SYSTEM OF A DOWN Drummer: 'I Play Best When I'm Angry'

Drum! magazine (web site) recently conducted an in-depth interview with SYSTEM OF A DOWN drummer John Dolmayan for a cover story that was published in its March 2006 issue. A few excerpts from the chat follow:

On being preoccupied with "The End of the World":

"You're always concerned that the end of the world is coming. Every generation is concerned with it, as they see the values they have disappear. But some of the sickest societies existed in the past — what happened is that people got tired of living that way, and they developed societies with different levels of depravity, depending on which one you live in.

"I'm not so much concerned that the world will end, it's just that the weaponry we have can do so much more than a thousand years ago. It only takes one lunatic in a position of power to start the apocalypse. That's a little scary. Now that I'm in my thirties, I reflect, 'Why do people act this way?' But the reality is that every generation feels that way about the generation coming next. When you get older, you have a certain amount of wisdom that you didn't have in your youth."

On his musical growth:

"We were a lot more comfortable this time ['Mezmerize' and 'Hypnotize'] than we were with the last records, and I imagine for the next album, we'll be that much more comfortable. I listened to the first album, 'System of a Down', and it's very stiff. I was very inhibited. It was the first time I was under a microscope and I thought I was a much better drummer than I was, until I heard myself in a studio, and I was like, 'Man, I suck.' It was a wake-up call. Even though I got my tracking done in eight days, it should have been two. I'm very critical of myself, and I have to be to be a better drummer for myself and this band. I have to be a better drummer. That's my job.

"Most of the time if I think about what I'm doing, I start screwing up. I rarely think about what I'm doing when I play — I usually let my body take over. I play the best when I'm angry, because I really go off when I'm pissed. I hit hard anyway, but when I'm mad I really hit hard, and when I get off the stage I feel better. If I get a couple of drinks in me, I play very loose, and sometimes that's better, but I've made it my goal to not have a drink or be inebriated in any way - just be high off being onstage. Plus, I try to play as tight as possible, and the more drunk I am, the more mistakes I make and it doesn't land. I want the audience to walk away thinking they got my best, and that's why I don't party that much when I'm on the road. Those kids are waiting two or three months for us to come, and they don't care if I've played 20 great shows in a row. My goal is to beat what I did yesterday, and when I'm onstage the only thing I'm thinking about is that night. Then I move on and go to the next one."

On the possibility of being a future drumming hired gun:

"If you need it danceable or radio-ready, that's not me, so maybe I'm not the ideal session drummer. But if you want something that five years later will still be relevant, then I'm the right person for you. I only got one offer to play for somebody else in my downtime. It was for KILLING JOKE — I went in and recorded two tracks, and I've got to tell you, it was not the most positive experience for me.

"I walked in and I was ready to play something great for these songs, and I said that to the producer. He looked at me and said, 'Can you play to a click track?' I said, 'I'd prefer not to,' and he said, 'You've got to.' The music was done, so I said, okay, I'm a professional, and I had no problem doing it. Now, I was really happy with the stuff I came up with. I spent three weeks coming up with stuff for two songs — I came up with some badass s@*&! I played it, and he said, 'That's not KILLING JOKE.'

"I put down my sticks, and said, 'Did you use me because of SOAD or because of my drumming? What I was saying was, 'are you trying to capitalize on the popularity of my band, or because you give a damn about my drumming? If it's the former, then here's your check back. I'm going. If it's the other, then let me do my thing.'

"He kind of got a little bit nervous and said, 'No, we love your drumming, but, see, this (drumming style) is not KILLING JOKE. I said, 'But I'm not in KILLING JOKE. If you want someone that plays what KILLING JOKE plays, then I'm probably not the guy.' Then I felt bad, like I was putting a bad mood on the thing, and pulled back and did some cool stuff, more to what he wanted, but he still was not happy about it. That was a very good lesson for me. It was an easy way for me to see that sometimes people are more interested in your name than they are in you. People are interested in SOAD as an entity, not John Dolmayan as a person. You have to sift through these people and figure out who's who. But with my drumming, don't bring me in with the illusion that I'll play what you want me to play. I'll do what's best for the song. If you don't like it, if you want something safer, that's a different story, but I'll do my best."

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