For Shavo Odadjian, the choice wasn't just metal – it was about finding the right groove. In a scene saturated with shredding guitarists, the System Of A Down bassist took a chance, swapping six strings for four and becoming a crucial part of the band's genre-bending sound.
Before the Armenian-American quartet took the world by storm with their self-titled debut in 1998, Odadjian was just another aspiring musician navigating the competitive Los Angeles scene. A guitarist since his early teens, he found himself facing a glut of fellow six-string slingers vying for band spots.
"I guess I was like 18 when I picked up a bass. I'd been a guitar player since I was 11 or 12 – and I still am a guitar player; I have more guitars than basses – but at that time I was trying to get into a band." Odadjian recalls in an interview with Bass Player "Guitar players in LA were a dime a dozen, and when I teamed up with some guys in a band it was the time when Rage Against the Machine and Tool were coming out."
"We were auditioning for bass players, but most of the guys who came in were either too good for the job – they all sounded like Les Claypool! – or they sounded like they just picked up the bass a month ago. There was no middle ground for guys who just grooved, where the bass is supposed to be." he explains.
Fueled by the band's need for a bassist and the lack of suitable candidates, a lightbulb moment struck. "One day I just said, 'What if I play bass guitar while we're looking for a bass player?' And so I hit the bass right away."
And just like that, Odadjian picked up the bass, embracing the low-end groove with surprising ease. While he eventually regretted trading in some cherished guitar gear for his new instrument, the switch proved pivotal: "It didn't take long. The single regret of my musical career is that when I switched to bass I traded in some guitar equipment – and I have a lot of equipment – that I wish I still had. It was a Randall guitar amp which I traded in and got a bass. That's my one regret. I wish I'd just saved some money and bought the bass instead. I miss the sound of that Randall!"
Odadjian's bass lines went on to become a cornerstone of System Of A Down's sound, seamlessly weaving between jazz, prog, and metal influences to create a unique sonic tapestry.