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Serj Tankian – Songs of Protest
When System of a Down (SOAD) hit the music scene in 1998 their intense mix of metal and Middle Eastern folk music made everyone take notice. None caught the eyes and ears more than eclectic frontman Serj Tankian whose unique phrasings and singing style quickly became synonymous with the band’s sound – and has earned him a rightful place among the top vocalists of the genre. An Armenian immigrant born in Lebanon and re-rooted in Los Angeles, Serj has successfully used his experience of the melding of cultures, ideas and ideals to pave a singular way in music, one that has led to five albums with SOAD, three solo albums (with two more in the pipeline), and countless side projects – earning him considerable critical praise and professional accolades on the way.
A singer, poet, songwriter, activist, and composer; Serj Tankian has proven himself a creative powerhouse, and one who’s not afraid to experiment or go out on a limb for music’s sake. A case in point is his latest solo effort “Harakiri” (July 2012), an album almost completely composed on the iPad – ending with the creation of his own personal music making app “IAmSerj“.
Similarly, when Serj learned about TC-Helicon’s vocal harmonizing pedals he was interested in trying them out for his solo material. He settled on VoiceLive Rack and has already been actively using it for recording an upcoming side project album, titled “Jazz-Iz-Christ”. Not one to settle for regular use of the effects unit, Serj has also been running flutes through the processor for otherworldly effects. “The effects on the VoiceLive Rack are incredible and take you to another place in terms of performance”, he adds.
We sat down and questioned him a bit more on the unit and his approach to making music, to singing, and to the future:
What do you find most useful about VoiceLive Rack in terms of features?
The ability to try any number of effects combinations.
How do you come up with your vocal melodies?
Inspired by the key changes in the music and the vibe of the overall piece, I start jamming on the track with my voice until it sounds great and makes sense.
How do you handle the songwriting process with such a busy schedule?
Composing is one of the things I enjoy most about life, so it is what I do to relax and have fun.
What inspires you to write a new song?
What or who inspires you when it comes to singing?
Many artists, although I should say I am more influenced by female jazz and world singers than male rock singers.
Why do you use vocal effects?
I actually don’t use a lot of vocal effects on recordings but having the VoiceLive Rack is pretty useful to project certain phrases with heavy delay or reverb.
As a singer is there any habits or techniques that have kept you voice strong?
A little warm up always helps an hour or so before the show. Try not to eat too much dairy. Yawning and laughing are the best vocal warm ups in the world .
Have you ever had a vocal coach or a singing teacher – and, if so, what was the most valuable stuff you learned?
For a very brief period about 10 years ago I went to a friend who was a vocal coach. He taught me the warm up techniques. I’ve since made my own little combination of things based on my singing style.
What have been the lessons you’ve learned the hard way about taking care of your voice?
The worst thing is to get sick on the road and have your voice destroyed. There is no way around that but to really take good care of yourself. The wear and tear of travel usually makes it worse, and there’s no magic bullet cure for it. The worst feeling is going through a show knowing you’re not at your best and there’s not much you can do about it.
What have you got planned for the near future?
Touring the East Coast with System of a Down in August, then a few Knotfest shows with the FCC for “Harakiri”, then West Coast and Europe tours in September and October respectively. Next year I’ll be releasing my other 3 recordings, “Jazz-Iz-Christ”, “Fuktronic/Botched Up”, and my first classical symphony, “ORCA”.