System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan has been a busy man lately. He’s been on the road with the Pledge of Allegiance tour, along with touting a once #1 album on Billboard (Toxicity [American], which just so happens to be the album of the year). Maybe that’s why upon first call for an interview, his groggy ‘I just woke up’ voice came over the phone like pebbles being dropped on a glass floor. Two hours later, and one callback, the interview was on:
There was a lot of heat surrounding the band, and mainly Serj, for his essay that he wrote the day of the attacks on America. Could you get into that a little more in depth?
“I think a lot of it was misconstrued, and he was completely misquoted. It's my opinion that a lot of these things are true, but the timing was bad. We're affected by things, and we vent, but unlike everyone else, anything we say or do can be taken a million ways. This time people turned it into patriotism against our band. Serj realized it was the wrong time to do it. I posted my feelings afterwards to give people perspective of the different opinions. I think the media is getting out of hand though. There’s 250 million people in the US, and maybe 100 cases of Anthrax, so we shouldn’t run to the hills and hide, it’s just to perpetuate fear.”
(asks me to hold on…) Room service arrives, wheeling in a juicy burger and fries. “Did you bring lots and lots of ketchup?” he asks, as the server reassures that there’s plenty of Heinz. The $11.40 bill is paid, and we’re back on.
Rick Rubin seems to be the main man for making a unique, creative album these days. What’s it like working with the bearded one?
“Rick gives great opinions, he's a mellow guy. For a guy who is so mellow, we got him talking shit by the end of the recordings. It's a matter of not being so serious. We're recording something that's going to be out there forever, we try to make it as an enjoyable possible so we don't spontaneously combust.”
The songwriting process is hard enough for most bands. How does System actually sit down, and be able to construct a song with schizophrenic time shifts, wild tone changes and stoppages?
“Well, we had 45 songs total that we could have recorded, of which Daron [Malakian, guitarist] wrote 22. Usually they’ll bring in a pretty structured song, and I'll try to think of something that I would never think of to add to it. I'll try to incorporate a fusion of many different elements….and I don't like repeating beats, which is difficult. I don’t want to give you the same vibe on each song. I want to make you say out loud “what the hell was that.” But mainly I’m just selfish, and I want to please myself.”
With that being said, I just wanted to let you know that I can’t get over your new album. It’s simply amazing.
“Thanks, man. I’m glad you enjoy it. We’re in this because it’s our souls, and if our souls can get passed through speakers to you, we know we did it right.”
Well you certainly did. Now I definitely have my favorites from the album. Which songs do you think before a show ‘Man, I can’t wait to get to that part of the set list’?
“There's a couple that I really enjoy playing. My favorite is most likely “Aerials”…there’s just something about the way the strings come in…man, I just love playing that song.”
Definitely a beautiful track. My favorite has to be “ATWA”. The first time I heard that song, I hit replay about 7 times. But this isn’t about me, right? (we both laugh) So what about the other 31 songs that didn’t make the cut?
“Well, some are going to go to soundtracks, some are going to be held, some nurtured. Who knows…We’ll probably save some for the box set.”
Box Set? Nice! Now, I’ve been instructed by my editor Julia to ask about some of Daron’s antics on stage, especially how he often fancies a good naked romp on stage. She’d like to know what it’s like looking at his ass while performing.
“I think she likes it way more than I do*. It’s not a big deal for me, so I'm not that thrilled by it anymore. I see these guys asses all the time in the shower and stuff, so it’s no big whoop anymore. Sorry to dissapoint her.”
Fair enough. The Pledge of Allegiance tour is definitely one of the wilder ones this year. Rammstein seems to be a bit of an odd choice, though. Do they speak any English?
“They speak enough English to go to strip clubs. They were my strip club partners.”
That’s enough English for me. Have you been getting to enjoy the crowds at the shows?
“Hell yeah! Every once in a while, we’ll bring Joey (Slipknot drummer) up on stage and he plays a song for me so I could jump into the pit. It’s great to get into the pits and kick ass to your own stuff.”
I know you’re a big fan of comic books, and used to go to trade shows and set up shop. Do you still plan on doing that?
“I'm a nut with comics….but now I don’t know if I'll be able to do it anymore. I liked how I was anonymous, but once you start hitting MTV and everything, you get people who just go to the show because you’re there, and not because they like comics.”
So after this album tour wraps up, do you think you’ll get into any side projects?
“If anything, I'll probably be doing more producing of other bands. I have my band, and they’re my brothers. If I had to do anything else, it would have to be totally away from the heavy venue, like fusion or some crazy shit.”
This may be tough, being that each member seems to be so much more spiritual and complex than the average band these days, but in one word, describe each of your bandmates.
Serj - peaceful
Shavo – late…that fuckin guy is always late.
System is so unconventional and innovative…Does it bother you that so much music is just recycled and morphed into the same boring drawl?
“Sure, but who’s to say what’s good and what’s not. Some people think chocolate is better than vanilla… but says who? It's not valid to anyone but you…and it shouldn't be. I have respect for anyone who pours themselves into their music.”
*Editor's Note: Daron's butt does nothing for me