System of a Down started off the 21st century as one of the most promising bands in heavy music, but after going on hiatus following 2005’s Hypnotize album, the group has mostly been relegated to touring, with the exception of releasing two benefit songs in 2020. That inconsistency of inactivity has been a bone of contention amongst the group’s members, with drummer John Dolmayan recently placing some of the blame on frontman Serj Tankian.
During a recent chat about System of a Down’s current state on the Battleline Podcast, the drummer commented, “Serj [Tankian] hasn’t really wanted to be in the band for a long time. And quite frankly, we probably should have parted ways around 2006.”
He continued (as transcribed by Blabbermouth), We tried to get together multiple times to make an album, but there were certain rules set in place that made it difficult to do so and maintain the integrity of what System of a Down stood for. So we couldn’t really come together and agree. And part of that is Serj’s fault, and part of that is my fault, and Shavo’s [Odadjian] and Daron’s [Malakian] as well. But at the end of the day, if you have a majority of the band thinking one way and one person thinking the other, it’s very difficult to come together and make music thinking that person is important. And every member of this band is very important to the overall sound of the band. And you’ll know this by listening to anybody’s side projects; they’re never quite that good compared to System. In fact, I think a lot of ’em aren’t very good at all. And when you compare that to what we do together as System, you understand why the team matters and having certain talents come together and merge matter and that magic thing captured doing that matters.”
Dolmayan went on to praise guitarist and songwriter, Daron Malakian, expressing, “No matter what, Daron is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever seen in my life. What he does with Scars [on Broadway] will never be on the same level or league as System. That doesn’t mean Scars is bad; it just means it’s not System. ‘Cause at the end of the day, he doesn’t have me playing drums; he doesn’t have Shavo playing bass and bringing in certain riffs and adding to Daron’s music, and he doesn’t have Serj bringing his melody and lyrics into the play. So it’s all those things that make us System.”
When asked why he said the band should have parted ways around 2006, the drummer explains, “I think we should have moved on, and if Serj didn’t wanna be in the band at that time, we should have just moved on and done it with somebody else. But that’s what happens when you’re loyal and you really wanna make it work; you’ll put up with things that may be detrimental to the health of the band or the health of the situation. Maybe it would have been better if we moved on and got another singer for an album or two and continued to make music and brought Serj back later if he wanted to come back. That probably would have been better. But as it is, I think we wasted 15, maybe 20 years of our lives waiting.”
Dolmayan then opened up about their current state as a band, often still playing live together. “When we’re actually onstage, it’s great,” said the drummer. “It’s just getting to that point that is disheartening. We have one show booked for next year. One show. That’s it.”
Last October, Tankian stated in a separate interview that he had cooled on the idea of large scale touring. The vocalist underwent back surgery last year, and he explained, “I’ve got certain issues that I’m getting over that are health issues that are affecting my mobility. I mean, I walk fine and I’m able to do stuff and I could perform. But the travel of a tour really, really affects me at this point. That and, to be honest with you, it’s not in my creative purview, you know? So a show here and there we’ve done and might still do. But as far as doing a specific thing, it’s not really something where I’m at right now.”
He also shared, “When you’re doing a full tour, those first two or three shows are really exciting, you know? Because you haven’t toured in a while and you’re playing the sets. You’re out there and you’re moving around and then you got the same set on the fourth show, fifth show, sixth show. By the 10th show, it’s fucking, what’s that movie? The Bill Murray one? Groundhog Day. You know, it becomes Groundhog Day. And you still have fun because it’s a different audience, different city and all that, but it becomes a bit automatic, mechanical, a bit. And to me, that’s redundant artistically. Having one show that’s in a special place, done in a special way, is more interesting.”
In continuing Dolmayan’s interview, he revealed that some of his bandmate would prefer to be more active as a live band. While stating that he understands Tankian’s health issues, he added, “He just doesn’t wanna tour as much as the rest of us do. Look, if my wife told me that we were gonna have sex once a year, I’d be divorced. So you figure that out for what it is. I don’t think this is sustainable.”
As for what that means for the band’s future, the drummer comments, “I don’t know if that means we’re just gonna break up and forget about it and call it a career or if we’re gonna move forward with somebody else or if Serj is gonna come around. Ultimately, the best-case scenario for me is Serj comes around and we can do, like, 15, 20 shows a year. Even that would be enough. We’d be able to go to places that we haven’t gone in a long time and play in front of fans that have never seen us play. That’s important to me.”
Dolmayan concludes, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Even talking about System kind of bums me out, because I know what our potential is. And I know that if we make an album, it’ll be fantastic ’cause we have songs that have been ready for five [or] six years now; we just have to go in and record ’em. And I don’t know if that’s gonna happen or not. You only get one shot at life. Make the best of it.”
System of a Down released five albums between 1998 and 2005, with Mezmerize and Hypnotize being their last full albums issued, both in 2005. The band’s attempt to write and record music for a new studio album in 2016 and 2017 stalled out as they conflicted on musical direction, but the group did come together to record and release the songs “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz” in 2020 to raise funds for displaced families affected by the war in Artsakh and Armenia.