Recognizing System of a Down is “not gonna be making an album any time soon” is what freed Daron Malakian to reactivate his Scars on Broadway for its second album, Dictator, which comes out July 20.
Dictator is again a one-man affair, with Malakian covering all of the instruments and vocals (check out an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the sessions below). Malakian tells Billboard the 12-track set was actually recorded six years ago, but he was holding out hope that SOAD would decide to do something, which led him to hold the album so it wouldn’t interfere with the band. “It’s been tough not releasing music — and it’s not because I didn’t want to release music,” Malakian explains. “I was making System my priority and holding out for something to happen there, and since that didn’t happen it just gave me more of an open door to start putting out Scars stuff and playing Scars shows, putting a new band together, everything. Not knowing and being in limbo, that’s the main reason why I waited to put these songs out. And finally putting them out now feels great.”
Malakian acknowledges that the interim between releases — 10 years since Scars on Broadway’s debut and 13 since SOAD’s last albums, Hypnotize and Mesmerize — has been “really frustrating and a little depressing. The fans are like, ‘We want new System!’ and I’m like, ‘Well, imagine what it feels like to be me and have these songs.’ (The band) just couldn’t get it together. It’s not the right time for everybody, and yeah, that’s a little frustrating but at the same time I can’t force anybody to do anything they don’t want to do. So I’m grateful to have Scars as an outlet.” He’s also well aware that the familiar frenetic and jagged arrangements of Dictator will likely feed the appetites of those patient SOAD fans.
“I mean, I write 90 percent or more of the music — the music, the songs, the lyrics, the vocals — for System of a Down,” he notes. “This is what I do, so if it sounds like (SOAD), that’s probably not surprising.”
Dictator — whose cover is an image created by Malakian’s father, artist Vartan Malakian — includes plenty of his usual socio-political commentary. The lead single “Lives” references Armenian culture’s achievements in the wake of the devastating early 20th century genocide (proceeds are being donated to the Armenia Fund). But Malakian hopes that other songs feel open to interpretation. “Sometimes it’s stuff that’s happening in the world, sometimes it’s stuff that happens in our personal lives,” he explains. “I can see how the album is Dictator and with what’s going on with Trump, but it obviously wasn’t about the Trump thing when I wrote it. There was always somebody out there who was a dictator…and a dictator could be somebody in your personal life, too — somebody who’s overbearing or always telling you what to do. So you can adapt (the songs) to your own life, or to the political.”
Malakian has a Scars On Broadway show planned for Aug. 4 at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles along with a Mexican festival slated for October and is hoping to line up a full-scale tour for the group. SOAD, meanwhile, will play its first U.S. shows since 2015, a five-date West Coast run, during October. “It’s cool for me right now because the (Scars) album is coming and System’s playing live and I really enjoy doing that,” Malakian says. “There’s no beef with any of the band members or anything. We still enjoy getting together and playing live, and I’ve got the Scars stuff and I’m really excited about this album.
“So as an artist, as a musician I feel like I’m in a really good place and I feel like that’s the first time I can say that in a while because I’ve been in a very limbo kind of state for almost 10 years. It feels really good to have some kind of clarity and freedom as an artist and knowing where things lie and where to take my songs. I feel like I’m in a really good place with both System and with Scars.”