SOAD’s Shavo Odadjian: “If someone’s an asshole to me, I’m not gonna be cool with them”

Shavo Odadjian
(Image credit: Press)

Shavo Odadjian has come prepared for Metal Hammer’s regular Life Lessons interview. “I wrote down a long list of things I’ve learned myself and from other people,” he says enthusiastically.

System Of A Down’s bassist needs to be organised right now. COVID-19 might have forced the metal icons off the road this summer, but they recently made a surprise comeback with their first new songs in 15 years, Protect The Land and Genocidal Humanoidz, to raise money for victims of the war Armenia and neighbouring breakaway state Artsakh.

If that wasn’t enough, Shavo has multiple other projects on the go, including his newly launched hip hop/rock band, North Kingsley and his successful weed-centred lifestyle brand, 22Red. “There’s always new stuff to learn,” he says. “Every single day.”

Metal Hammer line break

Treat people how you want to be treated

“Always. I am good to everyone because I want that back. Everyone’s equal too – it doesn’t matter who you are or who you’re talking to. If you meet me, you’re gonna meet the guy you’re talking to, always open and nice and cool. I’m gonna shake your hand and stare in your eyes. Unless someone’s an asshole to me; I’m just not going to be cool with that person at all.”

Mistakes are good

“Everybody makes mistakes. I make mistakes daily, and that’s cool. A long as you don’t make the same mistake over and over. I teach my kids this constantly: it’s OK to make a mistake, but it’s not OK to make the same mistake over and over.”

Failure is a weapon

“Me, I’m a doer, I like to try things. Years ago, I started this website that was like the first Soundcloud. I started this thing, I had this great idea, I teamed up with a bunch of people, but my partner screwed me. I wasn’t attentive, I wasn’t there 24 hours. I trusted him: ‘He’ll take care of that, let me go take care of my own thing.’ I was mixing the [late-00s hip hop side-project] Achozen record while my partner was running what I created mentally, and it fell apart. I got screwed for I don’t know how much money and time and effort. It was a failure. But I turned that failure into a weapon. I don’t do that anymore. Now, any venture I do, I’m on top of it. I don’t let anybody just do it. No more sitting in the backseat. I’m always in the front seat driving. Or at least in the passenger seat…”


(Image credit: Clemente Ruiz)

Quality over quantity, always

“I’d rather have a little bit of something great than a lot of something not great. I’d rather have two quality friends than have 10 people that call themselves my friends who are bullshit. I’d rather own two pairs of shoes that I wear all day long and night than 30 pairs of shoes that I just look at. That applies to my music, too. I have to. I have a reputation here. If I’m gonna drop something, it better be good.”

Own your life

“Be in charge of what you’re doing. Don’t let others do it for you. They’ll make a mistake and it will fall on you. You should be in charge of your life.”

Be honest

“Honesty and loyalty are so important in this world. It’s very rare that people are honest and loyal at the same time – there are so many things that pull you away from that. You just need to be strong, because at the end of the day that’s all you have: your honesty, your loyalty, your integrity. Finish what you started. If you say you’re gonna do something, do it. Otherwise people are gonna say, ‘That guy, he’s not reliable’, and it’s really hard to overcome that. When my kids promise something, I go, ‘Look in my eyes. Promise and do it.’”

Self-care is key

“Take the time to meditate, take the time to work out. If you’re not strong physically, your mind won’t be strong either. I lost a lot of weight in the last four years. There was a time when I was drinking, partying, smoking, doing everything. I quit cigarettes, I quit pills, I quit bad food, I hit the gym four or five times a week. You’re on a voyage, and if you’re not healthy you’re gonna get stopped in your tracks. You know how you’re on a plane and they say put your own mask on first if it goes down and then your kids’, because if you don’t then you’ll die and your kids won’t know what to do. You gotta help yourself so you can help everyone around you.”

Love what you’re doing

“If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t be happy. Success comes from loving what you do. You’re having fun, you’re a successful person. Nothing to do with money. Happiness and your comfort in life – that’s success.”

Consistency, passion and quality wins the game

“It’s a formula: that’s the ingredients to winning. It’s like 22Red. I’ve been a smoker since I was 20. When weed started becoming legal in America, people came up to me and said, ‘We should name something ‘Shavo this’ or ‘Shavo that.’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to put my name on shit.’ With 22Red, I make sure they’re using the right soil, the right ingredients, no chemicals, nothing that makes you sick, I make sure the testing is done right every single time. Everything has to be that quality, every single time.”

22 is my number

“April 22, that’s my birthday. My kids were born two years and 22 days apart. I got married on May 22. I was 22 when System Of A Down got signed, and 44 when I started 22Red – 22 times two. That’s why my jersey onstage is always ‘22’. It’s just become a thing.”

A firm handshake gets the deal

“My dad taught me this. When you’re shaking someone’s hand, you need to make sure they understand you’re shaking it because you believe it. Well, nowadays you don’t shake hands any more ’cos of the pandemic, but you know what I mean. Eye contact, too. It’s very important that you connect – don’t look the other way when you’re toasting someone with a drink. Look in their eyes. That’s respect. [Wu Tang Clan mastermind and Achozen bandmate] RZA taught me that whole toasting thing, looking in someone’s eyes. That guy is smart. He’s a mentor to me. I was a fan of his band, now he’s become one of my very best friends.”

Keep your mind open

“You need to be always learning and taking things in. Never think you know it all. Once you say, ‘I know it all’, it’s over. Me, I’m still learning. I’m always learning. I’m gonna learn something from this conversation we’re having.”

Put down the cellphone…

“A cellphone has so much on there, it just scatters your brain. You don’t even have time to do nothing anymore. Say I’m waiting on a phone call. I have 30 things I can do while I wait. I can check Instagram, I can do Snapchat, I can play a game. It creates attention deficit disorder, ’cos you’re doing so many things at once. You lose focus.”

…and pick up a book

“Reading is important. I see people, they go, ‘Oh, I read – I read comments on Instagram and Twitter.’ No, bro, that’s not reading. Pick up a book and read that. It develops your vocabulary, it makes you more eloquent when you speak. I wish I’d done it more when I was younger. Now I read books galore. When I quit partying, I picked up a couple of self-help books. It was like, ‘Wow, this works.’ Your brain is a muscle. If you just dumb it out by watching things and moving from one thing to another, it’s gonna waste away.”

Compete against yourself, not other people

“What I’m doing today, I’m gonna do better tomorrow. I don’t look at what that person is doing, because that person has his own voyage. That person has his own life that he’s living. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him today, I don’t know what’s going to happen to him tomorrow. But I know what happened to me yesterday, so I can build my tomorrow. You only have access to yourself, and it’s you you’re competing against. I strive for that. Always. I strive to be better tomorrow.”

Practice makes perfect

“If you want to be good at something, you need to do that thing a lot. A lot of people pick something up and say, ‘Oh, I’m doing it now… I bought this guitar, I’m playing it now.’ But really they’re not – they have it and they’re looking at it, and they think they’re doing it. They think they learned one chord and that’s it, they’re playing it. No, bro. Pick it up, play that same thing over and over every day. Watch what happens to you in a month. In a year. In three years. Think about what you’ll be like then. If you want to do something, do it all the time and you’ll be great at it.”

System Of A Down’s Protect The Land and Genocidal Humanoidz are out now. North Kingsley’s new EP, Vol.2, is released on December 4.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.