RZA and System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian on Long-Delayed Duo Achozen
After a decade-long wait, the unlikely pairing of Wu-Tang Clan‘s RZA and System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian are finally releasing an album’s worth of music. The duo had first announced their project Achozen (pronounced “a chosen”) in the mid-2000s, around when the bassist was hyping an ill-fated online music community called urSession. But other than the release a few tracks (“Deuces,”“Salute/Sacrifice”), the group seemed to fall by the wayside. Now eight tracks of the act’s spacey, lushly textured hip-hop are available with the purchase of a limited-edition portable speaker, the Boombotix Boombot Pro.
Rolling Stone met with the pair in a New York City recording studio – where the ever-animated RZA was present and Odadjian, who was feeling ill, spoke from his bed via Skype – to find out just what they had in common in the first place, so long ago. “It was just two people met and bonded,” Odadjian insists. “It wasn’t something contrived. He came from a band that I loved and knew every word of. We became a family and then him and I bonded like brothers.”
“My son was your ring bearer,” RZA replies to the computer.
Although there are many more songs that have yet to be released — and the duo tell stories about sessions with former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Russell Crowe and Wu-Tang member GZA — the eight tracks on the speaker provide a good sampling of Achozen’s music (as well as a George Clinton cameo). From listening to Odadjian’s bassy musical tableaus and the verses that he and RZA trade off on tracks like “White Pony” and “Secure,” it’s clear the pair had an immediate rapport. But that just makes it all the more perplexing as to why they’ve sat on it for close to a decade.
Why have you two been holding on to this music for so long?
RZA: Scheduling is one of the biggest issues for us. In the beginning, we decided this was not to be a Wu-Tang side project or a System side project; this is what it is. System was signed to Sony as an artist, so I was like, “You go and do what you want to do and I’m gonna stand back.” He flew to New York and met labels but wasn’t satisfied with the ideology of what they were presenting.
Shavo Odadjian: I’m talking lyrics, they’re talking ringtones. I’m going to wait.
RZA: Right, and then schedule kicked in. I got the movie bug. And so I made The Man With the Iron Fists, and that’s 2011. Basically I’ve been running into that movie world so much that this got frozen in time. Then System reemerges, so he’s touring. But when I called Shavo in January, and we talked about how it was the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, which is the common denominator that glued us together in the first place, we decided to put the music out.
I know that Shavo is Armenian-American, but how does the Armenian genocide connect you two?
RZA: We both come from struggle. We come from oppression. I didn’t know Armenia was the first country to accept Christianity as its national religion. And I didn’t know about the Armenian genocide. I knew about the black man’s struggle in America from slavery to civil rights to whatever we still go through, but you think that that struggle is just personal. You don’t realize, “Oh, wow, the Asian brothers went through a struggle. The Armenian brothers went through a struggle. Now the Pakistani and the brothers in the Middle East is going through a lot of struggle based on situations.” Right? So, I became aware and that helped connect us.
That led to our second song, which is called “Fabricated Lies” and is about the Armenian genocide. He gave me a couple of books as well, but I was moved by the struggle enough that I wrote a verse.
Where did you two first meet?
Odadjian: At a Method Man show.
RZA: Then we were reintroduced when we recorded the song “Shame” for Loud Rocks [in 2000]. So we met and we was cool. We smoked some good weed. We chilled, took a few pictures, but when did the rekindle come? There was a rekindle.
Odadjian: I can’t remember either, but it was around 2005 so I said, “Come over.” He saw my studio, and he said, “You got everything to make a freakin’ record.” And I go, “I do? I didn’t even know.” He showed me a couple of little tricks.
RZA: Shavo’s a great DJ. He has that “in and out” that DJs gotta have to make the party bounce. So it came together organically. We didn’t think of making a band or none of that shit, but after about two or three songs we recorded, “Deuces” being one, we worked on the score together for [the 2008 movie] Babylon A.D. and then we started writing more and more, like, let’s make a band.
One thing I did say was that I wanted to be the lead singer [laughs]. That means I don’t gotta sit there like I do for Wu-Tang and make the beats, and they go home and I got to stay up all night. I got to go home and he had to stay there all night.
“Shavo’s voice had a classic hip-hop feel” – RZA
Shavo, some of your fans will be surprised to hear your rapping. How did it feel to step up to the mic?
Odadjian: I’ve never rapped. I karaoke-d “Paul Revere” from Beastie Boys when I was 15, 14 years old, but that’s it. “That’s the Zone” was the first thing I ever wrote and I handed it to RZA and I clearly remember verbatim what he said. “These swords, you should swing them. These are strong swords.”
RZA: What I liked about Shavo’s voice was that it had a classic hip-hop feel, not Beasties, but an Eighties hip-hop vibe.
Odadjian: I listen to a lot of Eighties hip-hop. I listened to a lot of Ice-T.
RZA: OK, it has an Ice-T vibe to it to. “Colors.” I could hear that.
Shavo, you did the art for this release?
RZA: Yeah, but he don’t get paid to paint.
Odadjian: I haven’t sold one painting. I have either given them as gifts or just kept them. It’s like babies you know. It’s, like, hard to sell a baby.
I think that’s a terrible metaphor.
Odadjian: It’s hard to sell songs, too. We didn’t just make Achozen’s music to sell it.
Why are you now selling the album through the Boombot Pro speaker?
RZA: After the success of the Wu-Tang speaker and the concept of me thinking to myself and sharing with Boombotix that we should embed the music into the device, so people could once again have a physical device in their hand for music, I realized that it worked. In January, I had took a listen to the Achozen album again in my studio – sober – and I was like, “Man, this shit is fucking. . .how the fuck. . .wow. We never gave this to the world.” So I talked to Shavo and he tells me that this is the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian genocide. “Then we got to do it!” It just hit me like, “Yo, this is a great place to put the record at and it won’t be going through all that other bullshit that we’ve been trying to avoid.”
Speaking of Armenia, Shavo, you played there for the first time with System in April to commemorate the genocide. What was that experience like for you?
Odadjian: We played two-and-a-half hours, 37 songs. We played outside to 100,000 people; there was not spot for people to even pit. It was pouring rain, lightning going on. I cried onstage a few times. It was emotional to think that I was that age, that they were like little me’s, my little kids. And we’re in our country, but it’s their country because they live there and we are giving them what they’ve only see on the internet, live. From grandparents to three-year-olds were there, standing in the rain watching this crazy band do some crazy shit. But it was just amazing and I don’t think that it can ever be duplicated unless it was a 200th anniversary. It was perfect. Everything perfectly fell into place.
I’ve covered System a few times this year, and some Turkish information group sent me a stack of books about their side of the genocide.
Odadjian: Isn’t it so crazy that they did that? You know what [Turkey] did this year? I guess in 1915 some little celebration happened in Turkey, so they celebrated something [the Battle of Gallipoli, which started on April 25th, 1915] in Turkey on April 24th. They celebrated our holocaust, our genocide with some little…I don’t even know what it was about. I don’t want to know what it was about. But they invited the president of Armenia on April 24th to go to Turkey [laughs]. You have to have balls to do that.
But we have a lot of amazing Turkish fans. We would love to go play Turkey but we can’t. Just ’cause we’re not guaranteed safety. Anything can happen to us, God forbid. I got kids now. Before I lived for myself; now I live for my babies. Before we got there, I made sure there was, like, bomb-smelling dogs everywhere all over the place. I made sure we were OK. We had the whole army there. The whole Armenian army was the security.
“Instead of having a girl in my hotel room, I can take it out on the guitar” – RZA
So is Achozen ongoing? Are you working on music?
RZA: No. Well this [Boombot Pro] contains eight songs off the whole album. You can call this an album, since eight songs is enough and it plays long enough. But we probably got another 12 to 15 songs also still in the stash.
Odadjian: I’ve got at least five, six that are mixed, mastered, done. The rest need a verse maybe and then mix. We’re good.
RZA: And then I thought, now that I’ve probably gotten pretty good on the guitar.
Odadjian: And he has.
RZA: I wouldn’t mind doing at least two songs like that. Showing, same way as he’s shown himself as a producer and making beats, now let me show back. I learned a lot from him about playing. Instead of having a girl in my hotel room, I take it out on the guitar [pantomimes sex, playing guitar].
What’s next for each of you? New Wu record? New System?
RZA: Musically, I think we’ll be doing it for the Boombotix, I want to spread this idea to more artists. We got [a speaker for] the 50th anniversary of Grateful Dead. We have Odd Future. We have ODB, unreleased material. To me, just the fun of going, “Look man, it’s OK to go outside and go to a store and take it out the box immediately and get a fix of something you like.” I want to spread this to more musicians, more companies, more labels, and that’s what I’m pushing for musically right now.
Odadjian: As for us, we’ve been kicking around the idea [of a new album] for a bit now. We’re enjoying right now doing what we did when we started, which was playing music live. We’re a live band that started recording. So right now we’re just playing a lot of stuff live. So with us, it’s up in the air but everything looks positive.