Let’s follow up our recent Metal Riot Otep album review with a one/two punch interview with the outspoken lady herself. As many fans know, Otep has stated that the recent HYDRA (Victory Records) will be her last album of metallic fusion rock catharsis. After numerous full lengths, building a massive online following and years of touring (including remaining one of the most outspoken hard rock voices during the plastic, exploited patriotism of the Bush years), Otep Shamaya is moving on to do other things. Is this record a fitting send off? You bet.
This is the 4th time I have interviewed Otep and each time I have been really pleased with the depth of her answers and willingness to discuss things many “keepin’ it real” bands shy away from. Check this out and celebrate Otep’s career with Metal Riot.
We discussed the finality of HYDRA, Gun Control, amnesia in society, her graphic novel, LGBT, metal genre snobs and keyboard cowboys plus lots of other fun stuff. I wish every interview was as much fun as the times I’ve gotten to talk to Otep. Horns up and speak out.
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Otep, listening back to lots of your songs due to the news of HYDRA being your last album, and I am having a lot of memories. First, thank you for all your efforts in the heavy music world and for being yourself year after year. How does it feel to have HYDRA unveiled to the public and have this all coming full circle? Also, do you feel your recent live album is a good testament to your touring legacy?
Thank you for your kind words of support. I am grateful to have created six albums and an EP, I am grateful to the fans in the extreme music community who have embraced me. I am grateful to have defied stereotypes and shattered perceptions wherever I could. And, yes, I am very proud of HYDRA. Everyone knows that I can scream, I’m the “girl who goes grrr”, but what I love most about what I do is the writing. I find no peace like that experienced when I am in the muse-stream. So, with HYDRA, I was able to do all the things that fans love about what I do, big roars, high banshee shrieks, & my fierce ‘barbarian yawp over the roofs of the world’ (to coin Whitman), but I also wanted to tell a story. Well, to be truthful, HYDRA wanted to tell HER story. When I began writing the album, I realized very quickly that the songs I was writing belonged to her. So, I surrendered to her instruction and she navigated into very dark & dangerous waters.
How do you feel, during the journey of your career, that you most evolved as an artist or person or even singer or performer? That is a big question, but…you are well spoken!
I don’t have much of a line between my personal life and my professional life. My creative instincts liberate me, they empower me to grow, to have courage to break the mundane away. I am still seeking to evolve, to become better at what I do, what I am, who I am, as a person, as an artist. In fact, I’d like to become less person and more artist. I hate those long intervals of sanity (to coin Poe), of quiet normalcy, of ordinary everyday life. Art teaches that there is beauty even in the mundane which then destroys what is mundane. Even in emptiness there is inspiration therefore there is no emptiness. To be an artist is to live outside of the cultural costumes and social identities and mental prisons anchoring us to existence.
What are you going to miss most about playing live? Your fan base really takes a lot of strength from you and it is empowering, but do you hope they will now go on to make their own art? I love that you have never been a genre snob and have always incorporated elements of many styles of heavy music as well as atmosphere. It made for a more rewarding live experience. Any gigs that stand out as terrific memories? Bands you loved touring with?
Genre snob. Thank you. I love that term. I seek inspiration in everything that I experience. Music evolves and grows in me based on what I ingest. I will miss live performance. It’s the reason I wanted to become a professional musician. I hope my fans will continue to seek authenticity in their art. To expect depth from their favorite artists. And know that though this may be an ending, it’s also a beginning. I will always create and generate art.
Can you discuss the ‘Hydra’ concept? The album is very dynamic with some of the sharpest peaks and valleys heard on any of your releases. I love the melodic bridge/ending of “Seduce & Destroy”, one of best songs you’ve ever done! HYDRA feels like a culmination of all the atmosphere or anger we have heard from you from THE ASCENSION and SEVAS TRA to ATAVIST. But also its’ own thing. It feels like these are some of your rawest, deepest screams. One part as an interviewer I hate is trying to get an artist to summarize a very personal yet public process, creation of a work of art, etc. but it comes with the territory. Can you somehow describe your process and feelings while making this record?
Thank you. You are one of the few interviewers who actually seem to understand and appreciate the experience I was hoping to evoke. HYDRA was conceived from a graphic novel I’ve been writing but also the producer Ulrich Wild and my guitarist Aristotle and I all set out to accomplish 3 things sonically for this album. Number one, build a sense of nostalgia from the architecture of the earlier albums. Number two, allow ourselves to be brave and intrepid as we write new music with newer influences. And number three, blend these two things seamlessly into something that is at once sacred and ancient but also modern with the zest of something completely new. I think we, as spiritual and creative archeologists, uncovered and excavated something very deep and meaningful. A treasure of immeasurable wealth in the form of this album.
“Jonestown Tea” to the haunting “Eat The Children” to “Rise Rebel Resist”, you have always been outspoken. Are you still planning to continue doing activism? As an individual you have a vast online community and can still be engaged in discussing current events or important issues with them. I hope that doesn’t end with the end of the OTEP band. I hated when Rage didn’t make an album during all the years of the Bush presidency. Not that they HAVE to but their voice was missed…then again, Maynard from Tool once said something akin to people who liked his band should have gotten something out of it enough to be inspired to make their own art and statements and not “need” Tool, necessarily. I think I paraphrased or remembered that right. Thoughts?
I agree. During the 8 years that jackass Bush and that vile troll Cheney were treating our country like a diaper, I felt very isolated (as one of the few artists who spoke out) but endeavored to do my own raging against the machine because I felt I had no other choice. I love my country. I feel blessed to be an American. I will continue to fight for equality and animal rights, not because I feel I’ve been ordained to do so, but because I believe it’s my duty as a woman and a citizen and a gay woman who is a citizen of these United States of America. I have freedoms here, in this country, that many like me do not. Many like me suffer greatly, every single day, under tyranny and oppression, under threat of violence or even death. Many women and men died and suffered so that people like me can have a voice, can be involved in their community. It was illegal once. It’s hard to believe, but it wasn’t until the 1920’s that women could vote in America. It seems some conservatives would like to take us back to that time. And that’s why I will continue to be informed, to be involved, and to fight for justice.
Do you mind, I hope this doesn’t sound rude, but there are some keyboard jockeys out there who have said dumb shit like you are quitting because of message board critics who hate on you. I think that is really lame of people to say. You have worked really hard and made a lot of records is an uphill industry. Care to clear the air at all?
There’s a rumor that I’m quitting because jackasses on a message board “hated” on me?? Well, that’s laughable. Absurd, really. I actually love a good fight. It’s all I’ve ever done. Physically, verbally, intellectually, politically, artistically. Whereas most people try to avoid conflict, I embrace it, welcome it, incite it! Ask anyone who knows me, I get a thrill from combat. That’s why HYDRA was so fun to write. But the answer is no. I’m not quitting extreme music because of some dweebs on a message board who spend their days typing hate-speech and tossing about racist, sexist, & homophobic remarks behind the safety of their computer. Those cowards wouldn’t last two seconds at an OTEP show. They have zero relevance on my decision to spend more time on other projects. In my daily life, living in Los Angeles, where I spend my days writing and my nights seducing supermodels, a few insignificant colostomy bags on a message board don’t even enter my thoughts.
What gave you the idea to make a graphic novel and can you talk about the story that is the backdrop of HYDRA? It seems like you wanted to go out with a bang and create a statement that sort of is the ultimate OTEP distilled to the core essence of what seem to you stand for. Am I wrong?
The graphic novel began as a short story, which developed into a book, that gave me the idea to create the graphic novel. I have a few others on the back burner but I’ve yet to able to give them any real attention because music has been the tip of the spear, so to speak. HYDRA is meant to be everything that it is. A stand alone concept album that is encoded with a Fibonacci sequence of material, a story designed to inhabit the listener, surrounded by a sea of sound that will seduce and destroy.
As far as your role as a voice in the LGBT community, can you talk about how it felt to interact with fans who may be struggling with gender or sexual identity who drew inspiration from you? I personally am 33 and have always been outspoken myself, but I only came out as bi last year! It is weird…I never felt like I deserved to claim that because I vastly prefer women, but it doesn’t mean the other aspects/shades of my sexuality don’t exist. I think people feel like they have to be in certain cookie cutter molds…but then with the war on gay marriage and being inspired myself by outspoken artists like yourself or my deceased friend Dean Johnson from a great NYC band Velvet Mafia, I realized that I have no reason to feel like I can’t own my own identity fully and to help promote solidarity. So, cheers.
Right on. Fight on. I applaud you for your courage and desperately hope we someday find ourselves in an era when we no longer need to hide or congratulate anyone for coming out and instead it’s just part of our reality. Cheers to that. Personally, I believe that if we take the social stigmas away, the cultural bonds, that most people would identify themselves as bisexual. I think being a true heterosexual and a true homosexual are actually very rare. Every human being that has ever existed began from a female template. It’s the reason men have nipples. So why is it so difficult to believe that if we all began as the same gender we might be wired for omni-attraction? It seems reasonable to me and in fact most likely true. I don’t know why everyone has such an issue with who someone is in love with or who someone is attracted to. What’s next? Are we to legislate between the races again? Or this time hair color maybe? Blondes cannot date gingers! I mean, it’s absurd when you think about it.
Can you talk about tracking the song “Blowtorch Nightlight”? It feels like you really reached down to a deep place for that one. And, I mean…”Fuck you, forever”! Why hasn’t anyone screamed that before? Seems like a no brainer! Congrats on an awesome song.
Thank you. It’s a song that is very personal to me but again, HYDRA wrote the album. Her intention was to create an anthem based on her search for the one who made her and to give a glimpse of the processes that created and summoned this dark thing that now inhabits her.
I thought ATAVIST was your ultimate statement, but HYDRA is just as bold. Do you have a favorite release of your own or do you let each album live on its’ own merits?
Each album is its own creation. They are captured moments that represent little amber fossils of who I was at the time I wrote them. It’s quite strange to understand it that way. It’s my perspective. It’s as if I’m looking through an old journal or photo album and remembering what life was like for me at that time or how I was coping with existence during that recording process. I am so proud of all I’ve done and so grateful to have such passionate supporters.
Lastly, I am hoping this will be like Jay-Z’s “Encore” and you’ll say you are retiring but then return and that your biggest and best work is yet to come, but if this is the last time I get to interview you I would hate to miss out on asking you a last question about politics. Can you discuss your thoughts on the complex issue of Gun Control now being debated? Obviously there is self-defense and then there is insanity and excess, but I also understand some people really fear giving up their right to bear arms in a corrupt world.
Well, no one knows what the future will hold. I love music, I can’t say for certain that this is the end but all I can say, for certain, is that right now, at this moment, it feels like the right time to devote my energy to the other animals of my creative instincts. As for gun violence, well, I’m a gun owner and I support the Constitution which states that we have the right to a “well regulated militia”. That means laws, it means rules. I love firearms, I love the mechanics of them, the engineering, the feel, the weight, the look, the boom, the thrill of the explosion and detonation of the target, but I also believe it should be held in the same strict regard as getting a drivers license. Training, testing, licensing, retesting, relicensing. It’s a killing machine for god’s sake. Why wouldn’t we want it to be in the hands of only those properly trained? I don’t want my grumpy conservative mentally unstable neighbors to own uranium, or a tank, or an RPG or an illegal firearm. And I don’t want someone with mental health problems be able to walk into a superstore and pick up a box of pampers, a bottle of booze, and an AK-47 with armor piercing rounds. I believe in the Constitution and the protections it has for us as citizens and gun owners.
Thank you, Otep!
Pics by C3 Photography and Djosefin Maurer