An Interview with Alexander Aslizadyan, SARD
SARD is a young rock band from Yerevan. Although the audience remains small for local rock groups, interest in SARD is increasing, especially after the video for their song, Zabaikalsky Rap, was shown on local television.
This interview was conducted in Yerevan, capital of the Republic of Armenia, on 15 December 2004 and is part of a series of interviews that will serve as background material for an article on rock music in Armenia.
ONNIK KRIKORIAN: Perhaps you could introduce yourself and tell me how your band was formed?
ALEXANDER ASLIZADYAN: I'm Alexander Aslizadyan and I play bass. About six years ago when we were kids, my friend, Alexander Avetisyan, and I formed SARD, inviting some friends to play with us. We started out by playing covers but then, two years ago, another band, MDP, came back to Armenia after achieving success in Russia. They opened a small studio here in Yerevan.
MDP offered local rock bands the opportunity to record one song for free but they were also looking to find other bands to produce. Because we seemed more serious than some of the other bands that went to their studio, they gave us the opportunity to perform a concert in the Puppet Theatre. The sound quality was very good and there were amazing lights. Nobody had seen anything like this before in Armenia.
Then they offered us the opportunity to record a live-in-studio album almost for free. We could invite friends into the studio and they would pay $10 to support the cost of recording. In all, the cost came to about $200 and I think that even MDP were amazed at the sound quality. Now our album is like a business card for them because everyone can listen to the SARD CD as an example of the quality that MDP can produce.
After that, the TV studio, Yerkir Media, said they liked our music and offered us the opportunity to make a video for free. They shot the video with good cameras, really good lights and even provided the girls for the video. Then, some time passed and a lot of people became interested in our band, included singers from the Armenian pop scene. They were so excited by our band although I still don't understand why.
Now, the whole Armenian pop scene is crazy about rock -- this Avril Lavigne thing. Everyone wants us to do something similar with them and even Armenian Public TV has approached us, asking us to perform with pop singers. We worked with Hasmik Karapetian and they paid us very well. Suddenly we were making money. Before, we were only spending it.
It's been a fun experience although unexpected because nobody in Armenia generally cares about rock. Now, we've also got a kind of manager, Artyom Ayvazyan, who runs the arminrock.am web site and I think he's a very important person for the rock scene here although he's not a musician. He knows everything that's going on and he gave us a place to rehearse.
OK: You're first album is very good although I don't understand the lyrics because most of the songs are in Russian. Is this because you're hoping to break into the Russian market?
AA: Actually, it's not. It's because the album has a Russian spirit although we're still an Armenian rock band. Both our lead singer and I lived in Russia for a couple of years and this album describes that period of our life spent there. So, the spirit of the album is Russian although there are also some Armenian and English songs on it.
It's a concept album, telling the story of the boy on the cover. He's an imaginary character that represents something taken from each member of the band. He has something from me, something from our lead singer and something from our drummer. When translated from Russian the title of the album means "self-portrait."
Because our next album will have an Armenian spirit, the songs will be 100% Armenian. It will include Armenian national melodies and Armenian national instruments played by what are awesome musicians from a band called Sac Voyage. They've played rock tracks like Smoke on the Water on Armenian tar before and it's very good.
When we started writing the music and lyrics for the new album we wanted to make it a kind of Armenian tale but now, something has changed. It will be more about modern Armenian life but to be honest I don't know what will eventually be.
We've got a couple of songs together already and one is called "Im Yerevan" and I think it's a song for people who live outside of Armenia. There is an acoustic version recorded which I've played to [Armenian] friends in Moscow. They said it was a song about them.
The album should be recorded by May but we don't want to rush it. In Armenia, it's really cheap to release albums and that's important because we don't have any financial sponsors. Radio Van helps out with publicity and they organized the recent show we did with Deti Picasso. The puppet theatre helps us with the shows. They don't take money for renting the stage.
OK: As a matter of interest, how many copies of the current CD were released?
AA: Only 500 but for Armenia that's a lot.
OK: They're also being sold cheaply at 1,500 drams (about $3). Is this to compete with the pirates or because you can still make a profit at this price?
AA: We want our CD to be available for everyone. We have thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year old kids among our fans and perhaps it is them that represent our main audience. We could have set the price at 2,000 drams but we thought it better to have it priced the same as the pirate CDs. Anyway, even if our CDs were pirated I'd be happy because we don't care about money. Any money we make from the CD will just be used to produce a new batch anyway.
OK: What are your main influences?
AA: There are a lot of bands that we respect and love. For example, our main influences are System of a Down and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was a great pleasure for us to meet Shavo and John from SOAD when they came to Armenia three years ago. I started listening to them from their first album, I think, and they're really great people as well although I don't like them just because they're Armenian. I also like a lot of other bands such as Rage Against The Machine and even 2-Pac along with some pop music.
OK: System of a Down hasn't played in Armenia. Do you think they ever will?
AA: Yes, I'm sure they will. When we spoke to Shavo, we asked him if SOAD would ever play here and he said yes, they really dream of doing that. They want to put on a festival but it involves a lot of work. However, I'm sure that they will come. They really want to play in Armenia and I think it's very important for them. However, I don't know when it will happen.
OK: Do they give bands here a lot of moral support?
AA: Of course, and they even gave us a signed guitar as a present. Shavo drew his face on it.
OK: How do you view the rock scene in Armenia ?
AA: Rock bands are not in a good situation in Armenia. They don't have money and they don't have sponsors. When we started we played in a rock club owned by Hovann from Vostan Hayots, instead of taking money we asked for a space to rehearse. Of course, some rock musicians can earn some money, maybe $10 or $20, by playing live with other bands but that's not every day.
Cover charges for gigs are very low -- maybe 1,000 drams or 2,000 drams for a show by MDP. Perhaps rock fans don't like paying for shows but anyway, we've played in Yerevan and also in Vanadzor where there are some really good bands.
OK: There appears to be a lot of rock bands coming out from Vanadzor. Why do you think that is?
AA: I don't know but yes, there many talented people coming from Vanadzor. For example, there's Gor Mkhitarian and Lav Eli and there are many people there who like rock.
OK: What about Armenian influences?
AA: We love Armenian national music. Our roots are in Armenian music and it's so powerful, I love it. Sometimes when I need to relax at home I listen to old Armenian music and not just the traditional folk music but also from the soviet-era. Armenian music is really great.
OK: You mentioned the concert you recently gave with Deti Picasso in Yerevan and I listened to their music for the first time yesterday. Although they also perform some great songs in Russian, their modern interpretations of Armenian folk music are really good.
AA: They're Armenians from Moscow and they're very successful in Russia although their second album is completely sung in Armenian. It's great when I go to one of their concerts in Moscow and see Russian kids singing along to these modern versions of Armenian songs which they know off by heart. That's quite something.
OK: When I watch the two Russian Music TV channels that are rebroadcast here in Armenia, it's interesting to see what's happening in the Russian music scene. For obvious reasons, the Armenian music scene is not as evolved but even so, it also seems somehow "repressive" in comparison.
AA: I don't know. Armenians like to go crazy but at the same time, many kids want to look and act seriously. I think this is part of the Armenian mentality.
OK: If every rock band in Yerevan and Vanadzor were to come together for a festival, how many people do you think you could attract?
AA: A thousand, maximum.
OK: Which is still quite small, right?
AA: Yes. We had a few festivals here with about six bands from Yerevan and about four or five from Vanadzor performing and about a thousand people came. If System of a Down were to come to Armenia, however, I'm sure that a large number of SOAD fans would come from Russia, Georgia and even Turkey. In fact, when I spoke to Shavo about this he said that he wanted people from neighboring countries to come.