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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

Tankian's System Is a Serjical Strategy

September 29, 2002|STEVE HOCHMAN

System of a Down pretty much stands alone right now in the hard-rock mainstream, as a band with topical awareness and one that doesn't resort to rap-metal gimmicks or cartoonish menace.

System singer Serj Tankian, though, is looking for some company.

Tankian is launching a record label, Serjical Strike, in a joint venture with Columbia Records (to which System is signed). Fans, though, should not look to the label for System of a Down clones.

A showcase concert on Oct. 8 at the Troubadour will introduce the label with performances by three distinctly different Southern California bands: frenetic Bad Acid Trip, Brit-poppish Slow Motion Reign and gothy Kittens for Christian. The Serjical Strike plan is to release an album by each group next year, plus one by Serart, a freewheeling jazz/world music/spoken-word collaboration of Tankian and Armenian multi-instrumentalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan

Tankian says his attraction to the bands he's signed has nothing to do with particular musical styles or thematic content.

"They are original acts," he says, "and [they play] original music that I don't think would be otherwise available. I'm trying to bring original music to the forefront and expand the dynamics of music. When I go buy music, I buy a lot of different types, and I want to help enrich that angle of purchasing as a music consumer."

Serjical Strike started a year and a half ago as an Internet project, offering albums by Bad Acid Trip and Kittens for Christian only through the Web site (www.serjicalstrike.com) and in a handful of small, independent record stores in the L.A. area. The idea was to stamp the company with Tankian's sensibilities in a way modeled largely on two other labels: American Records, started by Rick Rubin (who originally signed and produced System) and Axiom Records, founded by eclectic producer-musician Bill Laswell.

"When I see something is from Axiom, I'm always interested to see what it is," Tankian says, adding that Laswell "has established a label identity. There are a lot of major labels out there with all these records that are not really identified with the label. And I like what Rick Rubin has done with American, where there's a variety of artists--I like that model, where it's not one genre, but where it's about really believing in these bands and not just about whether something's commercially viable."

The goals haven't really changed with the boost to a major-label association.

"I haven't had a commerciality conversation with the Columbia brass," he says. "That's not what I do and they know that. With System they took a chance and nothing was ever said about sales projections, and I've still never had that conversation with them.

"I think they know I will bring some things in that could be ahead of trends," Tankian says. "And I'll have some things still going through independent distribution that are better served that way. Obviously Columbia is in this to make money. But to me it's a matter of whether it's good music, and even if it's not commercially viable and Columbia ends up dropping my label in a couple of years, I'll still be happy because I brought out good music."

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HAVE FAITH: To counteract downloading and copying trends, Warner Bros. Records is jumping into the value-added realm with an ambitious Internet tie-in to Faith Hill's coming CD, "Cry." A code embedded in the disc, due in stores Oct. 15, will allow fans to put it in a computer and connect to a Web site being called Faith Hill TV.

"We're filming an episodic documentary starting with her in the studio making the record," says Warner Bros. creative czar Jeff Ayeroff. "It will be updated constantly. We'll have a piece about her photo shoot, choosing the cover with her husband Tim McGraw, behind the scenes at the making of her TV special that will be on NBC on Thanksgiving. We'll film when she's on with Leno, Letterman, when she goes to Europe."

The idea isn't a country music version of "The Anna Nicole Show," but to create a connection with Hill that will only be available to fans who buy the album.

"We want to create a community of fans who bought the CD, to enhance the value," Ayeroff says. "This will be the things people want to see about an artist."

One bit may be of particular interest to L.A. concertgoers--it was a Hill video that was being filmed at the El Rey Theatre recently when structural problems in the building caused the fire marshal to close it. Hill and crew had to pack up the production and start fresh the next night at the Palace. All of that was filmed by the documentary team.

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