Exclusive Interview With Andy Khachaturian (ex-SOAD)

Recently the French System Of A Down fansite SOAD-FR.COM conducted an exclusive interview with ex-System Of A Down drummer Andy Khachaturian. Andy discusses his current project, Vokee (vokeemusic.com), and he reflects much on his days with System Of A Down. Follow the «full story» link to read the entire interview.

Special thanks to Vokee for providing me with the transcript of this interview and to SOAD-FR.COM for conducting it.

1 — First of all can you introduce yourself and make some kind of a quick biography?

My name is Ontronik «Andy» Khachaturian. I was the drummer for System of a Down from the beginning of the band up until 1997. I’ve been playing music since the age of seven. My first instrument was an accordion, then the piano. I picked up a pair of drumsticks when I was twelve. I started DJ-ing when I was fifteen. I joined Daron, Shavo and Serj around 1994 as the drummer for the band. I spent three years helping to shape the energy and sound of the band eventually leading to the band getting signed. In 1997 I had an accident that prevented me from being able to use my left hand. I parted ways with the band to start my recovery process. During this time I picked up a microphone, since it was something that I had wanted to do for many years and finally had the opportunity to do so. I spent a few years singing in a band and strengthening my voice. By 2005 I solidified my new band VOkEE. I now sing and write music in this creative collective. I’m happy to be sharing this experience with my new band mates and fans of the music.

2 — At present you’re assuming the vocals of «Vokee» an amazing band that, I have to say, I’ve discovered recently. I know that you’re at the origin of the band, but how did it come to life?

The idea of forming a band where I could fully realize my vision has been something I have wanted to do for a long time. I left my last band and started thinking about doing something on my own, but eventually returned to the concept that I need to share my vision with a collective of artists. After some time of searching for the right people, I felt comfortable enough with the current line-up in VOkEE. Everything I have been through over the past several years has led up to this point and shaped my experience. I can do it exactly as it feels right to me, rather than having to fit myself into someone else’s vision. There is a big difference and the difference is well worth it.

3 – I really don’t like to put label on music and furthermore Vokee’s music is a hard thing to give a name to, but I’ve read on the «Official Biography» of the band the term «Electro-Groove-Alternative-music» are you ok with that definition?

I think it’s a good thing when you can’t describe a band’s music, because it means that you are discovering something fresh. These types of bands are creating their own style of music. VOkEE’s music can only be described as VOkEE. All the elements of the above description are some part of what we do but by no means are all encompassing of the overall goal. I don’t think we sound like any other creative collective. We are conscious of the fact that there will always be people who need put labels on what they listen to. It gives them a sense of purpose and security. If a person is willing to let go of pre-existing notions of a band and the band is doing something that is true to itself, then both sides will be satisfied.

4 – Vokee’s really an original band and what’s mostly pleasant about it is that listening to a Vokee’s song doesn’t make you think of another band. Is that something you’re aware of? And if it is, is that an important criterion in your process of writing?

The difference between a musician and an artist is that one plays notes on an instrument while the other utilizes the instrument to say something that is personal through their own creative filter. We are aware of this difference when representing our thoughts in VOkEE. We choose the latter of the two in our writing process to communicate
something that is true to us.

5 – Can you tell us about the future of the band? What do you plan to do? Is there some european dates (why not a tour with SOAD?) or releases foreseen at the moment?

What we are really focusing on is writing and performing the best possible expression of what we have in our minds’ eyes. The songs of a band should speak for themselves. The energy behind those songs and the passion within the individuals of the band performing those songs is what drives a good band. We’re playing shows in Los Angeles, CA and neighboring cities at the moment. We have a DVD of our live show entitled .timelines’n’virtual. available through our website at www.vokeemusic.com. We also have promotional CD’s and other items we give out to people at shows and those who join our VOkEE Street Brigade to help get the word out about the band. We have people from all over the world who have joined the movement. If anyone wants to join, they can e-mail us at streetbrigade@vokeemusic.com. There will be upcoming releases when the time is right for the band as it evolves. We are open to bringing our music to as many people as possible. As for tours, we’ll let it happen naturally. It’s always the best way.

6 – You used to be a drummer… for System Of A Down for instance. How did you get from drum to Vocals? Were you a singer before a drummer?

The voice is something that I always wanted to use as an instrument but never really had the opportunity to experiment with it until after I had left SOAD. I had been consumed with drums and turntables up until that point. The injury pushed me into finally recognizing my voice as an instrument. I still use drums for writing music. Rhythm is a very personal and important aspect of how I represent my creative thoughts, vocally as well as with all other instruments. It’s like a gift for which the origin is unexplainable. A lot of people call it «feel». This can be applied to anything creative. It will always be the best representation of an artistic thought unless you are cheating your true self by parroting someone else’s.

7 – Talking about SOAD, can you tell us more about the period you were in the band? When was it? How’d you meet Serj, Daron and Shavo?

I’ve known Daron since grade school. At fifteen, I played drums in my first band with him on vocals and guitar. That never really went anywhere, but was the seed for all else to follow. We always sort of did our own thing but somehow would cross paths here and there throughout our teenage years. At nineteen he asked me if I wanted to join his band. Shavo and Serj were both already a part of the band. I’ve known Shavo since junior high school and would always see him around at parties. We also both enjoyed turntables and the culture that came with that scene. I met Serj when I joined the band. We rehearsed at a warehouse where he would work during the day and we would play at night.

I remember sitting on a couch and talking amongst ourselves about what we were going to name the band. We eventually decided on System of a Down. It originated from a poem Daron wrote. There were times when he and I met at the warehouse to jam on some of his guitar riffs. An hour later we would have a song structure. That part of it came easy.

I helped write 10 songs off of their first album, X from Toxicity, 3 songs off of Steal This Album, and five others that were never officially released. I think everyone knew that I would eventually have to go do my own thing. We wrote music, played shows and had fun, knowing the whole time that we wanted to do things our way. I offered the music what was already there instinctively from within. I’m proud of my accomplishments with them.

8 – Do you have any anecdote or funny things about you and the band?

We smoked a lot of weed at that time, so everything was funny.

9 – Do you still have a good contact with SOAD members? I’ve seen some pictures of a show at the Troubadour in which you were singing with the band replacing Serj, how does it happen?

When we see each other everything is fine. We’re totally consumed with our bands and we have all moved on. That part of it is respected both ways.

The night of their Troubadour show I went to go check them out. As I was having a conversation outside with someone, their management came outside in a frenzy, saying that Daron wanted to speak to me immediately about something important. So I went backstage and he told me Serj was so sick he couldn’t make it to the show. He asked if I would help them out by singing that night. I grabbed their CD insert and learned to sing the songs in about 45 minutes. It was convenient for them and fun for me. All of our actions will speak louder than anything else we try to convey. I was willing to help them out because I saw in their eyes they really needed it that night.

10 – I know you’ve got armenian roots and we all know how important it is to talk about the Armenian Genocide and to make our possible to make people aware of what really happened. Is this something important to you and do you take action in any way for its recognition?

If you can find video footage of SOAD’s first show ever at the ROXY in Los Angeles, you will have the answer to your question. Since that is an unlikely probability, I’ll explain.

When I found out that we were having our first show, I came up with the idea to hold up a white cloth banner with some writing spray-painted on it right before we started playing the set. I hadn’t told any of the guys that I was going to do it so it would be a surprise for them as well. Shavo had come up with the idea to open up the show with some traditional Armenian chant. The lights dimmed in the club and I stepped out in front of my drums and spread open the banner with both hands as wide as possible. The light technician put a spotlight on the banner and it read, «1915 1.5 million always remembered». I think I made my point that night. I remember the guys telling me how much they were moved by it. The banner was a bit youthful and raw in its presentation, but honest nonetheless.

A lot has happened since that first show. Through different experiences I’ve come up with all sorts of explanations for a varying degree of political and social issues. I think it’s important for all injustices that have occurred on our planet to be recognized beginning with the Armenian Genocide.

Action is what an individual does with their given time, not only by holding up a picket sign and marching on the streets, but also by communicating words and feelings. There have been many who have stood up for what is right and good. Some have been praised, some have been killed and some both. It’s important for me to convey ideas of personal and interpersonal injustices as well. People go through everyday life doing all sorts of bad things to themselves and others. I’ve been guilty of many and have tried to right my wrongs to the best of my abilities. I’d like to help others do the same through words and music. You cannot help anyone else or any cause without helping yourself internally first.

There are two main universal languages on the planet, music and math, and I have chosen the one that makes sense to me. So if I can use it to make a difference, whatever that may mean to the individual, then I have achieved my goal. I believe that we need friction as well as peace. Standing still does not achieve anything. If something is not counteracting something else, then it means that one of them is dead or useless. There is nothing that exists in the universe that does not seek this counter balance. I also believe that whatever you put out, will eventually return in some way or another. We each create our own truth and the actions that follow.

If anyone has any questions or inquiries, feel free to contact us through VOkEE’s website at www.vokeemusic.com.

All the best with Health and Spirit,