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SERJ TANKIAN Offered To Quit SYSTEM OF A DOWN In 2017, Band Actually Tried Out A New Vocalist

System Of A Down and Serj Tankian haven’t exactly seen eye to eye over the years. Tankian has made it clear that he’s not interested in touring anymore and is the holdup for new material from the band. Though in the studio and on stage (for most of their career), System Of A Down has always been Tankian, guitarist and vocalist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan. So a new version of the band either live or in the studio without any of those four members might be too weird… but it almost happened.

According to Tankian in an excerpt from his new book Down With The System over at Rolling Stone, he actually offered to quit the band in 2017. System Of A Down secretly tried out a new vocalist (or vocalists), and despite Tankian saying he’d even teach the person to scream and growl, the replacement never quite came to be. Tankian also notes that he suggested a friend as a replacement, which System Of A Down didn’t take him up on.

“Toward the end of 2017, we had a band meeting at [System 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.

“That’s who they are to me still. Shavo is one of the nicest, happy-go-lucky guys I’ve ever met in my life. He gets along with everyone, even at the worst of times. I can remember riding in the back of a bumpy camper van once with a bad flu, and as soon as I started to feel sick, he insisted on giving me his seat on another band’s more comfortable bus so I could recover. That’s Shavo: joyful, hopeful, helpful.

“When I first met John, we got along due to our mutual sensibilities. We both appreciated reading and reason. By the time we all sat down together in Beno‘s office in 2017, John and I weren’t just friends and bandmates; we were brothers-in-law. In a fairly unlikely turn of events, he’d married [my wife] Ange‘s sister, Diana.

“In a somewhat more concerning development, he’d also grown into a fervent Trump supporter. Yet even though I was at the far opposite end of the political spectrum, backing Bernie Sanders at the time, we could always sit at the dinner table and laugh with each other. No matter what happened, John always had my back, and I had his.

“And Daron and I … well, we have always had a long, complicated relationship. The love of music welded our unique friendship early on despite our age difference. Artistically and even politically, we were like-minded partners at first. We both had a punk-rock ethos from different sources and experiences.

“Musically, we’d often finish each other’s sentences and had this incredible harmonic resonance in our voices. But it was almost impossible to separate our personal relationship from our creative one. It got messy at times, though neither of us ever let it fall apart.

“He had a possessiveness I didn’t always understand or appreciate, especially when it started affecting my relationships with others. I think he viewed me like an older brother, and I was protective of him, as I felt he was emotionally vulnerable. He has always made music the priority in his life and remains stubbornly true to his own artistic vision.

“Even though that has sometimes put us at odds, I have a lot of respect and love for him. So what did I want for these three people whom I was closer with than anyone outside my own family? I wanted them to be happy. I wanted them not to have to depend on my health, my back, or my willingness to spend months on the road each year for them to have this band that they wanted so much. These three guys meant more to me than System Of A Down had ever meant — and they still do.

“Of course, I wanted me to be happy, too. It seemed like the solution was to ease myself out of the band while they invited in a replacement. I told them I’d even help train a new singer.

“‘Think about it,’ I said. ‘We can be the unique band that’s able to make this transition amicably, where the member of the band who’s leaving is 100 percent on-board with the new direction. I’ll do press and talk about it positively. I’ll make it clear that I support you guys.’ I don’t think the guys were totally shocked by my announcement.

“In fact, I almost sensed they’d expected it, or at least something like it. They didn’t dismiss the idea outright, but their collective response at the time was for me to essentially pump the brakes. They asked me not to announce that I was leaving the band. They promised not to pressure me into touring anymore. Management would merely present show offers as they came up. If I said yes, we’d do them. If I said no, we wouldn’t. End of story.

“It sounded reasonable enough to me. 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.”

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