System of a Down vocalist Serj Tankian has an incredibly unique voice and a unique delivery, the latter of which was born from not having any real technique in the early days. Tankian said in a recent interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music that his delivery was formed from approaching his vocals as if they were another instrument in the band.
"Before System, Darren and I had band called Soil, which was really progressive metal, incredible progressive metal. It was the precursor to Soil. I mean, System of a Down, System of a Down, Soil was the sauce that System of a Down was cooked in. And System of a Down was a little more polished. It was more traditional songwriting with the epileptic gymnastic elements added in from Soil, yeah. So I think that's where I really got cooked as a singer.
"I didn't consider myself a singer. I started out as a keyboardist and then I was thrown into it and I just started doing it. I never studied music either, and for me it was like the idea of singing was always a matter of making interesting noises as an instrument would. So when the guitar is playing, what noise should I be making? I wasn't thinking of what I should say. What I should say was almost separate. I was serious about my words because I wrote a lot. No one taught me that you can't fit an X number of words within an X amount of music, and therefore it was like, I've got to get all my words.
"And therefore, it was like rat-ta-ta-ta-tat. I got to get all my words in somehow, right? It was naivité. But it's naivité that is also creative because there's no can'ts. Right? It's all can. Had I gone to music school, I'd probably learn how to sing better from day one, and know that that phrase should be longer, and take your time with it, and stuff. I don't fucking know, I just was going for it, you know? And my voice wasn't great when I started at all….but over time, you spend enough time exercising any muscle it gets good, right? And I think that's literally what it is over the years.
"And in terms of the development of one's voice, but also kind of catering to it. And the backlash of that is 'This guy, you don't scream like you're used to, bro." And I'm like, 'Yeah, I screamed because it would distort at a certain frequency in my voice. And now it's not distorting. What can I do about it?'"
Tankian just released his new solo EP Elasticity featuring a handful of songs he had written for a new System of a Down record. Which isn't to say there isn't the potential for some new System of a Down in the future – there just might be.