Serj Tankian is the most powerful force for activism in the history of metal. Having used his voice for over two decades to spread awareness of environmental injustice, the Armenian Genocide and other human rights issues, the enigmatic System of a Down and solo vocalist is now the subject of a new documentary, Truth to Power.
Despite System of a Down’s monumental success, Serj Tankian’s activist mission as an artist — worldwide recognition of the Armenian Genocide — remains unfinished. Almost no countries in the region of Asia have acknowledged the Genocide, and the United States only officially recognized its 1.5 million victims in 2019.
“An activist rarely sees the fruit of their labor,” Tankian explains. “Eventually, results, if enough people congregate around a particular cause of justice, there will be change. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes it takes decades, sometimes it’ll take many lifetimes. It doesn’t matter. If you’re on the right path, keep on the right path, irrespective.”
In Armenia, however, System of a Down’s music helped fuel a peaceful ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 2018, which successfully forced then-Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan to resign. Tankian was beckoned home by Armenian protestors, and the System frontman made the trip across the globe to experience the fruits of his activism.
“Going to Armenia at the tail end of the revolution and seeing the elation in people’s eyes on the street was something I’ve never experienced in my whole lifetime. I’ve seen happy people, I’ve seen partying people, I’ve seen excited people, Rock in Rio and people going crazy, but I had never seen elation. Elation is a different level of happiness. I relate it to emancipation. The 2018 Velvet Revolution in Armenia created that.”
Truth to Power Official Trailer – Oscilloscope Laboratories HD
Along with his new EP, Elasticity, which marks Serj Tankian’s solo return to music rooted in rock ’n’ roll, the vocalist also spoke about System of a Down’s first new music in 15 years and how the two songs — “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz” — took a far more direct approach compared to past System releases.
“In most cases, I do believe that art should be interpreted by the listener, the viewer,” Serj begins. “[System] generally don’t share what everything means, especially lyrically, but in terms of the two songs we released with System, it was for a very specific cause. Our people were being attacked in Artsakh by the combined forces of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Syrian mercenaries, and the press was being manipulated by social media bots paid by Azerbaijan, as well as the caviar diplomacy that they’ve been conducting for years — bribing politicians of different countries and media outlets, even non-profit organizations, even humanitarian non-profit organizations, even UNESCO … For us, it was a way of breaking through that in the media and letting people know what’s really going on and what, really, this means to us.”
Serj continues, “Daron [Malakian] wrote both songs. ‘Protect the Land,’ he already had it in the can and he was going to release it on his Scars on Broadway record, his next record. He said, ‘Hey, this would actually really work if you guys wanna use this.’ We jumped on it because it worked perfectly … We had to be specific because the cause was greater than the band.”
System of a Down’s Serj Tankian Has Something to Say
Watch our full chat what Serj Tankian above. Truth to Power will be released worldwide on Feb. 19, while Tankian’s Elasticity EP will drop March 19. Listen to the title track below and click here to pre-order the EP. (As Amazon affiliates, we earn on qualifying purchases)
Serj Tankian, “Elasticity” (Official Video)