In 1995, back before anyone knew who he or his soon-to-be-famous band were, Shavarsh “Shavo” Odadjian would pass out fliers to people trying to get them to come to his metal band's shows. These fliers had an image of one of Odadjian's friends, a schizophrenic man with the words “System of a Down” written on his chest. As Odadjian tells the story, he would hand these fliers, with a deranged-looking man with these incomprehensible words, to promote a band no one had heard of, and get asked: “What the fuck is this?”
“I would say 'Don't worry about it,'” Odadjian recounted to Weedmaps News during a tour of The Originals Factory and Weed Shop in South Los Angeles in early April 2019. He was giving a tour of the indoor grow while recounting the history of the band he helped build to global fame more than 20 years earlier. “I just wanted to put that image in their head. That image and that name.”
This is how Odadjian helped build System of a Down — the heavy metal band best known for “Sugar,” “Chop Suey!,” “Toxicity,” and “Aerials” — into one of the most recognizable rock bands in the world, by fearlessly being true to the identity of the band and using his creativity to effectively brand its unique qualities. And it's the same strategy he's bringing to 22Red, a lifestyle brand with ties to fashion, music, and cannabis.
Coming to Cannabis
Odadjian's road to cannabis might seem natural (he's a rock star, after all) but his adolescence was filled with a fear of cannabis. Odadjian grew up in Hollywood, California, in a one bedroom apartment with his Armenian parents. This was in the early 1980s when a young Odadjian could hear punk rock bands playing at the Natural Fudge Cafe from his bedroom window.
During the day, while his parents worked, he would hang out with the older skater kids, but instilled with a healthy fear of drugs from his parents, would dutifully hold his breath when they smoked weed in order to avoid breathing in secondhand smoke. It wasn't until Odadjian became close to Daron Malakian, System of a Down's guitarist and songwriter, that he started smoking weed in his early 20s.
“I started smoking daily after I became close with Daron. He was a stoner, I hung out with him every day, so I became a stoner,” Odadjian recalled. The two would roll joints and talk about how great their band was going to be. “We were masterminding the whole thing from day one.”
It was during this time that Odadjian and his friends would find weed hookups in South Los Angeles and North Hollywood and end up smoking some of the legendary strains associated with West Coast hip hop, rock, and weed culture. “You would put $50 in the [dealer's] door, and a little baggie would come out, the Kush. Or it might be Bubba,” Odadjian said.
One strain had a specific frankincense scent that stuck with Odadjian for years, creating an almost mythic quality to it. He would call it “Church” because it reminded him of the smell of frankincense burning in Catholic churches of his youth.
It's that very same scent that led him to select a cultivar that reminded him of that old “Church” strain from his days as an upstart rockstar when developing a line of flower products for 22Red. He named his Church22 in honor of the strain he used to drive around Los Angeles in search for more than 20 years before.
22Red has since expanded its product line to include flower, prerolls, vape cartridges, and disposable vapes. 22Red's CBD vape pen won best CBD Pen at the High times Dope Cup in March 2019. His father, who once cautioned Odadjian of the perils of cannabis, now uses his son's CBD products and believes in the therapeutic potential of cannabis.
But it's really all about the flower at the end of the day, isn't it? And 22Red is trying to make a major play with its flower selection that offers the Church22 throwback, along with Mimosa22 and Caramel Gelato, and a nod to Southern California cannabis lore with 22 OG, an apparent descendant of the OG Kush grown by Josh D.
Apart, but Together
If Odadjian had it his way, System of a Down would be recording albums and touring every year. But, as if often the case, life is more complicated than that.
After System of a Down rose to the highest levels of rock stardom, they met a similar fate to other influential rock bands of the late '90s and early 2000s — Rage Against the Machine, The Strokes — when members didn't see eye-to-eye creatively or financially. This rift has kept them from releasing music as a group since 2005, when they released the double album “Mezmerize/Hypnotize.” But instead of disbanding, the group has maintained a professional relationship that has allowed them to continue touring and playing live shows for their passionate fanbase.
“We're all friends, we just haven't made music together and recorded it,” Odadijian said.
But Odadjian's boundless energy and enthusiasm needed to go somewhere. And if his band wasn't going to be the space for his creative, collaborative nature, then he'd just have to go and make a space of his own. “I love to collaborate. I know how to take ideas and put them together to make something great happen,” Odadjian said.
In 2018, when his friend offered the use of his clothing manufacturing plant, Odadjian thought about starting a clothing line. His goal was to take the types of clothes that made him feel confident and comfortable and provide them to his fans.
“We thought about starting a brand of clothes that I would wear. [Minimal] branding, but still cool,” Odadjian explained. “I don't like big branding. I want people to have great quality in the clothing, feel comfortable in what they're wearing. No. 1 is the quality and style. I want the style to be on point.”
But Odadjian didn't want to stop there. He was still writing bass riffs and recording in his home studio, so why not start an imprint, too? And when he started meeting cultivators in the cannabis industry, he thought it would be cool to start a line of cannabis products as well. Soon, he found himself working with The Originals crew of cultivators and doing a collaboration with WonderBrett, a longtime Southern California cultivator.
He found that his history managing and branding a metal band taught him many of the skills needed to manage and brand a cannabis company.
“I used the same business model,” Odadjian said. “Instead of a club, it's a dispensary. Instead of another band, we're playing with, it's another brand we're collaborating with.”
To Odadjian, it's another passion project that he can throw his whole being into. Something both personal and shareable for him to sink his imagination into. Even the name has a hidden meaning that is more personal than cryptic. “ is my birthday, it's my anniversary … I was 22 when System happened,” he explained. And 22 years later, at the age of 44, Shavo created another work of art in the form of his brand.
But Odadjian knows that even though he's a veteran in the music scene, he's still a newcomer in the world of weed. When it comes to operating in the same space as renowned Southern California cannabis brands such as Cookies, Jungle Boys, WonderBrett, and Originals, Odadjian is humbled and taking the time to do it the “right way.”
“The right way is being true to yourself and what you are doing. That's the 'right way,' ” Shavo said. “I respect all these people and I'm honored to be a part of their world.
Feature image by Tony Brown/Weedmaps