I had been a little apprehensive and honestly, felt somewhat intimidated to interview Otep Shamaya, lead vocalist of the metal band for which she is the namesake, Otep. Previous interviews and articles I'd read and past shows I'd seen, Shamaya seemed to tell it like it is and not hold back. All these descriptions are true as well as her being genuine and very intelligent. In the brief time we had to talk together, I was interested in her take on the music business and what had really lead to the bands split from Capitol Records in late 2006. Otep had been signed with Capitol since 2001 after a stint on the same year's Ozzfest. Currently the band is signed with Koch Records; currently America's largest independently distributed record company. I was also interested as to the reasons the band had had so many lineup changes in the past. Otep's current lineup includes Otep Shamaya (vocals), Aaron Nordstrom (guitar)"Evil" J. McGuire on bass, and Brian Wolff (drums). Several other artists have played on their records including Greg Tribbett of Mudvayne and Joey Jordison of Slipknot.
Otep recenting finished the Balls, Volume, Strength Tour with Hellyeah and Bloodsimple. Their latest album, The_Ascension was released October 30th, 2007, and debuted at #81 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Liz Wize: So you are actually the first female I've ever interviewed. What's it like to be not just a female in the music industry, but also a female in metal?
Otep Shamaya: I enjoy the moniker of being the first. I get asked that at every interview. I suppose it's very similar to the way you feel- journalism is pretty dominated by men. I get my share of people who don't understand but I get more people that I tend to impress because they're not accustom to seeing women in positions of power or strength. I think they're willing to accept it but for some it's a little bit of change that they've never seen before.
Liz: Who are some of your personal influences, not just musical but in life?
Otep: My mom for sure. My mother still is a very powerful force. I know a lot of people say that but she really was. With the volatile background that we've come from, our family was Irish immigrants who came to America and did well in the merchant business, everything fell apart in the Great Depression and we just scrambled to get out of that and stay that way. It was my mother who taught us that we didn't have to accept our circumstances or accept any of those cultural costumes and social identities that have been placed upon us. There are some other literary people I've come across like Sylvia Plath who worked out her demons through literature, which I can defiantly identify with. Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain.
Liz: Your album The_Ascension was released October 30th. It was originally supposed to come out in March. Do you think people have been so excited about it partly because they've had to wait so long?
Otep: I think people were more frustrated. There was this swelling of anticipation around the first release date and then we had this [Capitol Records] thing happen. And it was an unfortunate blessing. Capitol was this very stagnant, ugly place. Our new label [Koch Records] is very vibrant and exciting. The fans let us know how they felt about it and we perfectly understood. But now that it's out the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Liz: Now you're on a smaller Indie label, Koch Records. Is it more supportive and easier to work with a smaller label?
Otep: It's easier for me to deal with people at Koch. I can't speak for every Indie label or every major label but I'll tell you the difference between Capitol and Koch. Koch seems to truly enjoy selling music and records. They love the music business and support the artists. The people at Capitol seemed to like the notoriety of working for a big label- they loved the paychecks. And the president of the label seemed to enjoy being a bigger celebrity than some of his acts. I've talked to enough shady accountants in my life to learn that a bad investment can be a good write off. So they [bigger labels] could invest a lot into a band and then not push it in hopes that it fails so they can write it off and get reimbursed later. Being on the smaller label is cool because Koch is a very powerful indie label. They're bottom line is to sell the record. Plus Koch loves what we do so they're behind it. Capitol saw us as a novelty, there's this girl, she's a poet and lighting LA on fire, which never happens. It seemed like it gave Capitol some street credibility to have a band like us when they mostly have bands like Coldplay and Radiohead.
Liz: Did it ever feel strange being on a label that didn't have many other metal acts?
Otep: I don't know if it was weird. I've never identified a lot with heavy bands anyway because I listen to a lot of stuff. I was more excited to be on with bands like Pink Floyd and Radiohead, that's great- they have the Beatles. It's different people now though. If [the same people working there now] had been there when those bands were coming out, they would have suffered under the idiocy of the executives. Those cats celebrated failure.
Liz: The band has gone through a lot of lineup changes. Are you and Evil J. are the core or have you just had sort of a come-and-go policy?
Otep: I mean, listen, we got signed after just four shows. We'd only been together for six months, I didn't grow up with these people, I'd just met them. J wasn't even the original bass player in the band. The original guitar player brought in the original drummer. He told me he'd seen a bass player playing out at a club and asked if I'd audition him. I said sure, he came down and it was J. Going on the road allows you to get to know people much more intimately than just sitting in a room with them for six hours a day writing songs, you're living with them. One player, I won't name names, but he got caught getting oral sex from a 13-year-old girl. I can't have that so he's out of my band. Others t decided they wanted to settle down, have children, they didn't like the road life anymore. I started the band with a certain message in mind that I thought was important and needed to be communicated, art needed to be served and everyone else and everything else is expendable. Even I am. Art has to win and be the only reason that I'm out here and do what I do.
Liz: Hellyeah's guitarist Greg Tribbett co-wrote three songs on The_Ascension. Is that something that grew out of your previous show [in Denver] with Hellyeah? And lead to this tour?
Otep: Oh no, no. I'd written with Greg a year ago. We're managed by the same company. I told them I wanted to write with a bunch of different people this record and they asked what I thought about Greg from Mudvayne. I said of course, absolutely, I'd be honored. He came in and he had a bunch of riffs. We started out with "Invisible." We spent some time in a house up in the Hollywood Hills, which was really cool because we could wake up, get coffee and get right to work. We'd sit there and record all day. The next song we did I think was "Crooked Spoons" and then "Confrontation." It was really amazing. This tour was a surprise. Hellyeah had put a thing on their website asking fans what band should support their next tour and I got a call that we'd been picked.
Liz: What has it been like touring with the legendary Vinnie Paul?
Otep: It's amazing. It's a supergroup and they're all amazing- they really are.
Liz: The band is going to do videos for the songs "Breed" and "Confrontation." Have you begun filming those? [Links accessed to Youtube January 2008]
Otep: We did them a week before we left to go on tour. Breed will be on Headbanger's Ball starting [November] 17th, 2007.
Liz: I think that's about it. Anything you'd like to add?
Otep: Just check out the website and Myspace. Thanks.