I feel like this is a brand new band,” Daron Malakian says. “Sometimes we tell people, ‘’We’re Scars on Broadway." And they’re like, "Oh, never heard of it." That’s cool," he adds laughing.
Sure, in System of a Down, Malakian and John Dolmayan earned five straight platinum albums, including three #1’s, and headlined numerous festivals and sold out shows around the world. But he is sincere when he says, “I really didn’t feel like, "Hey, just because I’m Daron from System of a Down, everyone’s just going to bow down to this music." That he’s not taking anything for granted about Scars’ self-titled debut due out July 29 (Interscope) is evident in his enthusiasm as he talks about the immediate success of the powerful guitar driven rocking first single, “They Say.” “When I first heard that song on the radio, I was so excited, like I’d never had a song on the radio before. That’s really how I felt.”
For both Malakian and Dolmayan, the opportunity to prove themselves all over again is one they’re genuinely relishing, especially since both concede that after System’s decade-long run atop the metal and hard rock world they had started to lose that feeling of newness. Recalling Scars’ first two shows, including a critically acclaimed set at Coachella called “One of the festival’s hottest highlights,” by the L.A. Times, Dolmayan says, “At those first two shows, there was an energy in those rooms that I haven’t felt for a long time. And it’s nice to have that fresh feeling because with System we kind of took for granted that people would be there. We were playing old songs so the fans were still going to get crazy for them. With Scars, we don’t have that; we’ve got to earn everything and I like that. I like having to fight for things.”
“When we were doing System, it was like we walked out, we expected to hear the crowd yell the whole System chant and we were almost numb to it,” Malakian adds. “Then Scars played a show with Metallica in Arizona and the crowd was chanting our name. It’s so fresh right now, those little things that I took for granted before in System, because it was like that for 10 years. Scars is bringing that life back.”
That Scars would feel so new is especially understandable for Malakian, who despite his considerable contributions to System of a Down, is now stepping solely into the front for the first time with Scars. How the guitarist got here goes back to System’s chart-topping albums HYPNOTIZE and MEZMERIZE, when he was in the midst of a very prolific creative period. “When writing for MEZMERIZE and HYPNOTIZE, there were a lot of other things I was doing on the side with electronic stuff that I didn’t think would fit in with System, more melodic, more rock-driven things,” he says. “That’s kind of how Scars came about.”
While Scars’ eponymous debut still rocks with an aggressive intensity, particularly on the opening “Serious” and “Exploding/Reloading,” both of which bring a punk energy, and the hard rock blues twang of “Whoring Streets,” the album is propelled by the melodic and rock tunes like “Funny,” a song that is a straight-forward pop-rocker in the best sense of the term, the hooky “World Long Gone,” and of course “They Say.”
For Dolmayan, a self-professed Beatles fan because of the melodies, the different direction of Scars was very appealing. “I’m attracted to melody,” he says. “And Daron’s writing has matured over the last ten years and will more than likely continue to mature. And, as he’s matured, he’s become more and more melodic, so that’s something I’ve always enjoyed."
It’s also allowed him to branch out as a player. “It’s a great conduit to that. It’s nice to have the ability to play a different style of music while playing in the same band. You have an album that feels like three different albums, but there’s still something that draws it all together and binds it, and that’s also how I feel about my drumming. I can play different styles in a song and it still works because there’s that sense of melody happening in the song, it brings it all together.”
According to Malakian, many of the influences that pushed him in this direction are some of the great masters of melody. “I’ve been listening to so much ‘60s pop and ‘70s songwriters. I’m a big fan of the Kinks, the Beatles, the Zombies, and also Neil Young,” he says. “I feel, even though it’s not so obvious sometimes, a song like ‘3005’ is very influenced by Neil Young.”
One listen though to songs like “Chemicals,’ the brilliantly whacked-out, theatrical, Zappa-esque rocker, “Babylon,” the bastard child of punk and Russian Cossack folk music on 78 rpm, and the new wave mechanics of “CuteMachines,” a track Malakian says has been getting great response live, makes it abundantly clear that Dolmayan and Malakian have not completely abandoned the adventuresome spirit of System. And as excited as they are by the challenge of a new band, the System side is still there – the aggressive aspects are evident, that’s simply part of who they are as musicians.
The evolution of Scars, a project Malakian has freely talked about since 2005, has been an ongoing one, much of the process centering on finding the right musicians to round out the project. That didn’t really get going until Dolmayan came on board. “I love John’s drumming, I know who he is as a person, so I called him and he was down and from then on things kind of started putting themselves together.”
“The big thing for us is we’ve got to have people in the band who are not only exceptionally talented, but are good people, people who can have kind of a family mentality, which we have and always have had,” Dolmayan adds.
Scars has been three years in the making, much of that because Malakian believes in letting the music dictate, as opposed to deadlines and commerce. “Some people like going into the studio and saying, ‘Hey, this week we’re going to make an album,’” he says. “I just can’t do that because I’m a little moody and I like different parts of my moods to come out in songs. I like taking a little time to sit there and see where I am in life at that moment and absorb that and let that naturally come out in the songs that I write as opposed to forcing it out.”
Among the moods that came out naturally in the songs is something a lot of people can understand right now – frustration. “Whether it’s a heavier song or a more moody song, one thing that brings them all together is a sense of attitude and a bit of frustration in the lyrics and the vocals,” explained Malakian. Where does that feeling come from? “The frustration is personal and global and it all comes together; the world is like a mind-fuck, full of contradictions. You turn on the evening news and here’s this really pretty blond lady telling you the worst personal things that you can hear on television, [like] suicide rate is up in Iraq. So there are all these things that are going on that people’s brains are taking in and your brain doesn’t know what to feel anymore. And that’s why you have so many people going through depression and stress and anxieties and things like that.”
Artistically though, both Dolmayan and Malakian are very emotionally satiated by Scars. In talking about his feelings when he listens to the finished album, Dolmayan says, “I take pride from it. It’s like watching a child graduate from college. You’re responsible for raising that child, making sure it’s a good person, taking it to the next level and helping the child grow to be an individual. And it’s kind of like that with these songs."
And Malakian’s thoughts? “I feel that Scars is an evolution and a progression from where I came from, which is System, and it feels that way to John. When I listen to our songs this feels right, like this should be happening right now.”
He trusts that when people finally do hear Scars on Broadway, they’ll have the same feeling. “I can’t wait for people to hear the songs because I feel it’s some of my best material ever,” he says. “I really am proud of the material and of what we’ve done.”