System Of A Down
By Bob Nalbandian

System Of A Down are one of the most original hardcore metal bands to emerge in recent years. With influences ranging from classic rock/metal and grind-core, to jazz and industrial, with unique Middle-Eastern melodies thrown in for good measure, this powerful, eclectic quartet takes metal music in new, unexplored directions.

Within just the last couple years, System Of A Down has built an incredibly large, loyal following in and around Los Angeles, which, inturn, landed them a prominent record deal with American Recordings, making SOAD Rick Rubin's first signing to go through his new Sony/Columbia distribution network. I recently chatted with SOAD guitarist Daron Malakian and bassist Shavo Odadajian to discuss their latest release. Daron begins the conversation, "This album is pretty hardcore, but it also shows our ethnic/folk influence with songs like 'Sugar' and 'Peephole,' which kind of has a waltzy sound to it."

All four members of SOAD are involved when it comes to the songwriting, each contributing his own unique talents. "Each member has certain qualities, so we each have a job in writing the songs. We also like to incorporate a lot of different styles," Daron claims, which isn't at all surprising, seeing that their songs have a certain unique quality, yet are vastly varied in song structure, ranging from hardcore metal to ethnic folk-rock. Daron continues, "You can't really compare a song like 'War' to a song like 'Peephole'...they are so musically different, yet they have that certain SOAD sound to it. I think of it as being like The Beatles...their songs are all very different, yet they all have a certain personality to them."

System Of A Down were formed, and raised, in Los Angeles (not their native homeland of Armenia, contrary to what several reviews have stated). "We all grew up here in LA," Shavo confirms, continuing, "Daron, (vocalist) Serj Tankian and I all went to the same private elementary school in Hollywood, although Serj had already graduated high school when we were in 4th grade!" Daron adds, "SOAD emerged through a band that Serj and I formed called Soil, which is now a title of one of our songs, and Shavo came into the situation a few months later." The band formed in early 1995, and within three years they literally took the LA club scene by storm! Shavo remembers, "Our first show was at the Roxy in Hollywood. The promoter gave us a bunch of pre-sale tickets and we ended up selling double the amount. Then, we opened for bands like Manhole, Human Waste Project and Engines Of Aggression and started to get a lot of local write-ups...and that's how the buzz started."

So, how does American Recordings President/producer Rick Rubin come into the fold? Shavo tells the story: "We had offers from other labels, and Rubin had heard about us through Guy Oseary at Maverick...he brought Rick down to see us at the Viper Room. There were several labels at that show who had been checking us out for a while but never really made us an offer; but as soon as Rick came into the picture, all the labels started coming to us with offers. The thing about Rick, even when we had doubts about signing with American, he still came to our shows as a fan; in fact, he even came to our show in NY (at the CMJ convention) when we were falsely labeled as Universal/Cherry recording artists. Rick really believed in us and seemed to have a special interest in our music."

Lyrically, SOAD cover a diverse spectrum, everything from art to politics. And although they do write about certain political issues, they're not your typical arrogant, preachy band ala Rage Against The Machine. SOAD also make a point to cover topics on a worldwide level, that go far beyond just singing about the local neighborhood. "A lot of people have labeled us as a political band, but we're more of a social band," insists Shavo. "We write about all sorts of aspects of society, not just politics. We can write a song about the government one day, and then write a song about love the next." And as far as influences go, Daron admits, "I'm influenced by all types of music. I write a lot of poetry, and that helps to inspire me in my songwriting. Serj will often write lyrics to what my riff in the song sounds like...sometimes the shit is so wacked out, I can't even follow it!"

I'm sure many of you are probably wondering, what is the meaning, or concept, behind "System Of A Down"? Daron explains, "I thought of the name from a poem that I had written. It was originally called 'Victims Of The Down,' but Shavo didn't really like the word 'victims' in the title, so I thought up 'System Of A Down' and it just clicked...Plus, now our album will be under the 'S' section, next to Slayer!"

It's apparent when listening to SOAD's music that Slayer are a big influence, so it must have been a dream come true for Daron and the boys to have recently supported Slayer. Daron admits, "The Beatles and Slayer are my two favorite bands!" And not only did they share the stage with Slayer, but SOAD were also on the bill to last summer's OZZFEST tour. Daron exclaims, "It's just overwhelming to be opening for bands who we've worshipped most of our lives, like Ozzy and Slayer. We're very grateful to be where we're at right now."