Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SERJ TANKIAN: The Man with some really rockin' poetry

PHOTOS: Chris Anthony (Serj Tankian) System for success

System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian releases new book of poetry

By Carl Kozlowski 03/24/2011

Give Serj Tankian five minutes and he’ll find a new way to impress you. He’s sold millions of albums and toured the world as the lead singer of System of a Down, written symphonies for jazz ensembles and orchestras, joined the fight for countless social justice causes, co-wrote a musical that debuted at Harvard and is headed to New York City, and now he’s just published his second volume of poetry, “Glaring Through Oblivion.”

And from the sound of things in a recent exclusive phone interview with the Pasadena Weekly, Glendale resident Tankian is just getting started. He took a few minutes to reflect on his career while preparing for a book tour that includes a stop on Tuesday at the Barnes & Noble in the Americana at Brand in Glendale.

“I’ve co-scored a film, but I’m looking forward to scoring a full film,” says Tankian, who speaks with a tone that’s mellow but at

a pace that’s near manic with energy. “I’ve arranged my rock songs for orchestra before and released it on CD/DVD as ‘Elect

the Dead Symphony.’ I also have a museum project in the works,

an art project collaborating with an artist friend of mine developing interesting installations of multi-century exhibits.”

Tankian has had plenty of time for his varied solo projects since the System members opted to take a hiatus in 2005 (they are currently reuniting for a world tour). The band formed in 1994 and quickly made a massive mark on the music world with a unique sound that combined hard rock with exotic instrumentation, as well as lyrics that combined serious social commentary with absurdist jokes — coming together in the band’s uniquely memorable videos that mixed creepy and funny imagery.

“I think it’s just that life is absurd and commenting on that is a necessity,” explains Tankian when asked about the odd mix in System’s work. “It’s also that life is absurdly serious. It’s also in my character. I don’t stick to one shtick. It’s always been there. I’ve never been afraid to express myself. A lot of bands in hard rock are afraid to be taken lightly, so I’ve never been afraid. I feel we go through such a wide array of emotions in a day, why pick only one for your art?”

That broad spectrum of emotions is present in nearly every page of “Oblivion,” a striking coffee-table book with dark yet vivid paintings by Roger Kupelian. The poems within are a blend of critiques on modern technology and political extremism, mixed with more personal poems about Tankian’s reflections on love and his place in the world.

The tome follows a prior volume of poetry titled “Cool Gardens” that he published in 2001, and the process of writing a new book has inspired Tankian to attempt his first nonfiction book. Still in the works, that’s about “the intersection of spirituality and justice,” and was inspired by a lengthy personal conversation he had with the Dalai Lama three years ago.

“There were a lot of requests from people who bought the first book asking for a second,” says Tankian. “It just felt right, and I

had my friend whose work fascinated me, so I wanted to work with him and do something cool. And there was expression of course – the first and foremost reason to put out anything. What is different about this one compared to ‘Cool Gardens’ was a lot of one-liners — art matched with a one-liner of truth or a joke.”

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