There’s something more to Shavo Odadjian‘s 22Red than high-quality cannabis. The lifestyle company started by the System of a Down bassist “didn’t start as a weed brand,” he tells HollywoodLife in a conversation ahead of 4/20. “The thought process was about having a brand with clothing for the culture, like a lifestyle brand. There are so many brands out there, but I felt like I could make a difference with that as well. Because I wanted to make great apparel with comfortable, great fabrics, and the designs being cool — not copy what’s happening. Come up with stuff, start trends — trend setting.”
22Red’s symmetry was framed by a careful eye. The branding is minimalistic, opting to stand out by being quiet in a noisy world. The designs are subtle but clever, meant to catch your eye and inspire curiosity when you spot them. “Then when the key element for the cannabis came in,” Shavo tells HL, “which is our third partner, that’s when it became [a cannabis line]. And I wanted to keep the same mentality for the cannabis as well — From the genetics to the naming of the genetics, to how we market the genetics.”
With more and more states decriminalizing cannabis – 24 states and territories had fully legalized it in time for 2023’s 4/20 holiday – more and more celebrities are joining the “green rush” by launching their own branded cannabis products. Shavo wanted to employ the same kind of mindfulness in his lifestyle brand as he would with the cannabis side of 22Red. “I thought creativity,” he says. “I put songs to things. We’re using heavy music instead of — 99.9% of the brands are going heavy hip hop. It’s all hip-hop. And it’s like you don’t know what brand you’re seeing by the music. Well, for us, you hear the music, you go, ‘That’s got to be 22,’ because it’s different. We use metal core, we use my music, we use music that other friends wrote, so it’s different.”
But it’s important to remember that 22Red was never meant to be merely a cannabis line – and it’s not. The brand – named after the divine number that has followed Shavo’s life and the color his synesthesia associates with the digit – celebrates the creative spark, that desire for expression and connection with something greater, ultimately making humans human.
“We love art,” Shavo says of 22Red. ” My business team is smaller than my art department because my art department is key, I swear.” Having a creative, art-based component of 22Red was essential. “The cannabis came second, I’ll be honest with you,” says Shavo. “For example, we have this thing we call Framed by 22Red. We feature artists — whether it be painters, musicians, or sculptors, or anything — any one of our team sees someone they like, they send it to me, and I figure it out if we should ‘Frame’ them.” Framing, as he explains means “we expose them, we show them on our socials or our website.”
“The point of that is not only to bring light to that artist but also to inspire other artists,” he continues. “Because to me, inspiration is listening, watching, hearing. I can write music better when I listen to music. I can paint or draw better when I’m looking at other drawings or paintings. Think of directing, because I directed many of the System of a Down videos and other bands, and so I can do that if I watch more movies.”
“So it’s giving that to people without them knowing we’re doing that,” he says. “Because a lot of people don’t know that inspiration comes from just studying things. So I feel like that’s another cool thing we do that’s art related. It has nothing to do with weed, has nothing to do with cannabis. It’s just something cool I thought we should throw in.”
However, this isn’t to diminish the cannabis or its quality. “That’s a part of my job as a founder and as chief marketing officer,” says Shavo regarding 22Red’s quality control. “Everything goes through me before it gets done. I have to be the R&D. I have to make sure that what I promise is in our jars is in our jars. And I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do that.”
“And now that we’re in three states, all of the strains come to me from all three states,” he says. 22Red is available in California, Arizona, and Nevada. With cannabis still illegal on the federal level, one brand cannot quickly expand from one state to another, so the process is a slow and methodical one. This might benefit companies like 22Red, which “pride(s) ourselves on our quality,” says Shavo.
“I try to keep the genetics similar. I don’t want to completely have different strains everywhere,” he says. He adds that, ideally, he would have a hub where he could ensure that the quality of every 22Red product remains the same: high. “If we had three, four major growers around the states, and I can grab from them and take it to different states. But the way legally we have to do it now, we have to grow everything in that state, manufacture, and distribute it in that state separately. And it’s illegal to take strains from one state to the other. So it takes a long process to pick seeds and grow from seeds.”
“And then even when you do that, if you know about growing, it doesn’t always, first round, come out the way you expect it to go,” he says, offering wisdom to would-be home-growers. “So usually it takes about two, three rounds for it to happen.” From there, 22Red tries to tissue culture the strains to make them as good as they can be. This results in a lengthy quarantine period before things are ready to launch.
“Because the worst thing would be if I tell you it’s premium and then you go buy a 22Red jar or a pre-roll, and it’s then you’re just,” he says, waving his hand to imply a ‘meh’ quality. “I’m building a brand here. I’m not just trying to make a buck. So that’s key for me.”
22Red is an extension of Shavo’s creative voice and personality. The “22” comes from his association with the number 2. He was born on April 22 – 4/22 – and 4 is 2+2. He was married on May 22. His sons were born two years and 22 days apart. When he was 22 years old, System of a Down started blowing up, becoming one of the biggest rock bands in history. And the color red is the color he sees with that number, a result of the neurological condition called synesthesia.
“There’s a DNA” in 22Red, says Shavo. “And it’s the same with my music too. Since System hasn’t been working, I’ve been working, haven’t stopped making music, I haven’t been dropping too much, but I’ve been just building. Started my side project North Kingsley a few years back. That’s different, but you can hear my DNA in there, even though it’s completely different.”
“That album is mixed and mastered, ready to go,” he says. “But while I was waiting for all that to happen, I started writing more music with this other producer, MorgothBeatz. And that turned into my solo record. And it’s heavy, it’s very heavy. And I keep saying that in interviews, and everyone’s like, ‘How heavy is it? I want to hear it.’ And I’m like, “It’s what you want.’”
“I feel like my fans kind of are going to be pleased with that one,” he says of his forthcoming solo record. “I’ve always tried to go against the grain and not do what you expect me to do when it comes to music. This time I just went with the flow. I didn’t swim upstream, I swam downstream. I just went with the flow. And because of that, it felt more natural and just happened faster too. The songs were getting written faster. I fell into a flow. And we’re still writing. I have enough for a record, but we’re still going because it’s just happening. I don’t want to stop the process. If it’s working and the music’s coming out, and it sounds better than the last, I’m going to keep doing it because maybe the best song hasn’t been written yet.”
Fans of Shavo’s work will have plenty to enjoy, it seems. In addition to his solo record and the North Kingsley project, he and the rest of System of a Down — Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, and John Dolmayan – will headline Sick New World. The May 13 festival sees System share the bill with rock/metal icons such as Korn, Deftones, Incubus, Mr. Bungle, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Killing Joke, and Soulfly Melvins, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Monster Magnet, and more. Recent rock gods like Turnstile, Scowl, Death Grips, 100 gecs, Spiritbox, Fever 333, Health, Ho99o9, and The 69 Eyes will also play, plus many, many more.
“I feel great,” Shavo says of the upcoming gig. “I mean, I’d rather have more shows. I’d rather tour and not rehearse for three weeks to do just one show, but I’ll take what I can get. It is what it is. I got a lot of other stuff happening, so a little overwhelmed, but not in a bad way. In more of just a lot going on, and I’m going to take it one by one.”
Shavo argues that if he’s going to get back in shape by practicing the band’s discography, he might as well put it to good use. “If I could do a month or two of the year, I’m totally cool with that,” the father of three says, noting he could take his family with them. “We used to do seven months out of the year back in the day. I mean, I’m not asking for that. That’s a little excessive, especially with kids. But a month here, a month there, that’s totally what I’m signed up for.
“I live up there,” he says of the stage. “I enjoy that. It’s part of my spirit. I love it. To perform and to see the audience and feel the audience it’s radiating. It’s amazing. It’s a good feeling. So I don’t like to do it just once and then stop.” SOAD fans who can’t make it to Vegas in May would agree.
In the meantime and between time, Shavo is staying busy. 4/20 is not a time for him to take a break. “Well, I have a bunch of trips coming up before even the show,” he shares. “I’m actually flying to England, got a little bit of business there. And then I’m going to hopefully see the Arsenal and Chelsea game on the 29th. Just huge for me, I’ve never been. But prior to that is this week, and then my birthday is Saturday, so we’re going to do some fun stuff for that. So I don’t know about 4/20.”
Shavo says he might hit up Arizona since 22Red “is thriving in Arizona,” and the brand is doing events in the state. “But I’m not sure. I really have a lot of prep time I have to take for the songs. And then I got the fam. I’m going to be gone for a week, and then I’m going to come back and do rehearsals. So I don’t know about this 4/20 doing what I usually do.”
“Usually, I would do in-stores. One time we got a little charter, and we just kind of drove around to all the dispensaries that are having deals with 22,” he says. “I met the fans. And I do that all the time. This year, I might be chilling a little because I have so much going on. You know what I mean? And I’m not the crazy smoker I was. I smoke, but connoisseur-wise. I used to be the alcoholic of weed, and I’ve totally toned down. Because of all these things I do, it’s hard to do them blazed. But when I’m not doing anything, then yes, of course, I’ll partake in a little smoke.”
Consume responsibly and legally. Consult NORML for information about laws in your state, and make yourself aware of potential health risks. Do not indulge if you are under 21, and follow these guides on how to be responsible this 4/20.