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Shavo Odadjian

In this episode we speak with System Of A Down bassist Shavo Odadjian about moving to the US from Armenia as a kid, the formation and early days of System Of A Down, their unique situation of touring but not recording, and dealing with the public obsession with a new System record. We also discuss Shavo’s new band, North Kingsley, which has been prolifically writing and recording and is just beginning to release their songs to the public.

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Transcript

Evan Ball:
Hello and welcome to Ernie Ball's Striking a Chord podcast. I'm Evan Ball. Today, I'll be speaking with System of a Down bassist, Shavo Odadjian. In this conversation with Shavo Odadjian, we speak about his move to the US from Armenia as a kid, the founding and early days of System of a Down, their live plans for next year, and the unique band dynamic of sort of cordoning off the recording aspect of the band while continuing to tour together and maintain strong friendships, and dealing with the public obsession with a new System record. Shavo also discusses the albums that have had the greatest impact on him and his new band, North Kingsley. They've been busy writing lots of material and have begun releasing some of the songs. So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Shavo Odadjian. Shavo Odadjian, welcome to the podcast.

Shavo Odadjian:
Thanks for having me, brother.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Our pleasure. All right, I have a quick series of true or false questions for you.

Shavo Odadjian:
Bring it.

Evan Ball:
True or false. One of the reasons you're called System of a Down instead of Victims of a Down is so your CDs would be closer to Slayer CDs in record stores?

Shavo Odadjian:
That's not why. But when we did change to System, I realized that, hey, it's even better here because now we're right next to Slayer.

Evan Ball:
An added bonus.

Shavo Odadjian:
It was an added bonus. Because the real reason was because I thought if we ever got big, Victims of a Down would be known as Victim. And I was like I never want to be called Victim. Right now, they go, "System, System," at the shows, right? Would I want to be called, Victim, Victim? Not so much.

Evan Ball:
Good foresight. All right. True or false. You were standing next to Arnold Schwarzenegger in AC/DC's Big Gun video?

Shavo Odadjian:
Big ass true. Big true.

Evan Ball:
How did that come about?

Shavo Odadjian:
It was college days. And one kid that I was friends with worked at Kinko's, and Kinko's, you know Kinko's?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah, copies.

Shavo Odadjian:
I don't know if it's still around, yeah, copies. And I guess AC/DC's management was making the little passes for the Big Gun video shoot for all the fans to kind of be in the audience. Shoot the video. It was at the Van Nuys Airport, they were shooting. So, he goes, "Yeah, man. I made some extra copies. So, we can all go, right?" So, I was like, "Fuck, yeah, let's go."

Shavo Odadjian:
Now, it's like the 10 of us. We all went to the airport. And we're in the group of people. There was at least 800 people. And we were in that crew and then they rushed us into a hangar and there was this big ass cannon and a stage setup like fuck, yeah, AC/DC. And then all of a sudden, they bring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm like, "What the fuck?" And then I just made a joke. I was like, "Here, put him here, put him here," where I was standing. And I kind of was loud.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
They brought him right next to me.

Evan Ball:
No way.

Shavo Odadjian:
Next thing you know ... Yes. So, there I am next to Arnold. And I'm kind of cracking jokes to him and shit. It was hilarious. And he's looking back and who's this kid. And then when they shot the scenes, the light from the onstage hit me more than it hit him. So, I'm glowing next to Arnold. It's like there's two of us in the scene instead of him and a bunch of kids. It's him and I and a bunch of kids. So, it's kind of funny, man.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. It's funny.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. When that came out, people tripped out. They kept calling me, "Did I just see you on the new AC/DC video?"

Evan Ball:
Well, I was wandering out of a sea of people, how did you get right there? That sounds like you kind of lobbied for the position.

Shavo Odadjian:
I did a little bit, but I didn't think it would work. It was a joke. Like, hey, come here. Yeah, look, that's going to work. And it really worked out like, oh, shit. They must have heard me or it was a coincidence. I don't know, man.

Evan Ball:
That's cool.

Shavo Odadjian:
Right place at the right time. That's what it was.

Evan Ball:
All right, true or false. Chop Suey has almost a one billion views on YouTube?

Shavo Odadjian:
It had that while back. It was the second time it's going to one billion.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
That's pretty amazing. I mean, there's only so many videos that hit that mark.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, yeah. No, it turned one billion ... I remember when it was turning one billion a while back. And then I think something happened to that one.

Evan Ball:
Old news. Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
Old news. Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay. All right. I always like to get a guest history on this show. And then we can talk about what you're doing now, which I know includes a new project called North Kingsley. Looking forward to that. But first, when did you start playing guitar or bass?

Shavo Odadjian:
I started when I was about 12, 13. My grandma bought me a Kramer XL II back in the day and became my best friend.

Evan Ball:
So, your grandma. Did you ask for it or something she just thought, "I bet Shavo would be a good guitar player."

Shavo Odadjian:
No, no, no. I've been a fan of music since I was born. It's kind of been in me from Armenia. They've been listening to music and they always had music around and they had all the old Beatles records all in Russian print and stuff. So, I listened to music for a long time, Boney M., [inaudible 00:04:49], Alba, a bunch of other artists that we had in Armenia.

Shavo Odadjian:
And then when we got to America when I was five years old in '79, I saw Kiss on Solid Gold. And then I would see Kiss murals all over L.A. And funny enough, I live on North Kingsley Drive, that's where the name comes from, by the way. So yeah, I saw Kiss and I was just a fan of it. I was just taken by it. And so, I always wanted a musical instrument. I've been asking my parents for years. After that, just started asking every year, every day.

Shavo Odadjian:
And they just wouldn't do it for me. I think it was the old Armenian mentality of like if you're an artist, you're going to be a starving artist. So, they didn't want that for me. They wanted me to go to school, study, be a lawyer or whatever, doctor, the way the old country, the old customs are.

Shavo Odadjian:
But because I was relentless, I kept on asking, kept on asking. I never let it go. My grandma just said, "Let's get this kid a freaking guitar." So, she on this side kind of like got it for me didn't really tell anybody that she did that. And once it was already in my house, it was in my house, right? So, I'm not going to get it back. And with a little practice amp. And I put it up in my room, and I just went at it.

Shavo Odadjian:
And actually, the funny story is they had this guy, one of my, I guess, my dad's uncle or something, my dad's cousin, because he was a flamenco guitar player, all professional and he was supposed to give me lessons. And second lesson in, he was already teaching me, say, the third chord. And I was already like, sixth chord. I was like, I had already gotten a chord book. And I was already all over it. So, he was teaching me things I already knew. It has just been two weeks. And I kind of surpassed that. And I didn't take lessons anymore. It was two lessons. And that's it.

Evan Ball:
You were so self-motivated, you probably didn't need it.

Shavo Odadjian:
That's what it was, bro. I love doing it. That's the thing, bro. If you love doing something in your life, you're going to do it good, right?

Evan Ball:
Exactly.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, that's what it was, bro. I just did it. I stayed home. I also skateboard at the time. It was skateboarding and guitar. That was my life.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Well, let me back up real quick. So, I know you were born in Armenia, which was part of the Soviet Union back then, I believe.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, it was.

Evan Ball:
You said you were five. Do you speak Armenian?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yes, I do, fluently.

Evan Ball:
Okay, very cool. And so, do you write it and read it too? I know it has its own alphabet.

Shavo Odadjian:
It does. We actually have 37 letters. It's crazy. Yeah, my parents sent me to an Armenian private school for the first 10 years of my life. So, I learned to read and write. They just wanted me to keep my culture. And it was the best thing that they could have done then.

Shavo Odadjian:
At the time, I was pissed off. I wanted to be normal. I want to go to regular school with the kids on my street, you know what I mean, in Hollywood. But in the long run, when you look back, it's like the best thing they could have done. You know what I mean?

Evan Ball:
For sure. Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
They gave me an identity. They gave me some culture, all sorts of bits.

Evan Ball:
So, you already spoke it though, before going to school because you spoke it as a kid, right?

Shavo Odadjian:
Exactly. And mom was a language major. So, she knew a bunch of languages like five, six languages. So, she knew we were going to come to America. This was all planned, of course. Because it wasn't just me and my mom and dad came. It was like, I don't know, like cousins, aunts, uncles. Everyone just kind of-

Evan Ball:
Really? Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
... 20, 30 people and moved together as like a team, a group of people.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. So, I kind of knew English to a little bit, just words and phrases and stuff. So, it wasn't like I came here and I was nothing. But it was kind of hard, man. It was kind of hard. Actually, I didn't right away go to Armenian school. My kindergarten, I went to a public kindergarten in Hollywood called Ramona Elementary. And there was a culture shock. It's like, fuck. I've never been away from my folks. So, I kind of had separation anxiety. I just remember crying a lot and not wanting them to leave me there. And there was a bunch of different cultures and races and stuff. So. it was a big culture shock.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. You're five years old. Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
Five years old. And now all of a sudden, I have to go to school. I never went to school in Armenia.

Evan Ball:
Hey, I'm curious. So, Serj and John, singer and drummer of System of a Down, I know they were born in Beirut. Was it kind of a diaspora community where they also spoke Armenian?

Shavo Odadjian:
We all spoke Armenian.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
They're born and lived in Armenia. After the genocide, all of that in 1915, majority of the Armenians scattered across the world. So, hence, we have Armenians from all over the place. We have Iraqi Armenians, Lebanese Armenians.

Evan Ball:
Right. So, they were still in a community in Beirut, right?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, they were in an Armenian community in Beirut. A lot of people came to America, a lot of people went to the UK. Originally, when we moved to America, we moved to New York. And I lived in Queens for a few months. We were going to just stay there. So, my life was going to be totally different.

Shavo Odadjian:
But my dad's side decided to move to West Coast while my mom's wanted to stay on the East Coast, but my mom decided to of course move with my dad in my dad's side so I can have a family and dad and stuff, you know what I mean, a father. So, because of that one move, I became an LA kid and grew up on North Kingsley and saw skateboarding and saw music and chose that as my life. I could have gone completely different.

Evan Ball:
Was it an Armenian neighborhood?

Shavo Odadjian:
Okay. At the moment, North Kingsley, it's funny because they call it Little Armenia now. And at the time, that's not what it was. It was just a neighborhood in LA. People didn't even know what Armenian was. You know what I mean? An Armenian was like this exotic race. What's an Armenian? Albanian? Is it Romanian? It was like anything in the -ian, they just put it all together. Well, after I think System, we kind of opened the world up to more Armenians. And Armenians started speaking more and being more ...

Evan Ball:
Yeah. That's amazing. You guys became such strong cultural ambassadors.

Shavo Odadjian:
It's crazy, right?

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And so, all you guys went to that same Armenian school, right? Where curriculum was taught bilingually?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. Three of us did. Daron, Serj, and I.

Evan Ball:
Did you know each other while you're in high school? Or actually was this high school? I don't know how many grades it went to.

Shavo Odadjian:
It goes 12 grades. Well, okay. We knew of each other. But we weren't friends. We weren't buddies. Serj was many years above Daron and I. And Daron was one year younger than me. So, it was like, if I was in sixth grade, he was in fifth grade. But Serj was five, six years, maybe more ahead of us.

Evan Ball:
So, they have a picture of you guys in the cafeteria?

Shavo Odadjian:
Funny, right? That be great.

Evan Ball:
All right. So, moving forward to music. So, initially, Daron, and Serj are in a band together called Soil. And you became the band manager, right?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. That's kind of how it happened.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
It was more like, okay, so I used to always try myself out. This is when I moved to the bass. I was a guitar player for the first 12 to 17, five, six years of my life of music. I was a guitar player.

Shavo Odadjian:
But I think I'm better and I wanted to start bands. The bass players were either one of two. One was they were either trying to be virtual, so it's like Les Claypool, you know what I mean? Or they just weren't picking the bass up. They weren't meat and potatoes.

Shavo Odadjian:
I always saw bass player as the rock, the steady, the keep the groove. You don't have to battle the guitar player, you have to do what you do, so the guitar player has this open place to do whatever they do. And so, both of you can shine.

Evan Ball:
Right, right.

Shavo Odadjian:
What I started seeing was a lot of competition with the guitar player. Bass players had this chip on their shoulder going, "Well, since I'm the bass and I'm behind, I have to do more," which is the wrong way to go.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, I kind of at some point decided, I'm going to have to do this. So, I had a Randall half stack, the big Dimebag amp, which I swore by it has the greatest crunch, greatest sound. I traded that in for an Ibanez bass at Guitar Center when I was like, 17, 18. And my new thing started. I bought this like off the recycler, which was this, I don't know if it still around, it was like a Craigslist, but in print not online. And I bought this PV amp, which soon became Ampeg.

Shavo Odadjian:
Anyway, so I practiced and I kind of took what I had from the guitar with the mentality that I thought that the bass players should do in my own head, whatever that was. I kind of did that. And I found some bands to play with and jam with. So, I'm just leading up to how I even [inaudible 00:13:31]. So, I was in Burbank at a studio down in the offramp on the five freeway. I rehearse with this band called Roswell.

Shavo Odadjian:
In that complex, an old friend of mine was also jamming. He had this band, it was like an '80s vibe like band. And he was like, "I have guitar player coming in, stick around. I want to hear what you have to say about this person." And I was like, "Okay, sure." He wanted my opinion because we played together. He liked my suggestions, my opinions. In walks Daron. I'm like, I remember this kid from somewhere. He went to school with us. Oh, okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, dude, he started. He put his guitar on and they jammed songs like, Ain't Talking About Love and Rush and all these, they did covers. And I was like, "Dude, this kid jammed the guitar and sang. He sang, too." I was like, seriously. Actually, he was going to come in I think to be a singer. I think they were trying him out as a singer.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, rewind. Yeah. As a singer, but he also played guitar. They had two guitar players. One was the guy's brother and one was this other strange guy that I guess was in for maybe a couple of weeks or months.

Shavo Odadjian:
And what my suggestion at the end of the night was I said, I go, "Dave, dude, watch. This guy is so badass." I said, "You should hold on to him as a singer and as a guitar player. Get rid of that one guy because he doesn't fit in the band." And I go, "It could be a great unit without having an extra member." So, you'll still be four members. But that the singer will play guitar and it will be awesome. So, that's what happened. That's what they did.

Shavo Odadjian:
Eventually that band broke up. And the bass player, my friend, Daron, and Serj ... Serj was in another band playing in the same complex, but I say now, it's three units mixing. You know what I mean? They got Serj to sing for this new unit they started called Soil. And their music was coming out with the drummer. There was this Hawaiian kid drumming, it was really badass drummer. His drum set was huge, the toms were huge, the kick was huge. This big ass thing, he would hide behind it. A lot of cymbals, you know what I mean, like cymbal crasher.

Shavo Odadjian:
But the dude knew how to write songs. So, I think he developed also Daron songwriting. They were writing songs and I would play with my band. And then I would run in their place, and I would hang out with them when we took breaks because these are my old friends. They became friends more. And we got closer and closer and closer.

Shavo Odadjian:
And as we bonded, there was no room for me to join the band. So, it was like, "You talk well, you know things. Why don't you be our manager." I'm like, "Fuck, I'm down. I'll do that." And so, that's what it was going to be. I was going to be the manager. So, that's how it started.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, they got one gig at a club called Fais Do-Do. I remember this like it was yesterday. And I was there of course, trying to get it all ready and stuff. And then after that, I was going to get them gigs. I even made my way, found my way to Zack de la Rocha's house from Rage Against the Machine. I was seeing this girl at the time, a friend who told me, "Yeah, in this area of LA," Silverlake, I think it was or Atwater or something, "Zack's there from Rage, and he does parties every Friday. You should go to the party and he has bands play. You could get your band to play at his house." And I'm like, "Well, fuck yeah. Let's do this." So, I even showed up with Serj.

Evan Ball:
So, Rage is already fairly big at this point, right?

Shavo Odadjian:
I think so.

Evan Ball:
In early '90s?

Shavo Odadjian:
It was already mad. It was probably like '93, '94. I didn't get a hold of Zack. We made it to his house. I got his address somehow. I don't know what happened. We got there. And it was like a regular party. Five bucks to get in. And I saw Stanford Prison Experiment there. I discovered that, I was like, whoa, the great band. They're out now again. They're back. Stanford Prison Experiment. Amazing.

Shavo Odadjian:
And I saw Tom Morello and I kind of talked to him. I was like, "Hey, man." He didn't know who I was, nothing. I introduced myself. I was like, "I got this band. I want them to play here. What do I do?" He was like, "Talk to Zack." I just never got a chance to talk to Zack, but I was going to make it happen. You know what I mean?

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
Around the same time, I get a call from the bass player at maybe a couple of weeks after, he was not in a great place. He was like, "I'm not going to play in Soil anymore. I think they want you to play bass for them." And I'm like, "What are you saying?" It's like saying, "I'm not with my girlfriend anymore. But my girlfriend wants you." And I'm like, fuck it.

Evan Ball:
Right.

Shavo Odadjian:
I'm not cool with that. Are you crazy? I'm not going to do that, dude. That's forbidden shit. You know what I mean.

Shavo Odadjian:
So anyways, so I just kind of like blew it off. He hits me back. He's like, "Bro, listen, you do bond really well with these guys. I don't want to do it. If anyone's going to do it, you should do it because you're already managing them. Why not? You know what I mean? You should do it. You have my blessing." I'm like, "Fuck, bro. You're making this hard for me." But it was becoming like easier to listen to. And then all of a sudden, Daron hits me up. And Daron, we never really talked outside in the studio with them. He hits me up. He's like, "Yo, man. I want you to come to Serj's house, want to talk to you about something." Oh my god, here it is.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, I go and they say, "Hey, man, we have good news and bad news." I'm like, "What?" "The good news is we want you to play bass in Soil and stuff. Bad news is our drummer just left." I'm like, "Wait a second. I thought your bass player left." "Yeah, the drummer just left too. He's having a baby. He went to Hawaii. He has to move back to Hawaii. But anyway, we could develop together." I said, "Okay, cool, man. I think this is better because now we get to develop together. It's not like I'm taking the place of someone."

Shavo Odadjian:
And as we talked and shared ideas, we thought it was better to just break that band up, so not be Soil anymore, and start something fresh with new music. And with a new breath, with new me, find a new drummer. And that's one System was born.

Evan Ball:
Gotcha. Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
That's how it happened.

Evan Ball:
So, the plan was to join Soil, but officially, you joined at the very inception of System of a Down?

Shavo Odadjian:
We incepted. Yeah, we made that happen. It was part of what we did together. Instead of I was going to join Soil, but Soil broke up.

Evan Ball:
And you guys ditched the old songs, the Soil songs?

Shavo Odadjian:
We ditched the arrangement of the old songs. We have a song called Soil. There's a riff in Soil is a riff that was in the band Soil. So, we use that riff. For example, the song, Sugar, the ending of Sugar is a middle part of a Soil song. And I wrote the riff for Sugar, don-don-don-don, I did that. And then I thought of how rad would it be if this little jazz part happen and that part came in. And that's how Sugar was born. So, we use little parts here and there. But we didn't use the arrangement or anything. But that was only for the first record.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So, mid-'90s, I assume this is like mid-'90s, when you get started.

Shavo Odadjian:
It's around '94, '95.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, I know, there's a lot of new things happening in metal and heavier music. It's kind of a historical marker. I always think of Deftones' Adrenaline coming out in '95. This is a marker in my head.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, yeah.

Evan Ball:
And that's roughly where we're talking about, not that you guys sound like them. But just to point out that it was a time when metal was kind of branching out. And I don't know, did you guys feel change in the air during this era?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. See, there's another thing. So, I also took on the role of managing for the new band, System. So, I just had to know what was going on out there. So, it was hard for us to get a gig. So, once we had a drummer, once we kind of rehearsed and wrote songs, so now let's fast forward, we have like about eight songs, six to eight songs. And we're like, "Okay, now we could play live."

Shavo Odadjian:
I started calling clubs. I wasn't familiar with the LA scene. But what was going on in the LA scene was everything was going on. I mean, shit was popping at that point. It was Korn, Deftones. There was bands like, Manhole and Human Waste project and Mind Heavy Mustard, and Cold Chamber, Suffer all these bands that were like ... Static came a little after.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, all these bands were coming out and playing. And I started going to shows just to see where we were going to belong, how are we going to do shows. I have to know the climate.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, I started going to the Roxy. It was Gazzarri's for a second. Roxy, Whisky, and all those. So, I started calling the clubs up to get a show, and they wouldn't give me a show because we don't have a demo. We didn't have enough money to make a demo at the time. It wasn't like now where you have a computer and you can make it. You can make a demo on your phone. You know what I mean?

Shavo Odadjian:
So, it was hard. It was like a catch-22. We didn't have money to make to get a demo. We didn't have enough demo to get a show. So, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? So, I just kind of like bombarded. I was working at a bank at the time also. So, I would do phone calls. I was doing wire transfers. I was answering calls for wire transfers for a specific bank. I said the story before. Between every call, I would call the Roxy or the Whisky or someone. And I was like, "Yo, we're this band, System of a Down." "Yeah, you called a second ago." "I know, bro, and I'm going to keep calling you." "You don't have a demo." "Yeah, I know. I don't have a demo, but I need to show." Click, oh, fuck you. Okay.

Evan Ball:
So, is your boss supportive?

Shavo Odadjian:
He didn't know, bro. I was on the headphones. I had the things going on and the headpiece. But he was supportive because he knew I was in a band and he knew that's what I was going to do. And he was very eccentric dude, the boss of that area, that department, so he was really cool with me. So, I was someone that was not a bad seed. So, I was doing well. So, if he didn't know, he let me go do it. So, he was very supportive.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, eventually, I got the main guy from the Roxy, who ended up being our tour manager on our first tour, the guy that would hang up on me the most. He gave me a phone number of a promoter, Brian Markovich. That was his name.

Shavo Odadjian:
And they called the dude up. He's like, "Can you sell tickets?" I'm like, "Yeah, of course, we could sell tickets." And we had friends and stuff that were already supporting us. They would come to our practice and they would watch us rehearse. And we'd have 20, 30 people come out and play. We would play to them like a show at our warehouse area in North Hollywood.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, finally, he gave me 75 tickets to sell. And it was May 28th, 1995. That was our first show. And we sold well over 140, 150 tickets, bro. We had to go back and ask for more tickets.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So, is it support of friends? Are you already getting a following from word of mouth?

Shavo Odadjian:
Friends and friends of friends, that we were Armenian and there were a couple of Armenian bands that came around before us, in the LA scene, but nothing like us. It was like we had a lot of support. And I remember, we had a lot of friends and we used to do this all the time. So, everyone was just excited for us to do this so they can all go to a club and be happy and go crazy. So, it was really support. We had a lot of support, bro. It was great.

Shavo Odadjian:
And since we didn't have a demo, he had no clue where to book us, how to bill us. So, he put us on a [inaudible 00:24:20] night. It was like seven bands. We went with seven bands. It was like three before us, three after us. We were right in the middle, sandwiched between checkers, black and white checkers.

Shavo Odadjian:
And it was a quiet night. It was like a free night on a Tuesday. Three hours to get in if you're under 21 or above 21, it's free. You could go drink. And it was like 30, 40 people in the crowd during the first three bands. We get on and like 100 people show, 150 people. And they start a pit and it gets crazy. And we had this banner about the Armenian genocide. We made a statement. It was like political and shit. It's like what's going on here, dude.

Shavo Odadjian:
And luckily, there was a writer at the show from a local paper, Rock City News, who wrote about us that next day of publishing. Something came out and Roxy would come out Thursdays and this was a Tuesday. So, he wrote last minute Wednesday, boom, made the paper saying something went down in LA this week, and I was a witness. And it was a band, System of a Down, called us The Down. And it was like, people start noticing like, whoa. I still have the publication.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, man, I just took that and ran. And then I already booked that night of the first show. I booked the second show a month after at the Whisky. And we sold the same amount of tickets. And then after that, we never had to sell tickets again.

Evan Ball:
Let's hop over to North Kingsley real quick.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yes.

Evan Ball:
So, if people haven't heard it, but they know System of a Down, how do you describe North Kingsley's music?

Shavo Odadjian:
It's not like System of a Down's. I mean, there's the DNA of the riffs and stuff because I've written riffs for System. So, it's still me writing riffs and I've really progressed throughout the years. And I think I have them. I think I'm a lot better at it. I know how to arrange better. I'm doing in North Kingsley what I saw Rick do to us. I'm also producing it. And I'm accompanied by two amazing people Saro and Ray. Saro is the sickest producer. He keeps amazing me with his beats and his sounds and shit that he's doing.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. What's his background?

Shavo Odadjian:
His background is ... Okay, look, I met him at my friend's studio. And I just was intrigued by the fact that he knew how to run like Logic Pro so well. That's the program that's on the Macs to make music.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
And I was like, "Man, teach me what you know." He's like, "Fuck, yeah, I'll teach you." And he was in this little side project, not a side project, a little band with Ray. And they had songs and they were cool, politically charged and shit, socially charged, aware. And I was like, it's good shit. But I had this other thing in mind. And at that point, I was kind of frustrated. I wasn't finding people to make new music with. And I was like, I'm going to do this myself. I'm just got to learn to program and just do it.

Shavo Odadjian:
And as he came along to the studio once or twice, the second time, we already kind of wrote something together with his talent of beat making. He comes from an old school of production.

Evan Ball:
Does he have a hip hop background?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, straight up hip hop, but a lot of Armenian vibes too. He samples old music that I don't even know exist. He takes that-

Evan Ball:
Right. A couple of your songs have that, right? You've only released three.

Shavo Odadjian:
We've only released three. You haven't heard nothing yet. We just released the basic three that we wrote first. There's like so much more. And the reason why I'm breaking it up in threes is because we're such a new act and people are used to for me hearing System. So, I kind of wanted to give them food to digest taking in.

Evan Ball:
Ease into it.

Shavo Odadjian:
Ease into it, instead of dropping a whole record on you and then you just not knowing where to go with it. One thing that's similar to System I think, the one thing that is that, if all 12 songs that we have at the moment were put into a record, it's like System where not one song sounds like the other, but they all fit this DNA of the band.

Shavo Odadjian:
It's like on our first album, we had a Sweet Pea, People, Spiders, none of those songs [inaudible 00:28:16] if you think of the same band, but it is. That's what we do. We don't sound the same. None of the songs sound the same, but the formula is there. You hear the vocals, you know it's the same band/ You hear the sound of the drums, you know it's the same band. You hear the sound of the guitar and the bass, you know it's that band.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, it's like I'm creating something where it's original again, it's just a different genre, bro. I couldn't do what we did already. I don't want to do that. I can't do that. That happens when the four of us get together, System of a Down. I would never ever try to step on that toes, those toes because that's big toes to step on. I had to do what I'm natural at and what these guys are natural at. And it took two years to develop. It wasn't like we got together, boom, there was the first song fucking shotguns or whatever.

Shavo Odadjian:
It was more like we wrote beats and beats and I played over beats and then all of a sudden, that developed into putting two together. And then vocals came in and we had to arrange because he was crazy. His vocals were like, one long verse from beginning of the song to the end of the song.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. And the vocalist, is it Ray Hawthorne? Is that his name?

Shavo Odadjian:
Ray Hawthorne, man, he's amazing. He's original, man. And I'm really lucky to have him, bro. I kind of helped him develop ... This is not my first rodeo and I've seen Rick Rubin mold Serj. You know what I mean? Serj's vocals and cut this up, say more here, say less here, kind of that inspiration I took and I just naturally it happened because I know when I hear something, I'm like, okay-

Evan Ball:
Listen a lot.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, let's break this down to a verse, a chorus, a middle part, and another chorus. So, it's like I have it in my head, the formula. And then I take what we make and then I kind of top it up like that with the guys, of course. And eventually in the last two years, we developed the formula where we all know where we stand and what we do.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, it's like we go into the studio and we bang it out. It's like I have a riff, I bring in. He already has a beat. I thought over that beat and we cut the beat. And we have vocals come in, maybe the vocals already there, and they write a riff towards the vocal pattern.

Shavo Odadjian:
And so, it's so fun. It's liberating, bro. It's liberating to do this again because I really love writing music with System of a Down. I loved creating. I know Daron wrote a lot of music. Serj brought a lot of stuff in. I brought stuff in. That was so special. And then it stopped. Fifteen years ago, it stopped and I missed it, man. I miss making music. I did this for a living not to become famous. I did this just so I can keep on playing music. And it sucks that after fame, we kind of stopped. And so, this was really, like I said, the word is liberating to be able to make music again with people that I bond with.

Shavo Odadjian:
And they're years younger than me, man. They're 30, one is 30, one is 31. And it's like, I connect with them musically like we've always been doing this. And that's a great feeling. And it's like when you have that, you got to take it and run.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, he's not even just a rapper. The guy, he rapped, because he's so badass at it. He's a singer, really. But I didn't make it rap rock. I didn't want to do that. But there's songs coming out where it's full singing with a little bit of hip hop, but we have a lot of angles. So, I feel like there's a lot of places we could still go.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, it's very interesting to me. It's exciting to me because it's if you like what you've heard, I think you're going to love what you're about to hear. And then you're going to love even more what we're coming with because we're building and it keeps getting better. Like we did one yesterday. There's a song where we are going to get a feature from one of my favorite hip hop groups, Cypress. Just between us. Between you and me, no one else listening.

Shavo Odadjian:
And it was an older song that we had written. We just went in. The way Saro presented it to me last night I was taken, man. He was like so badass that I can't wait to play that for beat and have him drop his words on there. It's going to be amazing. So, there's things that are coming that is very exciting for me.

Evan Ball:
Do words come pretty easily to Ray?

Shavo Odadjian:
Oh my god. Yeah. He even helps me. You know I got 22Red, my brand?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, we do cool things. I love putting messages inside boxes and inside the t-shirts, on the hoodies. If you wear it inside out, there's words written in there. You don't even know until they start washing their stuff inside out. And like, oh, shit there was writing in there. We didn't know about, right? I love something like that.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, he helped me write some of those phrases. He's just really good with words, man. It's like, I tell him a direction. I give him a direction he goes. Not to say he doesn't have direction himself. He's like all over, bro. He has songs for days. We can have three albums now if it was up to Ray.

Evan Ball:
You're sort of corralling all the creative energy and putting it into the right format and arrangements?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yes, yes. That's the thing I do, away from writing the riffs and putting songs together. I'm also doing that. And that's what they trust me. That's what we do. Listen, it takes the three of us to make what we do. I couldn't do that without them. You know what I mean? So, since I have amazing things from them, I'm able to do that, I'm able to corral. You know what I mean?

Shavo Odadjian:
So, like I said, man. It is a unit. It started off as a side project, but it's becoming something that I feel like could be something on its own without even using the Shavo or System of a Down name. I'm not trying to use the System name so much because people expect different things and also using the System name, a lot of people it's turned into a meme, this whole, where's the new album? It's been 15 years.

Shavo Odadjian:
When I'm posting something political and you're asking me where the new album is or if I'm proposing something about the new band and you're saying, "Where's the new album?" And that's not fun to hear. If I can make a new album on my own with people, I would.

Evan Ball:
Of course.

Shavo Odadjian:
Stop brimming me with it. We're sorry that we haven't come up with a new album for you guys. I'm the guy, "Let's go, bro. Let's get in that studio and make a record." We have music. It just hasn't happened yet.

Evan Ball:
Stockpiles of music I would think between all of you.

Shavo Odadjian:
Bro, imagine, imagine, right? And so, I wish it would happen. So, I'm kind of at this point wishing it would happen so I wouldn't have anyone tell me anymore or ask me for anymore. It's become a thorn in my side. It's like, fuck, stop ramming that in my side. Stop shanking me. You know what I mean?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
It's what it feels like, man. As much as I adore it, it's like fuck, man. I'm trying to do something new because I can't do the old thing because it takes more than one person to tango, right? So, let me do what I can right now. And then if that comes around again to me, I'm going to take that and run. But right now, this is what's in front of me, so this is what I'm going to ride.

Evan Ball:
That's great. You've got this outlet with people you're creatively compatible with and perfect. What part of LA is North Kingsley? I mean, you said you named it after your street that you grew up on?.

Shavo Odadjian:
It's East Hollywood. I live between Fountain and Sunset. And the perimeter is Western and Vermont in the middle of that.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, it's like Hollywood, east of Western, west of Vermont, right there, smack that. That's where our old school was too in that area, the Armenian school that we went to in that area.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
So, all the kids from the Armenian school that follow me on Instagram and stuff like, anyone that still follows my ass and like, "Oh, that's Shavo when we were kids." They're like, "Is that the North Kingsley you grew up on?" I'm like, "Yeah, bro. That's what it is." Yeah, so my friends from the street have hit me up like, "Dude, that's our street's name." I'm like, "I know."

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Are you going to have a guitar on when you play live?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. This is going to be in the guitar band. Yeah.

Evan Ball:
You have a guitar and then vocalist, obviously, and then, is it Saro?

Shavo Odadjian:
Saro, yes.

Evan Ball:
Saro. So, he will basically be in charge of the beats, right? The electronic component.

Shavo Odadjian:
Electronic component, but we might take on two new members just for live. If I decide to play the bass on a song, I'm going to have him play the guitar. If I decide to play the guitar in the song, he's going to play the bass. I also have a drummer in mind, to come in just for live. It will make it more exciting. But I don't want to take away that beat savvy that he has, that Saro has that element of the low tones and the sounds. I don't want to change that. I don't want it to turn into new metal. That's something we're way on another platform.

Shavo Odadjian:
But sometimes it's within line because you have a drummer and you have rapper and you have guitar and bass, it turns to that. I don't want that. So, we're still figuring that out. If we're just going to go into three of us and just kind of do programs and live, that might be the way to go.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. All right. So, next year, we should look out for you.

Shavo Odadjian:
100%.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
The second they open the gates and say go, we're running.

Evan Ball:
Every venue in the country is going to be packed with every band ready to go.

Shavo Odadjian:
If we can do all the venues at once, we're going to do it, you know what I mean? If we can teleport and we will be doing that.

Evan Ball:
And then does System of a Down have any gigs lined up or tours?

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. We do, we do. We have half of what we had last year. We kind of broke it down in half because of what's going on. So, we have the two LA shows with Korn, Faith No More coming up in May. And then in June, we're doing Europe. We have I think 11 shows, I'm not sure.

Evan Ball:
Okay. All right. Such an interesting dynamic from the outside that you guys can still play all these shows together and sort of cordon off the recording new material part?

Shavo Odadjian:
Sucks, right?

Evan Ball:
Well, it's cool that you guys can still do it. And it sort of sectioned it off I guess, better than nothing.

Shavo Odadjian:
I mean, dude. It's better than nothing. And beggars can't be choosers. I always say that. So, dude, I'll take whatever I can get. Because I love my units. I love System. I love the guys. They're my friends over anything.

Shavo Odadjian:
Even if I don't see them or talk to them for months, we're on the phone, we're best friends. That's how I am with them. Nothing has gone down so terrible that we can never ... That's why I'm always optimistic. And whenever I say that, it becomes headlines. Shavo is optimistic. Well, yeah, bro, I'm optimistic about a lot of things. It doesn't mean it's going to happen.

Shavo Odadjian:
But the reason why I'm optimistic is because, dude, nothing's been done that can't be undone. It's not like someone said or did something that's end all. It's not like, God forbid anyone's passed away. We're still all here. We still can talk. We still could play. We're still alive. You know what I mean? I mean, dude.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. It just seems like a unique dynamic. I mean, the reason it's an issue I'm sure is because you guys all care so much.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yes, 100%.

Evan Ball:
And so, I could see it getting heated in certain environments, but it's admirable that everyone can remain friends and separate band biz from friendship.

Shavo Odadjian:
If we can just like agree, if people weren't so adamant about their views, it would be nice to just kind of like, back up a little and say, "Let's just do it. I'll listen to you if you listen to me." Instead of like, I think it should be this way. I think it should be that way. Okay, well, then that's not going to work. I don't know, man.

Evan Ball:
Is it band direction or more business of songwriting credit or plead the fifth, if you want?

Shavo Odadjian:
I want to plead the fifth.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Okay.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. All day. It's a mixture of a lot of stuff that's happened. And it's just kind of grew to a point where because of social media and because of all this demand for the record, it's become taboo. It's become this thing. It's like bigger than it should be. You know what I mean? It's become this crazy thing, the new System record. Is it happening? Way too crazy, bro.

Shavo Odadjian:
Everyone is a little weird because Daron will post scars and they'll rip them up about the new record. Serj will post something political, they'll rip him up about the new record. John does something, where's the new record? I'm posting North Kingsley, where's the new record. I'm posting cannabis, where's the new record? It's like it's always there now. It became this thing that's like, we're like, "Fuck this. It's going to make me say fuck the new record, because there's so much." But you know what, the flipside is, we should be fuckin honored that people still care and want the new record, you know what I mean?

Evan Ball:
Right, right, right. That's sort of this added pressure is the fact that you haven't released an album so long. So, it's so highly anticipated. Everyone feels very strongly about not disappointing the public. I mean, is that part of it?

Shavo Odadjian:
I don't think so. Because I feel like, dude, we got some shit, bro. I don't think it will disappoint anybody. I really have faith in all our songwriting abilities and what we could do in the studio together. I mean, if we just do it the way we know how to do it and we don't switch up the way we do it, then I think we'll be fine. I think it's just that some members might want to switch it up at this point. And when you switch it up after all this time, it's my personal opinion. Who knows?

Evan Ball:
Is there a process you'd have to sift through the well of song ideas that have built up?

Shavo Odadjian:
That's crazy to process, bro. Everyone kind of throws it in the pot. And like Daron's got so much material. Serj had a bunch of songs that he had brought in. And it's just a matter of taste and a matter of what should be. The way we used to do it is we used to all bring songs and put them all, make them all happen, work on them together, work on them separately, bring them in, record them all.

Shavo Odadjian:
And then the four of us, our manager and Rick, would vote on each song without anyone knowing who voted, you know what I mean? It's like it'd be democratic as fuck. And that way, the songs that were, A, made the record or song that were, B, could be on the record, the songs that, C, waited for another record or just went away. And that was the process. If we can take that process and go, we'd be fucking making records every year.

Evan Ball:
Are those riffs or more like fully fledged songs?

Shavo Odadjian:
Well developed afterward. For Toxicity, we had 33 songs. And we recorded all 33, listened to them, and then voted on the 13 or 14 that went on Toxicity. And then there was Steal This Album was the other songs that we redid and made it Steal.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Gotcha. I just know even personally, my phone recordings just build up so fast. I don't even end up looking at my old ideas.

Shavo Odadjian:
I'm with you. I was about to go through mine after this podcast, what I have in there, dude. There's so much stuff that is put in there that you forget.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. It's always so fun to come up with new stuff and anything. I probably have really cool stuff I've already written. It's just buried.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, yeah. That's the case. I do this thing with my phone. I've started doing a couple years ago where when I grab a guitar, I just press record on the video section and I just record riffs. Everything that comes out of me, I record it then I would cut them up and the good ones stayed, the ones I didn't like after listening to it twice would get deleted. And I still have those folders and I was doing it for System. I was like, anything that resembled System of a Down vibe that we could take and put into a song I would just keep and keep. And I just kept them all. I still have them all. None of them have been used yet.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Is it pretty clear now if you make up something whether it would go in the System folder or the North Kingsley?

Shavo Odadjian:
Pretty much, I kind of know because I know how the other guys write. I know Daron and I know Serj, I know John. So, I'd say there's a certain amount that would go to them and I think they would make those riffs together shine and be what they need to be. And then there's a certain vibe I've been bringing to North Kingsley that is really, really working at the moment. Yeah, I would know. I would know for sure.

Shavo Odadjian:
Hence, I haven't used any of the System stuff with North Kingsley. Like Serj says, "I wrote these songs for System and since that didn't happen, I'm going to release this album." Well, it's not this. I'm keeping those. I'm just holding on to this. There's more coming out of my head that I can give to North Kingsley.

Evan Ball:
Gotcha.

Shavo Odadjian:
There's no lack of materials. I'm not using what I made for System on North Kingsley. Not at all.

Evan Ball:
Can you name three albums that have most influenced you?

Shavo Odadjian:
I would go through 100. I did something the other day where I had some albums written down. I was doing my favorite albums of all time. I'll go through a bunch, okay? I'll go through a bunch. I have it here. So, Compton's N the House by NWA. Reign in Blood.

Evan Ball:
Slayer.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah. Walk Among Us, Misfits. Bleach, Nirvana. Arise from Sepultura. 36 Chambers from Wu Tang. Vulgar Display of Power. I mean, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, that Public Enemy record fuck me up. I had listened to that like on repeat. And I'll end it with Revolver from the Beatles.

Evan Ball:
That's great. You have this list accessible it sounds like?

Shavo Odadjian:
It was on my phone notes because I had this one feature for a magazine where there were like name us the 10 records that you started with listening to in the past that made a change in your life. And these are ones that when I got those records, when I discovered I should say those records, something happened in my head, where I was like, fuck up, dude, I was touched by them. And there's more, but those ones really touched me.

Evan Ball:
So, we know you're an Ernie Ball string player, what gauge are you using?

Shavo Odadjian:
The last few times I switched around. You guys have done some great shit for me, some experimental shit. I remember we gold plated some of my strings. So, I would take five strings that ... I played four a string. So, I would take a five-string set, use the low string for my C strings and tune it. So, instead of toning it down-

Evan Ball:
E goes to a C?

Shavo Odadjian:
So, my E goes to a C. So, now I would use a B string and I would tune it up to a C. You know what I'm saying?

Evan Ball:
Right, yeah.

Shavo Odadjian:
The B string on a five string. So, I would use that for a C string. So, I would tune it up to C so it was a tighter, tighter than it was ... So, we have to intonate the bass all the time, reintonate because it just really tight.

Evan Ball:
That's a big fourth string.

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, dude. And then I would use three, two, one for three, two, one. I would leave the fourth string out of the five string set. So, that was how I did it for a while. So, I used to play a lot with Wu Tang. I toured with Wu Tang for a bunch, playing bass for them. And I didn't make it news, they just did it and then whoever saw it, saw it.

Shavo Odadjian:
And I kind of was in this whole rap game thing. Because I know gold. Gold is a really soft metal. So, gold-plated strings. I used to use gold plated strings, actual gold, and it would make the sound so fucking warm. So, every time I played with Wu Tang ... First of all, I look badass I had gold strings. And secondly, and I was using your bongo bass to at the time on stage with Wu Tang.

Evan Ball:
[crosstalk 00:46:58].

Shavo Odadjian:
Yeah, yeah. I would use gold-plated strings, bro. And then you know who I gave my last bass to was [inaudible 00:47:04] little son, Justice. He was learning how to play the bass. He was really inspired by me and he was on tour. It was the last day of the tour and I took it off my neck offstage and I handed it to the kid. He cried. He got tear in his eyes, so beautiful.

Evan Ball:
Good to hear. Good to hear.

Shavo Odadjian:
He probably still has it. I hope.

Evan Ball:
All right. Well, Shavo Odadjian, thanks for being on the podcast.

Shavo Odadjian:
No. Thank you for having me, man. This was good. We went down memory lane.

Evan Ball:
Thanks for tuning in to Striking a Chord, an Ernie Ball podcast. Be on the lookout for new North Kingsley songs. And if you like the podcast, why not give it a kind review on your favorite podcast app. If you'd like to contact us, please email [email protected]

Shavo Odadjian:
I'm a collaborator. I'm not like the solo artist that sits there and like, "Oh, we write the riff. Let me write the vocals." Even though I can hold notes and I can totally do background and I can maybe sing even, that's not my forte, bro. It's not something that comes natural to me. What comes natural is what I want to do. And I think that's what North Kingsley is. It's like the stuff that I don't do, they do really well. So, it's really a way of me being able to put that in to the package.

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