And Finally Artist News

System Of A Down nearly split over one word while making Toxicity

By | Published on Thursday 22 April 2021

System Of A Down

Where should a tapeworm be removed from? Or perhaps, from whom. System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian has revealed how a single pronoun in the lyrics of one song almost caused the band to split up.

Appearing on Rick Rubin’s ‘Broken Record’ podcast, among other thing’s Tankian discusses the making of System Of A Down’s 2001 album ‘Toxicity’, which was produced by Rubin. Part of that discussion centres on a disagreement that occurred over one word in the lyrics of the second track on the album, ‘Needles’.

“Originally, the chorus was ‘pull the tapeworm out of my ass'”, recalls Tankian. “Daron [Malakian, guitar] and Shavo [Odadjian, bass] didn’t like ‘my ass'”.

He then expands: “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’, or whatever at the time I was trying to portray”.

“All we had to do was change it to ‘your'”, he goes on. “‘Pull the tapeworm our of YOUR ass’ … and then in the middle part, where I’m singing nicely, ‘pull the tapeworm out of me’, they were OK with that”.

The way Tankian explains those discussions, it seems like there was a relatively quick and simple resolution, but from Rubin’s telling, it was an almighty row that went on for some time.

“It seemed like, the band could have broken up over the lyric”, says Rubin. “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 – one word and arguably [a] comical line – is enough to potentially break up a band or discard a great song”.

“It wasn’t [initially] obvious that it was one word”, the producer recollects of watching the argument unfold. “[Eventually] we realised that it wasn’t [a] ‘pull the tapeworm/ass’ problem, it was [a] ‘pull the tapeworm out of MY ass’ problem, and that when you said ‘my ass’ it represented everybody in the band’s ass, and everybody wasn’t comfortable with that”.

In the final version of the song, he notes, “you could potentially be saying ‘pull the tapeworm out of your ass’ to the rest of the band, and they’re OK with it. It’s fascinating”.

“It’s funny”, agrees Tankian. “With ‘Prison Song’, with all that stuff that’s written in very, kind of, essay form, we didn’t have any arguments about that. But that one word. I think it’s the metal attitude versus the non-metal attitude, as well”.

“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, you can’t show vulnerability’. I think that’s what it was more than anything else”.

The rest of the interview doesn’t go into such forensic detail about every word on ‘Toxicity’, but it is a fun conversation about the early years of the band, as well as other aspects of the making of their most successful album. Listen here.