When System Of A Down entered Cello Studios in Los Angeles to commence work upon their second album with legendary producer Rick Rubin, also the founder and president of their record label, American Recordings, the four Armenian-American musicians were full of confidence: “It felt like we were ready to take on the world,” recalls guitarist Daron Malakian.
But as the band reveal in the new issue of Metal Hammer, in a feature celebrating 20 years of Toxicity, the process of making their masterpiece saw blood spilled and egos dented, with two members of the quartet requiring hospital treatment after one heated bust-up.
No-one in the band can remember exactly what sparked off the contretemps between Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan, but memories of the resulting confrontation remain vivid: Dolmayan punched the guitarist in the face, splitting his lip, to which Malakian responded by smashing a microphone stand over his assailant’s head.
“Shavo [Odadjian, bass] and Serj [Tankian, vocals] were looking at us saying, ‘Aww man, we’re done’,” Malakian remembers. “But right after we fought, we took each other to the hospital, and got stitched up right next to each other. Both of us were sitting there laughing, saying, ‘This is one of the coolest moments in the history of our band’.”
Earlier this year, Tankian and Rubin recalled another fierce argument in the studio with the band almost coming to blows over a single lyric.
Speaking on the Broken Record podcast, Rubin remembered witnessing a group debate over the lyrics to Needles escalate into a full-blown argument which he feared might split the band.
“Originally, the chorus was ‘Pull the tapeworm out of my ass’,” Serj Tankian recalled. “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 admitted. “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 added, “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’.”
If the four musicians and their label boss thought their problems were over when they exited Cello Studios with the master tapes of Toxicity, they were sadly mistaken. Ahead lay riots, death threats and a ban from US radio, for starters…
For the full dramatic story behind the making of Toxicity, pick up the new issue of Metal Hammer, which is on sale now.