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SYSTEM OF A DOWN Almost Breaks the Mold: Serj Tankian Considered Stepping Down Back in 2017

SYSTEM OF A DOWN fans, brace yourselves! A recent revelation from Serj Tankian‘s upcoming book, “Down With The System,” throws a wrench into the band’s history. We all know tensions have simmered between Tankian and the rest of the band, particularly regarding touring. Tankian‘s disinterest in hitting the road has been a roadblock for new music, leaving fans yearning for that signature SYSTEM OF A DOWN sound.

But here’s the shocker: Tankian almost wasn’t the iconic frontman we know and love. The core four – Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan – have been the unshakeable foundation of SYSTEM OF A DOWN for decades. The thought of a different vocalist steering the ship seemed unfathomable.

Well, according to an excerpt published in Rolling Stone, unfathomable almost became reality. Tankian himself proposed leaving the band in a 2017 meeting! This bombshell revelation raises a ton of questions. Did SYSTEM OF A DOWN seriously consider replacing their signature vocalist?

The answer? Yes, and it gets even wilder. The band reportedly went as far as auditioning potential replacements, with Tankian even offering to train them in the band’s signature screams and growls. Ultimately, though, none of the hopefuls managed to capture the magic. Tankian also suggested a friend as a potential frontman, but that proposition didn’t pan out either.

Tankian says in the book about the experience: “Toward the end of 2017, we had a band meeting at [SOAD manager] Beno‘s office. When I arrived, I told everyone that I had an item I wanted to add to the agenda. We went through the rigamarole of regular business discussions, and then it came time for my item.

“‘So, who’s going to throw me a going-away party?’ I asked the group. ‘Do one of you guys want to be the master of ceremonies?’ I laughed a little, but I was serious. ‘Look guys, I’ve been very clear that I’m no longer interested in touring both due to my back and because it’s just no longer something within my vision.

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“‘The thing is, though,’ I continued, ‘I don’t want to hold you guys back. This is your dream. This is what you’ve worked for your whole life. You deserve to have this.’ I looked at Daron, Shavo, and John, knowing what I said next would hit hard. ‘I think you guys should find a new singer.’

“For the longest time, System Of A Down was about the four of us. We’d built it up from nothing, we’d been through all the battles together along the way, and if any one of us left, it simply wouldn’t be the same thing anymore. A couple of years earlier, I’d even tried to codify this with a legal document that stated that if someone left the band for any reason — other than, God forbid, dying — that the remaining members couldn’t use the band name without him.

“Everyone else resisted that idea, probably because they sensed I was looking for a way out of the band at the time, and they weren’t ready to kiss it goodbye. I’d initially been upset that they didn’t see System the same way I did, but after a while, I stopped being so precious about it, and just thought of these three guys not as my bandmates but as my close friends.

“That’s who they are to me still. Shavo is one of the nicest, happy-go-lucky guys I’ve ever met in my life. He gets along with everyone, even at the worst of times. I can remember riding in the back of a bumpy camper van once with a bad flu, and as soon as I started to feel sick, he insisted on giving me his seat on another band’s more comfortable bus so I could recover. That’s Shavo: joyful, hopeful, helpful.

“When I first met John, we got along due to our mutual sensibilities. We both appreciated reading and reason. By the time we all sat down together in Beno‘s office in 2017, John and I weren’t just friends and bandmates; we were brothers-in-law. In a fairly unlikely turn of events, he’d married [my wife] Ange‘s sister, Diana.

“In a somewhat more concerning development, he’d also grown into a fervent Trump supporter. Yet even though I was at the far opposite end of the political spectrum, backing Bernie Sanders at the time, we could always sit at the dinner table and laugh with each other. No matter what happened, John always had my back, and I had his.

“And Daron and I … well, we have always had a long, complicated relationship. The love of music welded our unique friendship early on despite our age difference. Artistically and even politically, we were like-minded partners at first. We both had a punk-rock ethos from different sources and experiences.

“Musically, we’d often finish each other’s sentences and had this incredible harmonic resonance in our voices. But it was almost impossible to separate our personal relationship from our creative one. It got messy at times, though neither of us ever let it fall apart.

“He had a possessiveness I didn’t always understand or appreciate, especially when it started affecting my relationships with others. I think he viewed me like an older brother, and I was protective of him, as I felt he was emotionally vulnerable. He has always made music the priority in his life and remains stubbornly true to his own artistic vision.

“Even though that has sometimes put us at odds, I have a lot of respect and love for him. So what did I want for these three people whom I was closer with than anyone outside my own family? I wanted them to be happy. I wanted them not to have to depend on my health, my back, or my willingness to spend months on the road each year for them to have this band that they wanted so much. These three guys meant more to me than System Of A Down had ever meant — and they still do.

“Of course, I wanted me to be happy, too. It seemed like the solution was to ease myself out of the band while they invited in a replacement. I told them I’d even help train a new singer.

“‘Think about it,’ I said. ‘We can be the unique band that’s able to make this transition amicably, where the member of the band who’s leaving is 100 percent on-board with the new direction. I’ll do press and talk about it positively. I’ll make it clear that I support you guys.’ I don’t think the guys were totally shocked by my announcement.

“In fact, I almost sensed they’d expected it, or at least something like it. They didn’t dismiss the idea outright, but their collective response at the time was for me to essentially pump the brakes. They asked me not to announce that I was leaving the band. They promised not to pressure me into touring anymore. Management would merely present show offers as they came up. If I said yes, we’d do them. If I said no, we wouldn’t. End of story.

“It sounded reasonable enough to me. I sort of thought they’d forgotten about the whole idea of hiring a new singer, but a year or so later, John, Shavo, and I were at a fundraiser in Glendale, and this singer I knew got up and sang this beautiful Armenian song. Shavo was sitting next to me at the table. He leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder.

“‘By the way,’ he nodded toward the singer, ‘we tried this guy out as a singer. The only problem was that he couldn’t scream and growl.’ I was taken aback. Not that they had been auditioning replacements, but that they’d kept it a secret.

“‘Why didn’t you guys ever tell me?’ I whispered. Shavo shrugged. ‘I dunno.’ I turned toward Shavo, now looking directly at him. ‘Listen, he’s a good singer,’ I said. ‘I can literally take him in the parking lot right now and teach him how to growl. You should really consider him.’

“In more recent years, I pitched another friend to them as a potential replacement that they ought to seriously consider. But I don’t think they ever did.”

So, why the sudden urge to step down? While the full story awaits us in Tankian‘s book, this news adds a whole new layer to the SYSTEM OF A DOWN saga. Did creative differences become insurmountable? Did Tankian‘s touring woes reach a boiling point? The answers remain to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: SOAD almost defied expectations in a way that would have forever altered their sound and legacy.

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: Unveiling the Songwriting Secrets with Serj Tankian

SOAD fans devour their music for its blistering energy, thought-provoking lyrics, and unique blend of musical styles. But how exactly do the minds behind the madness – Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian – collaborate to create these sonic masterpieces?

Wonder no more! In a recent interview with actor Rainn Wilson on the LiveSigning YouTube channel, Serj Tankian sheds light on the band’s songwriting process. He said: “Originally when we started SYSTEM OF A DOWN, I was primarily a lyricist and he was primarily the musical songwriter. Shavo [OdadjianSYSTEM OF A DOWN bassist] also brought in some riffs, to be fair, that he and I would work on.

“As time went by, I became a better instrumentalist, playing and composing, and [Daron] became a better lyricist, so we started bringing in more full songs ourselves, and then whatever we were lacking, the other would compensate. So, for example, if Daron brought in a song and he had a chorus idea that was sticking, that was working really well, I would write the verses, the middle eight part, maybe contribute an arrangement idea musically and whatnot, along with the rest of the band. Same with my songs.

“When I started bringing them in, they were a little more complete than originally, musically. And lyrically, they would pretty much be complete on my end as well. But sometimes there would be an ask to kind of change thematically or this and that by any member of the band, really. So it was a process that developed and changed over time.”

Serj also talked in general terms about the relationships he has with the three other members of SYSTEM OF A DOWN, saying: “Let me first say that the book goes into very detailed explanations of our relationships. But it also talks about some of the origination of songs and all of that. But one thing that I wanna clarify is, despite some of our creative differences, which has happened over the years, which is quite normal within a band, and the push and pull of songwriting and thematics and direction and all of that stuff — again, all creative differences — we have immense respect for each other.

“We just played a show called Sick New World in Las Vegas this last weekend. We had a blast. And it’s one of those things where life is complicated, and relationships, partnerships are complicated. They don’t work perfectly. But there is a certain special thing, bond, especially with SYSTEM OF A DOWN, that I can never replicate elsewhere.”

Asked if SYSTEM OF A DOWN fans can expect to see him and his bandmates on tour at some point in the future, Serj said: “I love performing, but especially the long [tours]… I think when you do a long tour, it’s not just physically exhausting, but it’s artistically redundant after a while, repeating the same thing. That’s why we’re really enjoying doing these one-offs. They’re special events, special occasions. We can’t do them everywhere.

“We can’t do them all the time. But performing becomes fun again in a way. And I had kind of lost that. And not just because of that reason, but I also had some back problems, back surgery and things that were hindering me from performing. I’m much better now. I exercise better, all of that stuff, so a lot of that’s been worked out. As far as touring somewhere in the near future? Possibly, I would say. I mean, I’m open to looking at stuff, but not thrilled about doing long tours at all, anywhere, just one-offs, or maybe a handful of one-offs with dates in between, personally.”

While details remain scarce, Tankian‘s insights offer a tantalizing glimpse into the creative alchemy that is SYSTEM OF A DOWN.

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