Systems Are Go
The wait for the follow up to the stunning System Of A Down debut
seems to have been like forever, but as Shoutweb found out when
we spoke to SOAD's John Dolmayan, the wait has purely been due
to the demands placed on the band by its successful debut. The
imminent release of "Toxicity" seems set to elevate
the band to an even higher level.
It seems to have been so long since the first album, three years
ago now. I have heard some sampler songs from the forthcoming
album. I have to say from my point of view that it has been worth
the wait. Are you happy with the finished album?
ecstatic about it and I feel it is a great piece of work. I couldn't
be more proud of it, to be honest with you.
Was it due to the phenomenal success of the debut that we had
to wait until now for the follow up?
John: We spent
so much time touring in the last three years that it became impossible
to write any new material. Once we did start writing, which was
in the summer of 2000, we wrote for a solid six or seven months
and we came up with 32 songs. We never sat idle, but good things
take a little time sometimes. If you want quality, you have to
wait. I actually think that this surpasses the work we did on
our first album.
Was there anything you did radically different in the recording
of the new album that differed from the things you learned from
first of all we went in with a much more relaxed atmosphere. Having
done one album and knowing how things work in the studio, we weren't
as shocked, surprised, or scared as we were for the first record.
We knew what we wanted from the sound and we expressed it and
got exactly what we wanted. We did a more layered sound with the
guitars and bass to thicken the sound up more than on the last
one. I think the last album has a unique sound that I wouldn't
trade for the world. This one also has a unique sound which is
what we want to achieve on every album.
How long did it actually take to write and record "Toxicity"?
Was it something you were pulling together all the time you were
out on the road or was it only when you finished touring the first
record that you got chance to write the new material?
the writers in the band dabbled with writing on the road but it
was very difficult so things only came together when we finally
got home as we never really had a break from touring with the
first record. We took two weeks off after we came off the road
and then we rented a studio and started writing again.
Does the fact that you have been all over the world on the back
of the first record change your attitudes towards life and does
it therefore reflect in the songs on the new record?
John: We definitely
have a better understanding of not only the world but of each
other! We went round the world and realised that we are all one
here and it puts things into a better perspective when you see
how other people live and you become more diversified as you intregrate
into other cultures. Basically you grow as a person and it is
impossible not to do that when you travel.
So what was your most treasured memory of that time out on the
John: We were
on Ozzfest and we were travelling around in this old RV and we
were in the middle of Kentucky somewhere and it was about 110
degrees or something when the thing just starts bellowing out
smoke. We are in the middle of nowhere with no way of getting
to the next show, and on Ozzfest if you don't make the show they
will kick you off. Anyway, we all just sat there helpless and
our guitarist, Darren, starts singing, "It's a long way to
the top if you want to rock n roll" by AC/DC which was so
funny. It is something that I will always remember as that was
the best fucking time with just the four of us, no bullshit, and
something I will never forget.
So, now that you are megastars and have a luxury bus, will you
miss all that RV touring?
the hell is a megastar? (laughs) We don't consider ourselves that
way at all! We are four guys who are very fortunate to be doing
what they do for a living and being able to support ourselves
doing that. There are no rock star attitudes in any one of us
and we keep each others feet on the ground and remember that the
most important thing is always the music that we create and the
fans that we create it for.
I saw your shows here in the UK with Static-X And Spineshank and
I thought that you stood apart from all the new breed of bands
that were appearing on the scene at that time. What kind of reaction
did you get from all the other bands that you went on the road
John: We have
had positive reactions from everyone we have ever toured with
and I cannot remember having a negative reaction from anyone we
have played alongside. There was a lot of shit talked at different
times but we were never a part of all that as we are a people's
band and we have always gotten really good reactions.
Since the release of the debut, there has been an explosion of
bands signing to major labels yet you guys were one of the ground
breakers who basically kicked the new scene into shape. What do
you think of the new breed who have come after you? Are there
any you really like or do you think the market is now swamped?
John: I think
there are a lot of bands who sound like each other and I appreciate
the record companies perspective as they want to make money but
I think it is a really good way to kill the scene. Limp Bizkit
is an original in itself so we don't need ten more bands that
sound like Limp Bizkit or like Korn, Tool, Deftones or Zombie
for that matter. Right now we need bands who are going to create
something new but I think there is a lack of such bands right
now to be honest with you.
SOAD are totally unique as you draw on influences and backgrounds
that no other modern rock band could possibly match. How important
a role do you think that your roots play in creating SOAD's distinctive
you are making soup you have a spice rack and you incorporate
different spices to add to the flavour of this soup. Every single
spice adds to the taste but no one single spice defines it and
that is exactly how we are.
Just how involved are the band in environmental and human issues?
Your web site is full of links to various groups from Amnesty
International to green issues.
John: We are
involved and we care about it and we make the information available
to those who want to find out more about it but we don't want
to push our opinions on to people. Our main purpose is to make
music that we enjoy and respect and hopefully other people will
enjoy and respect it too.
You were born in the Lebanon. What kind of role did music play
in your early life in a war torn environment?
John: My Dad
is a musician and I have been in clubs since I was born. He was,
and continues to be, my single biggest influence, although he
never wanted me to get involved in the business at all. He did
his best to stop me getting involved, to the extent that I didn't
start playing drums until I was fifteen years old.
Who and where did you see your first big rock concert?
Floyd at the Los Angeles Coliseum on the "Momentary Lapse
Of Reason" tour. That night changed my life as I knew I needed
to be up on that stage. Last year, I played there in front of
80,000 people on my birthday which was a special moment for me.
The most special moment to date?
of them. Perhaps the most special was at another LA show on November
4th last year in aid of the Armenian Genocide when I threw a drum
stick into the audience and it landed on my aunt's lap which meant
a lot to me as she was recently diagnosed with pancreas cancer.
So, what other things interest you besides music?
John: I am
a serious comic book and toy collector, big time!! I spend a lot
of my income on those things. In fact, we leave for Japan in the
morning and I will go crazy over there buying toys and comics,
in fact I will need an extra suitcase. (laughs)
Are you married and do you have kids?
a seemingly age long pause) I have a girlfriend but I am not sure
that she will be my girlfriend when I get home. (after that I
decided to leave that line of questioning)
Are you looking forward to getting out on the road with "Toxicity"?
John: We can't
wait to get back on the road as we have been idle too long and
we cannot wait to play the new songs to the fans on this tour!
Well, I have heard the new album and it certainly gets the thumbs
up from me so good luck with "Toxicity" and thanks for
taking the time to chat.
John: It has
been a pleasure and thank you !
Rock and Roll
By Therese McKeon
When your job is the drummer for the socially conscious band System
of a Down, life on the road means fitting in-store performances
and television appearances in with family time. While dropping
in for a surprise visit at a relative's house during the Pledge
of Allegiance tour, John Dolmayan had time for a candid interview
with Shoutweb. Between kissing babies, the skins man filled us
in on the chemistry that makes up this irresistible foursome detailing
why System of Down does things in their own way and in their own
time. Insights include why "Toxicity" was not a double
album, where the making of the "Chop Suey!" video differs
from others, and how life on the road is worth it even though
it has resulted in two stolen drumkits.
in Washington now and I have some relatives here. So, I thought
it would be cool to visit them. You know, you gotta take care
of the family.
So, you're taking care of business while you're taking care of
is more important than anything else.
I'm sure they'll say, "Hmmm... nice visit John! You were
on the phone doing interviews the whole time!" (laughter)
don't care. At least they can see my face! (laughter)
You can kiss babies in between questions.
John: I gotta
see the kids!
I know what that's like. I have 20 nieces and nephews.
Yes. I am one of 12 children.
your parents were bored, huh?! It must have been cold!
I suppose so! Okay, well, let's get started here. I feel as though
System of a Down is often portrayed as one-dimensional. You hear
a lot of people refer to you as, "The guys with the causes
and politically charged or socially relevant things to say."
Not that I don't I want to touch on those things. I just want
to hear about some of the other aspects of the band.
you touch on whatever you want! (laughter)
First, tell me about this record. Drums are one of the many things
that impress me on "Toxicity".
It is a musical treat to my ears. I am sure you didn't sit down
together and say, "We are going to make an artistic statement
with this record." Is this something that just happens naturally
as you've grown as a band?
definitely grown as a band but everything that we've done happened
naturally. We tried very hard not to sound like anything else
that's out there. And that includes our own albums. We're always
trying to take it to the next level. To do something different.
To kind of push the boundaries of the art as opposed to following
the blueprint of what's successful. To us, it's very surprising
that we're even played on MTV or the radio. 'Cause we've never
written towards that, you know? Starting with the first record
we never expected "Sugar" to be on the radio. We never
expected anything to be on the radio. We thought we would be a
very underground band. But for some reason, mainstream has kind
of accepted it. I think it's pushing the boundaries of the mainstream,
which is good. It allows music that may not necessarily have been
heard by a lot of people to be heard. And that will push on for
the next generation too.
There is an intense chemistry between the four members of the
band. Usually, you have the lead singer out front and a video
that plays that up. There are four distinct personalities that
you see in System of a Down in videos, live, in interviews.
usually happens is the label will try to centralize on one person
because it kind of brings fans to a better level of understanding
of the band that way for whatever their marketing purpose is.
You feel a little more in tune when you have four people to concentrate
on rather than just one. You get to spread yourself out a little
more. The way our band works is we have four equal artistic individuals
in the band. We each have visions. We work together to make it
happen. So it's a nice collaboration for us. We handle different
aspects of the art. The music business can be a very difficult
one to be in. You know what I mean?
pretty sharp. I think we stay on top of things. We're aware of
what's going on. We're not lead by anyone except ourselves. We're
open to everyone's ideas but ultimately we're going to decide
what happens with the music in every aspect.
How are you allowed that type of freedom?
allowed it because we don't live any other way. That's the only
option if you're going to work with System of a Down. That's it.
There's no other choice. You don't have to sign us. You don't
have to put out our albums. It's your choice to do that. But if
you're going to make that choice then the music is going to be
Is it a matter of signing a good contract when a band is first
John: I think
it's a matter of staying true to your guns and not selling yourself
short. We waited a long time to sign. We didn't take the first
offer that came to us and run with it. We were patient with everything.
We didn't put out an album right after our first one. We didn't
want to ride on the coattails of the success of the first album.
I think a lot of bands do that and they end up screwing themselves
in the long run because they make a mediocre second album. A lot
of bands have that second album dread. You write for seven years
for the first album then you write for three months for the second.
Of course it's going to sound like crap, but we took our time.
We were in no hurry. The label wanted our album out last Christmas.
Obviously, that didn't happen. Once again, they have a business
to run and we understand that. But for longevity, which is something
important to this band, you have to do things at the right time.
We had over 30 songs recorded, about 33 songs, for this album.
I think all the songs that we recorded are worthy of being on
the album but not all of them worked with the vibe of this album.
That's how we picked them.
All the fans out there are cringing hoping for that double CD
John: I didn't
answer your first question. We'll jump around a little bit here
You touch on whatever you want to! (laughter)
We're four band members. Personally, I don't care if I'm in the
video or not. It doesn't bother me. I like not being known. I
like not being recognized. I can go about my everyday business
without problems. Not that we're like the Beatles or anything.
(laughter) People aren't attacking us.
(laughter) Drummers are used to that anyway. They're pretty hidden
away. You're the guy behind the scenes.
I'm comfortable being there. I've always enjoyed playing drums.
That's what I've always wanted to do. So, I have no envy or lead
singer envy. If anything, they have envy towards me because everybody
wants to play drums. The band is actually adamant about equal
time in the video. They want everybody to be seen. They want everybody
to be heard. We really look out for each other. I'll be like,
"Hey, you can't hear the guitar" when we're mixing then,
"The guitar needs to come up." Then Daron will say,
"No, the drums need to come up." And we'll argue about
it like, "Look, man!" (laughter)
(laughter) But it's good?
good. It's positive arguments. It's for the benefit of the band
as opposed to the benefit of one person's ego. And that's important
The band's chemistry comes through. It's funny because you're
a band that I don't really feel like I know. You guys seem so
distant even though you're very vocal and everyone's always talking
about. I think it's because there are so many layers and so many
levels. You're so complex as a band.
do you want to know? Each band member is different. You can get
to know each member and that's going to take you a year. (laughter)
I know! (laughter)
Or maybe a year per band member.
It's weird because we're often categorized as a metal web site.
For example, in the Reader's Choice Awards in Metal Edge Magazine
this year Shoutweb was voted in the top 5 "Best Metal Web
Sites" but we're not really metal.
always trying to categorize. We've been categorized more times
than I can count. From Armenian rock, whatever the hell that is,
to metal to rock. They don't know what the hell to call us. And
that's good because we don't consider ourselves to be any one
form of music. I mean, if you listen to our album, good luck categorizing
us! If you can do it, you're better than I am because I can't
What made you go with these 14 songs for "Toxicity"?
Did you sit down with all 33 and say, "No, that does sound
too much like such and such that is already out there"?
None of the songs we recorded sound anything like anything else
that is out there. Some of the songs were a given. We said, "Yeah,
this has definitely got to be on the album."
Such as which songs?
not going to tell you.
Not fair! Not fair! The fans want to know, damnit!
John: I know
but that's for them to figure out. Some of them were like, "Okay,
do we want this one or this one?" Well, we thought about
what would work best and we didn't want to make an album that
was too long which is also why we don't put out a double album.
We could. We could put out a double album every time. Getting
back to having too much to spread your attention to. It's 14 songs
and the album is about 40 minutes long. Your attention span isn't
being pushed to a level that it can't handle. Especially when
you have heavy elements in music, you can't really listen to it
for two hours. It's got to be short and sweet. Get to the point
and get out. But I think we take you on a pretty good rollercoaster
with this album as far as vibe goes. It goes from really heavy
to really melodic and that's not necessarily two songs. That's
all in one song!
(laughter) I think it's like a musical rollercoaster with twists
and turns in just the right places when you least expect them.
John: We don't
follow the rules of music too much. If there are any, then there
shouldn't be. You don't go to an artist and say, "Paint this
picture this way because these are the parameters that we've set
for you." You have to do whatever comes naturally to you.
We feel we do a pretty good job of making radio and MTV cater
to us as opposed to us catering to them.
The musical style is much more like that of a classical composer.
One song goes in one direction and another goes in completely
the opposite direction yet they fit together.
has kind of a schizophrenic writing style. I say it as a compliment
but he always looks at me all weird when I say that. (laughter)
John: He has
a schizophrenic writing style which makes it really fun to play
drums over what he writes. He does the majority of writing for
the band. He's very good at it. My hat's off to him. I can't write
You come in and add your flare?
we all do. See, here's the deal.
This is what I am waiting for. Tell me what the deal is! (laughter)
here it is. I'm going to break it down. Whoever writes the song,
we don't have that ego like, "This is my song." When
you bring a song to the table, it's our song. Whatever it starts
out to be on one level, it may go and end up somewhere else that
is completely different. Most of the time, because I am telling
you, man, we know each other really well, Shavo will bring a song
in and I'll have the beats for it in about 5 or 10 minutes. It's
because he kind of caters to my style of playing too. He'll listen
to what I'm really into. Sometimes I'll be like, "Man, I'm
getting into this kind of jazz progression right now." And
then about three months later, he'll have a song that fits that.
I told Shavo one time, "I really like this Night Rider beat."
Remember the show Nightrider?
Of course, with David Hasselhoff and Kit!
theme beat is rad! I told the guys that I would like to do something
similar to that. He had this riff that he was thinking about and
we went in and wrote the song.
on the album. (laughter)
(laughter) Well, what was it called?
John: It was
called "Nightrider" at that time. And then it was called
"Kit". We don't know what it's going to end up being
called. A lot of songs take different names after a while. "Chop
Suey!" had like four names.
going to tell you. (laughter)
(laughter) The kids need some scoop here.
up any name you want. We can't just go "Song #1", "Song
#2", you know? Especially when you have 33 or 40 songs. You
have to name them something just so you can associate with them.
Otherwise I'll be playing one song and Serj will be singing another
one and Shavo will be playing another one.
So you have to think of a working title for them all.
done that before.
I want to talk about specific songs.
well, I don't talk about specific songs.
I'm just kidding. (laughter)
(laughter) Come on! No fair, must give me some answers.
John: I give
you precisely vague answers. (laughter)
That's persistent avoidance. (laughter)
good at it. Ask my girlfriend.
Is she there? Put her on. I will get answers!
she's not here. She's in L.A.
You are so damn popular!
In the song "X", there is this fluttering noise on the
drums. What is that?
me playing. (laughter)
But really, how do you do that?
play drums for about 15 years and then you listen to as many different
kinds of music as possible. And whatever the song calls for, you
do it. That's how you do it. It's basically, if you ever listen
to death metal, they do it like it's nothing and way faster than
I could ever do it.
It's almost like a butterfly. The drums are just amazing.
when you come to the show, I'll have you stand behind me.
And take pictures? That would be cool.
fine. Sure, I don't mind it.
"Forest" kind of has this horse noise.
of like a gallop.
all the music, period. I could be doing something that will be
totally different from the guitars but together it will create
something else. The way people's hearing works from right to left,
if you have different things coming in through each ear, and then
your brain just drops certain notes, and then puts it together
so that you have one vision of what's going on. That's kind of
what's going on when you have different instruments. You're not
hearing everything that everyone is doing necessarily. It's creating
something new. All that noise together is creating something totally
different from each part.
My cousin's here! Hang on, I have to go hug her real quick.
I'm back. Not a very rock and roll interview I'm afraid. (laughter)
That's okay! (laughter)
it's all good. It's all me. I'm going to be the most boring VH-1
story you ever saw. "And then he kicked it with his family!"
His loving family. (laughter)
John: I love
kids. What can I say?
Now I have to decide whether to leave all of this in or cut it
John: Go ahead.
Please, this is my life.
Very good. So, are there any songs on here that you love playing
John: I love
playing every single song live. I really like playing "Toxicity"
and "Science" because I'm doing things on those songs.
I don't know how to explain it. It's just fun to play those songs.
"Toxicity" especially because I hit really hard and
I have room. Usually I'm doing about ten thousand notes and that
one has a little less so it's a different style basically that
I have to incorporate for those two songs. I like to play different
styles. We'll go from jazz to blast beats or whatever. We're crazy!
(laughter) And this is why we love you. On "Bounce",
I don't know how you keep up that intensity.
gonna see. You think we're intense on the album? Wait until you
see us live. That's nothing.
I haven't seen this tour live but I will on Halloween in New Jersey.
though, come talk to me and I'll let you come behind the drums
if you like drums.
Seriously? I would love to.
Don't forget. On Halloween.
John: No problem.
Don't forget. How is the "Pledge of Allegiance" tour
going really well. We've known the guys from Slipknot for years.
They're cool guys. We have fun with them. The Rammstein guys are
awesome. They're really cool. They're German so you can barely
understand what they say but they're real good party guys. They're
funny guys. I think it's important to have humor on tour, no attitude.
We don't do that. We don't do that attitude thing. People respect
you more when you're yourself as opposed to trying to earn people's
respect by being a jerk. We're just musicians. We're doing our
thing. We try not to bother anybody and if anybody bothers us
we'll approach them and tell them why they're bothering us. So
you don't have hostility built up. We're good like that. We're
Do you feel like you're making a statement all the time or do
you just like to some times say, "We like to have fun too."
important to know what is happening in your world. We're not the
type of band that shrinks away from our responsibility to bring
awareness to different things that are happening on this planet.
It's not all about how we view things in the media. There are
a lot of things happening that we have no clue about what is going
on. It has been for centuries since time began. As much as we're
into bringing about social change and acknowledging that things
do happen, we also have a great time doing what we do. We really
love playing music. We really enjoy playing live. That's why we
do this, for the joy of it. Yes, we'd like to make people aware
of things but it's more waking them up to the fact that there
are things out there, not necessarily pointing them out. Go find
it for yourself, you know? Don't make me do ALL the work! (laughter)
I can't play drums, go on tour, and fix your world for you too.
The two media events that were semi-controversal for System of
a Down were the show in L.A. that went awry. I know there was
an official statement about fear that Serj wrote. Then you had
the cancellation of events which ensued from that such as the
in-store signing in L.A.
was bullshit. I went anyway.
that. They're not going to tell me to cancel shit. I mean, if
kids are going to show up, I'm going to show up.
How did that go? Did you guys sign stuff?
John: I went
by myself and signed stuff outside in the parking lot. They pussed
out. I can understand why they were afraid of a riot in the stores.
Our fans don't riot. I don't walk around with security guards.
I go into the crowd all the time. The kids are so cool. They come
up to you. They appreciate what you do. Of course they want to
meet you and talk to you for two seconds. And you know what? If
you don't have two fucking seconds for them then get off tour.
That's your responsibility, to these people. They're the ones
that provide you with your living so you can have the important
things in your life. At least give something back. Some kid working
at McDonald's spent $200 bucks. He buys a ticket. He has to get
down there, parking, food, gas.
you know? And what is he making per week, man? Give him a little
bit of appreciation. I don't like that rock star attitude. Fuck
(laughter) Good for you.
John: I really
don't like that rock star attitude at all.
I think that's also why you guys have the element of "keeping
the people's band, man. We're not Bruce Springsteen.
A modern day Bruce Springsteen maybe?
We need a hot supermodel dancing on stage though. (laughter)
Speaking of videos, tell me about the video shoot for "Chop
was the most fun I've ever had on a video shoot. Usually video
shoots are really boring. You're playing the same song over and
over again but you're not really playing. I play anyway. I don't
care. We played for about six hours and I'm talking live. We played
the whole first album and the second album twice. And we had nothing
but real fans there. See, here's another problem. Whenever we
do something, we expect a quarter of the people who show up. Like
for the L.A. riot thing that happened. They were expecting 3,000
kids which I thought was ludicrous because 3 years ago we did
something like that and 4,000 people showed up. So what do you
think? We got less popular by now? (laughter)
on dunce! (laughter) They didn't have enough security. The promoter
didn't have enough security there and the police overreacted.
When you put those two elements together, you're not going to
have a positive outcome. We wanted to go on stage and at least
tell the people why we weren't going to be playing. We were told
that we would be arrested which didn't really scare me. Whatever
happened happened. What sucks is that they stole my drum set.
Oh no. Are you serious?
dead serious. The whole thing. The unfortunate thing about that
is, well, first of all, nobody got hurt and that's what's important,
but that was the drumset that I used to record my album. I hoped
to one day pass that down to one of my kids as a memory, you know?
Sort of as "here, this is a piece of history". This
is the second time this has happened. I've lost both sets of drums
from both albums.
What happened to the last set?
John: It got
Are they on eBay?
John: I don't
know. If it is, whatever, karma is karma. It was unfortunate but
whatever. I guess I'll survive. A lot worse has happened.
Speaking of a lot worse, in reaction to the attacks on the U.S.
on September 11th, the band made a statement that was not very
well received. I heard Howard Stern got a hold of it and flipped
Stern got a hold of someone's interpretation of what we said.
That was a whole other stupid mess. People are so eager to blame
somebody for something right now because they're so afraid. They'll
use patriotism as a crutch to hide their fear. That's basically
what happened. Serj has never said that the United States deserved
what happened that day. How could you say that innocent people
dying is deserved? Period. That's ludicrous. Anybody who knows
anything about our band knows that we don't advocate hate, violence.
Although we're violent people. Uh... just kidding!
(laughter) Violent people?
everything that Serj was speaking about was true, we and he agrees
and this is the only thing he apologized for, is that it was not
at the right time. You don't put it in people's face that yeah,
we also do injustice around the world. Not right now, people need
One last question, what is up with you being in a suit in these
photos? Why are you the straight man?
John: I look
good in a suit!
Most bands don't own suits.
John: I own
Did you get to keep the suit from the photo shoot?
my suit and it's my only suit. I go to weddings with that suit.
Well, don't get it stolen! You can pass that down someday.
John: I think
it will be a little out of style by then. It will look like something
out of the 70's with a big cummerbund.
Okay, thanks John.
sweetie. See you in New York.