Dateline: Seattle, April 2016
How Many F*cks Does OTEP Give?
Some people are born to be rock stars. Otep Shamaya is one of those. A woman with a message, a purpose, and a drive to infect your soul with truth.
Rocker. There is no other job, no other vocation that suits her. If she could not walk out on stage every night to a listening audience, she would be on a street corner in some city in the world, standing on a box, preaching the gospel of Otep to anyone who will listen. Or even if they will not listen.
The venue is a grungy place with three serpentine stair cases leading to an upper room where the concert will take place tonight. I am ushered into small room crowded with amplifiers, a mini-fridge and a stack of paper plates where I prop up my recorder.
Her massive body guard looms gently on one side of the room. Otep, a petite Mighty Mouse who apparently can dead lift 300 pounds, was seated, wearing sun glasses indoors.
I couldn’t help but smile. She is the shit and she knows it. Otep and I fist bump. She’s cool. I relax.
She is sitting with her leg elevated, nursing an injury. “I’ve been dead lifting,” she explains, pushing herself a bit too hard with the weights. It felt like a metaphor for something but I did not bring it up. The audience will never know she is hurt when she goes on stage in a couple hours. She will do just about anything for her fans.
I ask her about a recent press release announcing their new album. She called it a “spiritually lawless celebration of art and freedom.” I ask her to define “spiritually lawless.”
“I think it’s self-explanatory,” she says with a friendly smirk, and, I imagine, a wink behind the shades.
“This album is spiritually lawless in that there are no anchors allowed,” she says. “It goes beyond scripture or religious dogma. Music is spiritual, it’s a new religion. A good piece of music elevates you, it pollinates you, it carbonates you.”
I ask her if she thinks Dark Souls are born that way or they are created through their life experiences.
“I think both,” she says. “I think we are all born with that capacity to decide which path we want to go. Rarely are people extremely dark all the god-damn time or extremely happy all the fucking time. It’s a choice in some regards and those that embrace both sides of themselves lead a more happy and fulfilled life.”
I tell her that Perfectly Flawed is my favorite Otep lyric. It speaks to how we sabotage ourselves with self-doubt and self-criticism. I ask if there is a flaw in herself that she has learned to accept. I fear for a moment that my question is too personal. It is not.
Her answer surprises, and turns out to be the defining moment of the interview for me.
“There’s a Greek myth about Cassandra,” she says. “She was given the gift of foresight from Apollo. She can see everything, but is cursed with the idea that no one would believe her. I think I have that gift. And one of my flaws is that I assume everyone is the same as me. And I’ve struggled with accepting that we are all different. That my floor is someone else’s ceiling, and my ceiling is someone else’s floor.”
Herein lies the paradox that is Otep. Her days are spent railing against the tyrants in our lives who force us to think and act contrary to our wills. She also is passionate about being a vegan, with harsh words to say about those who breed and slaughter animals for food. On the one hand, she rages against the tyranny of those who tell you what to think. In the next breath, she…well, she tells you what to think. Or does she?
“I prophesy things and no one believes me,” she explains. “But then a year later, half the audience is on my side, half the audience is against me. Then a year after that most of the audience is with me. A year after that everyone believes me. I don’t want to say, ‘I fucking told you so,’ but, ‘I fucking told you so.’”
This is when I begin to understand the Otep paradox that had confused me before meeting her. Otep Shamaya is a poet. She is an artist. She is a rock star. But more than any of these, Otep is a prophet. And a prophet is rarely understood during her time.
“Fighting stupidity is important to me,” she says. (Can I get an amen?) “Fighting ignorance is important to me…I’m allergic to stupidity.”
She is an artist driven at a level that most of us cannot understand. She wants people to open their hearts and minds to what she has to say, because she has a lot to say.
“No one’s asked these questions before,” she says. “Most people ask, ‘what’s it like being a girl in a metal band.’”
I ask her what her greatest fear is. “Letting someone down that I care about,” she replied, after a moment of thought. I am moved emotionally by her response. But I do not have sunglasses to hide the moisture in my eyes so I press on.
I ask her to describe herself in three words. “Imperfect. Loyal. Adventurous,” the last she says with a meaningful grin.
They say that a prophet is not without honor except in her own country. Truth, especially the kind that rips off Band-Aids, rarely finds fertile soil in willing hearts immediately. Otep knows she is sometimes misunderstood, and it is her cross to bear.
“One year I received an award from a meninist group, a men’s right group, ‘Man-hater of the century,’” she says. “They take a song I wrote called, ‘Menocide’ about liberating woman to break out of the self-imposed prisons that we put on ourselves. To do what they want to do with their lives. If they want to stay at home and cook in the kitchen and raise kids more power to you. But if you want to go out and do something else, then you have the right and power to do so. I don’t hate men.”
When I walk out of my interview with her, I feel like something in me has changed. I think I understand her a little bit more than I did before.
If she can’t be loved, then she’ll be hated. But she will not be ignored.
She is not a paradox, but a prophet.
Otep is legit. She is not just a rocker under the warm glow of a par can light. She does not live a double life where her stage persona is different from reality.
Otep is an artist. She is a poet. All the damn time.
My advice is to go see her show. You do not have to have the same ideas about animal rights or politics or gender roles as she does. As much as she wants you to hear her message, she is fine with you coming for the music.
She may not change your mind. She may not change your life. But tonight, for this night, she will rock you.