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Serj Tankian recalls the bitter argument which almost caused System Of A Down to split in 2000

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(Image credit: L. Cohen/WireImage)

A fierce argument over a single lyric could have caused System Of A Down to split up during the making of their hugely successful second album, Toxicity.

That’s the recollection of legendary producer and music business mogul Rick Rubin, who signed the band to his American Recordings label, and was co-producing the quartet’s second album at Cello Studios in Hollywood when he witnessed a group debate over the lyrics to Needles escalate into a full-blown, raging argument.

Rubin and System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian share their memories of making Toxicity, the LA band’s first number one album in America, on a new episode of the Broken Record podcast. And both men recall the argument over Needles being one of the more intense moments during the album’s creation.

“Originally, the chorus was Pull the tapeworm out of my ass’,” Tankian recalls. “Daron [Malakian] and Shavo [Odadjian] didn’t like “my ass”, they were like, “No, no, no, that doesn’t sound cool, that sounds bad, that sounds vulnerable”, or whatever it was. Whatever word you want to use as an adjective. I’m like, What I’m trying to say is philosophical. Take this negativity out of me.”

“I felt like, it seemed like, the band could have broke up over the lyric,” Rubin admits. “It was so extreme, but it speaks to the passion in the band. There’s real passion that’s amazing. The fact that a lyric, an insignificant… one word, and arguably comical line, is enough to potentially break up a band or discard a great song. That was another possibility.”

Tankian adds, “And all we had to do was change it to ‘your’… ‘Pull the tapeworm out of your ass.’ ‘My’ became ‘your’ and then in the middle part where I’m singing nicely, ‘Pull the tapeworm out of me,’ they were okay with that. You probably thought, ‘These guys are fucking nuts’.”

“I think it’s the metal attitude versus the non-metal attitude, as well,” Tankian adds. “For me, I like showing vulnerability in our music. I don’t mind showing it, because I think, as an artist, you’re vulnerable either way. You either show it or you don’t. But the metal attitude is, ‘No way, dude. No way, we’re metal!’ I think that’s what it was more than anything else.”

For further insider insights into the making of Toxicity, which celebrates its 20th birthday in September, check out the full interview.