Living in Beirut in the mid-'70s was a dicey proposition. It's hardly surprising the Tankian family left in '75, with their young son Serj, and relocated in L.A.
Tankian earned a degree in Marketing and Business from California State University in Northridge before deciding on a music career. After a couple false starts, Tankian found other musicians of Armenian descent, and System Of A Down came together. Originally a keyboard player, Tankian became a frontman.
The group's name was inspired by a poem titled Victims Of A Down. But "system" replaced "victims," in part, so System Of A Down would be filed near Slayer in CD racks.
Even though System Of A Down was a huge commercial success, Tankian was regularly involved in outside projects recording with Guns N' Roses guitarist Buckethead and the Deftones. And Tankian founded, with Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, the political non-profit organization, Axis Of Justice.
In '07, Tankian decided to undertake a solo career so he could express his personal view of President Bush and his decision to go to war with Iraq.
He issued his debut solo album, "Elect The Dead" in '07. With Tankian handling the songwriting, vocals and playing most of the instruments, "Elect The Dead" peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 Album chart. "With System, it's a process where four people have to agree on what songs to use," said Tankian. "When you're doing it by yourself, all the decisions come and go with you."
"There are political songs, funny songs, love songs, songs about painful experiences, vanity and the environment. It has a deep melancholy that runs from the personal to the global, with a glimmer of hope in the solidarity of spirit."
The set contained "The Unthinking Majority." "(It) is a song that I needed to release... to make a statement about the current catastrophe of our failing democracy," explained Tankian.
The disc's first single was "Empty Walls." Album videos, with a different director working on each one, were screened in select theaters prior to the set's release.
Tankian provided the voice-over for director Diran Noubar's film "Armenia, a Country Under Blockade." Noubar returned the favor by playing guitar on "Elect The Dead" and directed the "Baby" (a track on "Elect The Dead") video.
Continuing his solo endeavors, Tankian and former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton collaborated on the song "Bird's Eye" which was heard during the closing credits of the '08 Leonardo DiCaprio/Russell Crowe Middle East action-political thriller Body Of Lies.
"Elect The Dead Symphony," a live CD/DVD with the New Zealand's Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra landed in '10. "Doing the symphony thing just made me feel a lot more confident as a composer," Tankian told Billboard.com. But the end result was less than impressive - to put it mildly.
Tankian's sophomore solo album, "Imperfect Harmonies," was released later in the year. He called the set "electro-orchestra-Jazz-Rock."
"Though there are live drums, bass and some guitars, the driving aspects are electronic and orchestral," added Tankian. "It's quite unique in its sound palette. This is, in essence, music that has sat in the vat and matured to a ripe sensation and is now ready to serve."
On "Elect The Dead" Tankian applies an affected delivery meant to convey some dark drama but only sounds comically strange. "The Unthinking Majority," Tankian's political statement is largely lost. Not surprising, "Sky Is Over" comes closest to the SOAD sound and works. So does the ballad "Saving Us." The rest is a mish-mash of ideas and sounds. The title track is a dreary piano ballad. C'mon!
"Imperfect Harmonies" is in much the same vein. Tankian's description (see above) is accurate enough with a greater emphasis here on strings and Mideast rhythms. And like "Elect The Dead" the subject matter is serious. With songs titled "Yes, It Is Genocide" and "Peace Be Revenged" it can't help but be anything else.