Shavo Odadjian, bassist of acclaimed American metal band System of a Down is a super chill, sweet, loving guy — even though many would expect otherwise based on the aggressive music he often plays and how he usually looks.
But Shavo is as relaxed as they come. After all, he has been smoking weed for over two decades. And even though he started puffing at an older age than many musicians and cannabis enthusiasts, he’s become a connoisseur over the years.
“I know the strains, I know how it smokes, I know the taste, I know all of that … So, people always asked me why I wasn’t getting involved in the cannabis industry,” he told Dope during a recent conversation. “But I didn’t want to; I had too many things going on.”
That changed recently when a friend came to him with an idea: they should start a lifestyle brand together. “We wanted to make quality things, products we could stand by and be proud of,” Odadjian said. The idea piqued the interest of another friend of his — a long-time cannabis grower. “So, what I did was partnered up with him too, I brought him in, and the three of us decided to do 22Red, which is a quality lifestyle brand.”
Since its initial conception more than a year ago, 22Red has evolved to encompass a music imprint as well. “This has become really exciting for me because it’s not just one dimensional … Everyone right now is trying to sell cannabis and make a lot of money. But I just want to do quality things that involve art and involve creativity, and I want to do it under the same umbrella … I want to do this because it feels like the right time for me. I feel it in my gut; I know it’s right. So, I’m not doing this part-time; I’m doing this full-time.”
‘Church’ Weed & ‘SunKiss’
When talking about 22Red, Odadjian promised the brand would carry “amazing new flavors that people don’t know about.”
We had to know more, and Odadjian revealed his secret without much prompting.
“When we started smoking in the mid-90s, there was a strain in L.A. that, every time you smoked it, the smoke came out of your mouth, the exhale, gave this frankincense-like smell… it was just amazing,” Odadjian told Dope. Best known for its biblical connotations, frankincense is an aromatic oil often used by priests in churches.
I’ve been searching for this particular strain for almost 22 years, I swear. Since ’96 we’ve been looking for this. And I was just looking for it to smoke, because it was such an amazing smoke and we just remember the taste. We used to call it “Church,” because the Armenian word for frankincense was hard for Americans to pronounce.
Now, because I’ve created a network for myself within the cannabis industry, where I’ve met with many amazing growers from back in the day that are still doing it now … All these people I’ve been meeting with, and hanging out with, and tasting their specific new strains that no one really knows about yet, say they can grow their stuff for me whenever I like something.
So, I’ve been keeping [contact with] many growers, because I’m a connoisseur, I’m like the wine taster, I like it all. So, one of the guys that I teamed up with recently told me he had a new strain he had developed by crossing others. And I’m telling you, we smoked the first joint and the room filled up with “Church,” and it was like — “This is it.” After 22 years, we’d found our “Church” weed again. So, I just jumped on it, and now we’re dropping it to the market in our pre-rolls in less than two weeks.
Odadjian was suddenly more excited than usual. His passion for cannabis overtook him. “Now I want to tell you about another strain we developed,” he said. “I’m calling my second strain for 22Red “Sunkiss.” It’s more of a sativa, like a like a hazier strain, but it’s something we found very fruity. It’s like tropical fruit, so you have a Sunkiss, and feel like you’ve been kissed by the sun.”
After goofing around and playing with potential strain names for a while, we felt like we needed to address more serious topics. Changing gears quickly, we brought up System of a Down’s “Prison Song.” The lyrics to that song, the opening salvo of their seminal 2001 record “Toxicity” read “All research and successful drug policies show that treatment should be increased/ And law enforcement decreased/ while abolishing mandatory minimum sentences.”
Odadjian’s face lit up again. His continued love for System of a Down’s music was evident though eh recorded that song nearly two decades ago — the band played the song on every date of their recently-finished 2018 tour, their first in three years. He rushed to complete the lyrics we were saying out loud.
We asked: Do you think anything has changed in this realm, as legalization advances? Would you still put out this song today?
“I think things have changed, 100 percent,” he answered without hesitation. “This song was released in 2001. Back then weed was still illegal in California for most people. So, if you got caught in your car, with even a seed, you were going to go to jail. So, the jails were overpopulated with people who were medicating themselves, which, to me, was just unbelievable … Look at how we live now, where we can buy weed in a shop in L.A. It’s incredible how much we’ve advanced in just 17 years.”
Before wrapping up an extremely interesting conversation, we asked Odadjian to share the story of the best joint he ever smoked. It’s a tough one that always makes people think twice, but ultimately leads to incredible stories like that of Blues Traveler’s Brendan Hill sharing a joint with Marilyn Manson, Metallica and Neil Young in a teepee in the latter’s garden; David Crosby sharing memories of Joni Mitchell’s beginnings in music; or Twista remembering the day he met Deon Cole.
There’s been many joints that I’ve smoked — I’ll tell you that — with many amazing people in this world, because that’s something about cannabis: it brings people together. It could be a rapper, it could be a heavy metal rock star, it could be an actor, it could be someone just walking down the street, it could be a skateboarder … You get together, and you light up, and you’re automatically friends because you know that you have [at least] one common interest.
So, I remember the third time I was in Amsterdam, I made friends with Arjan Roskam. He owns the Greenhouse Cafes there, and he’s a well-known strain hunter. People often call him the ‘King of Cannabis.’ I got introduced to him in ’98 or ’99, and the High Times cannabis cup was happening that weekend, but we had to leave town on Friday. On that Saturday, he had planned to have his harvest tasting at his house, where he was inviting all the major people of Amsterdam at the time, who were in town for the for the cannabis cup, … So, knowing we had to leave on Friday, they pushed the tasting to Thursday, so we could join the harvest tasting.
We went in at 1 p.m. and there was a Thanksgiving table, like a big dinner table, but it was all bowls of amazing cannabis from all over Europe and Amsterdam that he had grown. Everything from Neville’s Haze to Super Silver Haze…
Nowadays, L.A. is the king of cannabis. But back then European weed was the best. So, I remember rolling a Neville’s Haze joint and it was amazing, it was mind opening, it was like a 90 percent sativa, ten percent indica, so that really gets you. So, I couldn’t finish the joint … It was half a joint and it was like if someone put my head in a chokehold. It was a great; we started talking and a lot of friendships were developed on that table that I keep today.