One of the most unconventional front men in rock, System Of A Down’s lead singer Serj Tankian, will perform in Sibiu on August 14, as part of his first solo tour, Elect The Dead. His accompanying band will consist of four violins, four cellos and two horns, in a similar build-up with the one at the Rock Am Ring festival in Germany.
The Lebanese born Armenian-American artist evolved beyond his distinct voice and delirious image into a visionary after accepting the collaboration offer of a New Zeeland-based orchestra. Its results tuned out remarkable.
Aged 42, Tankian started rearranging the instrumentation of his first album, Elect The Dead, so as the tunes could be played by all 70 of the orchestra’s musicians. He initially stripped the structures down to only the piano or the acoustic guitar and the vocals. Then, reconstructing the arrangements, the cello, viola, two violins and horn were added. Insights given by the close collaboration with an orchestrator brought soul to each instrument. While learning by doing, Tankian learned to visualize and actualize more layers in music, enlightening multiple harmonies and dissonances and, overall, a more dynamic musical spectre comparing to everything he’d done before. The so-obtained depth was much more impactful than when composing with pop or rock instruments.
“It took a long time but was well worth it”, says the artist. “I did not want to take away the frequencies of the strings with the high guitars, not the depth of the cellos, bass and timpani with drums. I’ve seen many bands perform with orchestras, and it’s not always special because they’re playing their song the same way they would and the orchestra is generally used as a glorified synthesizer. Not this time. I wanted to re-arrange all my music for the orchestra.”
The multiple aspects of his music, as well as its psychedelic, classical, or surrealist contrasts have turned Tankian into an acknowledged musician along his System Of A Down years. However, when working on his personal project, he met challenges he had yet to adapt to. Seeing himself before the huge, graduated stage, he realized it would take time before he’d get used to simultaneously hearing the start beat of each bar in every instrument. With musicians positioned in concert-like manner, each sound reached certain parts of the stage at different times. One could appreciate the job of the conductor.
Moments like these made him feel more alive than ever, just like when recording the first System Of A Down album in 1998. In its ten-year existence the band managed to reach the status of one of the most inventive hard rock acts of its generation: guided by conscience, having a strong message and a continuous will to evolve. Tankian’s contribution was not to be resumed only to the confrontational, frequently cryptic, lyrics and his unique singing voice, heavily influenced by his father’s appreciation for traditional Armenian music. Achieving common goals through releasing five albums, sold in over 16 million copies worldwide, the members of System Of A Down decided to pursue their own projects. Tankian bypasses to declare whether he’s going to perform any of the band’s songs or not, still assuring everyone that there’s nothing changed about them being on hiatus. The guys are always discussing the opportunities that come to them, and when they’ll decide to do something together, it will be clear.
One thing leading to another, bringing the “Elect The Dead Symphony” project to life encouraged Tankian to demonstrate his newly attained abilities on a second solo album. It’s going to be a heavily jazz/classical influenced symphony for the orchestra that is yet to be released this summer. Plus he has extra plans of conducting an ancient Greek tragedy -inspired musical.
“With “Elect The Dead”, the sky’s the limit. There are no barriers between myself and the listeners on this album. It’s more direct,” says Tankian. “It’s liberating because all the choices are mine. With this record all success or failure rests with me. It made me realize that I have an amazing life and I am getting to make a lot of my dreams come true,” he concludes.