Born21 August 1967
Why is Serj Tankian famous?
Serj Tankian is a renowned musician and lead vocalist for the Grammy Award-winning rock band, ‘System of a Down’. Apart from being known as the lead singer of this famous rock band, he is also the record producer of ‘Serjical Strike Records’, musician, poet and political activist. Through his career, he has released five albums with the band, ‘System of a Down’ and has additionally released three solo albums as well. When Tankian is not performing or recording songs in the studio, he dons his creative hat and pens poetry. His first poetry book, ‘Cool Gardens’ established him as a successful poet as well. An ardent political activist, Serj Tankian founded an organization ‘Axis of Justice’ aimed to motivate the youths’ interest in politics. His feelings for human rights, genocides, animal rights and social justice have helped contour his lyrical style for music and have also helped shape his personality.
Childhood & Early Life
Tankian was born in Beirut, Lebanon on August 21, 1967 into the heat of the ceaseless Israeli-Lebanese Conflict in 1967 as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fought Israel on Lebanese soil, using Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to fight who had previously fled Israel during the Arab-Israeli War. He was born to parents Khatchadour and Alice Tankian. By 1975, the bloodshed intensified as the Lebanese Civil War broke out as a result of the PLO conflicts, as well as religious tensions between Christians and Muslims within Lebanon. At the age of eight, shortly after the UN intervened in these increasingly abrasive times in Lebanon, Serj and the Tankian family (including Serj's grandparents who fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915) were offered sanctuary in the US. Knowing minimal English, they moved from the virtual war zone of Beirut to Hollywood in 1975. In their new home, the Tankians enrolled Serj and his brother Sevag at the Rose & Alex Pilibos School, a small, two-story, K-12 private school that catered to Armenian-Americans in "Little Armenia" in East Hollywood.
Education and Early Career
Serj attended California State University Northridge(CSUN) after graduating from high school, earning his bachelor's degree in Business and Marketing, which he considered at the time to be the most financially logical route to take. But nevertheless, Serj’s interest in activism only continued to grow throughout college, as did his realm of musical taste which now includes punk and metal bands.
After graduating, he bounced from job to job through manufacturing, retail, and accounting among several companies, before setting up a small business of his own called Propriety Vertical Industry Modular Accounting Software. There, he was self-employed, independent, and free to spend his spare time as he pleased as he worked on his own time. Serj says that he and a small crew “developed customized accounting software systems for the jewelry industry in California” and “worked manufacturing a wholesale, fully-integrated accounting system for jewelers and an accounting system of the metal industry.” But at the same time, he was slowly developing skill as a keyboardist and vocalist into his early-to-mid-twenties.
While still operating the business, Serj joined his first band with a few of his Armenian-American friends. He was the band's keyboardist, and was heavily influenced by Eastern music that he had grown up on, especially Armenian folk songs. The band settled on the name Forever Young in 1994 and shared rehearsal space with another local all-Armenian band called Soil. Soil consisted of young guitarist Daron Malakian, Dave Hagopian on bass, and a drummer that went by the name Domingo. But Soil was still without a lead vocalist.
Serj became quickly acquainted and friendly with the members of Soil, and being that the two bands were often spending time with each other in the same practice space, members of Soil often caught strong scents of Serj's talents. They were exposed to not only his ability on keyboards, but his exotic flair for singing, and the sounds of Armenian folk music that clearly influenced his creativity. Soil soon sought out Serj to complete their ensemble.
Indeed Serj left Forever Young and joined Soil as lead vocalist, adding his own undertones of the Old Country to their already heavy metal sound. In 1995 as Soil became more and more proactive as a band, Armenian-born friend Shavo Odadjian began managing the foursome. Shortly after his arrival, Shavo arranged their first gig, opening at the Café Club Fais Do-Do located between Culver City and downtown Los Angeles. The nonchalant performance went over smoothly, but not long after it took place, "creative tensions" and mere general disagreements caused Dave Hagopian and Domingo to depart from Soil. This left Serj and Daron, two polar opposites, each other. The two of them turned to Shavo, who happened to be somewhat of an amateur guitarist, and talked him into becoming the band's new bassist. Yet this left the roll of drummer unfilled.
Tankian is also very involved politically. Together with Tom Morello (ex-Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, The Nightwatchman), he founded the organization Axis Of Justice. Tankian often speaks publicly against violence and injustice in the world.
Serj is a vegetarian and likes to read poetry but other than that, few details are known about Tankian's private life. He is especially interested in Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and Edgar Allan Poe. Serj hates celebrity gossip. He believes it is a waste of time and due to the spreading of rumors, can destroy close relationships .
Two days after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Serj posted a highly controversial essay on the band's website. It was promptly taken down by Sony, the band's record label. Sony's opinion was that Tankian had tried to justify the terrorist attacks and that his claims were unfounded.
Tankian's first poetry book, Cool Gardens, was published by MTV Books and released on October 1st, 2002. It is a collection of seven to eight years of Tankian's reflections on life, and features artwork by fellow Armenian, Sako Shahinian. The book has received much praise in the artistic community.
System of a Down and Solo Career
He got together with Daron Malakian, Shavo Odadjian and Domingo Laranio to form the band ‘Soil’. After a couple of members left the band, the remaining members, including him formed the group, ‘System of a Down’, in 1994.
The band began playing at local party scenes and rock clubs, attracting a large audience. In 1998, the band released the self-titled album, ‘System of a Down’, which was a great success.
In 2001, the band released the album, ‘Toxicity’, which is regarded as one of the most successful ‘System of a Down’ albums till date. The next year, they released the album, ‘Steal This Album!’
Year 2005 proved to be an extremely productive one for the group as they released two albums titled ‘Mezmerize’ and ‘Hypnotize’, the latter being more successful than the first. These were the last of the albums released before their four-year hiatus.
During the band’s period of hiatus, he debuted with the record, ‘Elect the Dead’, the official tour for which commenced on October 12, 2007. The next year, he released the song, ‘Fears’ in November, in support of Amnesty International’s Global, ‘Write-A-Thon’.
On March 16, 2009, he performed with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in New Zealand, a symphonic version of the album, ‘Elect the Dead’. The live performance was taken in a DVD/CD titled, ‘Elect the Dead Symphony’, which released the following year.
He released his second solo album, ‘Imperfect Harmonies’, in 2010 under Reprise Records and Serjical Strike Records. In November the same year, ‘System of a Down’ officially announced that they would start playing shows in the U.S. and Europe and that they were getting back together for tours.
System Of A Down, who are all children of survivors of the Armenian genocide, performed live in Armenia for the first time to mark the 100th anniversary of the atrocity on April 23, 2015.
The band performed in Armenia’s capital Yerevan to close their Wake Up The Souls Tour, a month-long world tour to commemorate the genocide, which saw the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915.
System Of A Down have been vocal about the Turkish government's refusal to recognise the massacre as a "genocide" for over 15 years, since their first recorded song appeared on a compilation album to raise awareness about the Armenian genocide in 1997.
Launching their Wake Up The Souls Tour, Tankian said: “For years we have commemorated [the Armenian genocide] by doing a solo show, so we decided to call this tour the Wake Up The Souls Tour.
“The important thing is justice – if someone killed my family and burned their house down and I’m running after them for a thousand years, for them to turn around and say sorry. I think you have to have incrimination, I think you have to have justice, courts involved etc - it’s got to be done the right way.”
He urged fans to “join us in bringing justice to this cause”.
Despite the band’s outspoken stance on the Turkish government’s denial, they have a strong fanbase in Turkey and hope to perform in the country soon.
When musical worlds collide, a sphere of rich sound is born. Such is the case of Serart, a collaboration between Arto Tuncboyaciyan (tunk-boy-a-jian) and Serj Tankian, who have found common ground in shared Armenian backgrounds and a passion for sonic explorations.
Produced by Serj and Arto, Serart was the first release on Serj's own Serjical Strike Records, a label seeking to offer a home for bold, new original music. An eclectic array of textured tracks, Serart mixes Middle Eastern melodies with Pan-African rhythms while shifting from classical motifs to bursts of percussion. "What I enjoyed most about the experience was the fact that everything was so present. It was immediate," Serj says. "There was no thinking about it."
Serart finds these two, seemingly disparate, creative artists joining for a new vision. The two met following Arto's performance at the 2000 Armenian Music Awards. A friendship grew when Arto appeared on Toxicity (he performed on an outro track) and later blossomed into a musical partnership and the desire to expand their respective musical vocabularies, blending cultures and defying genres.
On June 9, 2012, Tankian married his long-time girlfriend Angela Madatyan in a private ceremony in Simi Valley, California. Madatyan was born in Vanadzor, Armenia. On October 24, 2014, Tankian announced that he and his wife had their first child, a son named Rumi. He now resides in Warkworth, a semi-rural town north of Auckland, New Zealand.
“Awareness in our society has flipped all types of injustice on its head.“
“Civilization is a failure. We need to think of what we can do together in love and peace.“
“Pretending that we live doesn't make us alive.“
“We first fought... in the name of religion, then Communism, and now in the name of drugs and terrorism. Our excuses for global domination always change.“
“People think our music's very aggressive or angry or whatever, and it's just the opposite, really... I like laughing. And I like being really calm before a show, and smiley.“
“I believe very firmly that indigenous populations had a really good, intuitive understanding of why we're here. And we're trying to gain that same understanding through psychology and intellect in modern civilization.“
“As an artist, you never want to write the same song again, you always want to challenge yourself to writing in a different way.“
“As long as people are living their truth or their vision, whether they're activists or not, that's the important thing.“
“I hate injustice, and I can't help but speak against it. But I don't want to get involved in politics.“
“I think every artist should follow their vision, their hearts is what they need to reveal, not something that society is looking out for.“
“I'd rather let the music speak for itself.“
“The percentage of Americans in the prison system, has doubled since 1985.“
“I think anytime that you go to the extreme of any mode of economics, be it capitalism or communism, you have these feedback mechanisms that make the system turn in on itself.“
“We first fought the heathens in the name of religion, then Communism, and now in the name of drugs and terrorism. Our excuses for global domination always change.“
“You listen to Bob Dylan and you can't help but think of the 60s, it's very relational and if artists are true artists and not just mere musicians they need to be truthful because the music doesn't come from them it comes from the universe and it's to be shared. At best, we're skilled presenters, and I say that at best.“
“Capitalism unchecked is not a democratic system.“
“I have a more direct avenue to expression as an artist than I ever would as a politician.“
“I like African music, and I'm a huge Ravi Shankar fan.“
“I'm a huge Beatles fan, but I've only really gotten into them as an adult.“
“I've always tried to listen to a lot of different music from around the world.“
“In the last few years I've been listening to jazz more than anything else. I listen to a lot of world music and experimental here and there.“
“It's probably a combination of personal and non-personal matters that have led us to where we are musically.“
“People always ask me 'do you think there should be more bands doing political music?' and I say 'absolutely not.“
“Sometimes a good love song can change the world and create positive energy more than any political song can.“
“Sometimes it's better to have a benign dictator than a dumb democracy, to be honest.“
“The most important thing about music that I've learned after all this time is that to me, it's a way of reaching the truth.“
“Composing is what I love most from what I do. Each genre has a unique expression that you cannot supplant with another. All the records co-inspire each other though they are not tied conceptually in any way to another.“
“Harout Pamboukjian is one of the biggest Armenian folk singers in the world. In the '70s, he was making these records that were really Zeppelin-influenced.“
“I'm not comfortable with just entertaining. Although I like entertaining, I also like bringing forward the truth of our times as minstrels used to in the old days.“
“I've got my own studio, and I've got four- to five-hundred unreleased tracks. I've got stuff that's electronic, orchestral, jazz, I've got rock, I've got metal, you know, I don't have polka.“
“If you allow for a purely capitalistic society, without any type of regulation at all, you will get one monopoly that will eat all of the smaller fish and own everything, and then you'll have zero capitalism, zero competition - it would just be one giant company.“
“People get so attached to a position which they identify themselves with that they just spurt it out, but they can't really give you a viable reason why they feel that way.“
“The best way to do that is to pick up a new instrument or an instrument that you don't typically write on and see where it takes you. Whether it's using an acoustic guitar, or piano, or electronics as tools, all of these lead to creating different types of songs and I used all of these methods for this record.“
“When I was younger, I was listening to a lot of Armenian music, you know, revolutionary music about freedom and protest. In the 70s I was listening to soul and the Bee Gees and ABBA, and funk.“
[on the Armenian Genocide and The Promise (2016)] “It's been an honor to be an impartial ear and eye to the film. The best way to counter high-budget disinformation campaigns by the Turkish government is to move people with the truth via the arts. I've been doing it for years with music and wanted to help do it through film somehow.“