Serj Tankian tells us how he gets treated by Kiwis while living in NZ and why he moved here
Serj Tankian tells us how he gets treated by Kiwis while living in NZ and why he moved here
00:00 / 02:42
Rock News

Serj Tankian tells The Rock how he gets treated by Kiwi fans and why he moved here

"I love the question: 'What are you doing here?'"

Getting to sit down with the lead singer of System of a Down for a yarn is a surreal thing - and it feels even stranger when he's just hanging out at Suite art gallery in Ponsonby. 

Serj Tankian made time for a chat with The Rock while showing his new art exhibition 'Kiwi in Pangea', which takes its title - in part - from the metal frontman's status as a Kiwi himself. 

He was born in Armenia and grew up in Los Angeles, but he's lived in New Zealand on and off for over 20 years now. He touched down in Auckland to play Big Day Out in 2002 and instantly fell in love.

"It was a feeling of intuitive belonging that I've never felt anywhere else on the planet," he said. 

"Being Armenian, coming from a nation of not a huge population, it makes me feel more comfortable being in a country where there is more of a personal interchange and less of an obfuscation of connections between people." 

As a massive SOAD fan myself, I'll never get over the idea of Serj chilling with a beer at the Piha surf club, but he reckons his NZ fans never cross the line with him. 

Serj Tankian meets a fan at Suite Gallery in Wellington Credit: Amanda Ratcliffe (@shootsbands)

"Kiwis are very diplomatic," he said. "I've never been interrupted during a lunch or dinner. Even if someone wants to talk or snap a photo, which is great and always a compliment, they're actually really incredibly diplomatic and respectful. 

"I love that because it's actually paying attention to the human being first and then to whatever your notion of a star or celebrity is.

"That's the most important thing, is to treat each other as good human beings. And you don't get that everywhere." 

Turns out that feeling works both ways, as Serj told us about a Hamilton-based fan who had just hooned up to see him before we arrived. 

"He said, 'Hey, I can't be at your show because I've got work tonight. But I just wanted to pop over my CD in hopes that you'll listen to it'," Serj explained. 

Will he really? He's a pretty busy dude, surely.

"Of course I will!" Serj replied. "I mean, he came all the way up here for that. Of course I will." 

Serj Tankian meets a fan at Suite Gallery in Auckland Credit: Suite Gallery

When I suggest he's earned a 'broooo….' level of respect for his pioneering work in the metal genre, he says he's "grateful and honoured" by the reception he gets in NZ. 

Still, he often gets the question "what are you doing here?", which he reckons he loves, and has crafted the perfect response to: "What are YOU doing here?" 

Whatever the reason, fair to say we are stoked Serj has made Aotearoa his home, and long may he continue to sink beers with us and bring us his art.