new ideas. We all write and bring in material. We also play other instruments other than our own. We usually have an over abundance of material.
Shavo: We have been playing out so much lately that we haven’t had much time to write.

Rock City: Your songs have very complex arrangements and changes. Do you look for
the change?
Serj: Soil was like that. You could put 7 or 8 System songs into one Soil song.(laughs) But that is the least of our worries. It is all about the low of the song. A lot of our feel is that we try to bring across emotions. You are human and experience more than one emotion— you love, hate, you’re angry, sad, hungry, horny. We don’t want to be just an aggression band. We tend to be perceived that way.

Rock City: Tell me about your lyrics.
Serj: What would you like to know about them?(laughs)

Rock City: On stage, you seem angry at times and a little silly the next second.
Do you think people relate to your lyrics?
Serj: I’ve never done it for the sake of relating! Actually I am surprised that people do get it, but that makes me happy. All of our messages, whether it be love, social, or politics, are all about breaking out of the norm. To make people step out of their skin and say, “What the hell am I doing working this dead end job?”
Shavo: I’d like to go on record and add that we are not a political band.
Serj: I am against totalitarianism, but that does not make us a political band!

Rock City: What is the song ‘Know’ about? It is my favorite.
Serj: ‘Know’ is a free spirit song. “I will never feed off the evergreen luster of your heart, all because we live in the valley of the walls.” The power of not falling into the system. I look to question things that I don’t under-stand. I research them and become educated. It is my nature.

Rock City: Describe your first gig as SOAD?
Shavo: There were 6 ska bands and us. We had the middle spot. We were
actually well received.

Rock City: Quite different than opening for Suicidal last week huh?
Serj: Pomona Glass House. Insane! Fights from the beginning.
Shavo: For the first song, people were kinda unsure what to think. But from the second song on out, it was a giant pit. I had never seen so many bodies.
Serj: Suicidal had a big impact. We gathered a lot of new fans at that show.

Rock City: Big question! 10 years ago, the L.A. band scene was very dog-eat-dog. How is it today for you guys?
Serj: We have been very lucky because a lot of the bands that we have associated with have been very nurturing towards playing together.
Shavo: We don’t try to top other bands. We only need to top ourselves. We try
to stay one step ahead of ourselves.

That last comment is the best I have heard in years. That is advice for all aspiring musicians to put on their rehearsal wall. If you are reading this interview, I know you have read all of the reviews. For true musicianship and songs, there are not many in their class. These guys have
level heads on their shoulders, even if Daron watches ‘Days of Our Lives.’
Do not miss their Wednesday, April 30 show at The Whisky. You will leave knowing you have broken out of the norm! This System of a Down is necessary!!

Mark Thompson