Interviewed By Gary Moskowitz
November 9, 2007
System of a Down singer Serj Tankian talks about going solo, his Armenian Genocide activism, Dennis Kucinich, and the decline of Western civilization.
While relaxing backstage an hour before a recent performance in San Francisco, Serj Tankian had some unexpected visitors. Representatives from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office arrived with a proclamation in hand, declaring October 28, 2007 “Serj Tankian Day” in the city by the bay.
A big, yet slightly humble smile washed over Tankian’s face. After fronting the Grammy Award-winning, Los Angeles-based alternative rock band System of a Down for more than 10 years, he’s now touring to support Elect the Dead, his first solo effort. But Newsom’s proclamation wasn’t for Tankian’s music; it was in recognition of the messages behind it. On and off stage, he is helping to lead the fight for recognition of the Armenian Genocide through his lyrics and the political activism of Axis of Justice, a group he co-founded with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.
In performance, Tankian, the 40-year-old Beirut-born grandson of Armenian Genocide survivors, appears as a sort of traveling carnival ringleader; he sports a top hat, a long goatee, and a constant wide-eyed grin on his face, and surrounds himself with guitars, keyboards, microphones and even a theremin. In conversation, he has a relaxed, Zen-like demeanor and an insatiable desire to talk about history and politicians’ efforts to re-write it. Catching him just before his tour of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, Mother Jones spoke with Tankian about going solo, his activism, Dennis Kucinich, and the decline of Western civilization.
MJ: How do you see things going in 2008? Do you any of the issues you’re talking about will come to the surface more and guide how people will vote?
ST: A presidential election, nor a candidate, is no magic bullet. I think the only way is for us to be aware of what’s going on as a populace. I think we should get rid of the electorate. I think it’s a useless, outdated system that allows someone to manipulate or reverse majority rule, or popular vote. I think every major candidate should be given equal TV airtime. Right now people vote for who they think might win, not who they think really represents them. Let’s make it about the issues again. Even if it’s Dennis Kucinich, who is my favorite candidate, to be honest, because the only one that didn’t vote for the war, because he was smart enough to know it was bullshit. But even if he became president, we’re so far gone as a civilization. It will be really difficult to bring the reins back.
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