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Masters of Horror An interview with Buckethead and Serj Tankian

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Wednesday, November 16, 2005 @ 1:22 PM


Oh, The Horror Of It All

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Showtime has started airing Master of Horror, a series of thirteen original one-hour movies directed by some of the genre’s top practitioners, such as John Landis and John Carpenter.

Immortal Records has released a soundtrack to accentuate the Masters of Horror visual experience: a compilation of all-new or B-sided songs from bands –thirty different bands. Some of heavy music’s finest were called upon to contribute to the soundtrack, and this dual-disc package overall, does not disappoint, save for a few candy-ass bands which I will not mention here.

But this is not a CD review or a TV series review … or even a band endorsement. This is not a plug for a video, though the setting for this interview was on the set of the video shoot for the song “We Are One”, a song which features Serj Tankian [System of a Down] on vocals and Buckethead on guitars. The song is from Buckethead’s new release Buckethead & Friends [Serjical Strike Records] and was selected for the soundtrack quite appropriately.

I was asked if I would like to come up to a cabin up in the San Bernardino Mountains, about 3 hours outside Los Angeles, to meet Buckethead and Tankian, get some photographs, and interview them. My answer to the friendly publicist was: "Is a frog’s ass watertight?"

Now, how was I going to ask Buckethead questions? The guy doesn’t talk to the media, directly anyway, but responds by using a puppet or writing his answers down on paper. How do you approach an artist with those kinds of challenges? How was I going to keep up with Serj if we got into a political discussion? I was already told that he would not answer any questions pertaining to his band, System of a Down.

I would meet this stuff head on when I got there. I was stoked to get out of LA and go up to “higher ground”, so to speak, where I would get to meet these two men, both eclectic and eccentric in their artistry. I’d soon get to tell my daughter, Leilani “Hey, I met Serj from System. Here’s the picture to prove it.” She might say “Why didn’t you pull me out of school that day?” I was having a hard time staying in the moment. My head was tripping hard. As soon as the altitude started popping my ears I would be okay. Why does he wear a KFC bucket on his head? What about the residual grease inside the bucket from the Colonel’s scrumptious yardbird? Does he prefer Extra Crispy or Original Recipe?

As I drove along listening to my assorted tunes (including Masters of Horror) and watched the cityscape turn into timberline, I was feeling my best. Then it struck me: What if they decided to slash me to ribbons, covering my scored body with pine needles and dead wood-- where my pieces and feces would soon be covered by the approaching first snow of the late fall -- where the remnants of my dissected frame wouldn’t be found until the snow thawed sometime next spring?

I’m a horror movie freak

KNAC.COM: Enter the Chicken will be out on October 25th, and that's going to be on Serjical Strike, which is your label, right?

TANKIAN: Correct.

KNAC.COM: Are there any other artists on the label?

TANKIAN: We have a band called Slow Motion Rain that we're going to put. I produced their debut record. That's coming out early next year. And, of course, we have Bad Acid Trip who have been touring with my band, System [System of a Down], and they have a record out called For the Weird by the Weird. We've put out a record called Serart, which is myself and my friend Arto Tuncboyaciyan. We put that out a couple years ago. It's an improvisational, worldly type of record. But, yeah …this record's going to kick ass.

KNAC.COM: What can we expect at the Buckethead & Friends shows? Who are the friends? You had mentioned, about the Los Angeles show having quite a few of the people performing who are on the record.

TANKIAN: We've got about twelve different singers on the record, which is an amazing amount of different artists that have come and participated in this project –making it so much richer and dynamic than most of the records out there. And most of them live in Los Angeles, so I would assume when we do the LA show …when Buckethead does his LA show …whoever we can gather who's not on tour and who can get up there and do some amazing performances. I'll let Bucket write about the tour.

Buckethead begins to jot down the information I asked Serj for.

TANKIAN: [reading off the paper that Buckethead hands over] Pinchface is on drums. Del Rey Brewer on vocals and bass.

KNAC.COM: That's the lineup with Buckethead?

TANKIAN: Yes, that's the live lineup for the tour …those three.

KNAC.COM: How did you guys come to be? It seems like a union that we wouldn't expect. Who approached who?

TANKIAN: Well, first of all, expectations are the mother of disappointments. We met a while back …actually during Ozzfest. (glances over to Buckethead) What year was it, 1999? (Buckethead nods) Yeah, Ozzfest '99. Bucket was playing onstage with Primus every night, doing some crazy solo stuff and playing with the band as well, I think. So we met and we've jammed together and done a bunch of stuff together and improvised together before. We've even played a live show …an improvisational live show at a high school, unannounced, which was amazing, a couple years ago—a year and a half ago, maybe. That was such an amazing experience and we've been friends for a while. So, I think it was a natural, organic thing that this just happened. Bucket's always making a lot of records, he does a lot of different types of music and works with different people … a lot of people I respect, actually, that he's worked with. I've always wanted to hear what it would sound like to have one record of the different things that Buckethead has done all on one record …kind of like a Buckethead compilation, but then I've always wondered how it would sound with a bunch of different singers that have different tonalities and different vibes and colors and creativities. So all of that just kind of came together, luckily, and we’re very, very lucky enough to have a bunch of friends that wanted to be a part of this.

KNAC.COM: You had mentioned the different colors; the record is just painted with different styles and genres. It’s very inclusive. You’ve got Indie, you got Pop, you got Metalcore …

TANKIAN: I could easily say that it is one of the most diverse rock –if you could even call it a rock record -- of the year.

KNAC.COM: You were really thinking outside of the box and I think there’s an appeal to it –I’m sure the houses are going to be packed.

TANKIAN: You mean outside of the coop (laughs).

BUCKETHEAD: (muffled laughs)

KNAC.COM: I read up on you Buckethead, and yours is a success story and one of dreaming big. It’s the American dream; we’re just loaded with possibilities here, and as a musician you’re not pigeon-holed … chicken-holed into a category …

TANKIAN: (laughs out loud)

KNAC.COM: Buckethead, I’ll ask you off-the-record, or we can do this however you want to do it – I don’t want to ruffle any feathers…

(laughs)

KNAC.COM: … tell me about your theme park, Bucketheadland.

Serj asks Buckethead if he’d like the recorder shut off. I shut the recorder off. We then talk about what I had asked (and surely what many would like to know). At this point in I have promised, both to Buckethead and Serj to not disclose what I am soon to find out

. INTERVIEW CONTINUES

KNAC.COM: Serj, tell us about your involvement with the Armenian National Committee of America.

TANKIAN: The Armenian National Committee of America is a political organization that specializes in lobbying for recognition of the Armenian genocide in Congress. Me and my band, System of a Down –we’ve worked with the ANCA and some other organizations in trying to get the US Congress to recognize the Armenian genocide. Recently we had a little rally, actually –right outside of Chicago, in front of the Speaker of the House’s office, and we handed him a letter explaining the dire need for justice to prevail and the truth to come out. You can obtain a copy of the letter online. Otherwise, I can have my own publicist send you a copy if you like. And this is something that’s personal for me. My grandfather is ninety-seven years old –he’s not in a good state—he’s close to passing away, and he’s my only remnant of …he’s the only survivor that I know from my family. That’s how the family was formed; by him surviving the genocide … the atrocities that I spoke of and his life experiences. I promised him that I’d try to speak to Dennis Hastert [House Speaker] –I tried to get an appointment with him, but he didn’t give me one while I was in the Chicago area. So, it’s something that’s personal for me. Especially in countries that call themselves democracies. Injustice and the truth should come out. Otherwise it’s politicizing economics and absolute hypocrisy.

TANKIAN: Just for background: The Armenian genocide was committed during World War 1 by the government of Turkey against one and a half million Armenians, who were killed and the rest were deported and sent out in the desert to starve. There are atrocious stories. It was the first genocide of the 20th century.

KNAC.COM: Turkey denying that it was genocide?

TANKIAN: After they were defeated their own military tribunal had condemned all the generals and all the military people that were responsible … who were responsible for carrying out the genocide. And yet they still officially deny it. You know …most countries around the world have officially recognized the genocide, so those that haven’t are kind of looking pretty bad right now.

KNAC.COM: Are you going to be going out performing any dates with Tom Morrello and Axis of Justice?Also will you be at any of the upcoming shows with Buckethead?

TANKIAN: I’m going to try to make the LA concert, unless I’m out of town because my band [System of a Down] is releasing a record the next day after that on the 22nd of November. But if I’m in town I’m definitely going to be at the El Rey show. As far as Tom and Axis of Justice-- we’ll see. He’s touring and I’ve been touring, so when we find time we’ll set up another benefit concert.

KNAC.COM: I want to ask Buckethead a question. How was it working with Axl [Rose], doing the Guns and Roses thing? I didn’t hear too much feedback from it.

TANKIAN: I’m not sure if that’s something he’d like to talk about.

BUCKETHEAD: (confirms with a nod)

KNAC.COM: I’m not going to ask any System questions either (laughs).

TANKIAN: Good. I’m not going to answer them (laughs).

KNAC.COM: What are you guys going to be working on after this?

TANKIAN: (to Buckethead) While you’re writing it down I’ll say what I’m doing, okay?

Buckethead approves.

TANKIAN: My band System –we’re releasing another record: the second installment of the Mesmerize/Hypnotize thing. We’re releasing Hypnotize November 22nd. I’m looking for the opportunities for scoring and a lot of different stuff I always have my hands on …many different things happening. I’m going to do a lot of my own stuff as well –work on a solo record after that. Take some time off. Do a nice solo record that I’ve never done. I’ve done improvisational records and stuff with different people, but I’ve never really done a full solo record of my own songs, that I’m singing. So I’m going to do that. It’s way down the line. I have a record to release with my band and a couple of other projects that I need to do next year before I even start tackling it. But I’ve written a lot of songs over time –hundreds of songs. I always like finding places for my kids.

(Serj reads off Buckethead’s paper.) Bucket just did a record with Viggo Mortensen. [The Lord of the Rings, A History of Violence] This is actually the second record that he’s done with him … (Buckethead, motioning a correction to Serj, writes on the paper.) You’ve done seven with him? Get out!

KNAC.COM: I didn’t know that Viggo was a musician.

TANKIAN: He’s an artist …he’s a poet. He’s amazing. The way he thinks is amazing. Anyway, this record (w/Mortensen) is called Intelligence Failure. He’s got another Deli Creeps record in the works. Oh, he’s got Kaleidoscalp. And then Inbred Mountain way down the line, a Buckethead solo record. Yeah, so he’s just working on four records, too (laughs).

Photos by Charlie Steffens aka "Gnarly Charlie"


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