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Serj Tankian Talks Politics and Finds the Art of "Imperfection"

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Some band frontmen use their hiatus to shack up in a some faraway villa and take a full-on sabbatical from the studio. Then there's people like Serj Takian, who uses the extended time to feed his creative juices in the form of solo work. The frontman of System of a Down releases Imperfect Harmonies today -- the second solo album since the band took its hiatus some four-plus years ago, and he's quite please with the end result. "It fuses electronic beats and sounds with a full legato orchestra," he explained.

The new album, like his previous effort, Elect the Dead, is also filled with his signature political rage, as well as angst, hope, and everything else in between. And it seems the videos off the new album will follow other Tankian gems in that they're mind-numbingly stunning. Take the video for the first single, "Left of Center," for example, in which a near claymation world gets skewed. I spoke with Tankian recently and asked him about the new album, touring, and how he felt performing in his homeland.

You recently played in your native Armenia. What was that experience like for you?

Playing for the first time in Armenia, my cultural homeland, was one of the most amazing experiences I've had in my career. It was like bringing your music home. The over-the-top reception and excitement usually reserved for bands like the Beatles was a bit unexpected. It was summer time and the taste of apricots did not leave my senses.

Apricots... mmm. How is Imperfect Harmonies different than your first solo effort?

Imperfect Harmonies incorporates quite a different spectrum of sounds than my first solo record, Elect the Dead. It fuses electronic beats and sounds with a full legato orchestra, anchored down by live, rock instrumentation, spiced up with jazz solos and interludes. It's a melancholic, brooding record with an emotionally-layered depth, lyrically, to match the layers of the sounds musically.

Are all the tunes of Imperfect Harmonies geared toward the political spectrum? Or do you have some songs that are about less weighty issues?

Actually, only a few of the songs on this record are overtly political. Most of the songs are theoretical or philosophical explorations dealing with the concept of life beyond civilization. Ecological changes coupled with human reactions, along with personal stories of love and loss dominate the emotional canvas of the record.

Speaking of which, what can you tell us about the BP situation that we haven't heard before?

Well, this is the Huffington Post, so I'm not sure if there is anything you haven't heard or written about on the topic already... (Smiles) I think it's always important to note that regulation in industries that deal with the possibilities of catastrophic natural disasters are crucial. It was BP this time, it could be some other oil or energy company next time.

Another thing I find interesting are BP's roots as a company. BP used to co-own Iran's oil rights along with the Persian oil company. In the 1950s, when the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mossadaq, tried to nationalize Iran's oil, it was BP that went to the British gov't and the CIA, who in turn, helped overthrow Mossadaq and replaced him with the Shah to secure foreign rights over Iran's oil.

What do you make of Obama's presidency thus far?

Obama's leadership has helped usher in some significant changes. From the healthcare bill to regulation on industries, to key changes in all levels of government personnel and bodies, to the stimulus package, his leadership has done a tremendous job since taking office. The obstructionist opposition in Congress and industry, naturally polarized to all this change, have done our democracy a disservice by acting to block all forms of progress.

Obama's mistakes are the escalation of the invasion of Afghanistan, and going back on his use of the word Genocide when dealing with the slaughter of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians at the hands of the Turks during WWI.

You don't presently have any North American dates on this tour -- can we expect some soon?

Yes. We are in the process of planning a new North American tour to support Imperfect Harmonies.

Can we expect another System of a Down album? I'm sure you get asked this a lot, but as a fan, I have to ask the cliched question.

There are no current plans for a System Of A Down record. The band has been on hiatus since 2006.

What's currently on your iPod? Any Rick Astley?

Wow... I have close to 3000 records on my iPod. No Rick Astley though. (Smiles)

Lastly, where do you want to be musically in seven years?

Well, artistically, I want to try everything the muse brings to my window. I have a musical, Prometheus Bound, opening at the American Repertory Theater in March 2011. I'm writing my 1st classical-jazz symphony for orchestra, releasing my second poetry book, called Glaring Through Oblivion, and have a few other projects including film scoring and a non-fiction book in the works. You could say that my expressional explorations are what get me out of bed in the morning. I'm a big fan of the Huffington Post, so thanks for having me on.