with System of a Down's Bassist Shavo Odadjian was conducted in support of a Nov. 21,
1999, show at Omaha's Civic Auditorium. Though it was 1 p.m., the Q&A was Shavo's
wakeup call for the day, and he sounded a bit groggy at first. Before long, he was talking
a mile-a-minute about the rise of new heavy music, how the band made a name for itself in
L.A., and life on the road.
Shavo Odadjian, System of a Down
Shavo, where are you?
||We're in Knoxville. We played last night in Memphis. It
was one of the best shows of the tour so far. Hopefully Knoxville will top it. The crowds
have been really responsive. It doesnt seem like we're the opening band.
|What's it been like touring with Limp Bizkit?
||We've been friends since the '98 Ozzfest. They treated
us really good, not as a stepchild. We've had nice dressing rooms every day. If we need
it, they give it. We've been having a lot of fun. The first few shows we were getting in
the swing of things, and weren't able to party because we haven't toured for a while. For
the past week, we've been hanging out, drinking beers and talking to a lot of people.
|You guys have been doing it for a while, well before
heavy music became popular again on the radio. How has the rise of heavy music affected
||We've been doing this for five and a half years. When
we started, heavy music wasn't nourished. The late '80s killed it for all heavy music. All
the hair bands set a bad example, it got cheesy, and the kids started swaying away. Then
Alternative and grunge took over, but heavy music was always there, just in a different
style. It wasn't dead, it turned into grunge, which had a lot of anger and frustration at
its core and helped kids let loose. Nirvana and Soundgarden, to me they're not
alternative, they're heavy bands.
In the beginning of the '90s, Rage Against the Machine
and Tool came out, and that was the beginning of where we are now. There's always that
chance that heavy music could become cheesy again. It could happen very quickly if enough
terrible bands enter the scene. Just look at grunge: There were some great bands when it
first started, then it got huge, and the next thing you know, there were all these
terrible bands and it just faded away.
Right now, labels are signing any heavy band with potential. If we started out now,
instead of five or six years ago, we would have been signed even faster. But all the hard
work gave us time to learn and grow. We didn't get spoiled. There were a lot of bands that
came out after us that are doing as good as we are.
We like releasing albums, but our main goal is to play live. We started out as a live
band, we didn't expect to be huge. We just wanted to play music and have fun. It was a
hobby for me, a dream of mine all my life. It's so rare for a band to get in a position
where we are or above. I didn't expect it; I wasn't looking for it.
|So you got your start doing the L.A. club scene?
||We called clubs in Hollywood and nagged to get shows.
We brought in the people, then got a second show and sold more tickets. They found out
that we weren't a band that was going to come and go. We hooked up with Coal Chamber and
My Ruin, a lot of bands that were starting out. That helped us out and got the L.A. scene
going. This was right after Korn stepped up and released their album. We were doing the
club thing. Finally, the labels started biting. We took our time and were very diligent
about it and ended up years later signing to American Records. A year and a half after all
the labels wanted us, we said if you're going to stop wanting us, then just stop. We don't
want that kind of label.
At the time when Rick Rubin approached us, he was going from
Warner Bros. to Columbia. It was a totally different style. Now there are only a few
people at American, and the A&R work is done by Columbia people. It's all controlled
through Rick and us. That gives us a lot of freedom to do what we want to do artistically.
They're the machine that goes ahead and works it. Rick didn't have many bands at the time.
He was starting a new roster and we happened to be the first one.
Two years after we recorded it, the album is taking off. We've toured it a year and a
half. The first time around, the radio stations said there was no way they were going to
play it. Now they're playing it everywhere, every day.
|So what do you think is driving this return to heavy
||There's just a lot of good bands out there, and there's
a lot of crap, too. The kids know what's going on. If you're a teen-ager, you have some
anger or confusion that makes you want to release the tension -- not in a bad way, just
letting loose emotion -- and heavy music does that. All the young fans that were into
Nirvana and Pearl Jam are into Coal Chamber and Limp Bizkit, so things really haven't
Rage and Tool were doing it in '92, when heavy music was dead They came out and
proved everyone wrong; they were the forefathers of the new heavy music. Korn broke it to
the extreme mainstream, where a heavy band could sell as many albums as the Backstreet
Boys. Every band has a place in the music scene, unless they're a cheap sell out. Selling
out is when you change your music to change album sales. Selling out is not writing good
music. It's all about honesty. We'll keep on doing what we want to do and living out the
|Being a heavy band, and after some of the problems
Marilyn Manson faced last year on tour, have you had any local backlash when you rolled
into a town?
||When we were out with Slayer, we had activists outside.
It didn't really affect the show. I can understand why conservatives would be against
Manson, he's made obscene comments, but who's to say what's obscene? He's talking about
religion, about things that are part of everyday life. That's why they ban bands like that
from their cities. Fuck them. They're trying to sensor a guy who's trying to speak his
mind, that's his thing.
We're trying to open a lot of eyes and mouths. By opening eyes,
you open mouths to speak out against things and not be closed or confined. Once you teach
them and let them know it's wrong, they'll tell more people.
|Do you draw a connection between your style of heavy
music and punk rock?
||Our music is as much punk as metal, we have a big punk
influence. I went through a phase where I was listening to Black Flag, The Misfits, the
Dead Kennedys, bands with drive that are guitar-driven. Daron (Malakian, lead guitarist)
was also influenced by that and metal freaks, KISS concerts, Motley Crue. You mix those
together with the Beatles, Alien Sex Fiend and Bauhaus and you get our sound. If
you come on our tour bus any day, land ook at CDs -- 800 to 1,000 -- it's like a CD store.
We've got everything from folk to Cannibal Corpse to techno. I DJ on the side and do a lot
of electronic music from bass and drum to hard techno house. It all comes out in the music
and will in our second album. The drive will always be there.
|Have you ever been to Omaha?
||We've been through Lincoln. I'm not sure if we've hit
Omaha. Some places you don't exactly remember, you play a show then go to sleep and don't
realize where you were unless something happens.
|You mean like get busted by the cops?
||I don't know. What have you heard?
|I haven't heard anything, I just assume part of this
lifestyle means having to deal with cops.
||We're all good boys, we don't get into trouble. I had a
couple fans smoking pot around me at one show and a guard came and had a badge, pretending
he was a cop, and he wanted to throw the kids out of concert. I took the blame, I said it
was mine even though it wasn't. I didn't want the kids to miss Ozzy. I got handcuffed to a
wall and was there until Ozzy's daughter came and rescued me. When you see a bald dude
with a goatee... cops expect trouble. I realize that. When I get home I get pulled over
once or twice a week, but I've managed to stay out of trouble.
Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.