Over the past 15 years, Shavo Odadjian has held out hope that his metal band System of a Down would record and release some new music. “I’m still loyal like that,” he tells Billboard. “I’m like, ‘I’m married to System. How dare I have another group!’ ”
Now, however, Odadjian does have another group. North Kingsley is a trio that the bassist/multi-instrumentalist formed during the past few years, partly out of frustration with the other act’s 15-year recording stasis due to its members’ conflicting ideas about creating new music, as well as other endeavors. The threesome’s first track, “Like That?,” premiered Aug. 7 via streaming services, and its first EP, Vol. 1, is due out Aug. 14 on 22 Red Media.
Odadjian plans to release more small batches of music during the next year or so and will possibly compile the material into a full-length album at some point. “We have 12 songs finished and ready to go,” he says. “It was going to be an album, and then I started thinking, ‘We’re living in 2020; crazy times. Forget about the album — let’s drop music. Let’s do EPs. Let’s do four EPs of three songs and drop ’em every three months, and we’ll keep being relevant.’ I really don’t think there’s a bad song — that’s my opinion — so we can have three big songs at a time and even drop one song if that’s what we want to do.”
The genesis of North Kingsley — named after the gritty Los Angeles street that Odadjian grew up on from the time he was five-years-old — occurred about two years ago, when he was building a studio and wanted to learn some new technologies. A friend introduced him to producer Saro Paparian (a fellow Armenian and hip-hop producer), and their relationship evolved from mentoring to collaboration. “Something just happened in the studio when I was learning Logic Pro,” recalls Odadjian. “I just looked at him and thought, ‘This might be the guy. It’s a perfect match.’ ”
Odadjian — who previously has worked with RZA, George Clinton and Abloom, as well as a DJ outside of System of a Down — initially envisioned using a variety of guest vocalists, but after Paparian brought in lyricist-frontman Ray Hawthorne, North Kingsley established a firm identity.
“We weren’t forming a band. It wasn’t like that,” explains Odadjian. “I kept calling us a team, a crew, people that could make beats and music for others and ourselves. For a while, I was kind of weird about even having a name for us. It took me over a year to say, ‘OK, this is my new band.’ I’m not a solo artist. I love to collaborate. I just want to release this [music] that’s inside of me and not have to wait for [System of a Down] to get to do it.”
Odadjian says writing for North Kingsley has continued beyond the first 12 songs, and he even notes that the initial material “feels like stone-age stuff. It gave me the feeling we could do this, but we [have] progressed a lot.” He plans for North Kingsley to be a live act, though when performances can be held, either virtually or in-person, have not yet been determined.
Meanwhile, Odadjian says, he’s still “holding some stuff for System because I really feel like maybe one day they’ll all come around, and if they do, I’m ready for that. But I can’t be on hold anymore.” The group was supposed to tour Europe this year. Instead, it wound up making headlines when bandmate John Dolmayan began voicing conservative political views, including support for President Donald Trump, much to the surprise of fans who assumed that System of a Down’s members were all of a liberal bent. Nevertheless, frontman Serj Tankian, Dolmayan’s brother-in-law, voiced support for the drummer’s freedom of speech and choice.
“It was a little horrifying and kind of scary to watch … and then it was like entertainment,” says Odadjian. “I was like, ‘We’re not politicians, bro. We’re a band. Who cares what you think?’ I guess it’s kind of interesting to watch as a viewer or a fan. I’m kind of right in the middle — I’m an independent, not far left or far right. But I don’t think everyone needs to know about that, do they?”
Listen to “Like That?” below: