System of a Down’s main influence is mostly from early alternative rock bands, as well as from heavy metal, punk rock, jazz, fusion, Armenian folk music (Harout, Paul, Armik), classic rock, blues, industrial genres, and Middle Eastern music (Dolmayan and Tankian are both from Lebanon). The band has used a wide range of instruments, including electric mandolins, sitars, 12-string guitars and Middle Eastern ouds. Daron has stated on several accounts that his songwriting is inspired heavily by The Beatles. Shavo's and Daron's first influences were KISS. Shavo has also stated in a video interview at Big Day Out that he would not like to do any collaborations, because they don't want to use other people to make themselves famous. Then he quickly changed his answer and said "Mike Patton" and that they would love to do anything with him.
The roots of SOAD lie in the band Soil (not to be confused with SOiL), a group from Los Angeles that included Serj Tankian on vocals and Daron Malakian on guitar, as well as Dave Hagopyn on bass and Domingo Laranio on drums. After three years, and only one live show and one jam session recording, the band split up. Tankian and Malakian then formed a new band, System of a Down, calling on Shavo Odadjian whom they knew from when Soil shared a recording studio with Odadjian's previous band. Odadjian was originally the band's manager and promoter. Odadjian quickly accepted the offer to join the band as the permanent bassist. Since then managerial duties have been undertaken by highly successful Velvet Hammer Music and streetwise founder David "Beno" Beneviste. One of their first releases was "Sugar!", which was found on the first demo tape and they have played it at every live performance since then. They found a drummer, Andy Khachaturian, who joined the band. They then released three demo tapes which were handed out at concerts or by street teams. Shavo mentioned in one interview that they had an early Untitled 1995 Demo Tape which had very early recordings of "Mr. Jack," "The Metro," and "36." Prior to 1998, their live shows were called, The Dark Red Experience.
Debut album (1998 - 2000)
After the third demo was released, Andy Khachturian left the band and John Dolmayan was hired to replace him. The band signed on to Rick Rubin's label and in the summer of 1998, System of a Down released their debut album, System of a Down. They enjoyed moderate success with their first single "Sugar" becoming a radio favorite, followed by the singles "Spiders" and "War?". After the release of the album, System of a Down toured extensively, opening for Slayer before making their way to the second stage of Ozzfest. Following Ozzfest, they toured with Fear Factory and Incubus before headlining the Sno-Core tour with Puya, Mr. Bungle, The Cat and Incubus providing support. In 2000, the group contributed their cover of the Black Sabbath song "Snowblind" to the Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black 2. System was scheduled to play the 1999 Family Values Tour, but were kicked off by Fred Durst over his inability to sign the band Taproot. Fred Durst has since admitted that he was a "complete wanker" in relation to this "oversight". The band have yet to comment on Durst's involvement or commentary.
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Two days after the attacks on September 11, 2001 Serj posted a highly controversial essay on the band's website. It was promptly taken down by Sony, the band's record label. Sony's opinion was that Tankian had tried to justify the terrorist attacks and that his claims were unfounded. The essay can be found here: "Understanding Oil"