Shavo Odadjian can’t sit still. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to. Whichever it is, his perpetual motion at the moment keeps him bouncing back and forth from greeting excited fans and taking selfies with them, to crossing the hall to chat with his publicists, to answering texts from his wife, and eventually entering a quiet sound booth where his focus dials in and becomes razor sharp. That might more succinctly sum him up — juggling many things at once, until he hones in on one thing and then he’s entirely in the zone. It’s thanks to this trait that his band, System Of A Down, has experienced the extreme amount of success that they’ve had in their 22 years as one of the most beloved hard-rocking metal outfits. It’s also due to his desire to keep busy that has led to his newest ventures.
Having not released an album since 2005’s Hypnotize, System slowed down their life on the road in 2015, apart from stretches of festivals overseas, which eventually led to a brief sold-out U.S. tour in 2018. The band cited creative differences as the reason for the lack of new albums, although Shavo assures that System is still a band and more records will be made at some point. Regardless of the reason for their lack of productivity, the downtime led to Odadjian picking up on other passions, including a new musical project, which will emerge sometime in 2019, and another venture for the 44-year-old, a cannabis lifestyle brand called 22Red.
Odadjian is putting as much of his creative energy and tireless passion into 22Red as he does his music, and every bit of their lifestyle clothing line and cannabis items reflect his acute attention to detail, his relentless work ethic, and his stylistic vision. 22Red began exclusively as a clothing line back in 2016, until a close friend of his who is a grower in Hollywood approached him about collaborating. Quickly realizing their shared enthusiasm and the pristine quality of his product, Shavo became hands-on with the operation and began producing cannabis items that would eventually become his new budding lifestyle brand — one that has been bursting with success since they opened their figurative doors for business late last year.
Around the time of the conception of 22Red, Odadjian, a known player of Gibson Thunderbird basses, was approached by Hans Peter Wilfer (the man behind Warwick Basses) about checking out his latest builds. After a trip to Germany to explore the Warwick factory, Odadjian convinced them to make an Idolmaker guitar model of their basses, which would eventually lead to his signature 4-string. Never satisfied with simply creating one thing, Shavo then extended his signature bass range to include a model of Streamers that matches the same aesthetic of his Idolmaker, and thus spawned the most recent artist line from Warwick. Between his beta testing of the basses, his new musical project, and his nascent brand, Shavo is one busy man. And that’s exactly how he likes it.
How did this new signature bass from Warwick come about?
I met the Warwick folks a couple of years ago at the NAMM show and started looking at the quality of stuff they were putting out at the time, and was really impressed. The actual bass was conceptualized when you and I were together out in Germany at their anniversary celebration [August 2017]. I checked out their factory and what they had going on, and I saw their new Idolmaker Guitar and told them they needed to make a bass version of it. I checked out their whole factory after that and saw their amazing warehouse full of wood, and I was blown away. They have vintage wood that’s been preserved for years, and it’s just amazing. People don’t realize that they’re actually getting vintage basses when they get new products from Warwick because their woods have been aged over time. I worked out the design with them, and it still has the look of the basses I usually play, with the Thunderbird feel. I came up with the logo and the look, and they just nailed it.
There’s also a Streamer body version.
Yep. I had initially switched from playing my Thunderbirds to playing Warwick’s Streamer basses, and I love them, so I wanted them to make that version of my signature, as well. I didn’t want to change the shape, so I added my touch to it. The Streamer is a bass that everyone knows and loves, so I wanted to keep it that way. They sent me the model for the last System tour, and I played “Spiders” and “Mr. Jack” with it onstage. It felt so nice, so I gave them the green light to go ahead with these basses. Right now we’re putting on the finishing touches and I’m going to play these models a little and send them back until we have it exactly how I want it. I’m adding LEDs to the fingerboard because I play in the dark a lot, and there are a couple of other little changes and it’ll be good to go.
How is the tone of these basses, compared to the ones you used to play with SOAD?
I’m telling you, the quality of Warwick’s basses has improved my playing in crazy ways. I can just feel it when I pick this up. It becomes a part of me. Now I have two different weapons in my arsenal. I’ll pick and choose which songs to play which bass on.
What’s going on musically for you right now?
I’m in the studio two or three times a week — I have a team that I’m writing music together with, and I’m loving what we’re making. We don’t have a name yet, but I’ll keep churning until it’s ready to release. It’s super-bass-driven music. I have some live guitar on it, as well. We have vocals, too, but I’m going to bring in some singer friends of mine to handle the singing. Stay tuned for more to come on this once I’ve finished it. I wish I could talk about it more, but you’ll just have to wait to hear it.
Tell me about 22Red.
It’s another passion project of mine that I just finally made real. Everyone had been coming at me for the last ten years telling me that I should have my own strain or promote something like that. But I don’t want to enter something just to put my name on it, ya know? Over time, I finally met the right people who were making the best product and had the quality that I wanted to be a part of, so I dove right in and started this. We’re in the pre-launch stages now, but we officially kicked off on November 11, and have had some drops at dispensaries here and there at select places, and those have been huge. We’re selling out everywhere we go, and it’s repeat customers. People aren’t just lining up to see me; they want this product because it’s that good. It had to be for me to put this much of my energy into it and for me to have my name behind it.
How did you wind up in the cannabis field?
I’ve made a lot of friends over the years who grow, especially one of my main partners who established a very specific, innovative way to grow back in 2008. It’s very clean; there are no pesticides in it or anything harmful, and it’s all strictly pure. It takes a long time to create a crop where every bud tastes exactly the same and has the same qualities, and we took our time doing it and put so much effort into the making sure we’re creating the cleanest and purest product possible. The people I work with have been doing this forever and had it all dialed in even before the law passed.
And you’re actually getting your hands dirty and are a daily part of the process.
It’s one of my passions, so I want to be around it and I want to be doing this every day. I’m a musician and not a grower, so I hand-picked the best growers I can trust to do all of this, but every day I’m learning from them and watching the results and building this body of knowledge that comes from being around the best. I make sure that everything is executed and on time and that all of the gears are moving in the right direction. This is a product very close to my heart, and when I’m passionate about something, I put everything into it.
Explain the twos and the 22 part of the brand name.
I’ve always paired numbers with colors, and I’ve always had a weird thing with numbers my whole life. My birthday is April 22, I got married on May 22, and System Of A Down started when I was 22, and now we’ve been a band for 22 years, so you can say that 22 is my lucky number. When I started this company. I knew right away what I had to call it.
The two big things in your life right now are music and cannabis. How do they correlate for you?
It’s a lifestyle for me. I use marijuana, I play music, I wear a certain type of clothing, and I want to bring that to everyone else. The clothing we make with our 22Red brand is high quality, and it’s comfy — stuff you want to wear every day. It’s handmade, so it takes time to make, so things are selling out quickly. Things don’t happen overnight; you don’t plant seeds and have them ready to harvest the next day. You have to tend to them and cultivate them and make sure they’re the best they can be. I didn’t launch any of this until it was all at the level that I felt it should be to introduce it to the public. If I’m writing an album or working on some SOAD music, it’s the same thing.
What’s the next step for 22Red?
I’m also going into CBD, where I’m going with industrial hemp and oils to help people. The public is starting to realize how much CBD can naturally cure people with all sorts of ailments. It’s a magical thing. And I’m spending the money to make mine even more potent, ButI am selling it at the same price so that people can get the most extreme healing from it. It’s legal in 50 states and you can get it online, so I’m excited to launch that and get it out there.
What’s next for you beyond 22Red and your new musical project?
I have so much coming out soon from 22Red, and I’m so excited to finish up this music and get it out to my listeners, and I’m just going to keep going with both of those. I don’t like sitting around — I always need to be doing something. I have to have a lot going on in my life, and I’m most happy when I’m working and busy. Just because System isn’t going on right now doesn’t mean I can’t be working on other things and pushing them just as hard as I would if it was. I have three kids, too — a seven-year-old, a five-year-old, and a nine-month old — so I’d be busy regardless [laughs]. But right now I have so much good stuff hitting at once, and I couldn’t be happier about all of it. Just stay tuned to see what happens next in 2019 and beyond. –BM
Shavo performing "Toxicity" with his son at his school.