System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian,
The TVD Interview

LIVE PHOTOS: MATTHEW BELTER | Aside from being a multi-talented musician and bassist for that little-known band called System of a Down, Shavo Odadjian is a serial entrepreneur whose clothing lines and cannabis company are on a steep upward trajectory.

In this exclusive interview with TVD, Shavo opens up about his early years in music, his latest musical collaboration North Kingsley, as well as his megabrand 22Red. (Stick around long enough and you might even learn which of Shavo’s 20,000 albums is one of his most prized childhood possessions.)

Shavo, how’d you get your start in music?

Well, I started around 12, 13 years old, something like that. Prior to that, I kept asking my parents for an instrument because I just loved music. I was born in Armenia and was 5 years old when we moved to America and think it was like the old mentality of life, “If he becomes a musician, he’s going to be a starving artist.” That was my parents. They always wanted me to go to school and become a doctor, lawyer. You know what I mean? The old school mentality.

I didn’t get my first instrument until I was a preteen, where my grandma actually bought it for me and snuck it into our house. It was a Kramer XL guitar, and I loved that thing. She got a guy to give me two lessons across a two-week period. By the time he was already on lesson 2 of whatever he was teaching, I had already picked up what he had taught me and then some. It’s like I knew all the chords already. I loved that guitar and I played it all the time, not very well, but I did it. I had the passion for it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, now, I got to start doing this.” It wasn’t that. It was like, “Hell yeah. Finally, after so many years I’ve been asking for an instrument.” Before that, I used to bang on pots and pans, played the tennis racket in front of mirror.

Who inspired you early on in your career?

I was a big Kiss fan. It wasn’t because of the music, but because of their theatrics. And it’s crazy, because at the time, the era that I found them, Kiss was not big at all. They were on their way down. I got here in ’79 and they already had done that whole disco thing and were beginning to fall apart. It was during the Music from The Elder release that I discovered them. It wasn’t a big record, probably one of their worst though. They sold like 10,000 copies after selling millions prior to that. But it wasn’t just Kiss or that genre that inspired me. I was a skater. I loved punk rock—the Ramones, the Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains. You know, the ’70s and ’80s punk era.

Prior to System of a Down, I hear you were an aspiring LA Rave DJ—is that true?

Yeah, early to mid ’90s, I was at all the LA raves that were going off. A friend took me and I was intrigued by the music. I initially thought that Techno was just Techno and didn’t realize there was so many subgenres. There was Hard House, Goa, Trance and all the different stuff in between. I remember watching legends like Carl Cox spin and I was like, “Dude, this guy is like controlling my brain.” It was crazy. I wanted to do that.

That’s part of why I love performing, you get to control the audience and where they’re going with the music. Through music, you can control people’s brain, minds, feelings and their moves. Right after that first party I went to, the week after I should say, I went to one of the local record stores in LA (I think it was Beats Nonstop) and purchased a bunch of 12-inch singles.

And I didn’t even have my Technics turntables yet, but I had the records (I was still living in my parents’ house and I couldn’t afford them). So, I took my dad’s old record player and I would listen to these records back and forth to know all the breaks. Six months later, I finally ended up with two turntables and a mixer and knew those records better than anyone. I already had it all in my head. That’s comes off a bit in my latest project, North Kingsley.

Great transition. How did North Kingsley get started?

North Kingsley is like a genre bender for me (but not really a genre). It’s got elements from things I’ve listened to all my life. And the thing is, it’s not just me—I’m not the only one making this. This is a total collaboration with my two guys, Saro Paparian and Ray Hawthorne. Saro’s musical taste matched with mine and it was quite easy to work with him from the beginning.

After a few sessions, we already had something going on. There was a spark musically and we just kept on working together. Then, he brought Ray in. This guy’s vocals and style were incredible. Ray speaks his mind—very fluent, very in-the-know, very in-the-now. When he came in at first and did some verses, you knew right away he knew how to flow. Ray was young and excited, he had it.

Me, I come from the Rick Rubin days where he would come in when System of a Down thought they had it all down. He kind of molded SOAD and our songs, he knew how to do that. It must have rubbed off on me because I did that straight to this project, you know what I mean? After arranging the songs, I’d give Ray some vocal ideas like, “Shorten this up a little, lengthen this part, talk about this.” And boom, man, the guy just took it and ran.

Now, he just comes in with everything. It took two years for us to develop the unique sound we developed. If you pull back a year ago and listened to the songs, you’d probably think they were completely different. Not style, but they were simply different. It progressed from there to where we are now. And we finally got to a level where I was ready to drop it.

We’re Saro and Ray looking to drop this EP right away?

They’re both young and excited. Like I said, six months into it, they were like, “We got to drop this.” I’m like, “No, no, no, pull back. I’m not even ready to be in a band just yet.” You know what I mean? I was like, “Let’s put the brakes on. This is a project. We’re getting into it. We need to make it grow and develop into something.”

I was happy that they took my advice and that we took our time. And when it was ready, we all knew it was ready. And there it is. You’ve listened to it; you guys appreciate it. And that’s the best thing one can hear when someone appreciates what we put together, and it ultimately touches someone is a special way.

What’s been the Initial feedback from your fans since the “Vol. 1″’s release?

It’s crazy. I was expecting a 50/50, or maybe even a 40% liking and 60% not liking. And it’s not that they wouldn’t actually like the EP, but maybe would put up a wall up saying, “It’s not System of a Down style.” You got big shoes to fill being in a band like that. And although we currently don’t make new music, our fan base expects a certain type of release and they’re hardcore. When you do anything different, my expectation would be to get some type of hesitation, some pushback like, “Hey, this isn’t what we want.” And I swear after the initial release, it became 90/10, 90% supporting it and 10% going, “Hey, this isn’t the System,” which again I honestly expected to be higher. It makes me so happy that we got this type of response right out of the gate.

How’d did 22Red get started?

One of my childhood friends and I had always talked about doing something together. He does textiles and has a clothing manufacturing factory in LA and makes everything from scratch. If you’re a brand, you go to him and say, “Hey, I have an idea for a line.” He has designers. He’ll be like, “Let’s go.” He’s that guy. So, I wanted to do a cool streetwear line with him, and we pulled it together. We had all these great ideas about the quality and started the wheels turning. Later, we reached out to a branding company to help us out, went through all the motions, and 22Red was born. Initially, it was just supposed to be an apparel line with some cool other things added in along the way.

And your expansion into the cannabis industry?

I’ve always been a cannabis connoisseur. For me, it was never about the high, but the weed itself—the smell, the taste, the texture. When everything was starting to become legal here in California, people kept asking me, “Why don’t you have a brand, Shavo?” My initial response was simple, “No, man, I’m a smoker. You have the brand. I’ll smoke your shit.” That was my vibe at the time didn’t want to deal with all of that.

But thinking it through, it all began to make sense. I was like, “22Red could be a full lifestyle brand. We can have apparel, amazing quality cannabis, and even make music under our umbrella. That could be badass.” You know what I mean? Like 22Red media, 22Red apparel, 22Red cannabis, it could be one encompassing thing. From that point, I just went full blast ahead. I made it come to fruition. I manifested it. I thought it, and I did it.

What’s your favorite 22Red strain?

I’ve always loved our original OG because we had Pre-98 OG, the Kush. Anyone that knows OG from the old days would know mine was the shit. Now, we have some really good new strains. So Delicious is incredible and I’ve been smoking it a lot. It’s a throwback of an old gelato, but not your regular gelato at all. It’s like a sister of a gelato and it’s just ridiculous. It’s the greatest high all day long. It’s taste, texture, the way it looks, you could put it up on a pedestal. But it’s really hard to choose just one. It’s like asking me what’s my favorite song is. They’re all killer.

Are you looking forward to hitting the road with SOAD in 2021?

100%, man. We actually rescheduled that LA show for May of next year. I hope it happens and we don’t have to re-cancel and reschedule it again. And we will also have a slimmed down version of the European tour too. We were going to do like 20 dates but now we’ll only have 10 or so makeup shows. This pandemic hit us hard and cancelling shows was tough. If we toured all the time, I might not be so affected by it. But we don’t. Our band has done a handful of shows in the last two years, so you can understand how that might feel. And I love to tour and perform for our fans and was so looking forward to being out on the road. Next year can’t come soon enough!

Any hope of a new System of a Down release any time soon?

I don’t know, bro. I’ve given false hope before because I’m such an optimist. When I do, all the headlines are like, “Oh, Shavo is the eternal optimist towards his old band.” It’s not like that. I always think since we’re all alive, knock on wood, anything could happen, right? It’s not like anyone just seems so wrong with another that it can’t be real. That’s why I’m optimistic. Nothing’s happened where we couldn’t do it. So, we’ll see, let’s keep our hopes up. You know what I mean?

Vinyl has had a major resurgence in popularity in recent years—any thoughts on why this may be happening?

The only way you can touch music is through vinyl. Spinning vinyl, you can see the grooves, then you can fast forward and rewind by finger, your fingers. You know what I mean? It’s not like you’re pressing buttons. You’re actually making the magic happen. I think it’s the most organic way to listen to music, at least for me. Again, I’m giving you my Shavo Odadjian opinion. I also have a thing with vinyl. I told you I have thousands and thousands of records. I really don’t know why as it never seemed to be in style, you know what I mean? I think when technology came out, people had to try it out but ultimately started to migrate back to what was good. Vinyl is good.

What would be one of your most prized vinyl possessions?

Shit dude, I don’t know. I have almost 20,000 albums. Here’s something cool, I met Mötley Crüe when I was 14 years old and they signed my record and I still have it to this day—it’s a prized possession. I also have a Kiss album that my dad had signed for me. I also have some limited-edition vinyl, but nothing that anybody would probably know as lots of it came from Germany. Bottom line, I am collector. Anywhere there’s records, I’ll do some hunting. It’s one my favorite pastimes.

If you could go back in time, is there anything that you might do differently based on what you know today?

I don’t think I would because I’m at a place right now where I’m content. Knock on wood, I’m happy. I’m doing what I want to do. Of course, I’d like things to be a little different here and there, but those aren’t things I can control. And I feel like if I changed one thing, other things would change and I might not be where I’m at with my family, with the kids, with the business, and with the band. You know what I mean? So, I’m cool. I wouldn’t change a thing, but I can give you some advice. “Just do things naturally, from the heart, passionately. Passion pays.”

North Kingsley’s debut EP “Vol. 1” is in stores now.

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