Napalm Records Recording Artists Otep are currently touring their new album, Generation Doom, their seventh and first for the new label. As the tour hit the desert heat of Phoenix, AZ, Hard Attack’s Phoenix Romero sat down with the often controversial woman whose first name is also her band’s moniker.
Otep Shamaya: not a stage name, a uniquely original name, given to her at birth, which so seemingly fits the idiosyncratic artist she has become. Just like the name chosen for the tour “Equal Rights Equal Lefts.” If you know anything about Otep you know she is a huge advocate for equal rights for all. The song “Equal Rights Equal Lefts” off the new Generation Doom album starts with the anthemic line,” Equal rights equal lefts fight for your right to exist.” Can’t you just hear a stadium of people chanting that? Then the slow and sultry “He called me a dyke and I called him an ambulance.” Phenomenal writing like that throughout:
“You brought a butter knife to a tank fight”
“Let’s get something straight I’m not.”
“Love is love it can’t be stopped.”
pull you in immediately and if you were not an Otep fan before you will be by the time the last note of this song rings out.. The lyrics, the music and the arrangement are all magnificent. It combines the hooky chorus, and sultry sexy vocals with slower paced music, seasoned with a rap section tied in with heavy metal overtones. Pure brilliance in the songwriting department! That isn’t to say her previous albums haven’t been great, they have – songs like “Rise Rebel Resist” (from ‘Smash The Control Machine’) or ”Ghost Flowers”, (from ‘The Ascension’) but Generation Doom is … different. Tt has literally skyrocketed Otep through to the next level.
Which is why when we got the opportunity to sit and chat with Otep, my first question was about the concept of the new album.
HA: I’ve read the idea behind the concept for the album Generation Doom so I wanted to start off by asking you, with all the recent violence that has gone on; the shooting in Orlando, the attempt on LA Gay Pride the next day, the recent events that happened in Dallas … do you think we are a generation headed for doom?
Otep: I certainly hope not, that is one of the reasons I wrote the record. It has both meanings; it is binary in that it means that either we will be the last generation or we will be the generation that ends all these things. If you do any study of history you will see when great movements occur great violence also occurs. We lost Gandhi to violence, we lost Martin Luther King to violence. So what we have to do is we have to look at not just what one, two or three people are doing but what is the vast majority of people are doing. Then those of us that care enough about it need to continue to nudge people in the right direction. Because that is the dangerous point. When someone like Trump is spewing all this hate and ugliness into the Zeitgeist, people pick up on that and follow. It gives them an excuse and it empowers them in a way, they have someone they can look up to. This is what he is saying and he is running for the highest office in the country. I think it already enhances someone’s own little madness and we need to be careful about that.
HA: Why did you choose to name the tour after the “Equal Right Equal Left” song on the album?
Otep: Because of the 49 people that were massacred in Orlando. I don’t know if you know this or not but I am openly gay … surprise! The thing is I had already written “Equal Rights Equal Lefts” before any of this happened. Because without media attention not a lot of people know that gays, lesbians, bisexual transgender people are under attack every single day in this country, not only by bullies, haters and homophobes but also by law enforcement and legeslingers. We have states all across this country trying to enact anti- gay legislation, where they can say it is okay to discriminate against gay people. So this club is not going to book Otep because she is [an} out lesbian and that would be legal if they were able to get these laws passed. So there are like five or six states that did that and that is what I wrote the song about. And then there was the tragedy in Orlando. And then they tried to blame it on some radical, Muslim, terrorist attack. I don’t see it that way. I see a closeted homophobic man who had been told his whole life through his religion that being gay is wrong. So he fought with it, he would go visit these people and this club, and became part of the community. When he couldn’t kill the gay inside himself he became even more religious. Some people don’t think that, they think if you are gay you can’t be homophobic. That’s the problem because we are taught in society that being gay is wrong. For me this was about celebrating equal rights for all people but primarily for the 49 people that were lost in Orlando.
HA: As a woman myself I have kind of a strong, direct personality and I find that when I am really passionate about something I am often misinterpreted as being aggressive. I’m wondering if you also encounter the same thing being a woman with a strong personality?
Otep: Yes, of course. I think that is part of the struggle – a lot of people don’t think that it’s a real thing but it is. When a man is passionate about something he is considered a go-getter. Sometimes when a woman is passionate about something she is considered a bitch. I don’t really care about that stuff. To me it’s about going after my own dreams, and dealing with my own bulls, while trying to inspire as many people as possible regardless of gender. It tends to be an issue where women become villainized for being ambitious.
HA: What is the most difficult obstacle you have encountered being a women in the music industry and do you feel being a lesbian compounded it?
Otep: I think there is a stereotype people have about what woman are supposed to do on a stage or a platform, predetermined ideas about what we are supposed to wear or say. Being lesbian as well, may have caused some people to think I hate men for some reason. But my band is all straight males, my father is a straight male, my brothers are all straight males … well not all of them. I tend to try to stay on the positive side. Because by trying to lead by example as a strong person and someone who is ambitious that also is a member of LBGT community I’ve seen more and more people coming to our shows and feeling included. That is what is most important to me, the people that are inspired by what we are doing then come to the shows and feel welcome. In rock music or any music genre gay people or minorities seem to feel at risk but at our shows they feel welcome and that is really one of the highlights of my career so far.
HA: You clearly value the people and they value you in return, which is truly amazing. I know you do a lot of philanthropy work but what are you most passionate about?
Otep: That’s a hard one! I don’t know if one deserves to be higher than another as far as what I am most passionate about. I’ve done a lot of work with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and kids diagnosed with cancer. They are the bravest kids you have ever seen. Anytime I am having a bad day, I remember back to meeting those kids, it gives me perspective, knowing what I may be facing is nothing compared to what they deal with on a daily basis. I guess currently making sure gays and lesbians are being treated properly in this country. We are tax paying citizens and we deserve to be treated equally. There is nothing wrong with who you are – you are born this way. If you are religious you better know you were created this way and if there isn’t supposed to be gay in the world then your God would not have created it. Your God loves you. I’m also an animal rights activist because they have no voice and they are treated so horribly, tortured, tested on and also the fact that they can become a meal. For me, personally my slight selfish appetite is not worth their life … their entire life. Most of those animals don’t live to be older than two years old. When pigs are taken to slaughter they are dehydrated for 36 hours and not fed. So when they are in those trucks in this kind of heat like in Arizona, can you imagine that? In fact, in Canada there is an Instagram page that has a video of a woman that is under felony indictment for giving water to some thirsty pigs inside the trailer because they said she contaminated them. Those animals allegedly were just killed for no reason and weren’t even used for meat. It’s the same thing in the egg industry. Male chicks are ground up alive on a conveyor belt because they are deemed unnecessary. All this is for an omelet? It’s not worth it to me, I’m a proud Vegan. You guys can be carnivores if you like but my choice is to not add anymore evil to the world. There is so much death, destruction, cruelty and I just don’t want to be part of it. I don’t want it on my soul or on my mind. I want to have compassion for other creatures.
Once Otep had been ushered out by her tour manager, I was left sitting at the table reflecting on our conversation. I couldn’t help but notice I was completely inspired by this brilliant vibrant, ambitious unique, young woman with an exquisite soul. In thirty years never has an artist struck me as so openly genuine.
WATCH THE INTERVIEW ON FEMETALTV’S YOUTUBE