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Serj Tankian Talks New Solo Album ‘Harakiri,’ Occupy Movement, Reality TV + More

Serj Tankian
Photo by Robert Sebree

As a prominent member of one of the most important and successful hard rock bands of the past 20 years, Serj Tankian could have simply decided to enjoy the life that being the singer of System of a Down has afforded him. But Tankian is not one to rest on his laurels, as a cornucopia of eclectic music and creative energy continues to pour out of him.

So, it’s fitting that the leadoff track on Tankian’s upcoming solo disc, ‘Harakiri’ (due July 10), is titled ‘Cornucopia,’ as it sonically and lyrically exemplifies the wide range of musical flavors that fans will hear on the album.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Tankian, and he talked about the album ‘Harakiri’ as a whole, his feelings about the Occupy movement and his thoughts on reality TV, among other topics. Don’t worry, System of a Down fans, we talked to the singer about his famous band, too, but that’s coming up in Part 2 of our interview. For now, enjoy Part 1 of Loudwire’s conversation with Serj Tankian:

‘Harakiri’ is the Japanese term for ritualistic suicide. It’s a bold album title and it seems like a comment on society in that the you’re suggesting that the world is destroying itself.

I think the assumption you just made is pretty spot on. I think you can easily say that we as a human species on this planet are committing ‘harakiri’ by unconsciously poisoning our own house, our own planet in many ways. I’ve been talking about the end of civilization since the ‘Elect the Dead’ record because of the way that we live; our lifestyle makes it impossible for us to continue living this way with the amount of resources we’re going through and the population growth.

So we are committing ‘Harakiri’ in that way, but the title track came about when we experienced in January of 2011 the massive deaths of birds and fish around the world. And to me it was such a symbolic ominous sign of things that are happening that I could not [avoid] looking into it or feel for it, so that’s when I wrote the first song for the record and since then a lot of the songs just started coming to me. I didn’t really plan on making another rock record last year. It just kind of all came to me so I guess that’s good because the truth comes out unfiltered and pretty easily sometimes and that’s how this record was put together.

On the first single ‘Figure It Out,’ you come out swinging against corporations and CEOs; what’s the message you wanted to get across with that song in particular?

For me, ‘Figure It Out’ is like a comical, political song because the issues around the injustice of our economic system is so wide and so complex and you know you see all these CEOs basically testifying before Congress, saying, “Well I did nothing wrong, I didn’t do anything illegal,” but they’re like, “Yeah you can’t find 2 billion dollars of your customers’ money,” and they’re like, “Yeah but I didn’t really do anything illegal.” So it’s kind of like a lot of people feel like these guys are getting away with murder.

So I wanted to turn that around and go, “Okay forget about the whole complexity of the economic system, globalism and the economic disparity, the revolt movement, the Occupy movement. Let’s just go get these CEOs, like a joke.” Let’s just get ‘em you know? [Laughs] So from the video to the song, that’s why it’s so repetitious, it’s kind of like a comical, political mantra just going over and over, “CEOs are the disease, CEOs are the disease,” and that’s kind of the point of it is poking a little fun but talking about the truth in a very straight up fashion.

You mentioned the Occupy movement and I know your Axis of Justice buddy Tom Morello has been very active, joining a lot of rallies. I wanted to know your take on the Occupy Movement as a whole.

Tom is my hero, he literally is. He’s phenomenal, he just went down to Wisconsin to do a concert and deal with the recall, the gubernatorial recall. I think the Occupy movement as a whole is a very important movement to note in American history. We’ve all been kind of waiting for this movement or something similar to it where people just stop taking the s–t that’s being shoveled to them. I think for the first time Americans are on board with the rest of the world — that the economic structure that has been designed called globalism over the last 40 years or so has not just cracks but a lot of imbalances that are hurting humanity and the environment around the world.

It started in Seattle years ago against the WTO and now it’s finalized to a point where people are on the street going, “Look I don’t have a job, I can’t do this. I’m not buying your bulls–t,” and the movement’s impact on America is very powerful. A lot of people won’t admit that the media at first tried to discard them then they tried to demonize them by saying, “Well what are you exactly trying to say?” – trying to dilute the message but when that many people get on the streets it says something. It’s time for change, real change.

You have a song on the album called ‘Reality TV,’ which seems to be a strong statement against the recent programs that have dominated the airwaves. While listening to the song, I was disturbed by the thought that the only Armenian Americans more famous in America than System of a Down are the Kardashians …

[Laughs] I was doing some interviews and a journalist friend said, “Would you describe reality TV as cultural ‘Harakiri’?” and I thought that was really interesting. I think [the song] ‘Reality TV’ is more a statement about society because anyone can make horrible television — it takes millions of people to make it successful so I think the joke it not necessarily on the actors; the joke is on the audience ultimately. What kind of lives are we living such that these kind of shows are becoming so popular and so huge for us that we’re following them in that way? That says more about it than the ‘actors’ on the shows.

Are there any plans to tour in support of your solo album?

Absolutely, we will be. I’m taking [my band] the F.C.C. out to do a handful of shows in September as promotional shows in the U.S. and then to Europe probably November if I’m not mistaken, and then doing a worldwide tour next year.

Serj Tankian’s ‘Harakiri’ is available for pre-order here. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Serj Tankian interview, in which he talks about System of a Down’s return to the stage after a long hiatus, their upcoming tour with Deftones and the possibility of a new SOAD album.

Watch a ‘Harakiri’ Album Medley Created by Serj Tankian Himself

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