the AU interview: Serj Tankian (USA)


What can fans expect from your new solo album, ‘Imperfect Harmonies’? Will it follow on from your debut ‘Elect the Dead’?  

The song Elect the Dead on my first solo album was a hint as to what Imperfect Harmonies will say. It’s a new record with a whole new sound that breaks the borders of musical genres. A very brooding, melancholic record that takes the listener on a journey. It’s a puzzle that requires all the different songs as pieces. It’s not a record based heavily on one song or single. 

Any surprise guests on this one?  

Nope. The usual suspects. 

Describe your writing process for this record.  

I collected the songs that I wanted to present next as a solo artist, wrote some more, then decided how I’d like to arrange them. Once I had the formula for the instrumentation and arrangement, I got to the production phase. Given that the record had live instrumentation (rock), electronic beats and samples, a full live orchestra, and a bunch of soloists, it took a bit to say the least. 

How long did it take to record? Did you play many of the instruments yourself?  

It took a good part of the last year and yes, I played a good part of the instruments myself.  

Will your support of this album extend to tours in Australia?  


Tell us a bit about ‘tree free’ paper. Will the Australian copies be printed on it as well?  

That’s a good question. One that I will have to check in to for confirmation. Tree free paper is part hemp, part flax, part post recycled. 

Your family moved to LA when you were eight years old. What was the attraction to LA in particular?  

We had family here. 

Do you still feel any connection to Armenia and do you have any remaining childhood memories of the country?  

I wasn’t born in Armenia though I’m Armenian. I was born in Lebanon. That said, we just played our first show in Armenia and it was just magical.

At what age did you get into music in a performance sense?  

In my 20s.

Are you self taught on the instruments you play?  


At what age did you find your interest in politics becoming more serious?  

I was an activist before a musician. The hypocricy of the denial of the Armenian Genocide in the U.S. was my awakening to injustice based on geo-politics. 

·What are your thoughts on the current state of US politics?  

Politically fragmented, economically fragile. 

Do you feel Obama has lived up to people’s expectations?  

Waiting for one person to fix all of our problems is quite naïve. Obama has put in a great effort but with an obstructionist Republican party in Congress and business against him (cause there’s someone finally trying to regulate industry), it’s not going to be an easy ride. 

Do you think the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately have amounted to much?  

I think it has changed the course of the lives of all 3 nations. Mostly unjustly. I think an argument could be made that neither of the 3 nations are better for it. 

How did the seed get planted to create the ‘Axis of Justice’ with Tom Morello?  

AOJ was born out of an effort to provide fans of music festivals something more than just consumer goods. We started it at Ozzfest in 2002. Since then it’s grown into its own non-profit fund and political organization with a radio show going 3 years strong, and a website ( that’s a great resource for alternative information.  

What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved with activist activities and try and make a difference in their communities or country?  

As Joe Strummer used to say, Think Globally, Act Locally.

There are plenty of injustices everywhere. One doesn’t even have to go looking for them anymore. We have a directory of non-profits on the AOJ website for the U.S. where people can put in their postal code and view NGOs in their local area. 

Do you have any future political aspirations for yourself and how linked do you think the arts and politics are, and how linked do you think they should be?  

Nope. I prefer to never negotiate the truth by working through the arts and not running for any office. 

What led you to starting Serjical Strike Records? Do you feel that it has been a success and are there any upcoming signings that we should be keeping an eye out for?  

Check out Viza ( I’ve been helping them out recently. SSR has been a great way of promoting good music over the years. 

You produced and performed on Buckethead’s ‘Enter the Chicken’ album. What was it like working with him? Did he perform from a chicken coop like it is claimed he did on the Guns and Roses sessions? Have you seen his face?  

I can’t tell you :).

How involved were you with the orchestration of your debut album ‘Elect the Dead’ with the New Zealand Philharmonia Orchestra? Was it hard getting your head around that process?  

I wrote the basic bass, celli, viola and violin parts along with a few brass parts which John Psathas used to orchestrate the pieces for the whole 70 piece orchestra. 

What attracted you to New Zealand?  

I know you’re Aussie, but I have to say this. NZ is the best country in the world, for me at least.