It’s been a hellish year on many accounts, there’s no denying that. But for System Of A Down’s bassist Shavo Odadjian, it’s been about delicately balancing responsible exposure of hidden terror and tragedy via his elevated platform, with the opportunity to flourish in his own creativity with new ventures.
A lot has kept the Armenian/American busy in 2020. Odadjian has introduced to the world his next musical project, namely North Kingsley. The band are a trio who have already dropped two EPs this year, the second released only weeks ago (our review here) through Shavo’s cannabis label 22Red Media, and have plenty more where that came from.
It’s been a fascinating journey watching the evolution of the hip-hop infused rock project over the past few months, particularly as System Of A Down released new music for the first time in over 15 years – which just so happened to be in between the two Kingsley EPs.
To take it to another level, Imagine what it must have felt like for producer Saro Paparian and vocalist Ray Hawthorne to release an EP just days after their bandmate reached an unexpected milestone of the first heavy metal band to reach one billion hits for a single music video on YouTube (‘Chop Suey!’).
So, we obviously needed to hear from Shavo about the new SOAD songs, but we also really wanted to learn more about North Kingsley, how the band got together and how their vision came about.
Shavo’s known Paparian for quite a while, and that’s how it all got started. “A couple of years back I was at a friend’s studio and I met Saro. I was working with a friend for a little while at his studio, and I wanted to learn the program Logic,” the name of music production software, the multi-award winning artist tells us.
“Saro kept coming in every time our Logic failed or something and he would come in and look at it, and the next thing you know it’s back on again.”
To say the least Odadjian was impressed, so he called on Saro to get some pointers at a later stage. “As we sat down and started, I had an idea and said ‘try this’ and ‘try that’, and boom – we had a song.” One thing led to another and Paparian brought in Hawthorne and the System Of A Down legend took them under his wing and got them ready for the big leagues.
“Ray didn’t start off as a rapper, he’s a punk rock singer, and can do crazy thrash screaming, singing, yelling – but then he rapped and I was like ‘damn bro, you’re good at this’, let’s mix it all up.”
The band quickly had six songs completed and realised they had to name themselves and get it released. “We worked and worked for about a year and a half and I knew a magic formula had been built, which seemed to happen at the right time.”
After throwing some names around the band landed on Shavo’s first ever street name in Los Angeles, after his family moved to the United States from Armenia in 1979. “It’s very dear to me, that’s where I saw everything. From the window of my apartment I could see the Natural Fudge Cafe – that was where bands like Black Flag and Misfits started in the late seventies early eighties, and I would watch the crowd outside, going crazy and making heaps of noise.”
Bred in LA, North Kingsley (the band) have released Vol. 2 which features Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA on the song and music video ‘False Idols, which is exciting for the band in their infancy stages. Though, it certainly helps that Shavo and RZA are good mates.
“He’s been a friend of mine for 20 years, even our families are friends. He’s had dinner in my parents’ house and shit like that,” the 46-year old states. However, the band are forever looking forward, and are already thinking about the third chapter. “Volume three is a beast of its own. I always wanted to climb, not to plateau, so we strategically put the songs that we think are growing us as artists up there.” Look out, things are only getting bigger and better for Kingsley.
The Wu-Tang hip-hop household name is not the only musicians Shavo and the band are thinking about collaborating with. If you tuned into his Instagram Live on their Vol. 2 release day, you may have heard talks about collabs with some big names from Cypress Hill and even from the System camp, but nothing to confirm just yet.
“There’s talks happening right now. I’ve got a lot of buddies in there that will come in, I don’t want to say too much but there’s stuff happening.” The 22Red owner simply loves collaborating.
Features aside, if you’ve heard the band’s two EPs, you’ll have noticed the vast array of musical styles and arrangements across the different tracks, and it’s very clear the band are striving to showcase a range of different material, which to Shavo, is no different to his standard recipe.
“Well, I mean in tradition, every System album has like 12-13 songs right, but you can’t really connect them, except for who the players are. On our first album, we had ‘Suite-Pee’, ‘Sugar’ and ‘Spiders’ – each song is different, but it’s still the same band.”
The same goes with North Kingsley. “I just can’t recreate the same song. So we just write music man, I love experimenting.” Odadjian plays both guitar and bass with the band, allowing a bit more musical exploration than what he’s used to in one of the biggest metal bands in the world.
“I use bass for textures,” and even though he doesn’t play guitar for System Of A Down, he certainly writes a lot of what is played by his counterpart Daron Malakian. “I love to write riffs for System – I’ve brought some riffs in, that turned into some really big songs for us.” The multi-instrumentalist shares a bit of the writing process, and how new material gets socialised.
“For System, whenever I’ve brought a song (or part) in, it was always written at home first. I’ll take it, play it to Daron, Serj and John. Serj would put in vocals, Daron would arrange it, and it would become a song.”
Perhaps, that’s how it all went down when the band urgently united to release ‘Protect the Land’ and ‘Genocidal Humanoidz’ to raise awareness (and funds) regarding the poorly publicised crisis currently undergoing in the band’s homeland of Armenia. “I’m just going to say this once, it’s a humanitarian issue, not just an Armenian/Turkey issue” Shavo explains quite sternly.
“These guys are trying to get rid of one of the oldest countries in the world, so they can unite and have an empire. Turkey’s in Cyprus and Greece too, they did it to Syrians, they did it to the Kurds. This is an ongoing thing, now they’re doing it to Armenia. Once they’re done with Armenia, they’ve got what they’ve wanted for hundreds of years.”
The genocidal tragedies happening on a daily basis are breaking the hearts of cultural Armenians across the world, and should be reaching the hearts and minds of all non-Armenians too. System Of A Down are using their voices and profile to get the powers that be, to do something about it.
Shavo’s message is clear, “people need to speak, I know they’re afraid but they need to wake up,” get on TV and share these realities with the world in order to make change happen now.
The significant awareness the band has been able to provide, has created a valuable educational opportunity to fans worldwide, and builds the foundations of advocacy for change.
“If everyone does their part, I think the world would be a much better place.”
Despite these incredulous circumstances that got System back together for two songs, it seemed like it was an enriching experience for the heavy quartet. “It was amazing. I enjoyed time with my guys so much. Even though we have had our differences, when we’re in there it’s just like brothers making music together, like it all started.”
“We didn’t start this [to] become world famous and shit, we started because we like playing music and gave it a chance. That chance went into something and then we pushed the envelope, and it’s the only way you get anywhere.”
The intention is to try and push the envelope in Shavo’s other musical arena right now as well, and bring North Kingsley’s four EPs (including two upcoming) together into one full-length debut album. “I really want to do three and then instead of dropping four, we drop the whole thing arranged and sequenced, with twelve songs.” – Heavy music fans may remember The Acacia Strain did something similar this year with their album Slow Decay (releasing an EP with a couple of songs every few months which later ended up being teasers for their album).
Odadjian alludes to the streaming world we live in, which is all about individual track plays, and less about the narrative or bridge between songs that creates a full-length experience – and he believes there should be more of that. “When you put all the songs in one release then you understand how it’s one album. I would love to put some interludes in there, add some cool remixes, I’ve got a few ideas.”
Regardless of a bridging an LP or not, the band have their sights on the next EP, aptly titled Vol 3, with a release date yet to be announced. They’ve also already finished putting together their next music video for ‘Rifle in Thought’ from Vol. 2. “I think it’s like a couple of weeks until we’re dropping that, and it’s a badass video,” Shavo hints. “There may even be one more music video coming after that as well, the band sure know how to keep busy!”
We’re definitely not one to complain about “too much” new content, especially from an upcoming act like North Kingsley, so bring it on we say!
Naturally, we’ll leave you with one last scoop from Shavo to keep you going, before you revert back to praying to whomever you pray to, for a new System Of a Down album.
“By the way, I’m directing the ‘Genocidal Humanoidz’ video with Adam Mason who did (North Kingsley’s) ‘Die For The Pic’ video with me and it’s going to be done soon. There’s going to be a little bit of animation in it, and I’ve already started that part.”
That’s all he’s giving away for now, but the bassist can’t seem to hold his excitement. “It’s gonna be pretty freaking cool, man, I can’t wait for people to see it. It’s one of those things I’ve done in the last year that I’m very, very proud of.”
Interview by Ricky Aarons @rickysaul90
For more information on how to donate to System of a Down‘s Fund raising initiative, head here.
North Kingsley – Vol. 2 EP tracklisting:
1. False Idols (feat. RZA)
2. Rifle in Thought