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Serj Tankian Reveals System of a Down Auditioned New Singer After He Asked Out of the Band

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Serj Tankian is set to release his memoir, Down with the System, on Tuesday (May 14th). In an advance excerpt, the singer reveals that System of a Down auditioned a new vocalist after he had asked out of the band.

In the past, Tankian has admitted that he was responsible for the the band’s long hiatus from 2006 to 2011, largely due to his desire to step away from touring, as well as his creative differences with singer-guitarist Daron Malakian.

Tankian has also spoken openly about his chronic back troubles that make it difficult for him to tour, plus he has expressed distaste for the touring life in general. However, the passages from his autobiography shed new light on how close he was to leaving the band entirely.

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In fact, it was Tankian himself who suggested the band find a new singer in 2017, as he notes in the book excerpt shared with Rolling Stone below:

“System is lucky enough to make royalties from selling music, and that income is reasonably consistent. If you outspend that income, you can always refill the coffers with big checks from touring. Playing live can become a bit like visiting the world’s most generous ATM.

But remember: I’d never wanted to be someone who made decisions because of money. I recognize it’s a tremendous privilege to be in a position to not have to do exactly that, but I can’t ignore the fact that not making decisions based on money was what had led me to that privilege in the first place. As it happened, I was pretty good at staying within my budget anyway, so the financial lure of touring was never going to outweigh all the negatives. With music, I’ve never made compromises and it’s always worked out, so why start now?

Toward the end of 2017, we had a band meeting at [SOAD manager] Beno’s office. When I arrived, I told everyone that I had an item I wanted to add to the agenda. We went through the rigamarole of regular business discussions, and then it came time for my item.

‘So, who’s going to throw me a going-away party?’ I asked the group. ‘Do one of you guys want to be the master of ceremonies?’ I laughed a little, but I was serious. ‘Look guys, I’ve been very clear that I’m no longer interested in touring both due to my back and because it’s just no longer something within my vision.’

‘The thing is, though,’ I continued, ‘I don’t want to hold you guys back. This is your dream. This is what you’ve worked for your whole life. You deserve to have this.’ I looked at Daron, Shavo, and John, knowing what I said next would hit hard.

‘I think you guys should find a new singer.’

For the longest time, System of a Down was about the four of us. We’d built it up from nothing, we’d been through all the battles together along the way, and if any one of us left, it simply wouldn’t be the same thing anymore. A couple of years earlier, I’d even tried to codify this with a legal document that stated that if someone left the band for any reason — other than, God forbid, dying — that the remaining members couldn’t use the band name without him. Everyone else resisted that idea, probably because they sensed I was looking for a way out of the band at the time, and they weren’t ready to kiss it goodbye. I’d initially been upset that they didn’t see System the same way I did, but after a while, I stopped being so precious about it, and just thought of these three guys not as my bandmates but as my close friends.”

In the excerpt, Tankian goes on to describe his relationship with each of his bandmates before revealing that they did indeed audition a new singer without him knowing:

“I sort of thought they’d forgotten about the whole idea of hiring a new singer, but a year or so later, John, Shavo, and I were at a fundraiser in Glendale, and this singer I knew got up and sang this beautiful Armenian song. Shavo was sitting next to me at the table. He leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder.

‘By the way,’ he nodded toward the singer, ‘we tried this guy out as a singer. The only problem was that he couldn’t scream and growl.’

I was taken aback. Not that they had been auditioning replacements, but that they’d kept it a secret. ‘Why didn’t you guys ever tell me?’ I whispered. Shavo shrugged. ‘I dunno.’

I turned toward Shavo, now looking directly at him. ‘Listen, he’s a good singer,’ I said. ‘I can literally take him in the parking lot right now and teach him how to growl. You should really consider him.’

In more recent years, I pitched another friend to them as a potential replacement that they ought to seriously consider. But I don’t think they ever did.”

System of a Down have not released a new album since 2005’s Hypnotize, but they did unveil two new singles in 2020. While they no longer tour, the band does play occasional one-off shows, including last month at the Sick New World festival and this coming August 17th at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with Deftones (pick up tickets here).

As mentioned, Serj Tankian’s memoir, Down with the System, arrives this Tuesday. Pre-orders are available here.

Photo Gallery: System of a Down and other acts at the 2024 Sick New World Fest (click to expand and scroll through):

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