Talking With John Dolmayan: These Grey Men

John Dolmayan

You’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign for your new project, These Grey Men. What led to the idea and why Kickstarter?
JD: The genesis and inspiration stemmed from my inactivity in the past few years. I felt an emptiness because of my lack of artistic output and though Ive never been a songwriter per se, arranging and rearranging have come naturally to me, so a covers album seemed a perfect idea and something that would both satisfy the artistic need while exploring styles and ideas that have until recently lain dormant. A friend suggested Kickstarter, and after some investigating it seemed a wonderful way to raise the funds to complete the album while inviting fans into the process in an unprecedented way. I think it’s an amazing idea and plan to support many programs. The music industry is a different animal these days and I decided to forego the label route. As an independent artist, all of the costs are on me and everything adds up very quickly.

The project will be a covers album, with your interpretation of some of your favorite songs — what tunes can fans expect to hear?
JD: I have 16 songs in mind and 15 that have a solid structure that I’m satisfied with. They’re re-imagined covers spanning multiple genres, including rock, pop and rap and artists ranging from Neil Young to Madonna. The goal is to have listeners feel like its a new song with a certain familiarity haunting them until they figure out the puzzle.

Are there any songs you’d like to cover, but feel it would be almost sacrilegious to do so?
JD: (laughs) Well, I suppose there are. I’m currently working on a Beatles cover, but it feels very strange, almost taboo-like. We'll see how it ends up.

What’s your favorite song to play and why?
JD: “It changes from day to day as the songs grow and mature.”

Have you changed your drumming in any way to suit the songs that will be on the album? How would you describe the approach you’ve taken?
JD: It’s changed in some ways. It’s been about 6 years since I recorded and along with changes in my personal life, my drumming style has also grown into something slightly different. I’m not abandoning my style completely, just adding a few things and disregarding others.

Are you altering your setup for this project?
JD: Very slightly, mainly changing out some cymbals.

Was there a particular song you remember hearing as a kid and thinking, “I want to play drums because of THAT…!”
JD: I wanted to play every song I heard, and when I saw drummers on stage I wanted to throw them off the kit and show them what I could do (laughs). I hope there are drummers in the audience that feel the same inspiration watching me perform.

You say you have over 10,000 songs in rotation on your iPod — are there any “guilty pleasure” tracks on there that would surprise us?
JD: Why would I feel guilt from pleasure? No one should dictate personal taste, and if theres a song/band you like that others don't, why should you be influenced by their taste?

What’s the story behind the name These Grey Men?
JD: A close friend and former Navy Seal explained that they are taught to blend into any situation, to become invisible, essentially become grey men. Who's more of a "grey man" than a drummer? (smiles).

What’s System of a Down’s current status?
JD: System is taking a long-needed break after almost 4 months of touring in an 8-year span. Wink-wink.