First my compliments on the new album. It has been an invigorating listening experience, and I still don't have the impression that I have heard it all. I want to start the interview with where I left off when we spoke on the phone earlier this year. You were mixing 'Imperfect Harmonies' and you didn't know what the schedule was for live performances of yourself with a symphony. Late august you played A Campingflight To Lowlands Paradise here in Biddinghuizen. As I understood it correctly you were scheduled early in the afternoon. How did you experience that concert?
We played with the Metropole Orkester at Lowlands this year. And because we were playing with a 50 plus person orchestra, we had to be the first to be on stage (soundcheck purposes). That's why we played the early afternoon slot. It was really great actually and we played to a full audience and taped for TV broadcast. It was a very unique show since the Metropole is both a big band and a professional orchestra. You can view the show on the lowlands website.
At Lowlands you also 'premiered' a couple of new songs while the new album still wasn't available in shops. Did you experience a difference in crowd reception of the new songs compared to the older ones?
Of course. With newer songs the crowds are always listening intently to learn what the new sounds have to offer. We had really great reactions to them though.
What I like most about 'Imperfect Harmonies' is that you tried something entirely different as opposed to 'Elect The Dead' or your work with System Of A Down, but still you have a very own sound. Compared to for instance Linkin Park, whom I didn't recognize anymore on their latest effort. Was it a main objective of yours to try new influences, but still be recognized as Serj Tankian? Or can we expect some weird music from you in the future?
I can't help but to make the music that I make. I don't try to make it sound one way or another. The muse comes with its own presentation instructions from the ether. I think my voice will always make my music sound like me, even if the music is quite different from what I've presented before. That said, I did want to create a whole new sound for myself that took a lot of exploration and experimentation to reach. This is important for me, because as an artist I have no desire to repeat myself. That to me is artistic suicide (articide?).
One of my critiques on 'Imperfect Harmonies' is that the music knows so many layers and is so detailed, that a lot of those details will be lost when you listen to it on a regular stereo. A lot of the details become better audible when you listen to it on headphones. Now I am not opposed to listening on headphones, but I know people who do. This creates a difference in listening experience: was that something you had in mind all along the recording of 'Imperfect Harmonies', or does this come to your attention for the first time?
I agree with you that the record can be better perceived with headphones and the focus it brings. However, it's not the only way to experience it. I think music's reach is intuitive and can be appreciated
through various auditory media. Imperfect Harmonies is designed to take you on a trip, like a lot of my favorite classic records, while presenting you with a new sound that is both classic and modern. It doesn't comfortably fall into any one musical genre and that to me is exciting.
Some tracks on 'Imperfect Harmonies' are great songs to be featured as a single, and I predict that some songs could become huge hits. For instance 'Borders Are', 'Beatus' or 'Gate 21' could be picked up by a larger audience. Instead your first single is 'Left Of Center', by far the heaviest track on the album. Why didn't you choose for an 'easy listening' track as first single?
With every record that I've ever released with System and solo, I've always put out a heavy, driving song as the first single. In this case, I think I could have started off with something else, I agree. In fact, I wanted to make sure to release 'Borders Are' as the first thing people heard online before putting out 'Left Of Center' on the radio. We are now looking at putting out our 2nd official single with a remix of 'Gate 21', which works really well.
When looking on the website I saw a song called 'Godd*** Trigger', and after studying my promo disc, I could not find one song with that title. My cd ends with 'Wings Of Summer', so I assume it's a bonus track. On which edition is this bonus track featured?
We had 'Goddamn Trigger' as an iTunes exclusive and can be downloaded separately from iTunes.
'Yes, It's Genocide' is a song sung in Armenian, and it's a fair guess that it is a protest against the Turkish government for not acknowledging the Armenian genocide. You often use your status as very well known rock musician to point out what is wrong with this world, yet you don't consider yourself politically engaged. It's my fair guess that the people who should actually hear this song, don't like your music. Doesn't that annoy you at some point?
The song 'Yes, It's Genocide' is an emotional song dealing with the suffering of those who have experienced loss (life, loved ones, homes) during such a tragedy, despite the title, which is a political affirmation of the annoyance we bear, hearing the denial of the death of our great grandparents by Turkey.
You have started an art contest on your website where people can 'paint' their own Imperfect Harmony. In art history we call that a synesthetic, that sounds can have qualities like hard or soft or that tastes can be explained in colours. Do you support that idea?
Absolutely! There are people that see music in colors, in fact. I've always believed that once the window of creativity is open and the muse seeps in, it can be presented in many different forms. The art contest, like the videos on 'Elect the Dead', add a great Momentum to the record and multiply the artistic factor and potency of the project.
You have released 'Imperfect Harmonies' as a special digipack edition with a six track bonus disc. Are the songs on the bonus disc remixes of album tracks, or are those originals? In the case of originals, why haven't you chosen to put more songs on the album?
The six bonus tracks are the orchestral versions of some of the songs on the record. We used a live orchestra on the record and I wanted some of these bonus tracks to show the amazing sound off without the rock instrumentation. The songs on the record are designed to take you on a ride. The length of the record is 45 minutes. I don't like records that are much longer than that.
It is hard for me to categorize 'Imperfect Harmonies' as a metal record, even as a rock album. The sound is quite unique. It seems like you are moving away from 'metal music'. Are you fed up with heavy rockin' guitars, or is 'Imperfect Harmonies' just another side of Serj Tankian we haven't seen before? In other words: is it possible that you will put out a heavy album in the future?
I find it funny challenging people's perception of what a particular artist should do with his art. Why would I be fed up with any kind of music because I'm using different colors? Music should not have borders. It never did for me. Qualifying its genre belongs to the journalists, not the public or the artists. I am not tired of the guitar, nor the drums. I think every instrument/color has its place.
You have postponed your 'Imperfect Harmonies'-tour. I haven't caught the reason for it, so could you explain why you are not onstage right now?
We wanted to wait till the record came out and people sat with it before we decided to tour North America.
Speaking of the stage, I think it will be quite a challenge to bring the songs of 'Imperfect Harmonies' to the limelight. Are you playing the songs in the album arrangement or have you made special live arrangements for the songs to be performed by the band?
They have been performed on stage in the album arrangement. We have my full backup band, the FCC, along with 8 extra classical players presenting 'Imperfect Harmonies' and it sounds fantastic.
There is a lot going on: you are writing music for a musical, you are working on a score for a movie, there is always the reunion lurking in the shadows, do you even have time to catch your breath?
Yes J A lot going on, but all good and creative. 'Prometheus Bound' (musical I'm composing for) will open at the American Repertory theater in March. 'Glaring Through Oblivion', my second poetry book comes out in April, more touring next summer, and my first classical-jazz symphony, called 'Orca', comes out next fall.
Final question: you reside not only in LA, but I heard you have a house in New Zealand as well. I am going totally off topic now. There was quite a fuss about 'The Hobbit'-movie being shot in Eastern Europe instead of New Zealand, and the prime minister there had to negotiate really hard to keep the movies there. Since you are affiliated with Warner Bros, who is producing the movies, what are your thoughts on these developments?
I did hear about the fuss over the moving of “The Hobbit.” I have not delved deeper into it than that.