System of a Down

Well, this would’ve been an “EXCLUSIVE” in big screaming letters, but the letters didn’t want to scream, and apparently Kerrang! has all the rights when it comes to the word “EXCLUSIVE”. So instead you’re going to have to content yourself with a YAZ interview instead. Please don’t cry. Anyway, time to start a really waffly bit ...

The things I go through to bring you these interviews. No really, I do it all for you. You don’t think this is all done just to gratify my ego do you? Oh, ok. Smart arsed bastards. Anyway, there is a tale to this interview, and tales are meant to be told, and that’s what’s about to happen. I kind of like System. So, with them playing 3 gigs here with Slayer and Sepultura, I made the decision to nip down to London to see them. Twice. Also started trying to sort out an interview. Now that’s fairly unique for my interviews, cos up until now they’ve not really tended to be sorted in advance. It’s more a turn up on the day and hope for the best. But System are in demand, and that sort of approach ain’t going to work. Especially in London. Neither it seemed, was going through the official channels. There was an element of uncertainty as to whether it could be done or not.

And then at about 8.30am on the morning of the first of my gigs, I had a call. Andy A. had sorted out an interview. Just get there between 4 and 5 in the afternoon. Time to sit down and think up those questions then. And so having done that, I drive. Park the car up, tube it into London, and the old nose starts bleeding for whatever reason it has decided on this time. Terrific. So, I arrive at the Astoria trying not to look downwards as I don’t really want blood dripping on their carpets. I’m nice like that. Considerate. But the blokey at the foyer knows nothing of an interview, and so I’m going nowhere, like pronto. Tells me to ring this number. “You got a pen and paper?” Nope I reply, trying not to drip. “What kind of journalist are you then?”. Well, I ain’t a journalist, and I use the cunning concept of a dictaphone instead of pen and paper. Anyway, I’m still not going anywhere. Hmmm, bugger with a side helping of shite. Tastier than the McDonalds I go and have anyway.

Things don’t work out, so it’s join the guest list queue. After a bit of a storming set from the band, I meet the aforementioned Mr A. who asks if the interview got done. Nope. Right, so we spot John, System’s drummer, who was the guy he’d talked to the night before. He drags me down to the front of the Astoria to speak to Russell, who promises to try and sort something out for tomorrow,as he, apparently, is the official person to speak to. I watch the Seps and Slayer and drive home.

Next morning, 11.15, Russell rings. If I can be there by 4, they’ll do an interview. Feels like I’ve been here before. I drive, I park, I tube. Nose didn’t bleed. I arrive. They know of it this time. Roland is there, and promises to seek out the band. There’s a Kerrang! interview to do, and inspite of my, er, problems with that fine magazine, it is way more important than me, so they should do it. Any band should use that magazine as much as they can. And I mean USE. Time passes, and Roland asks me to pop back about 5. Ok, as long as he can get me in on the guest list queue, as by the time anything gets done, the ticket queue will be so big, that after I join it, I’ll miss System. Sorted, no problem. I leave.

I return. (You still with me on this? We’re getting there, honest!). The band are eventually located, and things are ok and ready to rumble.

I’m led to the dressing room, where all of the band are preparing for the photo session which is due in about 10 minutes. I can start now, and so that is where we come in .... Now, let me just say that this interview, at least being able to do it, means a lot to me. To be honest, more than the other interviews in here. I’m nervous. So be gentle with me as you read this. Anyway, as we enter the dressing room, the band are indeed dressing. Shavo is stood ahead of me, points to the Free Thinkers Are Dangerous System shirt I’m wearing and declares I haven’t seen one of those in a while as he removes the one he’s wearing! Sat on a bench, going clockwise, we have Daron, John and finally, Serj.

Ok, I don’t know really what you want to talk about. I’m sure you get hit with the same questions all the time, so I’ve tried to come up with some different ones. I guess though that the boringly obvious first question is how’s the tour been going?

It’s been really cool cos you know we’re fans of Sepultura and Slayer, it’s been a lot of fun playing with them.

With the few gigs that you’ve done over in Europe then, can you make any distinction between the crowds here and in the States?

It really depends on the country. And the city reckons the bassist. Daron joins in. Even though there is a difference, because it’s a whole different world here to America. And we expect it to be different in some subtle way at least. I’ve noticed some places where people have been more into it, in terms of more being more happy to show their appreciation, and some places they’ve been very cold and not shown their appreciation. But it matters what city and what country and how they’ve been brought up. Because a lot of the eastern countries have been held back for a while, and they’re trying to break through now and are in a transitional period right now. So those countries have been a little colder, and the western countries have been a lot warmer and more people know about us and now that they’ve finally gotten to see us, they’ve been giving it 110%.

How about in terms of the way people react. Because I’ve read in quite a few interviews and whatever, about how it can get pretty violent sometimes in the States.

See the thing is with the States, it depends on what part of the States. In the east, like New York, New Jersey and all those areas, they do it totally differently to how they do it in the west. In the west they run the circle and they stage dive and crowd surf and all that. And they’re all involved, so if you fall down they’ll pick you up. In the east I’ve noticed that they punch a lot in the pit and they run around waving their arms around, whacking each other in the head. It’s a little different, and I think people are more afraid to go in the pit. Sorry, you don’t mind if we change do you? asks Serj. “Nah, that’s ok”. We’ll look away won’t we?

Oi, you, turn your head, give them some privacy. Tch, some people.

One of the things about last night. You did a non-album track. Was that Marmalade?

No actually, the second song we’ve been playing, it’s a song called X, which is not on the album. That’s a song that we haven’t recorded on anything yet. It’s just like a little introduction to the future.

So you’re actually planning for the future already then?

We were before the album was even finished. We had it in our heads what we’re going to try and do next.

So are there any songs on the album that are an indication of the future, cos I know a lot of the songs are old demo ones.

Well we can go in any direction with the songs. So I couldn’t tell you. It could go in any direction on the next album.

I’ve not heard it yet, but you’ve done a track on the South Park album with Puff Daddy. How do you think that’s going to be received in terms of ... I didn’t get to finish!

Well actually we remixed a Mase song, and we love the South Park series, and the only way that we could’ve gotten on there is if we collaborated with someone. And Puff has been asking us if we’d do something with him, to remix one of his songs since before we were even signed. And that’s like a year ago. And we’ve been declining. It’s not our thing to be so commercial. So when we got the chance to be on the South Park album and NOT be commercial because it’s not going to be released to radio or available on video. It’s just a song on the South Park album. And it’s comedy. It’s a comedy album. So we wanted to show our versatility to people, and that we can do anything with anyone and go in any direction, like I said we want, at any time, and then go back to what we’re doing straight away. It’s not that we’re doing it for any other purpose than to get on South Park album, and being a part of it, cos it’s a rad album. We did it to have a good time offers up Serj, and to do something a little bit different to what we normally do. It’s just basically a collaboration, and we did it. It’s fun. You know, why not just do as much as you can in life.

Yeah, it’s just the name Puff Daddy at the moment ...

Yeah it is. That’s why we wanted to do something different with him is offered before I finish. And he’s never done nothing like the track that we did and it’s not really one of his songs, it’s one of Mase’s songs. So it was cool to have one song where it’s Mase, Little Kim and Puffy, and do something with them. Basically, it’s like a comedy CD and to me, as a System song, that’s a comedy song. Yeah, basically, it took each of us about two takes to record that song, and an hour to write the whole thing. Not write it, but remix it as in what he’d done before, and we changed it to what we felt like doing in the studio and we did it. And they liked it, so they put it on, and it got us on South Park and it’s cool to be a part of that, because it’s a very very cool album.

Now look, I’ve been listening to System for a while. And I’m pleased that the band are getting the attention that I think they deserve. But, ah, there’s always a but, BUT, I am a bit concerned that now the press have got hold of them, a few things will get manipulated and they’ll get thrown into the whole “new metal” thing, and as a result, be regarded as a hyped, and ultimately short term band. I hope that doesn’t happen, because I think a listen to the album is enough to convince that, even if you don’t like them that much, there’s a damn sight more originality and diversity and talent there than a lot of the current scene. But this worry persists. And the South Park / Puff Daddy thing could add to it. So, I put this to the band. Unfortunately it’s at this point that something that resembles a video camera enters the room. It is a video camera! The day is being shot (I mean in a video shoot sense!), and the camera crew want to do some stuff now including System. I can stay the band tell me, but I beg to leave. Hey, I hate videos, and I don’t want people actually finding out what I look like now do I. So, the question remains unanswered. Serj apologises, and asks me to come back after to finish the interview, as he doesn’t want it rushed. If there’s not time, he tells me to find him on the balcony after the set, and we’ll finish then. Roland sorts out a pass, and I leave to grab a bite to eat and then join the queue.

System are on damn early tonight (6.45!!!!), and what a set. Immense. Afterwards, armed with that little sticker pass (that’s the bleeder, looking smug over there to your left), I go towards the balcony. Shavo is videoing everything. A quick congrats on the set. Roland wanders by and asks if I want to finish the interview now. Sepultura are starting, but sure, I mean, I’ll be seeing the Seps again tomorrow. So I’m led back to the dressing room post-gig. Only Serj and Daron are here. John pops in a few times, and after Serj has apologised again for earlier (unnecessarily), we resume. We greet again. The zines I passed on earlier are lying around, Serj at least has had a look. I remember doing that interview he fails to convince me regarding the interview that was in the very first issue of this zine from a time before the band were signed. Nope, no more copies available, it’s on the Web site if you need to see it. I remember the questions and everything. It’s nice to see it.

But I’ve forgotten exactly where we were at before the break, and besides, it’s hard to just pick things straight back up like that. So, look for another angle Dave. Tonight the band played their cover of the Berlin track Metro, which Serj had mentioned in previous communications I’d had with him (see issue 3, which also is now out of print, but is on the Web). So, time to ask about that. See, being topical here, cos this is like 30 minutes after the even. May take a while to get to you, but it was topical. So anyway, the Berlin cover. Serj picks up the story

We did some pre-production a long time ago, and before we even did pre-production for the album, we did our own. And we kind of recorded it all live in a small studio and it came out cool.

Is it a regular live thing. You said tonight that it was improv.

We haven’t played it in a while says Daron, which just confirms how lucky the people that actually managed to get in for the set were that night. We haven’t played it in a loong time.

So what makes you decide what to do each night. There’s a core set, and then you change some. What makes you decide which songs to change?

It depends on the tour that we’re on. A show like this we’ll pick more heavier songs, and be less like playing stuff like Spiders.

Which you did on Wednesday night apparently. No, we did Peephole. You did Peephole last night. I was told you did Spiders on Wednesday night. No, we’ve not done Spiders.

So there Mr A. They didn’t. You lied to me! Cheers for making me look a fool in front of them. Ok ok, so you actually helped arrange the interview, guess you’ll have to be forgiven on that one then.

See, I was told you had, and I was jealous because it’s my favourite song on the album. Daron, who tends to laugh or giggle at most things, and whenever he’s talking, does it again. Thanks. No, we just wouldn’t play Spiders at a show like this. But when we do our own like headline type of shows, and have more time to play, then we add different flavours in the set. And we’ll have the songs like Peephole, Spiders and Suggestions all in one set. And then play the heavy stuff around those songs.

Is P.L.U.C.K. a regular live song? It’s usually the song we start with I’m told to my surprise. I don’t know why, I just didn’t expect to hear that song at all, so that was a nice surprise.

One of the things I was going to ask, and it may be best for Daron this, but a few of the shows in the States Serj had to pull out of because of voice problems. And so you did them as a three piece. We did them as a three piece and got the audience to sing along Daron confirms the story that I’d heard. Apparently they would get people from out of the crowd who knew the words to get up on stage and just do the songs with them. Sure, I know the hardcore people will tell you that’s what happens at their gigs anyway, but it’s a nice idea, instead of cancelling and then being faced with the prospect of not being able to see the gig if it can’t be rescheduled. Would I have loved to see that. (The answer is yes, I would.) So how did that actually work out? Pretty crazy says Daron as he breaks into that laugh again. Any replacements being lined up then? I hope so, I could take a break Serj grins.He was sick, we didn’t want to cancel the show cos the kids had paid money to see the show, and we got the chance to not cancel it. We’ve noticed that a lot of kids in the audience are singing the lyrics in the States, so we just said hey, if they know the lyrics, why not just let them get up and sing it themselves. And it’ll give them something to remember to. That they’ve been involved in the show.

Is that something that you’d do again.Yeah, I’d do it again. It was fun. There was about 15 or 20 kids on stage. We did it twice. And the other bands crews would be sketchy about their equipment, but oh well.

It’s time to turn to the list of questions. The mind has gone blank, which isn’t an unusual occurrence, but my nerves are playing hell with me tonight, and I have to apologise for the brightness of the face and the heat that is probably being generated. They just laugh. Another reason you won’t get me in front of those ‘kin video cameras. Anyway, I’ve found the next question now.

Ok, so time to turn to the fact that the band are known to have fairly strong views about certain things. So, let’s try and explore some of those avenues. In the issue, that at the time was the current one, there was an article that I lifted by Steve Albini that talks about the kind of debt that bands can expect to get into if they sign up with a major label. So, is there one thing in the music industry that you would change now that you’ve seen it working.

One thing I would change starts Serj, is that when people step up to you and they introduce themselves, there should be tags. Some kind of tags like you know how “hello I’m “ something like that. And explicitly stating what they do, so that you remember. Because it’s an industry where, it’s almost like the amount of people that try to be friends with you, but it’s a business relationship and it’s not a clear-cut business relationship like other industries where you have your clients and your vendors. It’s more in the middle somewhere. So it would be cool if there were stickers and the record company would send them. Like “media person.” So that you know who everyone is. I think record companies should give more chances to bands who are more a risk I guess, just so they can evolve as artists, and take more time to look at bands. It seems like they sign a bunch of stuff because it sounds the same, and I wish the business, well it wouldn’t be a business if they didn’t play it safe, but you know what I mean? I wish they wouldn’t play it so safe, because it doesn’t give us the chance to see new things. There’s so much underground music that’s so good that never gets recognised. And that’s the music that brings out the mainstream. It all starts in the underground. The mainstream is always influenced by the underground, except it’s a little more washed up, a little more cleaned up. So I’d like to see people that take a chance as an artist get more of a chance to speak. To see major labels signing more people that don’t sound like everybody else and take a risk somewhere so that we can evolve as artists.

That’s one of the things that I tried to get at earlier when I mentioned the hype that’s surrounded yourselves. It seems like you’ve been signed in a way amidst all this LA “new metal” thing. And that scene feels at saturation point. The new benchmark for me is your album.

Well, I mean we’re friends with everyone in LA, but soundwise we try to always do something different, try to do something that sets us apart in a way. I mean, what’s the point. You can look at a painting and copy it, but you can’t call it yours. We want something that we can call ours and that stands on its own.

The minds buzzing, so it’s all over the place at th moment. So now, totally unconnected with the last point, we return to the evenings gig and whether playing 3 gigs in the same venue has any impact on the band.

I like the different city every night. Same city three nights, you start judging the nights. Y’know, “first night was better than the second night, second night was better than the third.” But when you’re going from place to place, it’s like judging the gig. This has been strange playing the three nights. The pros of playing in the same place, is not driving every night. Being in town and having some time there. Well that varies for the people in the band. Some of us like the drives and some of us hate it laughs Daron. Without the drives, you get to spend some time in the place and do other things, see things and get out and walk around.

So have you had the chance to do that this time?

Yeah, we went around today, had some Indian food, went to some book stores bought a book. Bought a really rad book that I wanted. That’s John our drummer says Daron of the System drummer that is making a fleeting trip through the dressing room, looking pleased about his purchase and possibly doubling his input into this interview in one fell swoop. Hello. You can call him Cheesewizz drawls the guitarist. You can call me? John questions Daron. Bert Bronson. That’s right. Bert Bronson? I ask with one of my better quizzical looks on my face. Yeah, and if you write that, we’ll be very happy.Well consider it written, though I wouldn’t say I’m any the wiser at the moment. Hey, the entire thing gets written, mistake’s and all. Are you Irish? asks Serj. Nope, Welsh. For some reason I thought you were from a French magazine, but I guess I’m wrong Daron guesses correctly. So have we reached the surreal part of this interview yet? It’s for that fanzine I saw then? It’s cool, there’s some good stuff in it Daron reckons, thus providing a free quote if I ever do decide to create a flier with those utterly pointless quotes from people. “Man, you rock - Kerrrzap!!”

Ok, we’re getting away from reality now aren’t we. Ok, back on track. Couple of non-musical questions that I have written down. I’m not sure if you’re able to stay in touch with the news back in America, but there was recently an assisted suicide on TV, with Jack Kervorkian. Yeah, another famous Armenian Daron fills in the gaps in my knowledge while still giggling that giggle. Yeah, it’s kinda funny that he’s Armenian because it takes someone whose culture and roots have put up with a lot of death, to look at death in a different way.

So, I was wondering if you had any views on the assisted suicide Serj finishes for me. Yeah, I dig him.I’m for it. Because the people that he’s killing he’s not killing them because he feels like it, but because he’s killing those that are suffering reckons Daron as Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph wanders in, does a comic double take, and then drifts through the dressing room. It’s like if you’re totally hopeless and you have no reason to live and know that you’re going to die, but have to suffer first, why not do what Jack Kervorkian is doing for those people. He’s helping them. And I’m not saying that because he’s Armenian. I want to get his paintings too adds Serj. Yeah, he’s a really good artist too. Personal choice man, you push it out to personal choice over their destiny, even if that is to be the end of their life. People should be able to have their choice. And it’s not just anybody that he can kill. It’s got to be someone who is in a terminal position. I don’t see the problem with that. I think it has a lot to do with how the government says church and state are different in America. But the truth is it’s not. It’s incorporated. There are more ideas incorporated than are portrayed to the people.

Personally I agree with it. You could say that medicine itself is changing the course of your life, saving peoples lives in the first place where nature wouldn’t have intended it like that.

You know what they do in the hospitals is much worse than what Kervorkian is doing. In the hospitals they treat people like their cars and a mechanic. They keep them there for weeks and months trying to keep them living for as long as they can to take their money.

Well it shouldn’t be like that in this country as we have this National Health Service.

See that’s a good thing. I’m talking about the US. I didn’t know the UK was like that. So a quick explanation of the system follows. You didn’t want to read that bit as well did you? Thought not, that’s why I didn’t include it. Nice huh. Yeah. Cool. You don’t have insurance in the States, you’re screwed. In the States you’re screwed period Serj amends Daron. You are to an extent here. I watched my father dying for a few weeks in hospital a year ago, where they didn’t even have the basic equipment. Nursing was fine, but they just don’t have the staff and equipment to provide the care needed.

Anyway, another thing. You use the Internet quite a lot yourselves. Some say that it’s the last bastion of free speech. Would you agree with that?

The last bastion Serj ponders for a moment. No, I think it’s a new tool. Just like anything else. And I think there will be further tools for free speech, but it’s getting harder and harder. I think there is free speech. I think people don’t use that right. I get away with a lot. And I’m surprised to. But people don’t use that. It’s like the media, let’s say you were working for the New York Times in New York. It’s not like you can’t write an article that says the truth about what the government is doing in certain other countries politically. But you know what? You’d probably be fired if you tried. So, it’s not that you don’t want free speech. But to get to the mass media with free thinking is hard.

Yeah, I saw Jello Biafra here the other week. 3 hours of the lies that he claims the media portrays. Must’ve been interesting. An eyeopener. One example was him on about sending up the space shuttle again with 72lbs of plutonium and wanting it to do a flyby of the earth. Yeah, I’d heard about that. So what happens if it blows up? If it goes wrong, one speck is enough to kill someone. So it could kill 5 billion people. Nice. How are they containing it? I’m not sure how it’s contained, but the scary thing is, it’s there to power something that they say 6 light bulbs in a couple of years time could power. The world’s a scary place man. That sounds like a lot of plutonium. And that amount is usually used for weaponry. That’s HIGH fucking capacity energy right there. This is what he’s getting at, in that you have to dig to get to the truth, but maybe the Internet makes it easier to access this kind of information. Yeah, and copy it to people.

Currently Sepultura are pounding into their set, and given the nature of this interview, I’ve taken up more than enough of their time. So we’ll try and bring it to an end. Tomorrow I’m due to interview Sepultura (s’ok, you don’t have to wait, just turn the page.) Cool. So what question should I ask them?

Ha ha, soccer question. And Igor draws really cool pictures, so ask him about the pictures that he draws. Both Serj and Daron have caricatures on their passes that Igor has drawn. And pretty damn good they were too. How have you gotten on with them? Excellent. Both them and Slayer are bands that have inspired us and have been really cool to us. Slayer was our first major tour in the States, and our first one here. And they’ve really helped us out a lot and we really appreciate it.

So with that, are there any plans to return here? I’m sure we’ll be back. But before that we have to negotiate a certain Mr Araya of Slayer who has wandered in, and then shushed himself as he sees an interview in progress. Amazing to see such manners from a man who is to be witness to near carnage within a very short period of time. We’ll be back in ‘99, but no-one knows when. We’d like to, because it’s a really cool place. Some comment occurs that ends with Serj saying “... actually the world, except North America.” Which is the world if you live in America. Oh yeah right. The NBA championships, they call them the world championships even though no-one else but America plays in it laughs Serj at the absurdity of it. You go to places and you see McDonalds everywhere, and KFCs, Burger King. It’s true. A lot of American culture is spreading across the whole world. That’s American culture. McDonalds. KFC. There really is nothing else that is distinctive. That’s what its evolved to be.

With that then, one more thing. Would you recommend anyone to live in America? Yeah, I like it. From say Europe to America. I like living in America, because I was born there and I’m used to it. It might be different for someone else who isn’t used to it. I’m not used to Europe and it took me a little time to adapt. If you’re not from a certain place and you go there to live, you’ve got to adapt to it. America’s a really fast way of life. You guys are a little more laid back with life. Not London, Europe. Well London scares the hell out of me. London’s a very American place. Being out on the street in London is like being on the street in New York. Have you been to New York? No. You’ll be frightened then there. I’d like to go say New York, San Francisco.San Francisco is a very nice place. Very cool. But you get the two pictures here. The tourist view, and then the “if you go in the wrong place, you’re in trouble.” You get that anywhere. It’s like that in LA. You’re like in a rich neighbourhood, and then once you past the light, you’re not in a rich place anymore and it’s a place you really don’t want to be in. But you know what, you’ll be fine Serj reassures. But watch your back Daron destroys it. We’ve played in real bad neighbourhoods in probably every city in the country when we were touring with Slayer. Clubs in the not so great parts of town. It’s like that with metal shows. But you know, there’s good and bad people everywhere, and there’s a lot of bad neighbourhoods. But it depends what part of the country you move to as well. You can move to like the desert and it would be a totally different lifestyle to LA and here. Nottingham’s just right for me. Do you know the people from Earache? Not really, only Hugh. Hugh. He’s great, a gent. Tell Hugh hi for us. He’s played War a lot of times in the club there, and we want to thank him for that. Consider it done. And consider me thanking you for your time. No problem. Sorry for the delays come the needless apologies from both men. And so, as a friend from LA has arrived, and I’ve really taken up more of their time than I should be allowed, so it’s time to get the demo signed, and depart to watch the rest of the gig from in the balcony, getting looks from all the luvvies that inhabit it, and probably think I shouldn’t be there. Ha ha, swivel.

So, it eventually got done. The face has just about returned to it’s normal colour. The Seps, Spineshank and FF interviews were a breeze in comparison. I was laid so far back for me I almost fell asleep. But this was the biggie for me. Maybe it comes across as a bit smug or egotistical from me. Which to an extent I screwed up. Maybe next time I’ll try and get at some meatier subjects.

Anyway, there’s a number of people to thank. Beno and Styles initially for trying to sort things out. Andy for making the enquiry. John for agreeing and then pointing out Russell who organised it and Roland who helped see it through. Sheesh, reads like the Titanic credits doesn’t it? So in that case, I’d just like to thank God, my parents .... And of course, the band for taking the time out to do this. Twice. And the official website for the use of the piccies.

And of course, as you should know by now, they’re returning to these here shores in May. Get there and enjoy.