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Serj Tankian on Being Eclectic, Growing Up in Lebanon and His Relationship With Heavy Metal

Robert Sebree

“2011 was the busiest year of my life so far, but also the most rewarding,” Serj Tankian tells Noisecreep. He isn’t kidding. The firebrand vocalist might be turning 45 this August, but his work schedule would overwhelm most musicians half his age. Besides self-producing his stellar Harakiri solo album (out July 10), Tankian saw his rock musical, Prometheus Bound, which he composed all of the music for, open at the Oberon Theater at Harvard in Boston to rave reviews. 2011 also saw him release his second poetry book (Glaring Through Oblivion), tour with System of a Down, and perform in his birthplace of Lebanon with the Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra.

But Tankian wasn’t done yet. When he returned to the U.S., he finished writing four albums: a jazz record, an electronic record he wrote with his friend Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence, a full classical symphony called Orca, and the material for Harakiri.

Noisecreep asked Tankian how he manages to do it all without his body shutting down: “Well, first off, I don’t have any kids, so that helps [laughs]. I know if I did have a family, I would spend less time traveling which took a lot of my time up last year. I think it’s also about planning to do multiple projects and not expecting them all to fall during the same period of time. Because if they do all happen at the same time, you’re like, ‘Oh, shit! What do I do now?’ It’s overwhelming,” says the singer.

Tankian tells us that the eclecticism of his artistic choices is borne out of artistic necessity: “I just can’t see myself ever sticking to one kind of music, or art form. It’s exciting to work on different styles of music because they allow me to express myself in such different ways. The way I can project a certain kind of vulnerability – an almost sadness – in a small section of a symphonic piece is something that I could never do on a rock record. At the same time, the bombastic nature of rock and metal music allows me to get other emotions across in a way that classical or opera music could never do.”

Watch Serj Tankian’s “Figure It Out” Lyric Video

Although Harakiri will definitely appeal to the fans that discovered Tankian through his work as the frontman for System of a Down, the album offers a wider scope of musical textures that even non-metal and hard rock fans could sink their teeth into. With that in mind, Noisecreep asked the singer what his relationship with metal and hard rock is at this point in his life: “I actually didn’t grow up on that kind of music. The first type of music I was exposed to was cultural Armenian music. My parents were both in this cultural institution where my mom would dance and my dad would sing. I was also exposed to Arabic music as a child and French music because we lived in Lebanon and that used to be an old French colony.

“When we moved to the States in the ’70s, I started listening to the Bee Gees and a lot of the disco stuff you heard on the radio at the time. I also remember playing a lot of soul music too. When the ’80s came around, I really got into the goth and punk scenes. I didn’t get into heavy metal till the late ’80s, early ’90s. Daron (Malakian, guitarist of System of a Down) is a lifelong metal fan. He loved KISS, and bands like that, growing up. I have never considered myself a metal guy. In the last five years or so, the music I’ve gotten into the most is probably classical, well, not Beethoven and stuff like that, but soundtracks. I love getting in my car and driving around with a film score on. It just amps me up! I start feeling like I’m actually in the movie.” Knowing Tankian, we wouldn’t be surprised if he did end up in the movie.

Robert Sebree

Serj Tankian’s third solo album, Harakiri, will be out on July 10 via Reprise Records/Serjical Strike and can be pre-ordered at this link. Pick up his new “Figure It Out” single over at iTunes.

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