The members of System of a Down are finally detailing why they haven’t issued any new music since 2005’s Mezmerize and Hypnotize albums after more than a decade of speculation. First, guitarist Daron Malakian – who is promoting an upcoming album by his side project Scars on Broadway – said in an interview that the group had to “beg” frontman Serj Tankian to make those two records since the singer felt like he was “out” at that time. Now the vocalist has posted a lengthy Facebook message that lifts the veil on what has stopped them.
Malakian, in an interview with Kerrang! (via Revolver), said he didn’t want to finger Tankian but that the singer is “totally set in his way of thinking.” The new Scars on Broadway LP, Dictator – out July 20th – contains songs Malakian had been shelving since 2012, a couple of years after System of a Down reactivated after a hiatus following its last two albums. He’s since accepted that the group won’t be making an LP anytime soon so he’s releasing the songs.
“Serj was never really a heavy metal or a rock guy,” Malakian said. “I don’t know if he has the same love for this kind of music as I do. I’m the kid that grew up with Slayer and Kiss on my walls … Serj didn’t grow up feeling that way. He didn’t grow up a diehard fan. So I feel like the whole experience of becoming the lead singer in a hugely successful band was different for him than my experience was for me. To be honest with you, Serj didn’t even want to make Mezmerize and Hypnotize.”
Tankian replied Thursday night with an exhaustive explanation of his feelings on the matter on Facebook. “It is true that I and only I was responsible for the hiatus SOAD took in 2006,” he wrote. “Everyone else wanted to continue at the same pace to tour and make records. I didn’t. Why? For numerous reasons.” These include feeling like the music the band was making was sounding redundant and repetitive, the wish for an equal cut of the money (“Daron [was] controlling both the creative process and making the lion’s share of publishing not to mention wanting to be the only one to do press”) and the fact that he didn’t feel connected to the music on the Mezermize and Hypnotize LPs.
He was in a different place artistically when the band reconvened in 2010, and since the 2006 hiatus, he has put out records in a variety of genres, from rock to classical music, and found a new career as a film composer. He agreed to do a tour with the band and eventually the subject of a new record would come up. “At times there would be emotionally tinged outbursts by one band member or another mostly blaming me for the band’s inactivity,” he wrote. So about two years ago he proposed a four-tiered approach for them to move forward.
First, he wanted equal creative input. “By this time I had released five of my own records and was a better songwriter musically and Daron was getting better as a lyricist,” he wrote. “So I said let’s each bring in six songs that all band members approve fully and work on them along with songs or riffs from [bassist] Shavo [Odadjian].” Second, he wanted the band to split the songwriting royalties equally. Third, he wanted each member to have final approval on the songs he brought to the table. “I did this because in the past, I’d bring in a song that would be morphed into an undesirable version that I myself would withdraw from consideration,” he wrote. And finally, he wanted the band to collaborate on a concept or theme for the record so it would be “a full experience.”
Tankian wrote that he was leaving out other details – “like agreeing on the ‘sound’ of a new record, which we couldn’t do” – and a bit about sending notes to Malakian on many of the songs on Dictator that he felt didn’t fit the mold of system. “They played around with some of my songs,” he wrote, “suffice to say I think we tried.” Ultimately, Tankian decided to “draw a line in the sand” and the group decided to set aside the prospect of making a new LP for now.
“My only regret is that we have been collectively unable to give you another SOAD record,” Tankian wrote. “For that I apologize.”
Drummer John Dolmayan also chimed in on Instagram. “Each member of the band is equally responsible for both our incredible success on our previous recordings and our unbelievable failure to get along and make music together,” he wrote. “Not one of us, rather ALL of us are to blame. Egomania, eccentricities, megalomania – and sometimes just stupidity all play roles.
“To our fans, I’m truly sorry for letting you down,” he continued. “To the songs that could have been – I’m sorry you haven’t.”
In recent interviews with Rolling Stone, both Tankian and Malakian have said that despite their inability to make a record, everyone in the band is getting along. Late last year, amid Internet rumors that Tankian never wanted to sing again, he revealed he’d been recording vocals for Dolmayan’s These Grey Men side project and he addressed the ensemble’s creative stalemate.
“When people don’t see a record, they assume the worst about your internal relationship. But the truth is we’re actually better friends – at least I’m better friends with everyone than I’ve ever been,” he said. “John’s my brother-in-law; he’s in my family. We have a great time together touring. But sometimes putting together a record, and that creative output and how things should be done, is different in four people’s heads and it doesn’t always come together.”
Malakian echoed Tankian in an interview in April. “We’re all friends,” he said. “We all still go out. We play the songs live. We enjoy it. But doing an album is a totally different thing than playing the songs we already have live. It takes a little bit more togetherness, a little bit more commitment from everybody, and I’m not sure everybody is ready to commit to that right now. And it is what it is, man. I can’t force anybody to do anything they don’t want to.”
At the same time, he also addressed the prospect of a new System of a Down record: “It’s not abandoned.”