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Serj Tankian

Serj Tankian

Serj Tankian (Armenian: [ˈsɛɾʒ tʰɑnˈkjɑn]; Armenian: սէրճ դանքիան; born August 21, 1967) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, poet and political activist. He is best known as the lead vocalist, songwriter, keyboardist, and occasional live rhythm guitarist of the band System of a Down, formed in 1994.[1]

During his musical career, Tankian has released five albums with System of a Down, one with Arto Tunçboyacıyan (Serart), as well as the five solo albums Elect the Dead, Imperfect Harmonies, Harakiri, Orca, and Jazz-Iz-Christ. A live orchestral version of Elect the Dead incorporating the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra named Elect the Dead Symphony was released. In 2002, Tankian and Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello co-founded a non-profit political activist organization, Axis of Justice. Tankian also founded the music label Serjical Strike Records, and is represented by Velvet Hammer Music and Management Group under System of a Down. On August 12, 2011, Tankian was awarded the Armenian Prime Minister's Medal for his contributions to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the advancement of music.[2]

He is widely considered and ranked as one of the greatest vocalists in metal history,[3][4] with praise given to his unusual delivery and his wide vocal range. Serj Tankian is currently listed as one of the Top 100 Heavy Metal Vocalists by Hit Parader, ranked at number 26.[5] A study conducted by VVN Music found Tankian to possess a moderately-high and diverse vocal range, not only in metal, but in all of popular music, with a range of 4.2 octaves. This range is comparable to Rob Halford, Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, Hansi Kürsch, Chris Cornell and Steven Tyler (range of four octaves and one note).[6]

Serj Tankian
Background information
Born(1967-08-21)August 21, 1967
Beirut, Lebanon
OriginLos Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Vocals
  • piano
  • keyboards
  • synthesizer
  • sampler
  • theremin
  • guitar
  • bass guitar
  • violin
  • harmonica
  • melodica
  • bouzouki
  • dulcimer
  • drums
  • kaossilator
Years active1992–present
  • Serjical Strike
  • Reprise
  • American
  • Columbia
  • Axis of Justice
  • Woah Dad!
Associated acts
  • System of a Down
  • Axis of Justice
  • The F.C.C.
  • Tom Morello
  • Serart
  • Scars on Broadway
  • Deftones
  • Tool
  • Device
  • Tech N9ne
  • Prophets of Rage
Websitewww.serjtankian.com [50]

Early life

Tankian was born in Beirut, Lebanon[7] on August 21, 1967.[8] His parents were Armenian citizens, and all four of his grandparents escaped from Turkey during the Armenian Genocide.[9] At age seven, he moved with his parents to Los Angeles, California.[8] In his youth, he attended the bilingual Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School,[10] which was also attended by his future System of a Down bandmates Daron Malakian and Shavo Odadjian.[11] Tankian was accepted into California State University, Northridge, where he first began to play instruments and write songs.[8]


System of a Down (1994–2006; 2010-present)

Serj Tankian performing in 2006

Serj Tankian performing in 2006

Tankian performing with System of a Down at the 2012 Soundwave Festival in Perth.

Tankian performing with System of a Down at the 2012 Soundwave Festival in Perth.

The early beginnings of System of a Down lie in a band named Soil (not to be confused with the Chicago-based band SOiL) with Tankian on vocals & keyboards, Daron Malakian on vocals & lead guitar, Dave Hakopyan on bass and Domingo Laranio on drums. The band hired Shavo Odadjian as their then-manager but for him to later join as rhythm guitarist. Laranio and Hakopyan later left the band feeling that it was not going anywhere, leading to Soil splitting up.

After Soil split up, Tankian, Odadjian and Malakian formed a new band they called System of a Down, after a poem Malakian wrote called Victims of a Down.

Their original drummer was Ontronik Khachaturian, with whom they had spent time playing with in Soil, though he was later replaced by John Dolmayan after breaking his hand shortly before a gig the band had been booked to play, giving Dolmayan the last-minute call up. The band quickly began touring the Southern California rock clubs, and began to attract a strong following.

The band achieved commercial success with the release of five studio albums, three of which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. System of a Down has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, and their song "B.Y.O.B." won the Best Hard Rock Performance of 2006.

In May 2006 the band announced they were going on hiatus.[12]

On November 29, 2010, following several weeks of internet rumors, System of a Down officially announced that they would play shows in Europe during Festivals and in North America, mostly in US, embarking on a tour for the following three years.

In an interview with Rolling Stone on January 8, 2015, Tankian said that the band may consider recording a new album after they finish the Wake Up The Souls Tour.[13]

Solo career: (2006–2010)

Elect the Dead

Tankian's breakthrough as a solo artist came with the release of his debut record Elect the Dead. The first singles from Elect the Dead are "The Unthinking Majority" and "Empty Walls". The music video "Feed Us" was released on the Swedish[14] and UK[15] MTV. Tankian appeared on MTV's You Rock The Deuce to promote Elect the Dead. A music video was directed and filmed for every song on the record, each by unique directors. Tankian explained, "I asked each of the directors for their visual interpretation of my work. They were asked not to write treatments and that they could make whatever they liked. The results have been overwhelmingly amazing!"[16] Some music videos were initially released exclusively to those who purchased the limited edition of Elect the Dead, while all of the music videos, except "Money", have since been publicly released on Tankian's website and YouTube channel. Some videos have alternative versions which were originally released as well, but later altered.

Three different promo versions of the album have surfaced to the public. The instrumental promotional version, issued by Serjical Strike/Reprise Records and intended for the music and movie industry, contains instrumental versions of the twelve album tracks. Another promotional version, issued by Reprise Records and made only for individual reviewers, features the album in final master form. This promotional CD-R, which was labeled "Smart Talk" as a codename for "Serj Tankian" to prevent leaking by unauthorized persons, also indicates that the album was finalized prior to August 20, 2007 (2007-08-20).[17] Before this a similar but undated promo, also under the name 'Smart Talk', was issued featuring the final versions of the songs, albeit not yet mastered. Whilst the printed track list on this version is identical to the released album, tracks ten and eleven are in fact juxtaposed on the promo itself.

The official tour for Elect the Dead commenced on October 12, 2007 with a show at Chicago's Vic theater. Roughly one thousand people attended the first concert. Although Tankian had stated he would not be performing any material by his former band, System of a Down, he performed "Charades" and "Blue", songs co-written by Daron Malakian, the guitarist of System of a Down. "Blue" had previously appeared on their Fourth Demo Tape in 1998, and Charades was attempted during the 2005 Mezmerize/Hypnotize sessions, but never released (although a short video clip of Tankian and Dolmayan playing the song in a recording studio was featured on "the Making of Mezmerize/Hypnotize"). Although it is originally a song restricted to piano and vocals, Tankian used his backing band, the Flying Cunts of Chaos (F.C.C.), to provide guitars, drums, and bass. The songs "Beethoven's Cunt", Empty Walls, and Sky Is Over are available as downloadable content for Rock Band. A portion of the song "Lie Lie Lie" is currently featured in the opening title sequence of NBC's Fear Itself, a horror anthology show from the creators of Masters of Horror, and can be viewed on the show's main website.

More recently, he sang with Les Rita Mitsouko on the song "Terminal Beauty". Also, he sang with the band Fair to Midland during a live improvisational version of their song "Walls of Jericho", from the album Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True, which was a massive hit with fans.

Tankian is also politically involved. Together with Tom Morello, he founded the organization Axis of Justice and often speaks publicly against violence and injustice in the world. Tankian released a new song "Fears" in November 2008 exclusively in support of Amnesty International's Global Write-A-Thon.[18]

On March 16, 2009, Tankian performed with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in New Zealand, an orchestral version of the album Elect the Dead. The live performance was captured in a CD/DVD titled Elect the Dead Symphony which was released on March 9, 2010.

Tankian co-wrote a musical with the American playwright Steven Sater. It is based on the Ancient Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound. It will open at the American Repertory Theater on March 14, 2011.[19][20]

In 2009, Tankian collaborated with the band Viza (previously known as Visa) for their track "Viktor".[21] Viza is signed to Tankian's Serjical Strike label.

On February 15, 2010, Tankian released a new single, "The Charade". The song is available as a digital download on iTunes.

On April 9, 2013, Tankian collaborated with Device, a band led by Disturbed frontman David Draiman.

Imperfect Harmonies

Tankian in Armenia, 2011

Tankian in Armenia, 2011

Tankian's second solo album was originally due in 2009. It is said to be more of a jazz and orchestral based sound. Said Tankian of the second album, "I'm structuring the next record kind of like a jazz orchestral. I've got a full orchestra interested, so I want this giant electric guitar in the air to be played by a full orchestra. I want the orchestra to be the electric guitar. I want to make an orchestra do what it's never done before, like a GG Allin type orchestra. Think of that."[22] The album had the working title Music Without Borders, however, the final album title is Imperfect Harmonies. On June 23, 2010, a promo single from his upcoming album Imperfect Harmonies was released called "Borders Are". The first radio single fromImperfect Harmonies, "Left Of Center", was released on July 13, 2010. A third single, "Disowned Inc." was released on August 9, 2010. Imperfect Harmonies was released on September 21, 2010. Preceding the album's release, two contests were announced (one consisting of brainteasers related to the album/song titles, the other an art contest) in which fans could win prizes such as Tankian's autograph and merchandise. On August 22, 2010, a music video for Left Of Center was released on Tankian's MySpace account.

The premiere date for Tankian and Sater's Prometheus Bound at the American Repertory Theater is February 25, 2011. The singer has said that collaborating on the show has been a great learning experience for him. "I’ve been using a lot of my archives, a lot of different types of music that I had already put together for underscoring and what not," he said. "It’s quite diverse, from noise to jazz to electronic stuff to hip-hop songs to rock songs to cool, piano dark underscores, and that’s a whole different bag of tricks there because it’s always evolving. Unlike a film score that’s very linear and you get a scene to score for, this is something where you do another workshop and one song is gone, that underscore changes to 20 seconds and they need something else on the spot. Everything’s always changing until the show comes, so it’s quite interesting."[23]

In January 2011 Tankian released a music video for his song "Reconstructive Demonstrations" from his album Imperfect Harmonies. Tankian also announced on his Facebook page, during the video's release, that a new EP entitled Imperfect Remixes would be released sometime within 2011. On February 3, Tankian uploaded a photo of him singing into a microphone onto his Facebook fan page, accompanied with the description "New music video coming soon..." On March 1, Tankian released Imperfect Remixes and the music video for "Goodbye", a remix of "Gate 21" from Imperfect Harmonies.

Harakiri, Orca and Jazz-Iz-Christ

In early July 2011, Tankian posted a video on YouTube showing two samples of new songs. During the video he said "next year". In multiple interviews he has stated that he has been working on a rock record that will be released in 2011, and some side projects including jazz, electronic, and symphonic records. It was later confirmed that his third album would be called Harakiri and will be released on July 10, 2012. This will be the first of four new albums to be released in the near future.[24] The first single from Harakiri, "Figure It Out", was released on May 1.[25] A music video for the song appeared on Tankian's official YouTube page. A second single from the album, "Cornucopia", was released on June 10. A third single, title track "Harakiri", was made available as a preorder bonus from Tankian's website on June 20.

He released his fourth studio album Orca Symphony No. 1 on June 25, 2013. The album takes the form of a classical symphony.[26] A professionally sampled studio version was released on November 30, 2012, while the live recorded version was released on June 25, 2013, through Serjical Strike Records.[27]

His fifth studio album Jazz-Iz-Christ was released on July 23, 2013, by Serjical Strike Records.[28] The release features Tankian's vocals on only four of the 15 tracks; all others are instrumental, except for "End of Time", which features a female vocalist. In 2014, he collaborated with Italian DJ Benny Benassi for the single "Shooting Helicopters".

The last project Fuktronic, an electronic music collaboration with Mindless Self Indulgence's Jimmy Urine remains to be released as of 2015, although the duo released a sample on SoundCloud. Fuktronic is described as "the team of Serj Tankian and Jimmy Urine from Mindless Self Indulgence, making a soundtrack for the ultimate British Gangster Film. It's an electronic album with 12 tracks (4 instrumental and 8 tracks that have original scripted dialogue that portrays the trials and tribulations of a fresh out of prison British gangster who hasn't learned his lesson)."[29]

He appeared on the Tech N9ne album Something Else in 2013 on the song "Straight Out the Gate".

He was a surprise guest performer for the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience in Los Angeles on March 25, 2017 singing The Rains of Castamere.[30] His rendition of the song also made it onto the soundtrack for the eighth season of Game of Thrones in 2019.

In June and July 2017, he was a guest on multiple shows of the Prophets of Rage during System of a Down's European tour, singing "Like a Stone" in memory of his friend, Audioslave's recently passed Chris Cornell.[31]

In November 2017, Swedish independent label Woah Dad! acquired the albums that Tankian recorded for Reprise Records.[32]

Tankian composed music for I Am Not Alone, a 2019 documentary film about the 2018 Armenian revolution.[33] He was also an executive producer of the film.

Views and activism

Tankian is passionate about human rights, recognition of genocides, and social justice. These traits have helped to shape his lyrical style in which he writes music. He has organized and participated in many protests, from Armenian Genocide recognition to Axis of Justice protests held by him and co-founder Tom Morello. He also covers many important current issues in his music. In System of A Down and solo record songs many issues are addressed like the War on Terror, overpopulation, genocide, environmentalism, and the American prison system.

He and his bandmates from System of a Down starred in a film called Screamers that covers the United States position on genocide. In the film there is an interview shown between Tankian and his grandfather, who is a survivor of the Armenian Genocide and tells of what he saw during it.

Views on religion

Tankian has stated that he has "the same religion as that tree over there. It's a mix of Native American, Buddhist and transcendental ideas. I like to think of earth as mother. I like to think of sky as grandfather. God has been used for ulterior motives."[34] In another interview, he has said: "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."[35]

Political views

Following the September 11 attacks he wrote an essay in which he stated: "If we carry out bombings on Afghanistan or elsewhere to appease public demand, and very likely kill innocent civilians along the way, we'd be creating many more martyrs going to their deaths in retaliation against the retaliation. As shown from yesterday's events, you cannot stop a person who's ready to die."[36][37]

In the 2008 Democratic Party primaries Tankian originally supported Rep. Dennis Kucinich from Ohio, and subsequently stated that Barack Obama "presents the best possible scenario for a hopeful future, but I don't personally put my trust in any political office."[34]

In the 2016 Democratic Party primaries Tankian endorsed Bernie Sanders in August 2015. He wrote on Facebook: "When it comes to standing up to the oligarchs, leading the fight for civil rights, income equality, and so much more, no other politician has been so consistent and incorruptible as Bernie Sanders."[38] He praised Sanders in May 2016, stating: "He's said what he's done and he'd done what he says in the Senate. All his contributions are from private individuals; everyone else's are from major donors and corporations. It does not take a genius to see who's working for whom here."[39]

Concerning the Syrian Civil War, Tankian called for negotiating with Bashar al-Assad and letting Iran deal with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey of supporting ISIS.[40]

Animal rights and environmental issues

Tankian is an advocate of environmental and animal protection. He became a vegetarian, claiming in an interview with PETA that his change was due to "touring and its variety of edible crap," and also he felt it was "instinctive somewhat." Furthermore, he also feels the need for respect towards 'mother earth'.[41] In July 2009, Tankian signed a PETA petition against the slaughtering methods of chickens in KFC slaughterhouses.[42]

Personal life

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.[43] On October 24, 2014, Tankian announced that he and his wife had had their first child, a son named Rumi. They live in New Zealand, where they reside in Warkworth.[44]

The F.C.C.

The F.C.C. (Flying Cunts of Chaos) was Tankian's backing band when he played live. They began playing for him in 2007 and stopped in 2009. They recorded a debut album in 2009, however the album was not released. A single, "Daysheet Blues" is the only material released by the group in July 2010.[45] They joined Tankian again briefly in 2010.[46]

Final line-up
  • Mario Pagliarulo  – bass, vocals (2007-2009, 2010)

  • Erwin Khachikian  – keyboards, piano, synthesizers, vocals (2007-2009, 2010)

  • Troy Zeigler  – drums, vocals (2007-2009, 2010)

  • Dan Monti  – guitar, vocals (2007-2009, 2010)

  • Jeff Mallow  – guitar, vocals (2008–2009, 2010)

Past members
  • Larry "Ler" LaLonde  – guitar, vocals (2007–2008)


  • Serart (2003) (with Arto Tunçboyacıyan)

  • Elect the Dead (2007)

  • Imperfect Harmonies (2010)

  • Harakiri (2012)

  • Orca Symphony No. 1 (2013)

  • Jazz-Iz-Christ (2013)

  • System of a Down (1998)

  • Toxicity (2001)

  • Steal This Album! (2002)

  • Mezmerize (2005)

  • Hypnotize (2005)

  • Prometheus Bound (2011)

  • 1915 (2016)

  • Intent to Destroy (2017)

  • Furious (2017)

  • Midnight Star (2019)


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