Serj Tankian "wanted to achieve a whole different sound" on his third solo album, "Imperfect Harmonies," mixing rock, electronic, orchestral and jazz elements into its 11 songs.
"I made rock records for so many years, with System of a Down and [2007 solo debut] 'Elect the Dead,' and I wanted to create something different for myself," Tankian tells Billboard.com. " 'Elect the Dead' was more of a straight rock record, done layer by layer. On ['Imperfect Harmonies'] I threw everything at the wall and then started taking things out, which is the first time I've done that. It created a whole different sound for me. It was a good departure."
And yet, Tankian acknowledges, "Imperfect Harmonies" still rocks. "When I first started, I called it electro orchestral jazz-rock or something," he says, "and then everyone's like, 'No, it's still rock.' So, OK, it's still rock. I mean...names, quantifiers, what do they mean, really?"
Emboldened by the "Elect the Dead Symphony" project, which came out on CD and DVD this past March, Tankian says his primary musical goal for "Imperfect Harmonies" was blending organic and electronic elements within the music, and using the orchestra as "a full-fledged band member" rather than just sonic window dressing.
"On a lot of rock records you hear the orchestra in back; it's kind of buried so that the guitars and drums can dominate the frequency," Tankian explains. "I didn't want to do that here. I wanted it to be a fair balance, so my guitars ARE the orchestra in this case. I didn't use a lot of guitars on this record, but I made the orchestra rock. I made them go wild."
"Imperfect Harmonies" comes out Sept. 7 but has been preceded by two songs -- official single "Left of Center" and the Internet-distributed "Boarders Are," which Tankian says are "the most blatantly political songs on the record. Everything is a bit more philosophical and...more abstract." He and his F.C.C. band will play mostly festival dates in Europe during August before starting a North American tour Sept. 12 in Calgary that will feature both band and orchestra performances of songs from all three of his solo albums.
And with System of a Down still on indefinite hiatus, Tankian has several other projects moving forward. His musical, "Prometheus Bound," is currently casting and will start workshopping in December at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., where it's slated to open in March. Tankian is finishing work on a "classical jazz symphony" that he also hopes to premiere in 2011, and he'll be publishing a second poetry book, "Glaring Through Oblivion," next year as well. He's started work on a non-fiction book, too, and is eyeballing "a really cool jazz instrumental record" for the near future.