Otep Shamaya on art, activism and queering metal


AE: How much of your music is message and how much it is fun? Where do you draw the line?

Otep: That’s really difficult when you’re trying to understand a band like mine where it’s really about message first, and then music and everything else comes second. It’s exciting now because it seems like I would have to relate it to social media with connecting all these different people who love different genres of music. For a lot of our fans we’re the only aggressive music they listen to. Most of them listen to electro music or pop or Lady Gaga or Dead Sarah and Uh Huh Her, all these other amazing bands that I’m also lucky to be friends with. But, again, they come to us for the message, and now we’re getting a point where I took year off last year just because I was fed up. I just couldn’t handle being in that industry of music anymore. We still toured, just so that we could still stay in touch with our fans, and I did some voiceover work. I took time to stay focused on other projects, I finished a book of short stories and I did an audiobook for it as well, and then I started to feel the urge to write again and to write music again because it just feels like the climate has changed, the people I’ve noticed who are fans are from different walks of life, different genres of music, our core is still there, they’re still with us, our tribe we call them. And so it’s a real exciting time to write music again and so we’ve begun that process, we’re in pre-production now and it feels really really exciting.


AE: How does your sexuality inform your music?

Otep: I’m a lesbian–goldstar, by the way–and I just don’t know the difference between being gay or being straight, because I don’t know what that feels like. So when I write music I write about the things that I feel like everybody feels, if there’s a song about heartbreak or about being rejected or like an outcast, I feel like people no matter what their sexuality is can relate in someway. I think my advocacy for equal rights helps inform the masses, and my fans will utilize certain songs like “Confrontation,” which is just about standing up for your rights, and our gay and lesbian fans will then apply that song to their life as a way of saying well this is what I should do I should stand up for myself, I should fight back I should, as a human being as a person who deserves to exist.

I’ve never hid who I am, in that regard, and I don’t believe I should have to. There’s nothing shameful about it, I never thought there was and I’m lucky enough to live in a family that supports me and my friends all do as well. I think that musically I try to use universal language so that everybody can relate to the songs and to the lyrics.


AE: Do you think those of us with a voice have a responsibility to speak up and speak out?

Otep: I think that anybody that has a soap box should absolutely stand up for what they believe in. Especially if it’s for people who are being bullied or suppressed. I think that they have an obligation to do that because then what else are you up there for? Just to make a bunch of money? To live this famous, glamorous life while people like you are struggling? Let’s say I was specifically talking about artists that I know who live in the closet, and they grew up struggling and they grew up having a rough time and yet they refuse to speak out for kids who are going through the exact same thing that they went through and maybe aren’t lucky enough to have their famous lives, or aren’t lucky enough to get the breaks that they did. And yet they stay quiet because they’re afraid to lose their job, they’re afraid to lose their money, they’re afraid to lose their position in the business when that’s really not what it should be about.

You should not be ashamed or afraid. You should fight. Just like Ellen did. She made it like, “Look this is who I am, I’m married, I’m happy, I’m normal, I’m funny. And I care about everybody, so what’s wrong with that?” And there’s nothing wrong with that. So, if you have a platform you should use it. Absolutely. Whether it’s about animal rights, our infrastructure, clean water, alternative energy, equal rights for all people, women’s rights, whatever it is you should use that platform.


AE: What are your thoughts on artists and individuals in these positions of power that choose to remain closeted and silent?

Otep: I feel like I’m of the mind never to be quiet about who I know is in the closet, because I don’t believe that it’s fair for kids who are living in small towns or are being kicked out of their houses at a young age. You know I visited the Harvey Milk High School in New York City and to see the number of children who are just cast aside by their own families, thrown out onto the streets because of just who they are. It’s just insane. You don’t love your child enough because they like someone of the same gender and you don’t care about the character of the person they date you just care about their biology, that just makes no sense to me whatsoever. I feel like it’s almost treason to be silent when you know people are being bullied, when you know people are suffering, when you know people are hurting, and you can make a difference.

There have been so many actors and so many musicians that have finally decided to come out and to speak out. Rob Halford (Judas Priest) is a perfect example. I toured with them on Ozzfest and after he’d come it out it was the funniest thing, whether it was coincidence or whatever you wanna say, every time Judas Priest played on that tour lightening would strike in the very beginning as soon as he came out on stage–like way off in the distance somewhere. And I was waiting, because we were playing in, like, the South, and I was waiting for somebody to scream out some kind of homophobic slur. There were just all of these guys out there and you know if they saw a bald guy walking around their town in all leather that they would harass him to death, but here’s Rob Halford on stage and they’re screaming his name and they are just joyous for him to be up there, singing his songs at the top of their lungs and applauding them and loving every minute of it. That was a moment for me when I saw a cultural shift beginning to happen. And it was a really wonderful thing to see.

Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Demonstrate Against Stay Banning Gay Marriages 

AE: What’s your take on queer visibility?

Otep: A lot of people feel shameful for who they are because they don’t see anybody like them. It’s hard for me to go to movies and watch romantic comedies, because I never see anybody like me in romantic comedies. I don’t see a gay couple up there in love, I don’t see their struggles and life. That’s why as dramatic as The L Word was at times at least it represented struggles that a lot of us go through and have gone through with finding romance and love and dealing with the outside pressures of society and being judged. And at least it gave us a real place to go to see people like us represented and also gave people who didn’t understand who or what we were an understanding. It made this group of lesbians more human, it made people understand that everyone goes through these things. All people have heartbreak, problems at work, fall in love, problems with bullying, these things transcend sexuality.


AE: Is there any advice that you want to share with creative young women out there?

Otep:  Don’t let anybody stop you no matter what, and don’t stop yourself either because you’ll have these dry spells of where the muses have left you and you have nothing to write you have nothing to create. You don’t feel like there’s anything coming out of you. And instead of falling back into a depression, which I used to do, or feeling like you’ve used up whatever was your artistic well, use that as a time to go out and get inspired. That’s a time to refill that well with inspiration. Go out, expose yourself to things that you normally wouldn’t expose yourself to. Read a different author, read a different genre of books, or it you’re a musician listen to a different genre of music. Know what you love, know what you hate, don’t just take it on face value. Don’t judge before you actually listen. I think the way social media has been able to do so many wonderful things for us, it’s also been able to limit us. You can put on a Pandora or Spotify station and only listen to bands that are similar to bands that you like, and it never allows you to hear anything that you don’t like. Also take your work seriously and keep evolving as an artist and keep trying to find new places of inspiration and don’t let anybody ever tell you that that’s not what you should be doing because if it’s in your heart, if it’s in your soul it’s absolutely what you should be doing.


AE: What’s one thing we wouldn’t be able to find out about you through a deep internet lurk?

Otep: People know that I’m vegan. I like underground hip hop music. I think people know that, too. You guys want something juicy….let’s see. I like Ghost Adventures. It’s a paranormal show where they hunt for ghosts.


For more on Otep and the band, visit their websiteFacebook and Twitter.

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