Shavo Odadjian treats marijuana like it’s fine wine. After 25 years of smoking, the 44-year-old System of a Down bassist considers himself a connoisseur of the plant. But it wasn’t until two years ago that he got together with a childhood friend to launch a new company, 22Red, making him a professional curator of it.
“I only smoke the best,” Odadjian says. “I only want the best. I’m not a snob, but I only want to represent quality. I don’t just want something that gets you high, I want something that makes you feel good and tastes good.”
Timing and opportunity led to the creation of 22Red, which Odadjian describes as a lifestyle company that intertwines cannabis, music and fashion. Currently, the company is distributing cannabis-based products throughout dispensaries in California, jumpstarting its musical branch and selling clothing online.
With the legalization of recreational marijuana use in California in 2017 and down time from recording with his multi-platinum metal band, Odadjian saw the opportunity to build something he always wanted to.
“We talked about it forever, but because I was so busy with System of a Down, we never got around to it,” Odadjian says. “System hasn’t done anything for a little while. I had written a lot of material for System and it’s kind of on hold until the four of us get into the studio together again.”
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After meeting with a grower in California and connecting with a branding company, Odadjian is excited to share his vision with the world. Below, he speaks on the marijuana industry, his company’s developing musical imprint and his band and family’s response to his new endeavors.
Why is your company named 22Red?
Everyone wanted to name it something with Shavo in it, like “Yo Shavo!” or “Shavo Select” and I was like, “Dude, I’m not just this guy who’s a celebrity that wants to put his name on a brand and make some money. I actually want something that’ll live – something that people love and wanna wear and wanna smoke.”
I was born born April 22. I got married May 22. System of a Down started started blowing up when I was 22. That’s 22 years ago. I’m 44 now. So there’s a lot of 22 in my life. That always followed me and has always been good to me.
I also have a condition that is synesthesia, where you relate different senses with each other. So every time I think of numbers, since I was a kid, each number has had a color in my head. One is white, three is yellow, five is green and two has always been red.
So, 22Red is the name of the brand.
What kind marijuana products are you selling so far?
We launched with pre-rolls of a strain called Church 22, which I haven’t really smoked for about 20-some years. It smells like frankincense. I remember smoking it when I was younger, in my twenties and it kind of went away. I’ve been asking growers when I meet them, “Do you have this, have you ever smelled it?” They’d say, “Yeah, in the 90’s!” And recently I discovered it again. That is one of our signature strains. And we have an OG that’s really heavy duty and really amazing tasting. And soon we’re also doing vape pens.
How are you distributing? Is it going through the stores? Are you selling it online?
I’ve made friends throughout my years of being in System of a Down, so I’m picking strains from different master growers. We’re being licensed and getting it all to the dispensaries throughout southern California and moving north. We’ve only been in stores since November 11.
We can’t sell any of the flower online, but we sell our apparel. We will also be selling our CBD pens online, which are hemp-based and legal in 50 states. There’s no THC, and it’s part of what I love about cannabis, the healing factor, stuff that actually takes pain away. I’m happy to be part of that movement.
You’re also incorporating music writing and recording into the company, tell me a bit about that.
We have a production unit. We’ve been just making music. All these riffs are coming out of me, basslines, and it’s kind of a musician’s hip-hop, where it’s all electronic hip-hop beats, but it’s done with bass-heavy, real live bass. I play guitar a little bit. It’s not like rap metal or nothing. It’s really hard and heavy, dark.
We could produce other people’s stuff and we can make our own that we could perform, like a heavy Chainsmokers. Chainsmokers does that, where they write music for people and they write music for themselves, but they’re on the dance/pop tip. But it’s more like my tip, you know, darker, a little edgier.
Is it sort of a creative collective concept or will this eventually have a branch that’s an actual record label?
During the birth of the brand, I was always going to the studio and doing music at night. As the brand and my vision grew, it became that lifestyle brand. I didn’t just want to have a weed brand. I wanted to have something that has all aspects of what my day consists of: music, fashion and cannabis. So I said, “Instead of giving my music to someone else, why don’t I release it through my own imprint?”
We’re already setting that up, so the music now will have a home. It becomes a complete lifestyle brand at that point, because now we have music. And not just my music. I have demos being sent to me left and right and I’m listening. When I find something that I want I’m gonna drop it off that label, too.
Why did it feel like the right time to do this? Have your bandmates and family been supportive of it?
Since it became legal in California, with the medical in 2006, people have been coming up to me constantly: “Why don’t you have your own strain?” But I never wanted to be a part of that, I just wanted to smoke. I didn’t want to have to grow it. I didn’t want people offering to make my garage a grow and my backyard… no man.
But as it became recreationally legal in 2017 here, the time was right. My mind changed. I also have more time on my hands. System of a Down is not really working too much right now, we’re only playing a few shows a year. It’s given me down time where I could really devote myself to something.
As for my family and my band, I have nothing but support, to be honest, from my wife and my friends. One person, my mom, she’s old school and from the old country. At first she tripped out, now she’s a believer, she’s converted. She’s proud of me and understands there’s a medical benefit.
Back in the day, they looked at cannabis like heroin or cocaine. And it’s not that. We all know today that it’s actually good for you in some ways. I’d rather you smoke weed than cigarettes or take pills.
There was a time in my life when I drank. I wasn’t the best me when I was a drinker. Now I’m the best me again.
You have three kids, do they ask you about your involvement with marijuana?
They’re young. I have a seven-year-old, a five-year-old and an nine-month-old. They do ask, but not a lot. I’ll smoke a joint every now and then, but I go outside of course. I don’t try to expose it to them.
I don’t think you should smoke until you’re 21, because I think it stunts growth in youth. I don’t condone it. I will let them know that. It’s just like alcohol. I wouldn’t want them to be drinking or smoking.
But I treat it like medicine. They know I have a medicine company and that what I’m smoking is medicine. That’s all they know for now and it’s all they need to know. When they get older and they ask questions, I have answers.
It shouldn’t be taboo. When something’s taboo, the kids get a sense where they want to do it because it’s taboo. So if you don’t make it taboo, they’ll be more relaxed about it and they won’t be so sneaky about it.