Originally printed in Guitar World, July 2008
With System of a Down on life support, Daron Malakian takes his act to the next stage with Scars on Broadway, his new rock-inspired band.
Kicking back at Steakhouse Studio in North Hollywood, California, Daron Malakian bobs his Los Angeles Dodgers–capped head while “Funny” tumbles out of the control room speakers. A deliciously hooky pop song with a minor-key melody worthy of the Kinks or the Zombies, “Funny” is one of the tracks featured on the forthcoming selftitled debut from Scars on Broadway, Malakian’s new band with fellow System of a Down-er John Dolmayan. “I think my Sixties influence is bleeding through on this record,” Malakian says.
But anyone who has followed System’s decade-plus career knows that Malakian is capable of changing musical directions and influences multiple times, often in the same song, and Scars on Broadway’s music is as cheerfully eclectic as anything he’s done with his “other” band. On the hard-hitting, politically charged “3005,” he rages like Arthur Lee mixed with Alice Cooper. Over the giddy disco sequencer groove of “Chemicals,” he tries to lure a love interest to “eat some chemicals with me.” Other songs recall System (“Universe,” “Kill Each Other”), the Dead Kennedys (“I Like Suicide”) and the Sex Pistols on a garage-rock holiday (“They Say”). Overall, System’s herky-jerky time signatures and chugging guitars are largely absent, replaced by a more swaggering and straightforward musical attack.
“I’ve tried at times to get away from the System sound with this record,” explains Malakian, who handles the album’s vocals and performs guitar and bass. “But I didn’t want to completely get away, because that’s a part of me. And I don’t think I can. But I’m definitely more into the rock vibe right now, much more than I’m into metal.”
GUITAR WORLD Were these songs written specifically for Scars on Broadway, or are these just the songs that you happened to come up with at the time?
DARON MALAKIAN This is just where I’ve evolved as a writer. Since it’s a new band, it’s made me feel even more free to go in different directions. But I think that even if this were going to be a System of a Down album, these songs would be my contribution. Whatever I write has to evolve around my taste in music at that moment, because that always changes.
GW There are several tracks that sound as if you’ve been listening to a lot of Sixties garage and psych lately.
MALAKIAN Yeah, I’ve been listening to the Nuggets boxes and a lot of weird Japanese psych. A lot of that stuff came out in what I did with System, but since there is less metal in Scars on Broadway, I think you can hear those influences more.
GW There’s also a classic Seventies punk vibe coming across on this record.
MALAKIAN I’ve always been into Seventies punk, whether it’s the Dead Boys or the Damned. That’s my favorite kind of punk rock. I like [San Francisco post-punk group] Chrome; they go into these synthy types of moments, and it doesn’t really fit in the song! [laughs] I like what they did a lot, but I also like Fleetwood Mac, I like Yes. I’m just all over the place.
GW The guitar tones definitely have more of an organic, Seventies rock sound than anything you’ve recorded previously. There’s not a lot of processing or effects.
MALAKIAN Effects-wise, I’ve never really used anything. I’ve always gone right through the amp.
GW Were you using more amp distortion in the past?
MALAKIAN No, I think it’s what I’m playing on guitar, the kind of chords and the kind of riffs. If I played more in that ku-chunk-chunk style in the past, I think it’s the songs making the guitars sound like that, rather than the guitars.
GW Do you see Scars on Broadway as a new band or as a System side project?
MALAKIAN The creative force and the drive and everything that goes on with the band is me and John, and we take this pretty seriously. This is not my side project—this is my band right now. I’m not doing anything with System, we don’t have any plans on doing anything with System, and I would expect another Scars album before another System album.
GW Is the way you and John work together in Scars similar to the way you’ve worked in System?
MALAKIAN It’s the same, especially on the last System records, Mesmerize and Hypnotize. On those records I played bass, guitar, some of the keyboards, and I did a lot of the vocals. Aside from Serj [Tankian, System singer and keyboardist], everything you hear on those records is me and John. A lot of the vocals that you hear on System songs, whether they’re sung by me or not, were written by me. So you’ll hear those links. But at the same time, I didn’t want to repeat myself. This record is just where I was at the time I wrote it. I think I felt more free to go into the rock world with this project. Whenever I’m writing and I have Serj in mind, I can never picture him singing some of the more rock-oriented stuff.
GW Why, because his voice doesn’t lend itself to straight-up rock and roll?
MALAKIAN It’s more about the attitude behind rock. I think he’s more eclectic, more experimental and complex. But when it comes to singing “Whole Lotta Rosie,” it’s just not him, you know? [laughs] And I felt more free to be that, because that’s more me. Knowing that he wasn’t going to be singing these songs, it kind of put me in a direction that’s more suited to my voice, my mood and my character as a singer.
GW What’s the story behind the name of the band?
MALAKIAN In Glendale, where I live, there’s a street called Broadway. The bottoms of the light posts have swastikas on them. They were made that way [in the Twenties]; it’s not like skinheads carved them in, or anything like that. The symbols aren’t tilted, like Nazi swastikas are, but it’s obvious what they are. And I always thought it was a trip, like, “What’s up with that?” There was always something a little mysterious about it. So one day I was talking to my friend—we were on our way to a hockey game—and he said something about, “Yeah, those swastikas on Broadway.” And I said, “Wait a second…” I didn’t think I wanted to call the band Swastikas on Broadway [laughs], but Scars on Broadway came to me right after that, because of the way that the swastikas are like scars on the light posts. [A 1995 study by the city of Glendale determined that the lampposts were acquired from the Union Metal Company of Canton, Ohio, and that the swastika design—in use for centuries by numerous cultures as a sign of good luck—was based on a pattern commonly found on Greek garments and Navajo rugs.]
GW Do you have any sense of when the album’s going to come out?
MALAKIAN No. [laughs] But I’d hope the end of summer, at latest. I think before we put out the album we’re going to put a few songs out on the net, just to give the fans a taste of what’s going on. I would love for them to hear it tomorrow, but it’s just not ready. I’m excited for people to hear it. And I’m kinda nervous, too. But I believe in it; I believe in the songs. I believe that they keep up with anything else I’ve written in my life, and I feel really good about it.