Fri, 02 May 2008 10:19:22
Welcome to 21st century hip hop. It's spearheaded by Achozen: an unlikely pair of friends. In one corner, there's Shavo Odadjian, a founding member of System of a Down, one of the 21st century's most important hard rock bands. In the other corner, there's RZA—rap's groundbreaking, avant garde producer and MC extraordinaire. RZA led the Wu-Tang Clan into rap's pantheon and has composed music for films ranging from Kill Bill to Blade Trinity. Achozen is a combo punch that could very well knock the scene on its ass.
Shavo and RZA have created space hip hop with Achozen. It's rap without a coast or even a planet. Instead, each song revolves around a solar system of feeling. That solar system is Achozen. The album explores and exorcises a spectrum of emotions, as each track delves into either pain, ecstasy, hate or hope. Utilizing sitar and violin, Shavo breaks the mold, playing live instruments across the album, as he constructs beats with a cosmic fluidity. Then there are the guests. John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers jams out a soulful, spacey chord melody on one track. GZA also pops up, helping RZA keep it Wu-Tang. Further breaking with convention, Shavo will release Achozen's debut via his musical networking site/online record label, urSESSION.
Shavo's house sits nestled deep in The San Fernando Valley. His home has become his creative hub, and it's where Achozen was born. From the aromas of fresh incense and the rich, homemade "paradise iced tea" on a large coffee table, one thing's for sure. Shavo knows how to treat a guest. His house resembles a museum of pop culture. An array of Star Wars toys adorn said table, there's records stacked to the ceiling and an old school Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster on the wall—not to mention the platinum System of a Down records, which sit propped near the entertainment center. That you can see the movie memorabilia more prominently on the wall than the platinum records is an interesting dichotomy. From that, it's evident Shavo still prides his earliest inspirations above everything else. He remains a fan first and foremost, and he's obviously extremely grateful about where he came from. Spend five minutes with him, and you'll see that he's been blessed with an amazing creative sensibility. He's a veritable ball of energy too. He constantly stares you in the eye and moves while he speaks, as if passion supercedes everything—as it should for any true artist. Early in conversation, he does make one important announcement about Achozen that he'll fall back on a few times. "The first single 'Deuces' is totally different from the rest of the record. You have to understand each song is different."
He promises two things upon plopping down the couch and serving the iced tea, "We're going to drink iced tea and have a great interview." He delivered on both to ARTISTdirect.
The first song that you released, "Deuces," feels very natural and organic for a hip hop track.
There's dancing in there. You can tell we were dancing when we were making that song [Laughs]. Everyone thinks that "Deuces" is supposed to be serious, but that's not a serious song. That's a fun one. The title mirrors my birthday April 22nd. We released it on April 22 at 4:22pm. We're kind of crazy!
It's got a futuristic sound. Would you say it's "Space Hip Hop?"
"Space Hip Hop," I like that! We purposefully recorded it nasty [Laughs]. I don't know how to describe the sound. "Deuces" is a lot more Rammstein. It has that feel, musically. I don't remember who it was, but they said, "It has that Rammstein feel, bro." I went, "Get the fuck out of here!" I never meant to do that, but I love Rammstein. So it's a big compliment. The rest of the album is different. When it goes from song to song, there's a different vibe each time. There's another feeling you haven't felt before on the album with every track. It's an album of feelings. RZA says it's the most spiritual that he's ever gotten, because each song is a feeling that we've all had.
The album traverses that whole spectrum of human emotion. It covers everything.
Yes, that's a great way of saying it. It covers anger, sadness, happiness, and it even has a sexual part. Do you believe that? It really does. I swear to God. For me, there's a part of the album that I could make love to. There are just certain songs you can fuck to, and we've made one of them [Laughs].
It feels like the lyrics and beats are very intertwined. It's very smooth and mechanical.
It's like a train coming at you. Thank you for catching that. "Deuces" has gotten mixed remarks. From the metal fans you hear, "Oh, it's hip hop." I'm like, "Yeah, no kidding. That's what I've been saying for two years!" [Laughs] I've said that. Would you rather it was rap metal? It's hip hop, period. Thank you and good night!
It's for open-minded music fans that really want to feel. You and RZA have both experienced so much.
Things have deeply happened to us in our lives. He's talking about some serious stuff. He's saying some cool shit. RZA says, "We didn't just do it because of our love for music, but because of our bond, our pasts, our cultures and our beliefs." A lot of it has to do with us being raised the same way. We've gone through Hell and Heaven. From the Armenian genocide to slavery, he's mentioning all that stuff. The whole genocide shit tripped him out, when I told him about it. He was like, "What? That shit happened, and I don't know about it?" Then when Congress passed the bill the first time last year, of course it got vetoed, but the first time it went through, he was the first person that got in touch with me. It came on my little blackberry. He goes, "It happened, bro!" He thought America accepted the genocide. He got so happy. He was like, "You did it man! You did it!" I was like, "No man, they just accepted the bill. Now, they have to go and vote on it." He just said, "Damn!" At least he's getting excited for that. RZA has opened up my consciousness to so much shit. I can't even explain to you how he's changed my life in so many ways as a human being.
He's a very forward thinking individual, and he's an artist. You guys are on the same plane.
He's just like, "Boom, that's what I do. That's how I do it." We don't do it because we have to, we do it because we want to. The first talk that we ever had, eight or nine years ago, we both agreed that we would be making music even if we didn't do it for a living. That's the coolest thing in the world. After that nine-to-five job that we'd have, we'd come back here and do this. That was the first click.
That comes across on "Deuces." It's all very natural for you guys.
That's the first song that we ever did together. That's why we released it. That's been brewing. That song was done in my bedroom! It was a quick mix by DJ King Tech. That's before there was an Achozen. We were just singing about The Achozen. We weren't called Achozen, yet. We were talking about these people that understand, and they're the five percent. Then we were like, "Why don't we become the Achozen?" We are.
You both have that artistic consciousness, and you see things the same way. You come from different backgrounds, but you're both artists.
We come from totally different backgrounds and different sides of the world. I was born in Armenia, and he was born in Brooklyn. I was born one of one. He was born one of eleven.
Where do the songs begin for you?
I'm making beats and playing instruments. The songs can start from anything. They can start from a rap or one of RZA's poems—he's a poet and a writer. My tech Kevin Potts has inspired a lot of beats. He's been around, and he's always hanging out with me. Sometimes we'll slow the beats down. Then I'll see that the beat needs a sitar or a bass. That's how it happens. Then the vocalist comes on, and if the vocalist is patterned a certain way, I might play a certain instrument to the melody of the vocals. It all depends on the vibe of the song. You'll hear it when you listen to it.
Achozen has that family vibe and mentality that Wu-Tang Clan always prided themselves on.
Yeah, it does have a family mentality. We're a group. On each song, somebody says something about The Achozen. It's just like the "W" in Wu-Tang. There's a symbol. Every song has something to say about strength in numbers and power in family.
Those concepts are necessary now more than ever.
Oh yeah. Also "Deuces" is the first song that has the words "shit" or "fuck" in it, because we don't want a parental advisory sticker on the record. We're trying!
It seems like there's more to this than music. What's the aim of Achozen as a mentality?
Well, we always talk about how the world is full of 85 percenters. You can look at it religiously, or in layman's terms. The 85 percenters are the blind, deaf and dumb. They can't really lead. It's not their fault. They're not born enlightened. They have to be led. Then you have the 15 percent that are enlightened. 10 percent of them shine and glow. They have the ability to lead, but they know they do, so they do it wickedly i.e. politicians and businessmen. They could sell ice to an Eskimo. They use their talents for the wrong reasons. Then, there are the five percent that are enlightened, but they use it righteously. It sucks that the five percent are the minority, but those are The Achozen. We like to make people aware that the five percent exists, the 10 percent exists and the 85 percent exists. We want everyone to put themselves in a group and find out more about themselves. Then, maybe we'll have more fivers. Maybe, we'll have seven next year.
Or hopefully more…
Religiously, this could never happen, if you look at it. It's spoken about in the Koran and a lot of places. I'm talking just about you and me. If you look at a crowd of 100 people, about 10 or 15 of them shine for no reason. They just do. They stand out, because their auras shine. If certain people look at you in the eye, you might have to look away, because they're so intimidating—they have deep eyes. In another song, RZA said, "You can see the wickedness of a man through his iris." You can see the wickedness and the strength. Old souls shine. I think old souls are Achozen. I put those two together. The fivers are older. You can see it through their eyes. They have deeper eyes. They have wisdom that only comes from age and having an old soul. You don't remember your other lives, because your soul doesn't have a brain. Your brain holds memory. The soul just holds experience. So if you don't remember, it doesn't mean that it never happened. That's what Achozen is trying to get out right now. We're going to get out a lot of different lessons. But right now, this is the first lesson: to know oneself. Know oneself and be a welder. Do it by yourself and for yourself. That's what a welder does; he builds things from scratch. That's what an 85 percenter can't do. Once you do it, you know that you're not in that class. Then decide where you want to go, because from 10 to five, that's a decision. From 85 to 15, that's not a decision, that's just how you're born. You can't help it. You can't become enlightened. You are, or you aren't. It's not your fault. It's up to you to be wicked or righteous though. That's a moral decision.
That's a very classical concept for art. It goes back to The Bible, Shakespeare and even Star Wars. It's in everything.
Thank you! Star Wars is the perfect example. Choose the dark side or the light side. Anakin has the force. He's enlightened, but he has to choose, and he chooses the dark side. Luke doesn't.
Well, when you're enlightened there's a big responsibility to take that choice seriously. A lot of people don't. They get blinded by materialism or fleeting pleasures.
Oh, hardcore. Even some of the Achozen get blinded. Man, I've seen it right in front of me. It's easy to get blinded. It's the toughest to give a fuck. How much harder is it to say, "I care about you and what happens to you" than to say "Who gives a fuck?"
That's why this project is so important. You and RZA have the respect to spread awareness and a positive message.
We're talking about it. We're talking about doing interviews like this. It's not, "How'd you guys meet?" We met at the studio, because I did "Shame" with Wu-Tang for a compilation. We've talked about that story enough already. You already know that. This is what we really want to do. We want to share this with the rest of the world. He's got stories, and he taught me. He's my mentor. Right now he's doing the Afro Samurai 2 project, and then the Bobby Digital record and tour. That's when I'm working on all of this, here. Then he's in. He had all of this stuff built before.
You also collaborated with George Clinton. What was that like?
George Clinton is my boy. He's really cool. We're going to do a project together. I played with Parliament live once in Long Beach and once in Vegas. It's funny how I met George Clinton. I was writing a track alone one night, and randomly, George Clinton called me through this dude I know. I was so shocked. I was like, "Is this the real George Clinton?" He just replied, "That's what my momma named me!" We talked for so long. That song that I was writing at that time, he ended up being on it. He's on two Achozen tracks. I heard RZA in the background when he called. I was tripping, and I could hear RZA going, "He's tripping, huh?" [Laughs] I was like, "No kidding, I'm tripping, man! George Clinton's on the phone with me!" George was like, "I love what you're doing with Achozen." The next week I invited him over, and he was at my house. It was such a blast playing with him live. My friend Corey Soria filmed the Long Beach show. He's a righteous filmmaker and one of the Achozen few too. When I was playing with Clinton, it was like, "That's P-funk dude." On stage, George said, "We have a special guest." You can't say that about me. I don't care who I am. I'm a little kid. We jammed for 20 minutes. We ended the show in Vegas with my jam; it became a celebration. That will all make it to urSESSION exclusively on there.
As a musician, especially with System of a Down, you emanated an immense, almost uncontrollable amount of energy on-stage. It seems like that power and energy have been focused in Achozen. Would you say that's the case?
I miss that. I will say that's the case, because I haven't been able to get on stage and do that. I can't do it. None of that energy is out right now. It was out April 22nd, all day. When "Deuces" started playing on urSESSION at 4:22pm, man, I felt like I gave birth. At 4:20pm, I was pacing around my house like a little baby. No one had ever heard us before. That was the first time anyone besides friends heard Achozen. They didn't even know what it would sound like. A lot of people still don't. The record covers a lot of different emotions—not just lyrically, but musically. When the album drops, that's going to be the greatest for me. Oh my God, I can't wait. We're releasing it through urSESSION so far, in late Summer. Then we'll be touring.
How'd everything come about with urSESSION? Where'd you get that idea?
My best friend from first grade, Narb, and I were hanging out three years ago. We were talking about how YouTube just sold for 1.6 billion dollars, and how crazy that whole concept was. We were talking about how easy it is to get shit online now. Plus, we were discussing American Idol and MySpace blowing up. It was those three things that gave me and Narb the idea. We were like, "Why don't we have a label where musicians could audition via web cam?" We were going to make it a phone call where people could audition via phone. I was like, "Nah, that's not going to work. No one's going to want to sing into the phone." I was like, "Dude there's YouTube. Anybody can grab a camera and audition that way!" That's when it clicked, and we ran to the copyright offices [Laughs]. No one had done it. It just passed three weeks ago. No one can audition via web cam, unless they do it through us. It's pretty cool. That's how it came about.
It gives a lot of young artists a chance that they may not get otherwise.
There are so many artists out there that have no means of making a demo. They have no money. They don't know anybody. They live in buttfuck, nowhere. I have a friend who's on the record. His name is Leggezin Fin, and he's from Angola. Now, if he didn't meet certain people from here and there, he would've never been on my record. He would've never been mentioned. He's an Achozen affiliate. He's going to be on tour with us. He raps in Portuguese. He's the bomb. He starts three songs on the record. He's a foreign exchange student. He goes to art school, and he wants to be an architect. He's the bombest hip hop lyricist, but he's doing what he loves. He's an artist. That's what I'm saying! It's people like that. How do we find them? How does the world hear them? So we made urSESSION. If you go on there, and you click on "World," you'll find the coolest shit you've ever seen in your life. I've pointed it out. My site is not just a site to get signed on. Go on there and you'll discover so many cool people. Forget Myspace, dude! Go on there, and you'll hear them playing. You'll see them playing. There are 12-year-old kids banging their heads on there, and there are girls rapping. It's the coolest thing in the world. Nothing's exclusive. Any artist can sign to a different label, if they want. We don't care. We just want to discover artists.
You're going to sign certain urSESSION artists though, right?
Yup, that's how it works. We start putting them out online. It's all the band's decision. If the signed bands want to be in stores, we'll get them a distribution deal through a major label. It's a win-win situation for anyone. It's pretty much a one-stop shop. Plus, we've got an area called urBAND. I thought of that. There you can go find band members, lyricists or singers. That's the coolest part of it. I actually found a drummer I'm jamming with on there! John Frusciante and I are also jamming together. Between him, RZA and everyone else, I'm dealing with geniuses here. I have to power my way through [Laughs].
Are there any artists you're particularly excited about on urSESSION?
I have an amazing young band called Chameleon Conductor. I want to do their record. They're in the developmental stage. They have about ten songs and some great ideas. They'll be signed by urSESSION. They're like a progressive rock band, and they do these weird tech jams. They're little 21year-olds that listen to Camel, King Crimson and Genesis. They're the future. I'm like, "What?" [Laughs].
Where are you going to take things next?
Films. I've already been writing. I have a few ideas, but there's one that's out of this world. No one's ever done it.
You have such a great mentality and approach.
Just do it. People need to follow their dreams. If you talk about it, but can't do it, that's fucked up, because people notice it. If you don't talk about it and can't do it, at least you tried. The sky's the limit. It comes down to hustling and hard work. You can hustle in a totally good way. You've got to get yourself out there, man. There are some people that talk too much. I don't like it when people talk about how badass they are. I've never said, "Yo, Achozen's the dopest, man!" You'll never hear me say that. I just like what I do. I'm having fun with it.