Interview with Otep Shamaya
Band Photo: Otep (?)
Saturday May 9 I had the opportunity to sit down and get in the head of the frontwoman of one of the most politically active bands to date. I interviewed Otep Shamaya of the band that bares her name, the awesome Otep. The interview went very well, I discovered we share the same political views and that their new album is definately going to be their best to date. Otep was very down to earth, personabale, and overall amazing person to talk with. The interview is as follows:
Savagebutcher: How has the tour been so far and have there been any shows you've enjoyed in particular or any you're looking forward to?
Otep: The tour's been fantastic; Static-X is an incredibly talented band, there's no ego and there's a lot of solidarity. The fans have been crazy, for us the anticipation for the new material and the new record has been outrageous. For me, I think some of the most memorable shows have been the Norva in Norfolk, Virginia, the Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia, and the show we played last night, I can't remember the name of it though and tonight's show should be amazing. Also, I can't wait until we get back home to Los Angeles because it's our home and it's just crazy there.
Savagebutcher: You guys released 2 full length albums, 1 EP, performed Ozzfest twice, and did the Def poetry sessions for HBO. How do you feel all of this has evolved the band into what it is today and how do you feel personally affected by it?
Otep: Ozzfest is just great and Sharon's an amazing woman and took really good care of us. Ozzfest is an amazing setting to play, even though, for the rotating bands, you're only playing for 20 minutes, you're playing in front of a great load of people every day, the fans are just nuts, and it's run really well.
Savagebutcher: Yea, I was at the '04 Ozzfest and saw you guys.
Otep: Yeah, o man, that one was great, I was able to stand on Kerry King's side of the stage every night and just watch him play and it's crazy because Judas Priest was on that tour too and every time Rob Halford would hit a high not, you'd see lightning strike. I swear, we would watch for it, every time, it was just the most amazing thing. For me personally, having opportunities to do the Def Poetry for HBO, which is completely separate from this sort of eccentric lunacy of underground music is the opportunity to explore the oration. I think it's given me more, from the fans that saw it to the people who are unfamiliar with our music, it's just really cool and I think it helped validate what we're doing.
Savagebutcher: I remember watching a little bit of it and I was very impressed.
Otep: Well, thank you, I've done it twice and they only aired one show because you're only allowed 2 minutes and 22 seconds, but they don't give you a clock. So, you don't know if you go over and if you go over then they cut you from the show so you have to end it quick. It was amazing because when I walked out there, they make it look like it's filmed in Harlem, but it's filmed in Times Square, so you walk out and it's like this really urban atmosphere and they didn't know what to make of me, but at the end, the poets were applauding and it was a really cool experience.
Savagebutcher: I only have your first album don't get mad at me for that...
Savagebutcher: But I listen to your singles and the videos when they come out and you guys keep on getting better and heavier.
Otep: Aw, thank you
Savagebutcher: How do you challenge yourselves?
Otep: Ha-ha, thank you! I think it's the type of art that I personally like to see and experience and it's that we're artists evolved. We're constantly changing and evolving and that's what I hope and that's what I think an artist's job is, to grow and make themselves vulnerable and put challenges that seem difficult, or different, or strange so that you can have that moment of discovery. That's what was really important for this album, was to, I think when band's put out their first record, it may not be their best record, but there's energy about it. There's the risk taking, this energy, this hunger about it and I really wanted to recapture that for this album so that was the mindset, no limits, no laws, we just follow music wherever it takes us and I think regardless of whatever the genre expects of us, at least people will respect our intention and we'll still have our integrity.
Savagebutcher: You guys are constantly being labeled as "nu metal", "rap metal", you guys are constantly pigeon holed, and some say "oh, this band should have been gone long ago." What are your words to the haters and how do you feel about being pigeon holed and how do feel about being considered underrated?
Otep: I don't consider it at all. I tend to think of it as there's a certain type of person that needs to label everything in their life. For example, "Oh, this is metal, this is traditional, this is nu metal, and this isn't metal." Yet, "why do you listen to metal music", "because no one understands me and they won't accept me for who I am." But then you get into that world, "Fuck you! You're not like us", you've just become what you hate. So, um, to all the haters out there FUCK OFF! Start a band and you go out and show us how it's done if that's what you want to say and don't listen to us, who cares. There's certain new styles of music that I don't care for, you can call us whatever you want, rap metal, nu metal, shit metal, whatever, I don't care. I make music because I enjoy exploring the creativity. I don't think a lot of people understand the type of music we do the artistic, eccentric part of it and that's ok. Come to a show and experience it for yourself.
Savagebutcher: You guys are one of the bigger underground bands, do you like that?
Otep: Yeah, we like that; I think there's a certain level of respect you can maintain with yourself and your fans. We were like an underground band on a major label, and that was ok. We want to play music and have as many people exposed to our music and our style of art as possible, but I think the DIY mentality, the Do It Yourself mentality, is really important to keep a close relationship with your fan base.
Savagebutcher: How did Otep form?
Otep: I was a street poet and I had gone to Ozzfest 2000 as a fan and I saw this little crappy band that was playing and said, "I can do this!" and told the guy that I was with, "I'll be here next year", and he laughed, but in 2001 at Ozzfest, we were there! So, thoughts become things as they say, but I met a guy, who said he knew a guy, and I showed him my poems, songs and art and I said I want to make music out of it. So we held auditions and basically the first guitar player we brought in knew a drummer, who knew EvilJ and we rotated with musicians like that and I'm really proud of the line-up we have now. It's like 3 Chicago boys, J, Brian, and now the new guitar player, Aaron, Brian and Aaron have known each other for a long time and grew up together and were in bands together. So, the camaraderie there is really nice to have, it's nice to have people that believe in the same things as I do and not have to force anything on anyone. They believe that they want to make music for music's sake.
Savagebutcher: How do you feel music has changed from when you were growing up?
Otep: I think image has diluted content; it is image over content right now. It's what you wear and look like, even sound quality, I think it is now more about the image in music, versus the making of music and I wish it would get back to that. Get more back to the songs and song composition, it seems to be suffering and no one knows how to write a song anymore. The music industry itself is cannibalizing itself in a desperate way, in a lot of the bands; the great songwriters are leaving and becoming songwriters because it's easier to make a living, they can still follow their dreams and hearts and still be true to their artistic instincts, but it's just so difficult to deal with all the record label bullshit.
Savagebutcher: Otep is one of the most fan-friendly bands, with your street team, and the ability to instant message you guys, how do think Otep has managed to maintain that for the past 7 years?
Otep: I don't think I know another way to do it. For me, I grew up isolated from a lot of people that thought the way I did and believed in the same things as I do so when suddenly there was this community of people that were supporting the art that I make, it was really important for me not to lose touch with that. So, to keep everyone around, it's this bizarre counterculture that's coming up is just great. Now, technology seems to be further empowering our ability to stay in touch with our fans and reward them for their belief and support in our music and it seems like it's just going to keep flourishing and growing and we're glad we're doing it.
Savagebutcher: Yea, what other band can you IM on AIM, that's awesome! It's not like I can go IM Kerry King or someone on the weekend!
Otep: Ha-ha, yea, thank you brother! You know, it's just interesting for me to, because again, I really enjoy the mental intercourse of discovering someone else's thoughts. Like sometimes I get into some serious philosophical political discussions with people and we don't agree. So lately, because of the political nature of this country we've been receiving a lot of e-mails from soldiers in around the world and they thank us for speaking out because they can't speak out against the boss, they'd get in trouble, you know? They thank us for doing it, for being their voice and that's really empowering. Then, other things where people come to me and say, "I was abused as a kid and your music helped me confront that", it's really touching. Two girls used the song off the first record, "Jonestown Tea", to tell their mother that their father was molesting them and he went to prison and some girl in South Carolina gave me a piece of her blanket to put on my mic stand that was held over her face when she was 3 years old when she was molested by her mother's boyfriend, I mean, that's REAL, you know, and of course, it's on my mic stand. That's reason enough to stay in touch with people.
Savagebutcher: So, with the new album, I noticed you've been able to mix the political aspect you put into the second album with the material you put into your first album, Why are more political in the second album than the first and why not make the first album as political?
Otep: Well, if you listen to the first record, there's political stuff on the first album such as, "Thoughts", that was centered around the World Trade Center attack and there's bits and pieces of my thoughts on the people that did it and broader strokes on the people that do the same sort of attacks on a smaller scale on their own communities every day. It wasn't until we started writing the second record that we invaded a sovereign nation for no fucking reason...
Savagebutcher: Other than oil!
Otep: Yea, right, other than oil, exactly. And to set a precedent of preeminent warfare which is really bizarre to me. It seemed like I just couldn't stand it any more, I think if I wasn't in music I'd probably be in politics or some sort of activism.
Savagebutcher: Well, what do think of America being the next Britain in that we're poking our noses in everyone's business and are like Imperialists?
Otep: I think we're doing it! I think we've been doing it since probably Vietnam.
Savagebutcher: Yea, I just took a world history class that ranges from the 1500 up to now and it's like holy shit, Britain fucked the world up!
Otep: Yea, and in some ways they still are and look at us, we're the bastard child of that. I think it's important that the one thing we have here is that we do have the opportunity to be involved and our level of involvement really depends on us. If you really want to be involved and get involved, there's nothing stopping you.
Savagebutcher: So, what are Otep's plans after the tour and.....
Otep: WORLD DOMINATION!!!
Savagebutcher: Awesome! Ha-ha and any advice for people trying to get into the business?
Otep: Get a good manager, ha-ha, and I would definitely say work. I mean I can only speak to singers and writers, read more than you write, be open in all you do and always just stay true to yourself and trust the people around you, if you've got them around you, then you should be able to trust them.
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