Daron Malakian: 21st Century Schizoid Man
As the arrangements took shape, Malakian found himself recording most of the bass parts himself, using a Fender P-Bass through an Ampeg SVT rig. “The new songs are more technical than anything we’ve done in the past,” he says. “There was just a certain way I wanted to hear everything come together with the bass. It was a matter of touch, of feel. Since I wrote it all, I thought it would work out better if I played it with my own touch. But Shavo plays on two or three tracks on the album, where I thought his feel was right. And they’re three of the best tracks on the record, in my opinion.
“It’s not that Shavo couldn’t play the other songs, ’cause he can. He’s already started developing the right feel for them and he’ll be playing them on the road. To be honest with you, there’s no drama or hard feelings about it. In System, there’s plenty for everyone to do. Shavo directs videos for the band. So he’s not trippin’ on it if I want to play some bass. He understands where I’m going with the record. He gives me that respect and I appreciate that.”
Respect is also key to the yin-yang dynamic between Malakian and Tanakian, and their relationship is the main engine that drives System of a Down. Where Malakian is introverted to the point of being a recluse, Tankian is a consummate extrovert—an outspoken political activist who has spearheaded projects like Axis of Justice, the advocacy group he started with Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello.
“I’m no activist; I drive a Hummer,” Malakian says, and laughs. “Serj flew all the way to New York to protest the Republican National Convention. I don’t do that kind of thing; I’m more stuck on staying at home and writing songs. Anyone in my life—my mother, father, girlfriend—knows that I stay home and work on music almost all the time. Serj commends me for that, and I commend him for what he does. There’s a very big mutual respect there. I’m very aware of what’s going on politically, but I chose to make the focus of my work a lot broader than that. I don’t want to be known as a political guy. I’m focused more on art. I admire someone like Bob Marley; he was a threat to the warmongers. He would say a lot of insightful things about the world situation, but at the same time he’d say, ‘Forget your troubles and dance.’ He connected to a more personal emotion. That’s what I try to do.”
At times, Malakian’s reclusiveness seems to border on agoraphobia. “I’m scared as fuck to go out on tour for this new album,” he confides. “I’m so scared of leaving my house. I’m not kidding. I just like having all my stuff right here around me. I like the way I live, although some people might not see it as healthy.”
Malakian’s world very much revolves around weed, junk food, video games, his collection of macabre artifacts, his extensive CD collection—Neil Young and the Reverend Gary Davis are two current favorites—and professional sports. “If you sit me on a beach, I’m just going to think about music,” he says. “But when I go to a sporting event, I think about the game. It’s one of the few things that kinda zones me out and takes my mind off music. So I go to baseball and hockey games. Me and my girl, we watch movies and do all sorts of stuff. I’m more the cozy chillin’ type.”
Malakian’s main strategy for surviving on the road is to “transform the back of the bus into my living room. The TV would be in the same place. I play a lot of video games, just kick it with a bong…the same as when I’m home.”
If Mezmerize/Hypnotize does anywhere near as well as its predecessor, Malakian is going to be spending a lot of time in back of that bus over the next few years. “I believe this is where hard rock has evolved,” he says of the disc. “In the beginning, very few people understood. Now all the labels are looking for the next System of a Down. But I don’t want to see any band clone us. I’d like to see bands that we’ve inspired do different things. But I don’t wanna see five or six System of a Downs. That would make me sad.”
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