She first stepped onto the stage as OTEP 13 years ago in Los Angeles. That’s when Otep Shamaya first began cultivating her edgy metal persona – a first in many ways as both a woman and lesbian on a metal scene dominated by men, even scoring a place at Ozzfest. Shamaya’s four-piece band released its sixth studio album — Hydra — this year, and have been confronting rumors that it could be the last. We get the hard truth from Shamaya, and find out why the album’s inspiration came from a very unlikely place.
AfterEllen.com: Rumor has it that Hydra could be your final album? True or false?
OTEP: Hydra was just released on January 22, so for me it’s only the beginning. Bringing this album to life, to create and craft this character Hydra from the depths of my spirit and forge her stories from the fires of my imagination was a very intense experience. I stayed in character for most of the recording and it was a very emotional enterprise. I think a thorn of her still exists in me somewhere. So for now I must remain focused on her and this album. I am excited about the first video, “Apex Predator,” which we just filmed in an abandoned asylum, and excited about taking these songs on the road where we incite them into the minds and hearts of our audiences.
AE: In keeping with the asylum theme, we’ve also been hearing that Hydra was inspired — in part — by a certain affection for the television show American Horror Story. What’s the story?
OTEP: I admire art that takes chances. The beauty of American Horror Story is not only the psychological intensity derived from the imagery – but the writing is incredible, the subtext, the historical points pollinating the plot, the way it plays with phobias and bigotry and winds it all up into this maniacal fireball of tension and cliff hangers. [For] Apex Predator” … we used the dark spirit that inhabits that place to provide the mood, much like American Horror Story does. The location almost becomes a character in the plot. I brought all those elements into Hydra.
AE: You’ve been taking a lot of risks since the beginning. Late last year you even dropped your first-ever live album (Sounds Like Armageddon) that really captures the energy of your live shows. Did you have any reservations about recording outside of the studio?
OTEP: None whatsoever. I have always wanted to do a live show and this was so exciting to do. My crew, they’re true pros at this and knew exactly how to transfer our raw, organic power to the recording. It’s as close to a live show as one can get without physically being there. It’s also a chance to bring our show to fans that don’t have the means to see it in person. That means the world to me.
AE: How did that experience help you go back into the studio and help shape Hydra?
OTEP: I don’t think it did. Recording a studio album and a live album are two terribly different animals. Both are powerful but very different. A live album is composed of songs you’ve already written and have a grasp of the tone and power each should have. A new album is always a mystery, even to the last day and moment of recording. Both are very exciting.
AE: What’s the metal landscape like these days?
OTEP: Barren and jagged. Warring hoards of barbarians camped about in the distance. The smell of blood and fire choke the air. A sky littered with stars arches overhead. Relics of war burn on the mountaintops and in the deep valleys. A few lonely souls search the burning sands for treasure. Monks sing mantras in the fortress towers built into the few remaining cropping of forest. And in the center, carving a long scar of victory, marches a battle-scarred tribe carrying a crimson banner that reads OTEP. Fountains of fire spring forth from the painted mouths of these shaman warriors that curl into words forming a secret poem that will burn for eternity.
AE: You have a way with words. But what about your sound? A lot of critics seem to want to label you as “nu metal” or even “rap metal,” but how do you describe what you do?
OTEP: Labels are for soup cans and boner pills. Our music is aggressive, it’s poetic, it’s political, it’s dark and it’s liberating. Our roots are in rock and jazz, layered with bits of metal and punk and hip-hop. I don’t know what you call that — music? I prefer the term “artcore.” It denotes intention, not sound.
AE: How is metal changing as more women pick up guitars and mics?
OTEP: It’s very rewarding to see so many women disregarding the cultural costumes and social identities that some patriarchal, Puritanical elite has dictated for us for so long. I am happy that so many women are standing up for themselves and following their dreams and hearts, never allowing something that has nothing to do with it, such as biology or gender, to remain an obstacle. Over the years, our audiences have become more and more pollinated with women and I love it! Some say I’ve inspired this movement and I’m not one to judge that but I am thrilled and delighted that it is happening.
AE: Having earned a GLAAD award a few years back, what kind of message do you want to send with your music? Does being recognized in this way add any pressure?
OTEP: I don’t think it added any pressure, but it was certainly an honor. The message in our music is that life is full of obstacles but that we are strong enough to overcome them — that we may not be able to control the wind, but we can direct our sails. Believe in yourself, love yourself – you deserve it. You are perfectly flawed in every way and you should be loud and proud of that.
OTEP with her girlfriend
AE: What other artists are influencing your newer music? Any guilty pleasures on your playlist?
OTEP: I think people would be very surprised at my playlist. When I’m writing literature, I listen to Ravi Shankar and Chopin. But I also like gentle music like Fink, Birdy, a bit of Muse (not much, but some), and underground hip-hop like Joey BadAss, ASAP Rocky, avant-garde music like Die Antwoord and Goldfrapp, and old-school stuff like Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, Nirvana, WuTang, Tupac and Rage Against the Marchine. As an artist, it’s important to have a well-rounded music selection. What people find attractive in other genres is just as important as what they like about yours.
AE: You’ve been outspoken about animal rights, which is not always something one might associate with a rocker who’s played Ozzfest (rumors even swirled about cannibalism early on — MTV is still referencing it in your bio). Why are you so dedicated to the cause? And how in the world did those cannibalism rumors get started?
OTEP: Well, I love animals, I’m a vegetarian, and very much support PETA. Concerning the “cannibalism” fiasco, I think it might have been something as simple as confusion in translation from an old interview I did with a non-English speaking periodical that asked about my favorite pastime. I said that I enjoy the taste of a woman.
AE: Talk about being lost in translation – and speaking of powerful women, Sharon Osbourne has been really instrumental in getting you into Ozzfest – which some might say really exposed your music to an even bigger fan base. What was that experience like?
OTEP: Sharon is an incredible person and was always so gracious and good to me. In the beginning she was like a mentor. She was in charge of Ozzfest, the whole thing, this massive event that ran all over the country, bigger than a political convention, and she was the boss. I watched and learned how she treated her employees with respect and always led by example. She took great care of me and the band and I admire her greatly. It should be mentioned that it was her son, Jack, who first discovered us. He used to come to our shows when we were just this unsigned band on the Sunset strip and start all of our pits for us. It was an incredible time! He introduced our music to his mum. I am very grateful and honored by what Jack and Sharon did for me. They have done so much for so many bands and for music in general.
AE: What comes next for OTEP?
OTEP: World domination. I have a few books in the works, lots of touring to do. I hope to shoot a short film I’m writing very soon, and complete a few visual projects, as well. I’m always very busy and that’s the way I like it. You can’t turn off creativity.
AE: What’s something even your most fanatic fans may be surprised to find out about you?
OTEP: I like to cuddle.