The Scars on Broadway album Dictator arrived in July of 2018, with a video for the single “Guns Are Loaded” debuting earlier this year. The album came out 10 years after the first Scars on Broadway LP, with Malakian revealing that he had been holding onto a number of the songs for several years.
Last year also saw Malakian and singer Serj Tankian openly discuss some of the creative differences and other matters that have prevented System of a Down from recording a new album, but when we spoke with bassist Shavo Odadjian late last year, he told us that Daron had written some of System’s best material yet. Shavo added that he felt that it was “just a matter of time” before System record a new album
In advance of his performances at the aforementioned festivals, Malakian checked in with Heavy Consequence to discuss Scars on Broadway, including select songs off Dictator, as well as the state of System of a Down, and more. Read our interview with Daron Malakian below.
On whether any of the songs on Scars on Broadway’s Dictator album were ever intended for System of a Down
Well, I’m the main writer for System of a Down, so when there’s talk about maybe making an album, a lot of that kind of comes down on my shoulders to produce that album. And so the Dictator album along with a lot of other material that I have — I mean my writing works for System of a Down or Scars on Broadway. They both kind of have my style of writing there. So, I kind of waited to see what was happening with System of a Down, to see if we were going to do an album, we may need some of these songs. So, I just kind of held onto them. So yeah, I thought certain songs on Dictator might’ve worked with System of a Down, and we actually rehearsed the opening track (“Lives”) live with System of a Down once or twice, thinking of releasing that as a System song, but we just never did.
On the track “Guns Are Loaded”
There was certain issues going on in my personal life and it was a bit of a depressing time for me, so that song kind of came out. It’s about how we all have breaking points and anger and memories of things that happened in our lives. I try to bring that feeling into the song. The song really has nothing to do with guns. The guns are like a symbol of getting to a breaking point and, and expressing yourself in I guess a dark way or a violent way. But the guns only kind of are a symbol in the song.
The song itself, like I said, it just has more to do with anger and depression and our paths — each one of us may have a different personal path, so if people can relate to that in their own way, that’s what I prefer — as opposed to sending out some message. If there is a line in the song that you could think of that kind of relates to your life or relates to you or relates to how you’re feeling, that’s what I’m trying to get across more than any kind of message or any kind of preachy thing that I’m trying to tell people.
On the song “Till the End”
The chord progression actually has a very ’50s doo-wop type of chord progression without being doo-wop. I write words that express how I’m feeling at that moment. But at the same time, I feel like other people can take those words and have different pictures in their head about their relationships, their friendships, and that’s kind of what the song is based around — moments we have in our lives, with our friends or with our loved ones or with the people around us. And the song is kinda about that, about how our friends affect us, how our friends push us up, bring us down, and the the dynamic of people in your life — friends, family or close people in your life. And I’ve never actually written about anything like that before, and it just kind of naturally came out in me.
I had a visit with an uncle of mine that was really sick at the time. He actually passed away now. But, after I had a visit with him, I was just so emotional. Seeing him that way made me really emotional. And I came home and I wrote that song and those lyrics just kind of came out of me. And the line “stay with me till the end” is kind of how I was feeling with him, where he it felt like he didn’t want me to leave and he was kind of holding onto my hand. So I just came home and I wrote that song. It was kind of inspired by my visit with my uncle. So, that’s what the song means to me, but when someone else listens to it, I much prefer someone have their own pictures in their mind and their own life experiences. The song speaks to them and they can relate to that.
On the cover of Skinny Puppy’s “Assimilate”
Years ago, it was a song that we covered onstage when John [Dolmayan] was actually still in [Scars on Broadway]. And, when I went into record Dictator, I was like, that cover sounded really good and strong. So, I ended up recording it myself when I was recording the album. I’m a big fan of Skinny Puppy, and I like to do covers, but I like to do them my own way. So if you go back and listen to the original version of that song, it’s nothing like the way I cover it.
For me, it’s kind of paying homage to a band that has inspired me and influenced me and kinda passing it down to my fans. I remember when Metallica did the first $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days thing, and I actually wasn’t actually familiar with a lot of the bands that they were covering. And so through Metallica, I became a Killing Joke fan, so I kinda like to do that with my music and introduce something on to the fans that maybe they hadn’t discovered yet.
On performing with both Scars on Broadway and System of a Down at the upcoming Sonic Temple festival
I just did it this past fall in Mexico City, where System played the first night and Scars played the next day. It’s fun for me to do it. It’s cool for me to have both of those outlets. When I’m on stage with Scars, it’s a whole different thing for me than when I’m on stage with System, only because the dynamic changes to where in System, Serj and I are co-vocalists and in Scars, I’m the only vocalist, so I’m singing a lot more in Scars. Aside from that, I enjoy them both the same way. It’s really cool for me to get out in front of an audience, and both bands are bands that I wrote the majority of the songs for. So, it’s cool for me to get out and have that outlet and play in front of audiences.
On whether he’s planning the next Scars on Broadway album and any further touring with the band
There will definitely be a new Scars album sooner than it took between the first one and Dictator. And the new stuff will be a mix of stuff that I’ve written recently and stuff that I’ve held kind of held onto. I kind of have to get it out there and record it and listen to them and see what all works together.
We just did a really cool run for like a week or so in the West Coast. We got a really great reaction from fans. We played smaller places, but we pack them and the shows’ vibe was like just really fun. So I’m very open to playing more shows when opportunities come up or when the band is requested to play. You know, I’d like to do some festivals, if possible, and more headline runs, but the guarantees have to be there from the promoters.
One thing fans have to realize is going on the road costs a lot of money. So, in the past, to get Scars on the road, I’ve actually had to pay out of my own pocket and it ends up costing me a lot of money to put the band on the road. For example, on this last tour I didn’t make any money. We just kind of split even, and I’m just trying to get enough money to like pay a crew, and get a tour bus so everyone’s comfortable. I mean at this age I’m not going to go back into a van.
When the right opportunities open up and promoters want to pay us what you know is going to keep us comfortable on the road, then I’m very open to getting the band on the road and playing shows. I think when people see Scars live, they realize that it’s a real band and it’s a real powerful band.
On Shavo Odadjian recently telling us that new material Daron has written for System of a Down tops everything they’ve done
Well, I appreciate Shavo saying that. He’s talking about material that I’ve just kind of been sitting on and trying to figure out, “Am I going to make these System of a Down songs or am I going to make these Scars on Broadway songs?” And System of a Down doesn’t seem like we’re really coming together and making an album. So, I can’t sit on the songs forever, so at some point I’m going to have to make a decision on how I want to release those songs. But there was a point that me, John, and Shavo were rehearsing those songs together but we didn’t really record them together.
On the public statements that Daron and Serj made last year regarding their creative differences
Honestly, I don’t think the fans really give a shit why we’re not making an album, but I think a lot of the fans just want an album. Like, for example, I’m a Van Halen fan. When David Lee Roth and Van Halen split up, I didn’t really care why. I was just sad that they split up and I wanted another Van Halen album. I think I just didn’t want to do anything that was going to be a back and forth. I think maybe there might’ve been some backlash. I think Serj might’ve been getting some backlash from fans and felt like he wanted to express himself. Me and him, we’ve talked about it already through email and it’s between me and him. But from my end, I just didn’t want to do a back-and-forth thing. He gave his point of view. I have my own point of view and my own recollections, I guess you could say, of how things went down 10, 15 years ago. But like I said, it’s not something I want to like hash out in front of the fans.
On Shavo saying that he feels System will eventually get together to make a new album
There was a time that I was waiting and rooting for it and hoping it happens, but … I’m kinda really happy with what I’m doing with Scars. We all get along as friends in System of a Down. So as friends, everything is cool and I have no problems with anybody. But then as band members, we tend to have different ways of wanting to do things. And it doesn’t seem like we meet eye to eye as band members. So, I never say never because you never know what happens. But at the same time, I don’t see that happening anytime soon that we’re all going to get together and make a new System of a Down album.
On the System of a Down moment that stands out the most in the 25 years since they formed
I think we were most proud of the band when we did the show in Armenia for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, playing for our people, and so many people showing up. I think that was a really emotional thing for everybody in the band.