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Daron Malakian

System Of A Down

"I don’t think I picked music, music picked me… I don’t know where I’d be without it, it’s always been apart of my identity." In this episode, guitarist Daron Malakian of System of A Down and Scars on Broadway discusses his beginnings with music and guitar, his love of playing, and his relationship with Ernie Ball.

Transcript

Daron Malakian:
I've never considered myself to be like a technical guitar player. When I play the guitar, I'm kind of hearing the whole song, vocals, everything that's going on in my head. So it's the tool that I use to structure songs, to write songs. It's also a way for me to just kind of get away from my world and go in my little room.

Daron Malakian:
I don't really play guitar in front of people too much. I mean, obviously when I'm on stage, but like when I'm at home, it's usually when I'm alone, so it's kind of like an intimate thing for me.

Daron Malakian:
I started collecting records when I was like maybe four. I would always drag my mom to the record store. I don't think I picked music, music kind of picked me. I can't remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in music. I don't know where I would be without it, it's just kind of what has always been part of my identity. Music has just been something that's there. It's always been something that has been important to me.

Daron Malakian:
I grew up in Hollywood in a pretty small one bedroom apartment until I was 11 years old. I always wanted to play the drums. That was something that, you know, since I was a kid, I always wanted a drum set. But in that small apartment that I lived in, we couldn't fit a drum set. So we finally moved in a house when I was like 12 years old and I was like, great, now I'm going to get my drum set. We went to the music store on my 12th birthday to go get me my drum set. And my parents kind of had a discussion amongst themselves and said, you know, you can't turn off the drums. So, they decided to get me a little amplifier. It was an amp by a company called Gorilla. And they bought me a guitar, it was an Arbor guitar. So that's how I became a guitar player was because my parents couldn't turn off the drums.

Daron Malakian:
The influences when I was a kid were more heavy metal. Sabbath, Ozzie, Slayer was a big deal for me. But a lot of metal stuff made me want to learn how to play those riffs. But as I grew, my tastes changed as well. So, that's why I say as a kid it was more of the metal stuff, and as I grew up, it went into the Beatles and a lot of other, you know, Grateful Dead and all kinds of other stuff that are influences of mine now. But at that time, it was just a lot of heavy metal and I was always just trying to find the heaviest metal. And at that time, which was like the mid 80s, metal was evolving. So there was like this, you know, if you wanted heavier, some band would come and give you the heavier stuff.

Daron Malakian:
I've always played Ernie Ball strings from the get go because Ernie Ball, you could buy at the record store. I'd go buy a bunch of records and then I'd buy a set of strings, and that's kind of how I started playing Ernie Ball strings. I used to play super Slinkys but now I mainly play the heavy top light bottom or is the heavy bottom light, it's orange. That set, that's the one I play. But I've just always played Ernie ball strings from the get go.

Daron Malakian:
I've never practiced guitar a day in my life actually. That's why I always tell, they're like, you know, did you ever practice, do you practice a lot? And I never felt like I was practicing, I was just playing. And I only played when I felt the itch to play and it was calling me and it's still that way now.

Daron Malakian:
Writing wise, I'll usually come in with a structured song. I like to write in verses choruses very traditionally structured actually, you know, verse, chorus verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, out. But what I use for the verses and choruses and bridges, I tend to look at music with like colors, like how an artist will look at colors. I have a lot of different tastes in music. I don't ever say like it only has to be heavy metal. That's kind of why the music I write with System or even with Scars, it's diverse. Even in one song, it'll have a heavy metal part and then it'll go into a whole type of thing because I'm not afraid to use different colors, different moods. There's sometimes humor in my writing. I'm in different moods so I kind of use the color of the moods that I want to express.

Daron Malakian:
I feel like I have a certain style. I don't know how that happens. But I always try to add to that style. I don't just try to stick with it. I always try to add a certain color that maybe I didn't use before. If you want to talk about the System albums, they evolve in that way as time goes on. In the first album, it was more heavy metal and anger I think. And I think because we were playing the clubs at that time on the first album, I was just trying to write songs that are going to get the club going, you know, get a mosh pit moving.

Daron Malakian:
And then we started playing bigger places and it wasn't as intimate. I started going more into a song writing direction and started getting more influenced by songwriters instead of riffs. People like Bowie or Neil Young, the Beatles, the Kinks. And that type of stuff started bleeding into my writing with songs like Lost in Hollywood, Soldier's Side, Atwa. My songwriting started evolving into more of that stuff, into more melody, and I just wasn't afraid to try that, even though it might've been something that we never did before. But it was honest, it was just honest. It was where I was as a writer at that time and I just felt like if it was honest, people would get it.

Daron Malakian:
I think there's something cool about the guitar. I mean, opposed to sitting on a keyboard, I don't know, there's just some kind of, you could just stand up, play, it almost becomes an extension of you on stage. Different guitars look cool, you know, SGs, and different guitars have different looks to them. You can't really do that with too many other instruments either. You know what I mean? Like shapes and, you know, a violin is a violin. You're not going to have a million different shapes, flying Vs, you know what I mean? Like guitars have so many different characters. You can express yourself by the way the instrument looks, and almost sometimes you can tell just by the way the instrument looks what kind of guitar player the guy is. I don't know if you can do that with turntables, like flying V turntables.

Daron Malakian:
I like to inspire. I think that's what it's all about is leaving something for someone else to pick it up and take it and do something else too. That's how I became a, people inspired me. As a kid, I had musical heroes and posters on my walls and stuff of bands that I liked. And those people inspired me. And I think that's the way it is with every kind of art is you just, you leave something for someone else to take it and be inspired to do something else and keep the evolution or keep the art, keep the music moving.

Daron Malakian:
I'm very lucky to have been able to play in a band that touched so many people. And if one of those people came out and became something and did something and they were inspired by something I did, then that's pretty much what it's all about to me.

Daron Malakian:
I get a joy out of doing what I do. It's kind of selfish. I write the songs I want to write, I play the style I want to play. I've never tried to cater to anything or like that's popular now, let's go into that drain hole. It's always been, you know, there's never been a label head person telling me to play or write in a certain direction. The music I was writing when we got signed was at that time for especially people in the metal genre, it was like this weird kind of, people didn't know what to make of four Armenian guys. We weren't playing Judas Priest style heavy metal, we were playing this thing that I felt like was totally our own. Nobody ever made us do anything different.

Daron Malakian:
That's something I appreciate a lot that I've been able to express myself and write the songs that I want to write, write about the topics I want to write about. Sometimes serious, sometimes silly, sometimes sad, sometimes happy. I feel like I don't have any rules and I think people who listen to my music expect that from me to some degree. As an artist, that's a freedom that I feel like I'm not afraid to try things.

Daron Malakian:
Every song feels like it has a different flavor to it and I feel lucky that I'm able to express that. It's not just one dimensional I feel like my writing and it keeps me interested. If I was just playing straight death metal, I'd get bored. If I was playing electronic music and just electronic music, I'd get bored. I want to play music that is like death metal, electronic, country, folk, Armenian, Arabic, whatever the hell, it's all there in my writing and I feel lucky that I'm able to express that and people accept it.

Daron Malakian:
Everything that I listen to, everything that I write is all is kind of in my subconscious and it kind of gets pulled out when I least expect it. I don't pull from anything. It kind of gets pulled out of me. The Armenian and Arabic kind of stuff is just, that's where my family's from and it's what I've grown up around. That kind of music isn't even what I would put on in my room, but when I went to a wedding, that's what would be playing. If I went to family gathering, that's what we'd be playing. So, it was in my world, it was in my culture, it was in my life. So it kind of bleeds out of me without me trying.

Daron Malakian:
A comedian can get up on stage and tell jokes. If they're not genuinely funny and if they're not genuinely honest about what they're saying, chances are he's not going to touch the audience. He's not going to get laughs. And then there's that person that just doesn't care whether you laugh or you don't. And that's probably the person that's going to probably make the whole room laugh. They're just being themselves, they're just funny themselves.

Daron Malakian:
I try to be that honest with my songwriting at the end of the day. I got to love it and I got to really love it if I'm going to convince you to love it. So I've got to be the first person that's a fan of that song, and I've got a really love it. That's worked for me, through my career that's worked for me. If something that I wrote touched me and got me excited, it's usually gotten the fans excited.

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