It seemed fitting that System of a Down would be in New York City on Halloween — a band who’d worn bizarre makeup, whose lyrics had attacked government corruption and conspiracy, the horrors of war, a band noted for their middle-eastern melodies, whose amazing new album Toxicity ironically debuted at number one on September 11th. And now, on our way to New Jersey—the heart of anthrax territory—to play a show in support of the album, on a tour titled Pledge Your Allegiance. It all seemed like a coincidence bordering on cosmic conspiracy.
I met the four amicable Armenian guys out of Hollywood at the offices of K-rock and caught a ride in their limo out to the meadowlands for the gig. I busted out the goodies and lit up a spliff while the band thumbed through various mags I’d brought them. "This weed reminds me of the Church” says guitarist Daron Malakian after a deep draw. “Church is the name I gave to this weed we got in one time from Humboldt that smelled like frankinsense when you smoked it. It made me feel like I was in church,” he explained. “Then other people starting using the name—they'd say "yo man—I got the Church!" and I'd tell them "man, I invented the Church. That is not the Church."
Both Daron and bassist Shavo Odadjian had previously been busted for pot posession in L.A. “I just had a little nugget in my pocket, and I got pulled over for being bald in Burbank,” Odadjian chuckles. “They say its more tolerant in California,” says Malakian, “but we live in the fascist part of L.A.—Glendale and Burbank. It doesn't even feel like America where I come from.” These experiences were part of the inspiration for Prison Song, the anti-drug war/prison complex anthem that leads off the album. “Lyric”
But despite this, System claim to not be a political band.
“We never really try to tackle anything, says Daron, “we just sorta try to open people’s eyes to something and say, "OK, here—at least now you know, you take it from there.”
Vocalist Serj Tankian adds, “yeah, we do make statements sometimes. I mean, we care about the world we live in, but we also care about having a good time and everything else. Our album is like a conversation—when you have a conversation, you talk about lots of things—politics, love, hate, fucking, drugs, a horse... we don't think about politics all that much.”
“Yeah, like right now, all I'm thinking about is how much I want to smoke pot with Jenna Jameson.” Comments Daron as he ogles the cover of our sex issue. “Right now....alone!” I ask the guys how much they usually smoke.
“I get high,” says Shavo, “but not religiously. I sometimes play stoned, but Serj can’t because he forgets the lyrics.”
Serj laughs. “If I smoke before a show, it forces me to be creative therefore not use anything I've used before, including specific lyrics. But it works great for recording.”
But Daron is the true head of the group. “I smoke constantly. Constantly. Always. During shows, after shows, before shows, when I wake up, when I go to sleep... I'm addicted to weed. If I gave blood, you'd get stoned from it.”
I ask if the rumors of their gigantic glass pipe collections are true. “Yeah, I’ve got a lot of glass” admits Daron. “I have about 40 different bongs and pipes. I even had a few 7 1/2 footers, but they broke.”
“I only have ten, mostly Jerome Bakers” comments Shavo. “Both my favorite bongs broke, though. The first was one me and Daron bought together when we were recording our first album. It hit really well and you could put ice in the top. The other was a really big, heavy glass one that would make you choke every time.” He remembered fondly. “And I'd just gotten to where I could take it, where I could smoke and not die every time.”
We arrive at the arena, and security backstage appears pretty lax. “Osama himself could fuckin get in here,” laughs Shavo. “He could be the pyro guy. I can picture him, with an all access pass he made himself with his picture, and it says "Pledge Your Allegiance" on it. “ all levity aside, I ask their thoughts on terrorism, spiriituality, and the idea of jihad.
“I think what happened was a devastating crime against humanity, it deserves the attention of the United Nations courts and troops. I think that's the best way of handling the situation. Because if there's one person or organization behind this, and its not a country, then you can’t officially call it a war.” Serj states. “Officially, its a crime, and if that's the case, it has to be handled by some type of international crime agency and tribunal. America doesn't want that of course, because then it would be out of our control and we wouldn't be able to send our military there. That's the real issue.”
“Spiritually, I consider us wizards. That’s who leads this tribe—four mystical wizards, with long gizzards. System of a Down is our own religion, and this, the music, is our own holy war. Only it’s not pointed at any specific sort of people—it’s pointed at the ground.”