Shavo Odadjian got his big break providing bass licks and backing vocals for heavy metal titans System of a Down, starting 20 years ago when their eponymous debut spawned Billboard top 30 single "Sugar." The hits kept flowing, reaching fever pitch with SOAD's career-defining classic record Toxicity back in 2001, but the band has kept a low profile since they released two albums in 2005, Hypnotize and Mesmerize. While they played a run of six shows earlier this year and plan to hit Columbus, Ohio's Sonic Temple Festival next spring, the guys undoubtedly have creative energy and time to spare.
Enter Odadjian's endless flow of creative energy and the restless urge to channel it elsewhere. "I have more time on my hands now that System's not really working so much, maybe a couple of weeks out of the year. So I want to give my creative energy somewhere," he relayed. A lifestyle brand that incorporates Odadjian's personal investments in the cannabis industry, apparel, and music was just the outlet, leading to the creation of 22Red.
Highly curated and hand-selected by the artist himself, the line incorporates a bespoke collection of Shavo-approved pre-rolled and branded joints that feature the same stylistic aesthetic of his local-to-Los Angeles produced and designed streetwear, and in the works still is a label imprint that will feature not only Odadjian's own musical endeavors with what he calls his "new crew," but aims to put the spotlight on up-and-coming artists who've identified with his goals and ideas and submitted their own.
Read on to find out more about 22Red, including Odadjian's own experience with synesthesia and connection to numerology, and how he wants to break away from the stigma of just being some celebrity with a weed line by building a community around the brand.
HOW LONG HAS THE 22 RED PROJECT BEEN IN THE WORKS?
SHAVO ODADJIAN 22Red has been on the books for the last year, maybe a year and a couple months? It wasn't always called 22Red, it's just been fully conceptualized since then.
CAN YOU BREAK DOWN THE BACKGROUND OF THE COMPANY A BIT?
It started off as just a brand for clothing and quality goods. One of my best friends in the world owns a manufacturing plant for clothing — all American made, all out of Hollywood, handmade stuff. So it was like, "Let's release this quality apparel, let's design clothing." And from that partnership we got reintroduced to an old friend of ours. He's been a grower since '06, when it got legalized. Once I found out he grew, I thought, Bro, this is for real! He was always younger than us, you know. I thought he was just growing in back yard or his closet, I didn't know he was the man.
So once I saw the quality, I thought, This fits in with what I want to do. Since I have more time on my hands now ... System's not really working so much, maybe a couple weeks out of the year, I had to put my creative energy somewhere. It became apparel and cannabis, and that turned into — because I'm always creative, trying to think of things — how can this become a lifestyle brand? How can I make it not just me trying to get into the game of weed? That's so predictable like, "Oh I'm a celebrity, let me come in and put my name on something." I never wanted to do that.
In the beginning it was all like "Shavo Select" or even like "Yo Shavo" and all this crazy stuff, which is fun to hear but I didn't want to be represented that way; I didn't want my brand to be one-dimensional. It's about me and I waned something I relate with, but I would love if everyone else could also relate once it's explained. That's where 22Red was born.
RIGHT, SO YOU'RE NOT JUST TRYING TO CASH IN ON ANOTHER ENDORSED LINE OF WEED.
Right. So with the apparel, we design it and it's coming out great, we're curating everything about it. My hands are in everything, but that's my favorite part: no one's making it and I'm just going "yes" or "go ahead." I'm actually in every meeting. I'm actually doing this.
WHAT'S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NUMBER 22 FOR YOU?
Numbers kind of have always been in my mind. Since I was a kid, I've always seen colors with numbers like one to ten? All of them have colors, and it's not colors I put with them, it's just color I see when I think of the number. I looked it up and there's a name for that.
There you go! I couldn't have pronounced it better myself. [Laughs] So 22: I'm born April 22nd. You know when you're born a certain date you kind of see that number all the time? Well two-two was sort of a special thing for me, I got married May 22nd, etc. I always thought when I was 22 something bomb was gonna happen, then when I was 22, System started blowing up in like '96. Not blowing up really, but I started putting it into fruition. '96 is when people started noticing us, then '97 was when we got signed. So it all happened at that time, and when that happened I said, "You know, something's going to happen when I'm 44." 22 years later, I'm 44 now.
OH, SO LIKE A FULL-CIRCLE SITUATION.
Exactly. A full circle. 22 years later I'm allowed to have time to put my heart and soul into something, and I'm given this opportunity so I'm taking it.
AND WHERE'S THE RED FROM?
Like I said, I see colors with numbers. Once I realized that maybe 22 should be part of the name, we started thinking and talking about numbers with my collaboration group. I've kind of mentioned that I see colors with numbers and one of the guys goes, "What do you see when you see two?" I said red, and he's like "Well what about 22 Red?"
And oh my god, after going through so many names and nothing feeling right, I had my hands in the air like, "Seriously? I can't come up with a name?" Song names, band names ... that's my forte, but you get stuck when you try so hard. Sometimes the organic feeling goes away and now you're trying. I can't try to write a song — songs come out of me. I have to play the guitar and if I jam a song, boom! That's a song. Same thing with this.
HOW HAS SYNESTHESIA AFFECTED YOUR LIFE CREATIVELY OUTSIDE OF THIS SPECIFIC PROJECT
You know, it's probably inspired me to do lots of stuff. Like when I paint, I have numbers in my paintings and come to think of it, even the color red a lot. So I think this has been like, maybe it was a premonition 20-some years ago, maybe 22 years ago.
YOU'VE TALKED A BIT ABOUT THE STIGMA ATTACHED TO CANNABIS, SO HOW DO YOU THINK YOU'LL BE ABLE TO COUNTERACT THAT AND ELEVATE AWARENESS TO WHERE PEOPLE WHO USE CANNABIS WILL BE LOOKED AT THE SAME WAY A WHISKEY CONNOISSEUR WOULD BE?
I think it's already big. Stigma is already fading away because people are seeing the positives of it and what it's doing, how it's so wrongfully criminalized and demonized in our minds. I was just doing another interview talking about how when I was a kid, I waited until I was 20 or 21 because my parents made it seem like I was going to be an addict, like it was gonna be like cocaine or heroin.
I was a skater in Hollywood and people would be smoking weed, blowing it around, and I'd try to hold my breath — THAT deep, not trying to be inspired or influenced by anything bad. Now it's different. Kids now are growing up and it's been legal their whole lives. It's like alcohol for me, when I see my parents' cigarettes, which are terrible for you. Alcohol could kill you, addict you and kill you. Cigarettes could addict you and kill you. Two things that have been legal for so freaking long. Medicine! Oxycontin, Vicodin, other painkillers — what do they do after five, 10 uses? Come on now.
It's about time people's minds are changing. My stuff is hand-picked quality for the taste. It's that kind of boutique stuff that I'm trying to bring out. I'm finding strains out there that I personally think are amazing, and of course they're all tested, all compliant, all pesticide-free. That's what I'm bringing to the game, and I'm bringing them pre-rolled. They're done well and have a good vibe, and a good aesthetic.
I love our design. I've been working on that the last nine months trying to get it perfect. We've got a great logo I think people are attracted to and connecting with. That's part of 22 that I really love, that people are connecting to it like it's theirs. People around 22 years old hitting me up on Instagram like, "Oh, I'm 22," or like, "It's my birthday, when I got married, when this happened, when that happened." Or like, "Twos are purple for me, twos are black." It's amazing. I'm getting a whole community to feel like they're part of this, hence the lifestyle brand. It becomes something people can identify with and bond with, which, it really makes me feel good to sit back and see what it's starting, without even really starting yet.
YEAH, YOU'RE REALLY BUILDING THIS COMMUNITY AROUND THIS WHOLE THING.
Yep. And another thing I was worried about was that System fans were going to be like, "Oh, why are you selling?" What's really going on, even System fans, who always say, "Where's the next album?" are saying "Go for it. I love what you're doing. This is what I want to back." Do you know how great that feels for me? I've been so hesitant to do anything else besides System because you know, when you do something grand and it's noticed so much, everything else you do is secondary. Everyone just looks at like, "He should still be doing that one thing" ... But that one thing's not happening right now so often. It's a few weeks or a month out of the year we're working, so I've got 11 months to do this.
SO ON THE PRODUCT ITSELF, WHAT'S THE EXPERIENCE LIKE WHEN USING IT?
I have a few strains coming out. One I want to talk about is a strain — see, I started smoking around '92, '93 maybe. So around '95 and '96, we started smoking some good stuff. There was this flower called something, but back then strains weren't called anything, but it smelled like frankincense when you smoked it. Like, it was just this really different smell. Everyone has smelled cannabis, but next thing you know, you're smelling this other smell that's kind of like incense. Very pleasing to the senses.
In Armenian, the word is kndruk, but we call it [the frankincense strain] "Church" because Americans can't say kndruk. [Laughs] Church disappeared in '96. I don't know what happened! And that was, again, ironically 22 years ago. So in my time of creating a network in this business and meeting all the growers I admire and talking to them, testing their new flowers … they're all passionate about this. This is like their art — it's really inspiring.
So throughout the last 10 months I've tasted a lot of stuff, and recently I went to one of my favorite growers. He had six new dried flowers that we were going to go through. When we got to the third one, the room smelled like frankincense, like a church. I jumped on it like a grenade, like, "This is mine, I'm taking this. Can you grow more of this?" There was only one plant so maybe like two pounds, so I took what they had and we're going to drop that first.
So we're calling it Church22, and it's the same family from 22 years ago but it's this new blossom that kind of smells deeper than what I remember — I love it. I just went on tour and my bus driver didn't smoke weed but he poked his head in and said, "Man, I've had so many pot smokers in here. Never has it smelled so good." It was such a compliment from someone who doesn't smoke! So I knew I was doing something right in that moment.
Then of course we'll also have our OG, we'll always have that, which is still a very potent and powerful plant. I'm also working on some other strains with some amazing growers, some legends. I will call them legends because that's what they are. One of them is Wonderbrett. There's a pineapple OG that's dropping soon and has never been out by anyone ...
I love the exclusiveness of what I'm doing. It's not like a I teamed up with a big grower that just grows everything for me, good or bad. I'm using the same state of mine with my apparel also where, once we do a certain type of shirt, we'll break the mold. We'll keep the aesthetic, but something will be different about it. I've been a collector my whole life, so I'm going to bring this to you too, because I want people to collect my things.
SO A LITTLE MORE ABOUT THE APPAREL — YOUR'E AN ACCOMPLISHED PAINTER, SO WHAT WERE YOUR MAIN CONCERNS WITH THE AESTHETICS GOING INTO THE DESIGN OF THE STREETWEAR?
I didn't want to print on a label that everybody uses to make just swag items. This is more true apparel, it's designed. I have a manufacturing plant in Hollywood, it's made in America, and it's T-shirts made from scratch with the material that I chose because I've been wearing it. We know I'm all about my personal style and comfort and you know, I don't wear too many labels anyway and if I do, they're small. I'm keeping the same aesthetic with this also. I don't think everyone wants to wear big ass Givenchy and this and that, and I like a subtlety in style and I think I'm bringing that to it.
LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR MUSIC PROJECTS. YOU DID A RUN WITH SYSTEM OF A DOWN EARLIER THIS YEAR. DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING ELSE COMING UP WITH THEM, OR WITH ANY SIDE PROJECTS?
I have a bunch, actually. I've been really inspired. Every time I work, other things start coming to fruition. My mind's working so I tend to be more creative and things start popping up — my creativity comes in waves. I'm on a big one now, so I've been in the studio three, four days a week creating some new music with a crew.
I've been teasing it all through little clips on my Instagram story, and all the music is me with my new crew so that has led to Red22 also becoming an imprint, a music label for all my stuff to come out on and then maybe even have third parties soon. I get demos and people saying, "What do you think of this? What do you think of my song?" Well, why not open up 22Red to find others that are amazing in this world. It doesn't have to be an exploitation thing, which is usually the problem with labels. I want to present things, not exploit them.
SO YOU'RE BUILDING THE LIFESTYLE BRAND OUT INTO A NETWORK, INCLUDING THE MUSIC SIDE OF THINGS.
That was the piece of the puzzle that I was missing. I'm an artist, but music is what I'm known for, but I wasn't going to put that in there, but it was what was missing. It kind of fell into place. Like I said earlier, I can't try to create. If I try, it doesn't come out. People might like it, but me personally, anything I've had to try on was never my favorite. So this just came out sporadically, and that's what happened with my gold, my platinum ideas. That's how it's been with this .
Find out more information on 22Red via Shavo Odadjian's personal Instagram here and on the official 22Red website. Exclusive information regarding new product drops is also available via the 22Red Instagram.