The Ascension of Otep Shamaya and her Legion
I found Otep to be interesting and honest and extremely private about her life. So far, she has been the most interesting interview of 2008. I think it would be sheer hell to try to write her biography, because her private life is just that-private.
*Special Editor’s note-In all of the years that MusicIncider has been around, a man has always been the cover-and we are honored to announce that Otep is our first woman to grace the cover for issue 8.*
MI: What’s your birth date, even though we know you’ve lived five lifetimes – what is your birth date this lifetime?
Otep: Oh, I don’t discuss my personal life.
MI: Who are your influences as a poet and why?
Otep: Um, I read everyone from the beat poets; Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton to Sappho and a variety of others. I guess I’m just really inspired by people that push the envelope to try to break free of the rigid and archaic rules that were set forth by some people who no longer seem to matter.
MI: What was it like for you to be a street poet?
Otep: It was interesting. I learned a lot, I think, about human nature and it gave me a profound respect for people who do it for the love of it. That’s why I did it. I never thought I’d be where I am now. I always created because I had to, not because I wanted to.
MI: Who are the members of the band – besides you, we know who you are…
Otep: On bass guitar is Evil Jay, on drums is Brian Wolf, and on guitar is Aaron Nordstrom.
MI: What is your favorite track off of Ascension, and why?
Otep: I’m not sure I have a favorite track; each song is as important to me as the others. I think maybe ‘Perfectly Flawed’ has the most personal point of view in it, and that might be very special to me.
MI: What do you want people to know about you?
Otep: That no matter if I succeed or not, I did my best.
MI: One of your messages is “Art Saves”. How do you think art saves people?
Otep: Well, it saved me. It gave me an outlet for all my emotional adventures and all the things I was feeling and had no way of understanding why I was feeling them or why things were happening to me. It gave me a deeper understanding of love and hate and about righteous revenge. I think art is a teacher and it allows you to step outside yourself and become a narrator of your own life.
MI: Do you think there should be more art and music programs in the public school system?
Otep: Oh, absolutely. And I think they should make them fun instead of making them so…I don’t know. ..When I was younger I never really enjoyed those classes because they were taught by people who didn’t seem to care about art or music, so in return I didn’t care about it in the terms that they wanted me to. So I wish we could get some people in there that truly love just the crafting of music, then perhaps you would see more people willing to take on their own emotions through art versus acting out and lashing out like we’ve seen in the past.
MI: Tell me about your legion and what you plan to do with it.
Otep: Are you referring to the website?
Otep: Otep.com is a place to allow fans to interact and socialize and connect and share their thoughts and art and that’s what we’re hoping to do is to connect people together and create a strong community.
MI: Tell me about your solo project, Imaginary Friends, and when will that be coming out?
Otep: Imaginary Friends is more of a side project than a solo project because I will be writing songs with the band. It will just be a different adventure into the whatever-it-is that makes me tick creatively. Where some people- if I put out a spoken word album, which is a lot of what it will be, people might say “Oh, it’s not heavy.” So instead I decided to try to make it a new animal, a new creature that can devour anything that it chooses without being judged by the past records of Otep.
MI: Now, recently when I was at your show at the Masquerade, you brought up Kurt Cobain. How has Kurt Cobain affect your life?
Otep: Kurt Cobain’s music – Nirvana – the band – they taught me what music can be, and how powerful it was, and how important it can be, and how serious you should take it whether you’re an artist creating it or a listener enjoying it. I miss those days, being surrounded by great music. It’s where I learned about music and found my own identity, and at least discovered portions of it through music and art that were very important. So I look at the state of music now, where here I am now, a musician, and I’m surrounded by people that don’t care about it as much as I assumed other bands did at that time. Kurt was just one of the most talented songwriters that ever existed and we miss him.
MI: Now, what do you think about his diaries being published?
Otep: Well, even on the outside of his notebook he wrote, “If you read this, you will judge” I don’t know if I would have released his personal notebooks. I mean, I know that people WANT to know about people, but I don’t know that those were ever meant for anyone else to read other than…I don’t know how I feel about it. I mean, I’m a fan, so of course I want to know more about him but I would have rather him release it, and of course he’s not here. I guess he has a daughter, so if it helps take care of his daughter then maybe it’s okay in some strange, surrogate way.
MI: When I do your CD review I am dedicating your cover of “Breed” to Francis Bean.
Otep: Oh, thank you.
MI: Why do you think heavy music is so important to people?
Otep: I just think its offers an emotional release that other music doesn’t. Especially the dynamic music, where there are a lot of twists and turns in the songs. At least you can enjoy that sort of labyrinth of emotion versus something that’s just placid, where you just stay in one realm. I think aggressive music or interesting music offers the listener a larger feast.
MI: One of my favorite songs off the CD is “Confrontation” – Are you getting a lot of backlash from that song?
Otep: No. People are embracing it and supporting it. A lot of people who consider themselves political activists – it’s becoming their theme song.
MI: Which leads us to our next question – if George W. Bush were sitting in the room with us, what would you say to him?
Otep: I don’t even know if I would want to speak to him because what good would it do. He wouldn’t listen. I guess maybe if I had a shovel in my hands maybe that would be different. I guess I would just tell him, how dare he let us down and let down the people that entrusted him and that he is a miserable failure and the greatest thing he could have ever done with his professional life – he allowed greed and hubris and ego to destroy it. And now he is going to be a laughingstock for the rest of his days.
MI: What message are you trying to get across with the album Ascension?
Otep: That obstacles are a part of life but through belief and hard work you can overcome.
MI: Do you find that the metal community treats you differently because you are a woman?
Otep: I don’t really know because I don’t necessarily consider us part of the metal community. I mean, I know our music is partly metal, but we’re also more of a fusion band. Anyone who is different or a minority or not of the majority will sometimes be treated differently. I’m sure that women across the board in every sort of walk of life get treated differently in every job there is. I think there is a certain idea about what role women should play. I don’t play that role and don’t know the role. It’s not a conscious thing to actively subvert it. I’m just being myself and what I am and who I am doesn’t fit into any sort of cultural costume or social identity that someone else decided I should wear.
MI: How has the music business treated you during your career with Capitol and then when you jumped over to KOCH?
Otep: I think the music industry doesn’t know what to think of me and that’s fine. I don’t care what they think of me. If I wanted to pander to them I could, and I’ve been offered opportunities to pander and I won’t. Because that’s not important to me. What’s important to me is looking back on my body of work and being proud of it. And if it takes a little longer to get to my desired goals, just on a personal level or financial level or whatever, that’s okay. At least I did it the right way and I did it with integrity. I was happy to leave Capitol, they were a bunch of miserable failures who celebrated failing. KOCH is a group of winners who are hungry for victory.
MI: So you’re finally at home, you found the place.
Otep: Right now. I mean, Capitol was a great place when I first signed there and then a new president was hired, and he fired everyone that I thought was important and vital to new music and art. He fired them and hired a bunch of people who had no clue what they were doing and that was evident in the way that Capitol Records failed and was absorbed into Virgin Records and now it’s the Capitol Records Music Group.
MI: Do you ever see yourself having your own label at some time?
Otep: Well, KOCH has given me the ability to start my own label through their distribution company when I’m ready, and so, yes, I will.
MI: Who do you think was the greatest musician or vocalist of all time?
Otep: I have no idea, I mean, Pavarotti was pretty great. Thom York’s pretty awesome. I’m a big fan of Morrison.
MI: Has Morrison affected your lyrics in any way or your vocals or your inspirations for your writings?
Otep: Oh, sure, the Doors themselves have. The way that that band allowed poetry to fuse into their songs gave me my opening and showed me that all things are possible in music.
MI: We know that Jim self published his own book of poetry like you did – are you planning to release another book?
Otep: Sure, I think I would one day. Probably my next one might be illustrations instead of poetry.
MI: Your music is your religion – what do you think makes music a religion?
Otep: Well, I think that religion is a means of getting to a destination, an eternal destination, and I hope that I treat music in a way that I learn enough so that I can make the best art that I can create and that it somehow inspires and motivates and provokes people to be creative, to be better than what others tell them they can be and hopefully inspire them into action.
MI: What would you advise young female vocalist just getting into the business to watch out for?
Otep: In this current climate, I would advise them to NOT get into the business.
Otep: Because record industries are failing. They don’t know anything about how to maintain labels. I would suggest working on your craft a little longer, let the industry catch up with some people who are really smart and coming up in the ranks and sort of taking over the industry. Really cement a positive plan of action and get everything back on track. As far as from an artistic standpoint, I would suggest, if you are a lyricist, that you read more than you write and you take care of your throat as if it were a 700 year old violin.
MI: Who influenced your vocal style?
Otep: Everyone from Kurt Cobain to Jim Morrison to Mazzy Star to Corey Taylor to Jonathan Davis to old blues singers like John Lee Hooker, to Chino from the Deftones.
MI: Tell me about the best tour you’ve been on.
Otep: Probably this one, the one we’re on now. This has been the most artistically fulfilling tour. The band is strong, the fans are insane, I’ve got three records under my belt so we’re able to play songs off all three albums, we’re headlining. We’ve done other headlining tours in the past, and I’ve done it for my second record, but we were always going through some sort of turmoil, whether it was personal or professional but this time, we’re soaring. We’re ascending.
MI: Do you see yourself ever getting back on Ozzfest?
Otep: If there is an Ozzfest, sure. I think they’re only doing one or two shows this year. If there is ever an Ozzfest, I would love to be on Ozzfest again. We had amazing times on that…Sharon and all the people who run the festivals are amazing and it was incredible to play in front of that many people.
MI: Do you believe in psychics and the paranormal?
Otep: I believe it’s possible. I don’t know if I believe in anyone in particular but I believe it’s possible, sure.
MI: Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
Otep: Oh, yeah, my family’s been called the friend of the dead. We’ve been visited with spirits for a long time. There’s a club in Milwaukie called The Rave, and it’s situated across the street from where Jeffrey Dahmer used to live and it’s supposed to be haunted by a bunch of ghosts and every time we play there we’re seeing things and hearing things. I’m an avid viewer of the Ghosthunters show on SciFi.
MI: If you were really pissed at someone, and you could pour a bucket of flesh eating ants over them, who would it be?
Otep: Alive or dead?
MI: Your call, baby.
Otep: I guess it would have to be Hitler.
MI: If you were stuck on a desert island and you could bring one book, one person and one bottle of liquor, what would you bring?
Otep: I suppose I would bring The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson. It’s different letters of his, different writings, very enjoyable. Another person? I would bring, I’ll have to think about that. And I’d bring a nice red wine, perhaps a burgundy from the French, something from the eighteenth century. I’m not a big drinker. For the desert island, I would probably bring Megan Fox. And no comment further on that.
MI: If you were god for a day, what would you change?
Otep: I would end the mystery of if I existed. I would let the world know that I existed. And I would clear up all the other nonsense about why people kill each other over religious purposes and I would destroy every book that…we’d sit down here and people would know truth which is now biased.
MI: Where do you see the band and your music in five years from now?
Otep: I hope we’re still doing what we’re doing now, just that we’re better at it. Every record we evolve and every record we get stronger, every record we get more skilled, every record we become open to new ideas and I hope we’re still making important music and turning people on and switching them off from the square world.
MI: Describe the average Otep fan to me.
Otep: Someone who is intelligent, and passionate, artistic, and who is tired of being spoon-fed a bunch of cultural and social limitations and overall bullshit and is looking for something important to be a part of and be able to express themselves in a manner that is true lucidity, true emancipation. That’s the kind of people we have. We can’t really say that they’re long haired Heshers who listen to Iron Maiden. We definitely have those, and we’re lucky to have them, but we also have that don’t necessary listen to heavy music that are finding their way to us.
MI: I’ve got a great compliment for you – when I was shooting you at the Masquerade, my second shooter came with me, and she normally listens to happy, joy-joy music and she goes, “Oh my god, she’s so fantastic” I knew she’d love you; now she’s got your CD going in the car 24 hours a day.
Otep: Oh, that’s very nice, that’s an honor. And I think that’s what’s happening, and it perplexes people who do radio programming – “Why should we let Otep on our station; they’re too heavy.” What they don’t understand that it’s the message that motivates people, not necessarily the music.
MI: If someone offered you a museum exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute, what would the Otep exhibit be like?
Otep: A lot of books, probably just a big piling of books and musical instruments thrown around and maybe some…I don’t know! Its’a good question, I’ve never been asked that before.
MI: You’re also involved with Tori Amos’ RAINN network, how did you get involved with that?
Otep: Someone from the site contacted me and asked if I would be interested endorsing it and promoting it and I said absolutely. We’ve been involved and I hope to get involved more.
MI: You have done so much for your fans, if they could do something back for you, what would you want them to do?
Otep: Just keep being authentic, and don’t ever let anyone tell them who they are supposed to be, including me. And if they have a dream, go for it and don’t ever stop.
MI: How do you feel about the legalization of marijuana?
Otep: I think it should happen. I mean, I’m not a smoker but I think that it’s silly that it doesn’t happen. Alcohol and tobacco are absolute poisons to our body and they’re just a part of our culture. There is a number that shows that we spend more on alcohol and tobacco than we do on our school system, that says something about our culture. But I think that it’s some old silly fear that we have about marijuana that should be thrown away; there are health benefits, allegedly, and in California, medicinally, it’s already legalized. I know a lot of people that it’s helped, and they’re not on anxiety medications or sleep aids anymore.
MI: Do you believe in reincarnation?
Otep: Uh, sure, why not?
MI: Who do you think that you were in a past life?
Otep: I don’t know who I was, but I know who’d I want to be. There’s an ancient Irish Queen, named Boudicca, and she led her armies against Rome, which I think is pretty swell. Either her or the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who held schools. All of them led hard lives…I’m actually kinda happy being who I am right now. In a past life, I would miss things like air conditioners and wi-fi. My laptop, I’d miss that. Also, I wouldn’t mind going back and being someone for a day, but it would have to be on a good day, not like a bad day.
MI: Do you think that Myspace has helped Otep in any way?
Otep: Oh sure. Before that, we were still using the internet to connect to our fans; there were just not a whole lot of technologies supporting our efforts. We used to use IM, and we’d chat that way, and we had our message boards. Now it seems we can connect with them on a greater scale.
MI: I love that you are bringing your diaries online to your fans on Myspace and on Youtube. If a fan were to write you on Myspace, would you answer them or would someone else answer them for you?
Otep: Depends on who reads it and how important it is. If it’s someone just saying hi or whatever…there are some people that require a response and there are some people that, although it’s a sweet message, we get so many I don’t have time to answer all of them. I mean, it’s hard to make time to answer all of them, because it gets into replies back and forth and bigger and bigger. We do have a really great staff of dedicated people who work on the site for free and they are long time Otep fans and they actually manage a lot of the profile for us so things don’t get forgotten. There’s times when we’re on the road where we don’t have Wi-fi or connection to the internet so we can’t update the site.
MI: How does your family feel about your career?
Otep: They support it.
MI: If you had a million dollars to donate to any charity, what would it be?
Otep: That’s a tough one; there are a lot of them. I guess St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
MI: Do you want to end this with a special message to your fans, my love?
Otep: I would like to thank them for all their support and belief. It empowers me every day.