Interview: Serj Tankian Chats with Brian Willett about “Imperfect Harmonies.”
by Brian Willett
Serj Tankian has always done it his own way. The activist-musician is known to many for his distinctive vocals with System of A Down, but Serj has also been engaged in unique solo ventures, including Imperfect Harmonies.
In this Bloginity exclusive interview, Serj discusses his inspirations, the music of Imperfect Harmonies, and even lets us in on some artists of which he’s a major fan, you may be surprised to see the answers!
Brian: Your music tends to be politically charged. When did you first become interested in infusing world affairs with your music?
Serj: I was an activist before doing music, therefore, politics were always a part of my expression.
Brian: Your music is undoubtedly original, but are there any acts you consider to be influences?
Serj: Many. Too many to list.
Brian: How did the process of writing Imperfect Harmonies differ from Elect The Dead?
Serj: They both started with a piano (or acoustic guitar) and vocals. For Elect The Dead, I then programmed rock drums, for Imperfect Harmonies I composed an orchestral score then programmed electronic drums, brought in live guitars, bass, drums, did re-sampling of lots of instruments, then layered vocals in some cases in a choral fashion.
Brian: Do you have a favorite track on Imperfect Harmonies? If so, what is it?
Serj: All songs add their own unique flavor. To me the stand out tracks are “Borders Are,” “Reconstructive Demonstrations,” “Gate 21” and “Yes, it’s Genocide.”
Brian: Your songs tend to have a lot of different instrumentation. Do you have this all in mind when writing, or does it come from a lot of experimentation in the studio?
Serj: A bit of both. Once I decided that I’m going to fuse electronic, rock, and orchestral elements together on one song, it became obvious that this project was not minimalistic in any fashion.
Brian: You’re also working on a jazz-classical symphony; is any of this style evident on Imperfect Harmonies?
Serj: Imperfect Harmonies does have tastes of jazz too, though though it’s primarily a rock album with an electro-orchestral soundscape.
Brian: How is the musical with Steven Sater going?
Serj: Great. We’re opening Prometheus Bound at the American Repertory Theater at Cambridge next spring, directed by Diane Paulus. Musically, it’s going to be wall-to-wall music with really diverse elements and genre blendings.
Brian: Which of the songs on Imperfect Harmonies do you think will be the most fun to play live? Why?
Serj: So far, that’s been a tie between “Borders Are” with the band plus an eight-piece live orchestral ensemble, and “Yes it’s Genocide” with piano and orchestra. They’re just both really moving and powerful in different ways.
Brian: Do you prefer to set aside time to write, or do you just write as you get inspired?
Serj: I always write when I have time with no specific project in mind, then I create or find projects for my songs.
Brian: If we looked at your iPod/digital music player of choice, what would be the five most-played songs?
Serj: This week it would have to be songs by:
1) Rupa and the April Fishes
3) Cesaria Evora
4) Phillip Glass with the Bruckner Orchestra
5) Miles Davis