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Tetragrammaton with Rick Rubin

Serj Tankian

Wed May 15 2024
Armenian GenocideMusicArtArmenian IdentityGeopolitics


This episode explores the personal journey of the speaker, the history of the Armenian Genocide, the challenges faced by Armenia, the impact of System of a Down, and the interconnectedness of art and spirituality. It also delves into the process of music composition and scoring for media. The episode concludes with reflections on personal experiences and the power of interpretation in art.


The Power of Music and Artistic Expression

The speaker highlights the role of music in interpreting universal messages and expressing emotions, particularly in the context of post-9/11 censorship and the Armenian Genocide.

Armenian Identity and Diaspora

The podcast explores the complex identity of being Armenian, shaped by experiences in different countries and cultures. It also emphasizes the importance of diaspora experiences in shaping Armenian identity.

Armenia's Struggles and Geopolitical Challenges

Armenia has faced significant challenges throughout its history, including the Armenian Genocide, ongoing conflicts with Azerbaijan, and geopolitical tensions with Russia. The country's peaceful revolution and alignment with Western interests have brought both opportunities and threats.

System of a Down's Impact and Unique Sound

System of a Down is praised for their unique sound, incorporating ancient Armenian rhythms into their music. The band's performances have had a significant impact, inspiring change during the revolution in Armenia.

Artistic Process and Interconnectedness

The episode explores the process of music composition, scoring for media, and the intersection of justice and spirituality. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of art forms and the importance of living a just life for spiritual fulfillment.


  1. The Speaker's Personal Journey
  2. Early Experiences and Armenian Genocide
  3. Armenian Genocide and Independence
  4. Armenian Identity and Diaspora
  5. Armenia's Challenges and Conflicts
  6. Armenia's Peaceful Revolution and System of a Down
  7. Impact of System of a Down and Musical Journey
  8. Life as a Musician and New Zealand
  9. Interconnectedness and Artistic Process
  10. Music Composition and Scoring for Media
  11. Armenian Music and Personal Song
  12. Life Story and Artistic Pursuits
  13. Reading Habits and Filming Experiences
  14. Documentary and Interconnectedness
  15. Conclusion

The Speaker's Personal Journey

00:02 - 07:12

  • The speaker initially wanted to write a philosophy book but was encouraged to combine personal stories with lessons learned, leading to a deep dive into their family history and past experiences.
  • The speaker interviewed both parents and other family members for the book, starting with a traumatic experience post-9/11 related to censorship in music.
  • There was significant censorship and fear around music post-9/11, affecting artists like the speaker's band and others who spoke out against it.
  • The power of music is highlighted through how lyrics written before 9/11 took on new meanings after the event, showing the role of artists as interpreters of universal messages.
  • The speaker recalls terrifying experiences touring post-9/11, including receiving death threats and facing police violence at events.

Early Experiences and Armenian Genocide

06:51 - 13:29

  • The band faced police interference early in their career during a show at Best Buy's parking lot in Burbank, California.
  • Despite having permits to play, the police threatened to arrest the band for inciting without clear reasons.
  • A riot almost broke out when the fire marshal prevented the band from playing at a show behind the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
  • The band considered getting arrested as a way to protest against authority but decided against it due to legal concerns and potential lawsuits from disappointed fans.
  • The podcast delves into the history of the Armenian Genocide, detailing tensions between Armenians and Turks in the Ottoman Empire.

Armenian Genocide and Independence

13:01 - 20:06

  • The Ottoman Empire from 1700s to 1900s saw crackdowns on minorities, including massacres like the Armenian Genocide in 1915 during World War I.
  • Around one and a half million Armenians were massacred out of a few million in Turkey at that time.
  • Survivors of the genocide faced hardships and separations, with some ending up in orphanages before being reunited.
  • Armenians who survived became refugees in present-day Armenia, eventually forming an army to defend against Turkish attacks and later becoming a Soviet Republic in 1921.
  • Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 after years of struggles, including an earthquake and war.

Armenian Identity and Diaspora

19:38 - 26:51

  • The speaker shares their mystical first experience visiting Armenia in '99 or 2000, feeling the deep historical roots and cultural significance of the country.
  • The speaker discusses their Armenian heritage, with parents from Western Armenia who escaped the genocide and were born in Syria and Lebanon.
  • They reflect on the complex identity of being Armenian, shaped by experiences in different countries and cultures.
  • The importance of diaspora experiences in shaping Armenian identity is highlighted, drawing parallels with the Jewish diaspora.
  • A conversation with Anthony Bourdain about cultural identity prompts reflection on what it means to be 'Armenian.'
  • The speaker's band is praised for incorporating ancient Armenian rhythms into their music, standing out for their unique sound.
  • A personal anecdote about meeting someone at a show leads to a collaboration that brings joy and success to both parties.
  • Subsequent visits to Armenia in 2005 with their partner deepen the speaker's connection to the country, leading them to become more active in advocating for Armenia.

Armenia's Challenges and Conflicts

26:31 - 34:07

  • President Reagan used the word genocide in reference to Armenians, which upset Turkey.
  • Turkey has not officially acknowledged the Armenian genocide.
  • The Armenian genocide was a planned and executed event, leading to significant loss of lives and assets.
  • Armenia remains vulnerable, facing conflicts with Azerbaijan over territories like Nagorno-Rarappa.
  • Azerbaijan's attacks on Armenia have resulted in casualties and ongoing threats.
  • The conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis dates back to historical events like massacres in the 1920s.

Armenia's Peaceful Revolution and System of a Down

33:40 - 41:22

  • In 2018, Armenia saw a peaceful revolution led by a parliamentarian protesting against the oligarchic regime through decentralized civil disobedience.
  • The revolution in Armenia was bloodless and successful, leading to the parliamentarian becoming Prime Minister amidst widespread jubilation.
  • Armenia has experienced significant economic growth and investment following the revolution, pivoting towards the West due to geopolitical shifts and alliances.
  • Armenia faces threats from Azerbaijan and Russia due to its Western pivot, with ongoing tensions and potential military conflicts looming.
  • System of a Down performed a historic concert in Armenia in 2015 during the genocide anniversary, which was a deeply meaningful experience for the band members and audience.

Impact of System of a Down and Musical Journey

40:58 - 47:55

  • The band is considered the most popular Armenian band in the world for Armenians.
  • Their show had a significant impact during the revolution in Armenia, inspiring change.
  • The experience on stage felt like a powerful and emotional realization of their purpose.
  • One member initially hesitant about going to Armenia was deeply moved by the experience and decided to stay longer.
  • During the show, political issues were addressed smartly, including criticism of the Armenian government and Obama's failure to recognize the genocide.
  • The band's unique sound is attributed to the combination of their diverse personalities and musical talents.
  • The harmonization between two members played a crucial role in realizing the band's potential and uniqueness.

Life as a Musician and New Zealand

47:25 - 54:46

  • The speaker initially envisioned creating music in a studio but found the reality of touring to be a grind due to repetitive performances and health issues.
  • Performing at one-off events like festivals or special shows is more enjoyable for the speaker compared to extensive tours.
  • The speaker finds New Zealand appealing due to its clean environment, healthy food, and slower pace of life, which provides a balance to the fast-paced lifestyle in LA.
  • New Zealand's political neutrality was one of the reasons why the speaker was initially drawn to the country, although it has become more aligned with Western interests over time.

Interconnectedness and Artistic Process

54:24 - 1:01:17

  • New Zealand's alignment with Western interests has shifted over time, becoming more on board with Western countries.
  • Despite technological and medical progress, the world still faces issues like wars and starvation, which is disheartening.
  • The intersection of justice and spirituality is highlighted as interconnected, emphasizing the importance of living a just life for spiritual fulfillment.
  • Working with different orchestras has shown cultural differences in musical interpretation based on strengths and weaknesses.
  • Being a songwriter involves performing and vibing with others on stage, while being a composer allows for stepping back and listening to others interpret your music.

Music Composition and Scoring for Media

1:00:48 - 1:07:29

  • Rock music is seen as a form of protest, while classical and jazz music evoke different emotions.
  • Scoring for films and series presents challenges due to the need to work within limitations and fit the music to specific scenes.
  • Collaboration with directors or producers is crucial for understanding the tone and emotions needed in the musical score.
  • Composing for media often starts before the final cut of a film, sometimes even when there is no video footage yet.
  • Integrating music during shoots can influence the tempo, mood, and performances of actors in a scene.
  • The process of writing lyrics can involve starting with sounds or words, with stream of consciousness being a helpful approach.

Armenian Music and Personal Song

1:07:10 - 1:18:34

  • The guest wrote a song called 'Hi, Aston' using Armenian lyrics and released it in 2019 or 2020.
  • The song 'Hi, Aston' describes Armenia as a country with lost roads, gatherings around fire for kebabs, serene autumns, and a land of fruits like apricots.
  • The chorus of the song mentions the historical capitals of Armenia.
  • The guest performed a song with his dad in the studio, singing together in unison and harmony.
  • The guest's dad was a musician who played the oud and sang at events. He had an interesting story about learning music from a master in Syria.

Life Story and Artistic Pursuits

1:18:11 - 1:24:46

  • A musician shares his life story with the narrator's father, who was also passionate about music but pursued a different career.
  • The narrator faced financial struggles in the past but received support from his father to pursue music over a software business.
  • The narrator reflects on the Armenian roots and diverse musical influences of System of a Down.
  • The band members had varied musical backgrounds, with one being influenced by rock and metal while the other was more into Eastern and European music.
  • Music served as an outlet for the narrator to channel anger and frustration into art during difficult times.
  • The conversation shifts to poetry and reading habits, with a focus on audiobooks and memoirs.

Reading Habits and Filming Experiences

1:24:18 - 1:31:38

  • The speaker's typical reading habits involve listening to audiobooks, particularly memoirs and music memoirs.
  • The speaker had a positive experience meeting Anthony Bourdain and appreciated his passion for addressing injustice.
  • The speaker discusses their painting process, which involves scoring paintings with music compositions.
  • The speaker talks about filming their life with a camera on their head for a year in 2011 to document various projects and experiences.

Documentary and Interconnectedness

1:31:18 - 1:38:21

  • The speaker had inhibitions about working with the band again after a few years, but using cameras helped them process and deal with it.
  • Footage from a project was used to create a documentary called Truth to Power, focusing on activism and incorporating shaky camera elements.
  • As an artist, it's important to stay open to new experiences and try things outside of one's usual preferences.
  • There is no wrong way to interpret lyrics or music; everyone enjoys art differently.
  • Over time, the speaker's belief in interconnectedness has grown, influenced by experiences like learning Transcendental Meditation.


1:38:19 - 1:38:21

  • The podcast segment ended with upbeat music playing.