On Tuesday evening, Campers from the Music Journalism track took a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art for a private listening party to preview Serj Tankian’s upcoming album Imperfect Harmonies (due out September 7th). The museum was featuring an exhibit with the work of Armenian artist, Arshile Gorky. During the event, we were loaned iPod Shuffles and headphones loaded with his new record. Once we had completed listening to the entire album, Serj was kind enough to answer a question from each of the music journalists about his new music and his career.
Nick Arnold: During your career you’ve bridged and incorporated many different styles of music into your work. Of the genres you’ve worked with, which do you identify with the most?
Serj Tankian: Wow. Well, obviously I’m kind of known for rock more than anything else, because I’ve been doing that for a while. It kind of comes easy to me to arrange and write for rock arrangements and instrumentation. However, I am interested in exploring different things as well, and going out of my comfort zone and trying new things, whether it is electronic stuff or orchestral stuff or jazz things. In reality, I’ve been doing it on my own for years, because I have a lot of unreleased tracks of many different genres. My thing has always been that I’ve never really committed to one genre. I’ve never been really in love with only one genre; I just love music. Music to me has two genres: good and bad. Good is when it moves you, when you feel something when you listen to it and bad [music] is when you don’t. So, irrespective of what we call genres or specialization, I really leave that for promotional and radio companies to handle. But for me, it’s just all music and the more you mix it up, the more interesting it gets in some ways. So I’m looking forward to experiencing and exploring other musical avenues and types and colors.
Julian Ring: I noticed that on the album, almost every single track had an orchestral background on it. What’s the story behind you inspiration to use that?
ST: A couple of years ago, I did a show with the Auckland Philharmonic in New Zealand, and that kind of led me to be a lot more comfortable with the orchestral palette and writing for ensemble pieces. When I was doing this record, my two disparate influences were electronic and orchestral, and my goal was to put them together in an organic fashion so that they worked. And so the rock kind of became the bridge in between the live instrumentation coupled with cool jazz moments.
Jenay Ross: How does Arshile Gorky inspire you?
ST: What inspires me about him is the type of pain that he lived, the type of life that he had, the way he expressed it through his art. A lot of artists aren’t necessarily happy people, because they’re living a lot of heavy moments in their lives.
Dertrick Winn: How have your studies at CSU influenced your music today?
ST: You know it’s funny because I didn’t really play music until I went to the university but I didn’t study music at the university, I got a bachelor’s degree in marketing. At the time I started playing music and it was a way of kind of relieving my mind, freeing up my mind and doing something, a form of meditation if you will. I started really getting into it at that time. I’m not sure if studies affect music because I’ve never studied music, although I write ensemble pieces and what not. That’s an interesting question, I don’t know. There are a lot of kids that play music when they’re really young and they know that’s what they want to do their whole life. I wasn’t one of those kids. I started when I was 19 or 20 and by the time I was 23 or 24 that’s when I knew that music was my calling, my vision. So in some ways I had to experience many other things in life and then come and do what I’m supposed to do. And that was good for me in some ways: this whole wide area of experience in life, in things that I’ve done.
Susan Ewing: What was your inspiration to have your private listening party here at MOCA?
ST: About a month and a half ago, the MOCA invited me to do a musical creation to the opening of the Arshile Gorky exhibit. And so I brought a couple of musician friends over and we had this really cool opening and it was a couple 1000 MOCA members that were here and drinks. It was a beautiful event. That made me think, "Hey, we should do something there." And when we were thinking about doing the listening party I wanted to do something with headphones. So people could be by themselves with the music and hear it in the sequences that it’s designed in. So we just put the two together.
Shawn Handy: What motivated you to create the song "Borders Are?"
ST: Well, without giving all the lyrical intents away because I like people to internalize for themselves, the idea is what life would be like without borders. Those borders don’t have to be national borders, they can be the limitations of your own mind, or ego, or your own fears. But what would life be without borders? I guess that’s what it about.