Serj Tankian on His New Elasticity EP: “I Definitely Thought These Songs Would Have Worked Out for System”

The singer reveals that System of a Down even worked on some of the songs before creative differences ended the sessions

Serj Tankian EP interview
Serj Tankian, photo by Travis Shinn

Serj Tankian has just released his new solo EP, Elasticity. The title is inspired, in part, by System of a Down’s landmark 2001 album,Toxicity, and the singer has made no secret about the songs being originally intended for his acclaimed metal band.

The collection features five new songs, including the recent singles “Elasticity” and “Electric Yerevan”. One listen to the EP, and it’s not difficult to see how these tracks would have fit nicely into the System of a Down canon.

Tankian approached System with these songs a few years back, and as he explained to Heavy Consequence, the band members even worked on a few of them. However, ultimately creative differences led to any recording plans coming to a standstill.

We asked Tankian what he felt more: regret about not recording the songs with System of a Down or satisfaction in being able to release them as solo tracks. He responded, “A little bit of both. I definitely thought that some of these songs would have worked out for System, and the guys in System liked them and we even worked on some of them in the past. This is a number of years ago. We just, theoretically and philosophically, we couldn’t see eye to eye on a way forward, mostly creatively.”

He added, “That led me to be like, ‘Okay, well that’s fine, but I’d like to release these songs ultimately.’ Because I believe in them, and I think they’re good songs. I decided to call it Elasticity because I liked the title, but also because it does remind me of some of Toxicity and that kind of vibe, because the songs were in a way earmarked for System.”

Tankian went on to say that there’s a lot of flexibility in music, which allowed him to reinvent the songs as solo works. “You could pick a rock song and arrange it as a jazz song,” he remarked. “You dress it up as something else and it doesn’t have to be in that manner. I’m happy to be able to put it out and put it out for people to hear it. I’ll be honest with you — if we released these songs with System, they wouldn’t sound this way. It would have sounded different and that’s not a negative or a positive. The way System works is in a very unique manner. There would be different things about it. I don’t think the synthesizers would be in there. It would be different. I’m glad that I was able to finish them.”

One song on Elasticity is particularly personal for Tankian. The track “Rumi” is named after his son, as well as the poet who inspired his name. In talking about that song, Tankian explained to us, “My piano is in the house, not in the studio where I work. When I’m playing ideas, it’s right next to where my son plays. It’s like his playroom and my piano room at the same time. So when I’m playing music, sometimes on the piano, coming up with ideas, he’ll be playing with his toys, his cars, his Legos. And this was a few years ago, obviously, he was much younger. And he would just like scream out to whatever I’m doing or make a sound or whatever. And I would try to get his attention by naming him within the song. That’s how this song started. It was like a call and response play with him, ’cause I wanted him to kind of react to me and I was reacting to him.”

He continued, “So, as I’m playing the piano, I’m like, [sings] ‘Dear Rumi,’ and he would look at me and smile. And then when I heard the demo, I’m like, ‘Wow, this is really interesting because I could actually keep this concept because it’s very intimate and beautiful.’ But at the same time, I wanted to really kind of expound upon why we named our son Rumi after the poet Rumi — Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī — a Sufi poet from the 1200s at the time of Persian empire. And he is the prominent love poet in the world — the most prominent. So, it became kind of like the poet Rumi’s message in the song, but also my message to my son at the same time. So it’s a hybrid of those two and it’s unique in that sense. I think it’s beautiful.”

While System of a Down haven’t released a new album since 2005, the band members were able to set aside their creative differences to record and release two new songs — “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz” — this past fall to raise money for Armenia and Artsakh. We also spoke with Tankian about that experience, and will share his response in the very near future.

The EP follows the recent documentary Truth to Power, which chronicles Tankian’s journey as an activist and musician. When we caught up with the singer, he also discussed the film, touching on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the chaos surrounding the release of Toxicity, his fear of an assassination attempt, and more.

Elasticity is available at Amazon. See the new video for “Electric Yerevan” and stream the entire EP below.