On March 15th, I had the pleasure of interviewing Otep via Skype. She talked about her new album, the things that drive her, and her view on the world. What started out as an interview soon turned into an awesome and memorable conversation with a powerful woman that’s all about her message.
Hi there, this is Randy from Metal On Loud Magazine!
Hi this is Otep, right on, how are you?
Good! You’ve been busy I think?
Haha, a little bit. It’s a good busy though. We’re really excited about the new record.
Yeah, I bet! It’s a great album.
Thank you very much!
I’ve had a few listens to it. I think I’ve had it on repeat for a week now and I love it.
Ah, nice! Thank you so much, that’s very kind of you.
Your upcoming release, it’s called Generation Doom, and as I said, it’s been on repeat here. What can you tell our readers about this record?
Well ehm, how basic do you want to be? It’s our seventh album; it was recorded with the legendary producer Howard Benson; it is a reflection of the world we live in currently. We have an opportunity to seize power back from those who have always had the power, or we can allow them to continue to destroy our environment, destroy our culture, destroy our heritage, destroy our uniqueness as a species, and that’s sort of what the album is about. I’m an American, so I write from that perspective first, and there’s a lot of things that are going on in this country right now that I thought that we were well beyond, but we suffer from historical amnesia in this country.
Heh. Not just in your country.
*Laughs* Well I guess all countries, but y'know we definitely have it here. I mean we can’t remember four years ago, let alone, you know… Someone can tell us, like Donald Trump, who is a complete conman—he’s a racist, he’s xenophobic, he’s a pathological liar…
He’s a sign of the times, yeah.
Exactly. He is using all of that. That racism, all of that homophobia, denying science, that human beings actually have an impact on the environment. He is using all of that fear that America is not great anymore, which denies our history, that America wasn’t always great. We invaded this land from Europe—Europeans did anyway—came to this land, were welcomed and greeted openly by the Native Americans who were then slaughtered and pushed off of their land, out into the desert where they can’t grow food and can’t raise livestock because there’s no water. We owned slaves in this country. Women didn’t have the right to vote until the 1920’s. Gay people just got equality in the last couple of years, and in some states judges in courts are still denying gay people their rights. They are defying the federal government, and these are judges that are on the bench.
Yeah, they‘re even banning oral sex I read.
Ah, yeah, well they call it sodomy, so I think that it’s just oral sex, but that means oral sex between straight couples too. That means *laughs* I mean what’s the matter with these people? Do they understand what sodomy means? But also, it’s illegal to be gay in this country and you can be fired—as far as holding a job, you can be fired—and that’s in 20 states, just for being gay. If they find out you’re gay they can fire you, legally.
Well it’s always been the case that those in power use the fear of the people against them.
That’s right, and that’s what’s happening. On the Republican side, on the conservative side here in America it’s happening, and they use religion. Donald Trump is not a religious man but he is using religion. We are still fighting two wars—the longest wars I think we have ever been involved with— and we have been involved in war, I think since Vietnam, since Korea, constantly at war.
It keeps the people busy.
It does. It also keeps them distracted on what’s really important, which is economic developments and infrastructure. I mean we have poisoned water here in Flint, Michigan and nobody cared until a few brave news people started to talk about it and activists started showing up, and they have been poisoning children because they’re poor children—they’re black children.
It’s a messed up world right now, yeah.
So we’re at a point now in our evolution as a people where we have the ability for you and I to speak over the internet *laughs* in real time, and we have technology in our hand; we have solar energy and wind energy; we are getting closer to curing certain types of cancer; we have this idea of really advancing the human race and getting off of animal agriculture—I’m a moral vegan, so that's very important to me, to stop using animals for food and clothing. We have other options that are better, because animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate signs. We have that moment now, we have a choice between two, either going forward or falling backwards, and that’s what the record is about.
Usually fear keeps us back. It’s been abused by politics, it’s been abused by religion, but what makes the Generation Doom different? What is the Generation Doom?
The last record, Hydra, was a concept album. It was really written about this character I have created named Hydra, and I’ve written a book about her, but I wanted to write a record about her too, so it wasn’t a personal album. By contrast I think this album is very personal; it’s very vulnerable. I got into a place in my life where beyond all of the bigger things we just talked about, people also have these personal issues. And I’m no different than anybody else, I have to deal with personal things in my life on top of all the other things that are going on in this country. I had gone through a really tough break-up at the time, my dog had gotten sick—all these really emotional things were going through me, so I think Generation Doom itself is a very personal record for me. It is my fear for our country, but it’s also about overcoming those obstacles; it’s about standing up and fighting back; it’s about overcoming heartbreak and learning to love yourself, and understanding if you go through a bad relationship—any bad relationship, a friendship or a loved one, anything like that—that it’s not always your fault. Usually it’s just because you’ve made a bad judgement. Love sometimes makes you make bad decisions, you know? Like, for the track “In Cold Blood”, which was one of the songs that was written right after I had a break up, the chorus lyric is “There’s something wrong with me, for thinking something’s right with you”, and I was really trying to discover why I kept making bad decisions in relationships. I tended to choose people that weren’t always the best characters, you know? They didn’t always have the best characters.
I love that song. I think it’s really recognizable for a lot of people.
Thank you. I hope so. I mean that’s one of the reasons why I write music. That’s one of the reasons why I make art, because I don’t think that anybody should ever feel like they’re alone in their pain, alone in their joy or celebration of something you know? Being lonely I think is maybe one of the few things that human beings as a group—as a whole—have a real difficult time overcoming.
Yeah, and it’s something we all share, in a way.
That’s right. And it’s easier to share. It’s easier to get through pain when you can share it, and that’s one of the reasons why I wrote that song. For a long time I had steered away from opening up to people in my art, and that’s strange because that’s where it started. It started with me opening up about myself, my childhood, and the violence and the poverty I have gone through. I think I wanted to heal, and that’s the reason why I wrote those songs, and when something bad happened again, for me it wasn’t really a conscious choice to write these songs about it, it just happened.
Life flowing through you.
I love that phrase, very nice, life flowing through me, that’s right brother.
You open the record with a very loud 'I don’t give a fuck', but with all the things that are happening in the world, isn’t giving a fuck the answer?
I think it’s about not giving a fuck about people who are gonna tell you not to care—for people who might ridicule you for caring—because there’s a lot of people who would do that. They’ll say like “Oh my God you care about the climate?” and “Oh my God you care about politics!”, "Oh my God, why are you dressed that way?" I don’t fucking care. People will say, well this isn’t Otep, they didn’t write a Metal record. Well I don’t think we were ever a Metal band! We were always a fusion band. The big talk always was they were trying to put us in a particular genre of music, so I wanted to set the tone of the record just like that. Just like, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a fuck what you think about me, I don’t give a fuck where you think this records belongs. Not just you, a general you. Anybody. I’m gonna make the record I wanna make.
That was one of the questions I had prepared, are genres still a thing you think? Isn’t it a thing of the past that we still hold on to, didn’t we outgrow those boxes?
Oh, I think so. Especially now, I mean I think genres are a thing of the past. Like cassette tapes, and almost CD’s to be honest. My fans, they listen to Lorde, and they listen to Rihanna, and they listen to Drake, and they listen to Twenty One Pilots, and then they also listen to Otep, and they listen to Slipknot. You don’t have like an “Oh I’m just a Metal person”. There’s a few of them out there, but it’s very difficult to do that. Also I think it hurts the chances of people getting wider recognition because, for example, at an award ceremony, they’re not gonna give bands who maybe have a drop-D tuned guitar that use double kick, they’re not gonna give them an award for anything, because there’s no award for best Metal anything. There isn’t. If there is, it’s off camera, it’s not televised, it’s in a back room somewhere, so these people don’t get the recognition that they deserve. I have friends that won Grammy’s like that. Where they weren’t on air. I mean, that’s so unfair. Why? Because someone said that they were Metal? You know, it’s ridiculous. It really is. So why not just rock and let it go. Are the Rock people so afraid of the Metal people that they’re better musicians, better songwriters, have better instrumentation—I don’t know—but I think that genres are fossils. I think eventually we will see a much broader term for all of that.
Probably! Most of the songs on the new release have many layers. My experience is that every time I listen to it, I hear something different, something new.
Good! That’s great.
So, how does the creative process work when you’re writing something like that?
Well, you know, we start with the core of the song and that’s usually the message or the tone. Once we start with a song, then we build the layers and the basic sort of instrumentation and we then just start listening for places that… it’s not over produced, it’s not too much, but it’s just these little textures. You know it’s like listening to the ocean. My approach is the same way I would listen to the ocean. I’m gonna listen to the ocean but in the background I’m going to hear the wind in the trees, and out front I’m gonna hear a seabird flying over. You know, so that’s kind of what we wanted to do, to make a little bit more alive in that way.
That’s a nice analogy, I like that.
Oh thank you.
What usually comes first: do you start with the music, and then write the lyrics? Or the other way around? Or do both happen?
You know what, it’s usually the lyrics first, but that’s not necessarily always true. I mean my guitar player Aristotle, who really is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met, amidst some of the most talented musicians that ever lived, this guy can play anything. You just sit him down in front of something and he can play it. He is that talented. He is also a big body builder so I think you look at him and you go like, “look at this guy, the big body builder”, but oh yeah, this big body builder can play every instrument on the planet, so how about that *laughs* He is multi-talented and sometimes he’ll get an idea and you know, he and I have this really great chemistry where he’ll get an idea and it’s just in time for something that I’ve been writing. As far as an idea, or a melody or a cadence. And the same thing will go for me, I’ll send him something that’s like, "Oh I was just writing something like that, let me share it with you", so it’s just really great chemistry. Sometimes he’ll submit to me like 5 or 6 different ideas and I’ll pick one like, oh man, that’s it. That’s the one. That’s what I’ve been looking for; that’s the one that’s been singing to me in my sleep and you knew it. So, it really just depends on the moment. I suppose lyrics are normally what starts first but sometimes it’s a guitar idea and that’s really, it just depends on the song.
It’s really great to be on the same wavelength with somebody.
You know, I’ve had a lot of band members, because it’s hard to be in a touring band. Most bands that we look at now, it used to be such a shock that like “Oh that’s not the original bass player? Oh?”. But now it’s like “oh yeah that’s not the original bass player”. It’s so common place now, because it’s hard to live—especially with the state of music—it’s hard to live on the road. It’s very hard to leave your family. It’s very hard to do. When you can get a regular job, and you know it’s steady, you know…
Life gets in the way.
There you go. Another great phrase. I love talking to you. So it’s really great to talk to somebody, to be in a band with somebody that gets me, and I get him. We have such a big chemistry. It really is wonderful.
When you’re creating a layered track, like most of the tracks on the album, would you say it’s like painting a picture?
Ehm, very similar to painting a picture, yes. That’s a good analogy I think. It’s really good because you’re always looking for that last little brush stroke and it’s really hard to know when to walk away but… You know, sometimes you just have to, otherwise you’re gonna over do it and you’re gonna mess the whole thing up.
*laughs* yeah exactly. I can tell you had a lot of fun making this record. There’s a lot of little one-liners and sounds all scattered through the album. I like the little laugh at the end of the title track.
Oh thank you, yeah. Well that’s what was fun about that song because, I haven’t really just... that song to me was just an unleashing of every rage in my body, and that normally doesn’t happen in the studio. Ever. It normally happens on stage. I’m always worried that I’m going to break something. I put my head through a wall once.
So yeah I’ve got to be very careful about that while I’m recording because when I start to record and I peel back the conscious layers—like OK, you are a human being, be careful, and the producer didn’t want me to do that. He was like no. Go. I want you to be you. So, I just unleashed on that song and then I was like imagining everything in the world that I hated and allowed that to manifest through me, and at the very end of it, it was like, you know, ha ha. That was fun *laughs*. Yeah.
What’s your favorite line on the album? For me personally it’s “Google that”, the attitude on that one, wow.
*laughs loud* On “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts”, yeah. It’s an invertebrate; Google that, that’s right. You know that song was just especially fun to write, because as strong as a song as it is, there’s also a lot of taunting in it and a lot of sarcasm in some ways, but at the same time that’s me being as challenging to the world as I can be. Because that’s a song about “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts”; equal rights for gay and lesbians and—as much as I admire, honor, respect, love and cherish all of the help that we get from straight people, straight allies, and heroes that stand for us and help fight for us—I think it’s also time for gay people to stand up, unite and fight for our rights to exist. We’re never gonna have full equality if we don’t become a political power. If they don’t fear us politically... Even on the streets, you have to be proud of who you are, come out of the closet, stop being afraid of being in the closet. There’s so many kids that are bullied. There’s actors and musicians that are still in the closet and we all know who they are and they won’t come out, and why? Just so that they can make some extra money, so that they can get a movie role or not loosing their fans. Meanwhile some kid who is in high school somewhere is getting beat up every day because he is gay, trying to just live his life. To me it’s a crime. Love is so rare in this world, it’s so hard to find, and life is so short. And yet, if you can't find love in this life, who are you? How evil are you to try and deny that to somebody, just because you can’t find it?
People are caught up in the game. It’s a game we’ve been playing for over 2000 years and they’re stuck in it.
Truly. And I think we have to ask where does it stop? I know it used to be in this country that it was frowned upon for Germans to marry Irish. It was frowned upon for blacks and whites to marry. Why? Now we look back at that and go “well that’s dumb”. You know? Like, why? That doesn’t even make sense, why did they care? And one day we’re gonna look back… and even now it’s like “why do you care?” But it’s still like I said, in some parts of the world you can go to prison; in Russia you can go to prison for being openly gay. In parts of Africa and the Middle East you can be put to death. Even in America there’s religious organisations who are paying other countries, they’re giving them money so they keep putting gay people to death. How horrible of a human being are you that you give money to kill someone else who just wants to be loved; who wants to find love? That’s just crazy. So for me writing “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts”, it’s a fun song to write. I told my label and I told the producer and they all had—again—concerns… I said “just imagine that I’m a man and I’m talking about women”, and they were like oh, okay then you can write the song. Because they didn’t even understand that perspective. Just take the part out that I’m a woman.
There’s some really great lines in there. I think for me... I mean I don’t know brother that’s part of the kick. There’s so many great lines in that song. The opening line that I really like is “he called me a dyke, I called him an ambulance”
*laughs* yeah I loved that.
You expect me to insult him but instead, no man, I just, he said the wrong thing to the wrong person. That’s actually based on a true story that happened to me when I was on vacation with one of my ex-girlfriends. I got attacked on a beach in Hawaii by some old man who thought it was wrong that I just kissed a girl. I mean it wasn’t even, we weren’t being like… not that there’s anything wrong with showing love, it was just a peck. It was just like a two little kiss, like *kiss* thanks babe, you need to go pay for the surfing lesson, and the dude just got all uppity and crazy, and he chose the wrong person to get uppity and crazy with. Like, that’s none of your business! I told him, that’s none of your business dude! So yeah I like that opening line. I think that the other part, where I go into the triple part, in the second verse: “I am a pariah to every religion, it isn’t a choice but it is a decision, come out of the closet”, I love that part. And it’s funny because I had another journalist he was telling me, and he writes for a blog that tends to really hate my music. I think they just can’t stand my politics, they don’t know me personally but they hate what I stand for, ergo they can’t like my music, but he actually private messaged me and said “I can’t say this publicly, but I’ll tell you that "Equal rights, Equal Lefts" is your most controversial song you’ve ever written”. He said I’m real proud of you for writing that song. And I don’t even know the guy and he just wrote me that.
It’s really strange that in this time where gay rights have come so far, that it’s still a controversial song.
Exactly! That’s what I told him, because there’s one line in the song where I say “she seemed so sweet, I had to taste her”, and one of the guys in the studio, one of the guys that works with the producers was like whoa that’s, that’s, really too much, and I said have you ever listened to a rap song? Do you know what truffle butter is? I mean, do you even know what they're talking about dude? That’s really tame. But also, you know, Hip-Hop is notoriously homophobic as well. That’s why I chose that type of music for that song. Because I wanted to go in that world, where it’s really accepted to be homophobic. You can be homophobic and it’s okay, so I chose to go into their world.
*laughs* so your next record will have a Country song then?
*laughs loud* Never. *laughs* I couldn’t even stand… I’d open up with a banjo or something and I’d probably just have a stroke *laughs* I would have a Blues record though. I like Blues, I'd write a Blues song.
Nice. Would you say that humour is important in art?
I think so. And I think there’s a lot of it in this album, believe it or not. I think you brought up that, you know, that "Google That" line; I think that’s funny, and there’s a couple of other ones. Like “Say what you say, do what you do, but I’ll always get more pussy than you”, I think those are funny lines, those are taunting lines, but I think satire is very important. Satire teaches and yet it makes you laugh at the same time. It entertains you. So I think there’s a bit of satire in this album, and there’s a little bit of humor as well, yeah.
There are several lyrics in which you mention wolves vs sheep. In what way is our current society one of sheep, and in what way do you identify with a wolf?
It’s really difficult sometimes, because I am a moral vegan, I’m an animal rights activist, so in order for me to suddenly denigrate a sheep in such a way, sometimes I have to like remind myself, like OK, it’s a metaphor, I’m not really insulting sheep *laughs* But I think as a culture we’ve always been more sheep-like. We follow the shepherd, right? Wherever the shepherd tells us to go is where we go. Wherever the shepherd is we go. The wolves follow the pack leader, and they pretty much hunt on their own; they’re wild; they live by their instincts and by their wits, and I would rather be a feral creature that is led by my own instincts and my own free will than be a sheep who is led by a shepherd. It’s hard to tell if you’ve got a good shepherd or a bad shepherd.
It really surprised me. Hearing you sing about feeding frenzies and wolves with the sheep, knowing that you are a vegan.
*laughs* indeed. A moral vegan, which is even more crazy, yeah. I’ll tell you, you know, there’s another line in the song "Down" that says “if the people are sheep, don’t blame the shepherd”, and again, that’s another illustration I think of saying, like look, some of you choose to be this way, you know that if the shepherd says go to war, and you know that it’s an illegal war and you do it anyway, it’s not the shepherds fault. That’s the sheep’s fault. So there’s lines in that. Feeding frenzy; I always thought of sharks when I wrote that, but that was also based on an actual event where I was on tour and was going through a market, and I was walking passed a protest. It was a bunch of Tea Party people who were like, super dumb conservatives who know nothing about anything. We call them teabaggers here because, yeah, you know what I mean. I’ve said nothing to them, I was actually walking across the street once the light cleared and they just all started attacking me. And maybe it’s because of how short my hair is, maybe it’s because of my tattoos, I have no idea. But they just started to attack me. So there was about fourteen of them I think, so I just sat there and I debated every single one of them on the issues, and all fourteen of them, most of them were there for a different reason. So what I did, initially I started to debate each one of them and then when I found out all of their issues, I started to gradually make them debate each other. And then when they all started arguing among each other I just walked away *laughs*
*laughs* you won.
And then when I came back—I bought what I needed to buy, and when I came back out—they were all gone, so... *laughs* That’s what "Feeding Frenzy" is about. It’s really about live and let live, because there were a lot of people there judging me because of religion, judging me because of, you know I had tattoos, or this or the other; they generally disliked me.
You don’t fit the expectations, the profile, the book, or whatever, yeah.
That’s right. And I don’t have to. And that’s what I told them.
That’s my life, not their life. I’m living mine, you live yours.
I mentioned there are many layers on this album. It really sounds great on the album, but how would you think it would hold up in a live set?
I think they’re gonna hold up great. In fact, one of the things that I think caused some distress in the studio was every time we wrote a song and every time we would come up with a new part, I would always interject and say yeah, but we gotta play that live, so it’s gotta be like this, or make suggestions so that we could actually play it live. And so every song on this record, every single one was engineered to play live. In fact, this is the first record I think we’re doing more than two songs in a live show. I think we’re up to four or five songs now that we want to play live.
Yeah, we’re excited.
That would have been my follow up question, the art or being able to play it live.
Hehe, it’s always playing it live man, always. That’s what we’re doing. We wanna sell records but we wanna be able to play these. That’s the reason I started the band. It wasn’t to make records, it was to play shows. I wanted to make living art, and that to me is what music is: it’s art that is alive.
Yeah, you have got to be able to get it to the people, definitely. If you had to explain to somebody who never heard your music before, how would you describe it?
Ooh, ehm. I would describe it as ehm, poetically driven political *pause* Rock music. I suppose. I guess a more broader description is that it’s a total mutiny of the senses, and then I would go into what kind of music it is, that it's poetically driven political Rock.
So definitely the message comes first.
Message always comes first. Always. That’s everything to me. And again, you know, it’s hard to say that this record is really political, because I guess it really isn’t, so maybe I have to re-evaluate that statement, because it’s more of a personal record. I mean it really is. It’s more about me and what I’ve gone through. It was a really rough two years for me after Hydra.
So it’s more about your state of mind in the current world.
I think so, yes sir, that’s a great way to say it. That’s a really perfect way to say it. I kind of left politics alone for a while and really just focused on me and on how I was actually interacting with the world. So yeah, it was more about my state of mind than anything else.
I could tell. On your Wikipedia page it’s stated that you said in an interview in 2013 that Hydra would be your last record. I’m really glad that it wasn’t, but what changed?
Thank you. At the time I really thought it was. Honestly, I thought it was going to be my last record. I had grown very tired of the music business. I had grown very tired of the suits, the executives who know nothing about art but think they do, who really just want to use artists like livestock, you know. We are expendable, they just use us for what they need and then we’re tossed to the side. It’s different in music than it is in any other entertainment branch. We don’t have a real union, so that there’s nobody really looking out for us, and if you’re a big enough band where you can afford like an entertainment lawyer, great. But then, lawyers are always looking for a deal, you know. They're always trying to settle, they just wanna make both parties happy and be fair and so forth, but we don’t really have anybody who’s out there fighting for us as a whole. It just felt very frustrating. It’s always an uphill climb. There’s a reason why, and it wasn’t because of my band or me, but there’s a reason why haven’t been released in Europe in years. That’s not my decision, I don’t make those decisions.
No, that’s business.
That’s a call made by a guy, by people that I don’t respect at all. They're Donald Trumps.
Usually people that wouldn’t buy your records in the first place.
Exactly. So those are decisions that I don’t make and yet, I've got fans in Europe who waited for it and they ask me why isn’t the record available over here, and I say it’s not my fault, I can’t do anything about it. So I’ve come to a place where I just didn’t want to fake it anymore—I didn’t want to start faking it I guess is a better way to say it, I hadn’t faked it yet—but I could feel the emptiness coming on where I just didn’t have anything left to say. Or I didn’t want to share it with that business. I didn’t want to give it to them, to see them screw it up; to see them toss it away. These are my children; these are my soul children, so I didn’t want to give them anything that they could just destroy or misuse or abuse.
In this time, this age, with the internet everywhere, with artists doing their own thing, releasing stuff online there are always ways to get your message out without suits.
That’s right. We thought about that. That’s one of the things we planned on doing. We planned on just doing it ourselves. I wanted to take some time off, I wanted to rediscover music as if I was a new band. In the beginning, when I started the band, we only played four or five shows before we got signed. We got signed without a demo. We didn’t even have a demo. We got signed strictly off the power of our live performance, so I wanted to back out there and rediscover that part. Playing live music, be with the fans, to be apart of that alchemy, that crazy magic on stage.
Back to the core.
Yeah, and we did that. We did two years of basically just being on our own, touring when we wanted, having a great time with the fans and everything and then we played Knotfest in California and I think they put us in a different time or something. We were supposed to go on later but then they said no you’re supposed to go on right now. So we’re rushing around trying to get everybody together, and you know, we look out there and in front of our stage is like fifty people because they're expecting one of the local bands to play. So we do what we do, I say listen guys, who cares. Let’s just play music man, let’s just fucking play. So we get outside and we do our little thing, we always do this little pre-show ritual. I quote Shakespeare, “Once more into the breach dear friends, Cry 'Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war”, and then we all bark “woof” and then we go out on stage, and this time it's exactly as our intro music is reaching its crescendo, and we walk outside and we just start playing. I had the guitar player just get out there and the fifty people that were there screaming and I’m having my guitar player like “make noise, make noise” and he’s making these chunky sounds, drummer’s going crazy, bass player’s thumping away, we’re just like “thank you, thank you, all right Knotfest, you ready to riot?” And suddenly you start to see people, rivers of people just pouring in to the stage. So then we start the song. One, two, three, four, boom. The song erupts, it’s "Battle Ready". The siren starts, the air siren starts, and now people are running for the stage.
Instantly there’s movement.
Dude, it was amazing. By the time we were into the bridge of that song, we probably had about ten to fifteen thousand people in front of us.
Awesome. And all moving because they were already running.
And then you know, you just got video from backstage and I remember some of our friends in Slipknot were there and they were just like mouthing to us “Oh My God”, you know, like they couldn’t believe it. Then soon after, the video’s went viral and people started talking about it. We started getting calls from labels and emails from entertainment attorneys like “I represent so and so and I’d like to talk to you” and I was just like, I still didn’t know. The label that we’re on now chased us for seven months before I felt we had build enough of a relationship where they understood how important my fans are to us, how important the messages of the songs are to us, and also that I was going to have creative control over every album, everything. Everything was going to be mine.
Is Napalm Records different in that way than your previous label?
It was always promised, never contractual *laughs*. I think, you know, we always had similar conversations with people in the past. Did they mean it was always the fight, and I think that this time it was like okay, they mean it. They’re sticking around. I mean, we talked for seven months before we signed *laughs* so that felt like they believe in us that much that I kept saying no, and they kept coming back, for seven months.
That’s a good sign haha
That’s a good sign, yeah. And so far it’s been great. I mean really, they’ve done some really great things. There’s always gonna be differences with anybody you work with, but so far it’s been it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had. It reminds me of the early days when we put out our first record and it’s kind of how this feels, it feels like our first record again, and that exciting. It’s a love affair man, and it’s like being in love again. It really is.
One of the big advantages of Napalm Records I think, is that they have a big presence in both Europe and the Americas.
Yes, and that was what impressed me as well, because again, we had such a vacancy in the past, not our fault, but this time it was like okay we actually have people that believe in music and actually have a presence in America and in Europe and in other countries as well so this is gonna be great, we’re actually gonna be able to reach the people that we haven’t been able to reach.
Yeah, a good match. You mentioned Howard Benson. How big was the influence of him on the record and how was it to work with him.
He and his whole team are great. He’s got a guy named Mike, he’s got a guy named Hatch, a guy named Johnny Dope; he and his team are basically a member of the band. They really dove into who we are, they listened to our music, our previous music, our catalog, they went online and looked at our fans and watched how they interacted and what they said they wanted so that they could really understand who and what we were and just working with the process with Howard was really magical, I’ll tell ya. Most of the producers that I’ve worked with in the past, most of them spend a week or so just getting a snare sound right. Or just getting a guitar tone right. Which is fine, those are important. Of course those are important. But nobody ever really worked with vocals with me, ever. They just like, oh it’s Otep, she can do whatever, you know. Otep, she does what she wants, and she can do her thing. She doesn’t need any help, so. And part of that’s true, but there’s also a part of me that’s like, yeah, but I like collaborations, I like to work with people, I like to be challenged, I like to be inspired. I’m an artist, I want to be inspired. I’m not a machine, I don’t just walk in and growl for two hours and do that, so Howard was the first producer to ever work with me on vocals. Like "Down" for example, that’s a perfect story because I had written both verses. We recorded both verses and then he stopped me and he was like okay, hold on, let me listen to something. I’m in the vocal booth by myself, and he’s in the control room and he’s like hey, ehm don’t kill me, but your second verse is better than your first verse. You’ve got to rewrite your first verse.
*laughs* I like that.
And at first my instinct was WHAT? NOBODY TELLS ME WHAT TO DO! I WILL RAAH! And you know what? He was right! He was absolutely right, and the thing is like, it wasn’t a terrible verse, it was an okay verse. On any other record, with any other producer, they probably would have left it alone, and it would have been an okay song, because it had an okay verse, but Howard could instinctively not let that go by. He had to stop it, he had to correct it, and that’s what made it so important. And so you know what? I did it. He went to lunch, I sat down, rewrote the first verse, came back, he goes “that’s it”. And he’s right! And I hate that I was wrong but I love that he was right. I do. And it was like that with everything. It was just amazing. I mean every word, every syllable, sometimes a phrase had too many syllables for him, and he was right! It sounded better. He was a genius in the studio and it was my honor to work with him, truly.
Sounds great. It’s important to be inspired. On your live album from 2012 you quote the Cheshire cat from 'Alice in Wonderland' saying “we’re all mad here”. Was that just a quote, or are the works of Lewis Carroll somewhat of an inspiration for you?
I think that he’s somewhat of an inspiration for me, I love the fact that 'Alice In Wonderland' was written just as a way to entertain I think to, you know, to write a children's story to read to people, it’s a question of where reality ends and where reality begins, and to challenge society and all of these morals and mores that we have, these customs that we have, like the tea party was one of them. She’s sitting down with the rabbit… He’s not a huge influence on me but he definitely had an impact on me when I read that when I was younger.
It was the last thing I heard before I listened to the new record for the first time, and then I saw the promo shots and I thought how bleak things looked for Alice on the other side of that looking glass haha.
*Laughs* That’s very good.
It’s an exciting time to be in Otep. Are you happy people at this moment?
I think we are. I think we’re happy. We’re troubled but happy. I think, you know, everybody’s got their issues, man. Personally and just looking at the world politically. We’re in a political season this year so, that’s kind of dominating everybody. These opinions, and conversations, we overhear what’s happening. With Donald Trump and it’s like people, especially in America, most people have never left their city, let alone their state. They don’t understand Europe, they don’t understand anything. So sometimes they’ll be kind of snobbish and say how could they not have seen Hitler coming to power, why didn’t they stop him, well like here you go. Here’s a perfect example: Donald Trump. This is how it happens. It happens with applause. It happens with cheers. It happens with scapegoating, it happens with “oh it’s them”, whoever they are, I don’t know, them. The scary them.
The fear of the unknown.
That’s right. Now for Trump it’s Mexicans and Muslims, and next it’s going to be gay people, Arabs, and it’s like he’s inciting people to violence now. There’s actually a protester in his rallies, and he’s telling his supporters to beat him up and he’ll pay for their legal bills. So it’s a really scary time. But I get the chance to beat up on someone extremely arrogant and that’s Donald Trump. He’s a bully and I enjoy bullying bullies.
That’s a nice hobby to have haha.
That is true. But As people, we are so happy because this record came out so wonderfully, the fans have been so supportive and I didn’t think that we’d be in this position at our seventh album. I didn’t know where we’d be but I certainly never foresaw this. It’s an extremely exciting time to be in this band.
How will your year look, tour wise? Where will we be able to see you live? Any festivals?
We’re working with our agent right now. I think right now we have a tour that starts in a couple of weeks, in three weeks I think. That’s very shocking, it’s three weeks away, okay. Eh *laughs* But then, we’re working on trying to get over to Europe this year, we’re definitely going to do it, we just don’t know when yet. It’s all about just coordinating schedules and you know, again, it’s also fun enough re-introducing ourselves to the European market, even though this is our seventh album, but because of our past terrible experiences with our previous labels, a lot of European venues and festivals don’t really know much about us. They know the name, but they don’t know much about us, because we haven’t had a presence over there. I mean, we haven’t played Europe since 2002.
Yeah, and that’s all because of the labels.
I think I might have seen you back then.
Yeah. A little kid running around the stage. Thinking I knew what I was doing, I didn’t know anything *laughs*.
You live and learn.
Ah yeah. You know it’s funny, when you’re a kid you think you know everything and then you grow up and you think, you don’t know anything, I’m grown up and I still don’t know anything! *laughs*
That’s the right way to look at the world I think. You know nothing haha.
Yes. Who is that, Aristotle I think, or Socrates. I think it was Socrates. All I know is I know nothing.
I thought it was John Snow’s girlfriend *laughs*
*laughs* very funny. But okay, hopefully we’re going to get over to Europe this year, I mean that’s my goal, it’s to get to Europe as soon as possible.
Do you have any last words for our readers?
Sorry it took us so long to get over there but we’re excited to play. Thank you for always believing in us over the years. Thank you for all your support. It matters more than you know. Keep following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because we’re gonna have a lot of new releases, and I’m on Snapchat too by the way. I’m on everything! But we’re gonna be doing a lot of really cool releases on Facebook and interviews through Twitter and some cool clips on Instagram and a lot behind the scenes tour stuff, so..
Awesome. I really loved talking to you tonight, and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us. You’re a busy girl, so we appreciate it.
*laughs* I am. Thank you so much, I appreciate it. This has been one of the more fun interviews I’ve had because you actually asked me great questions and we got to talk and made me think, which is rare that people actually make me think. It’s usually just these canned answers that I have to give everybody but this was really a lot of fun. Thank you, and listen I know Metal itself has gotten to be such a very small world because they keep you back like "that’s not Metal and that’s not Metal", so I appreciate you guys including us, because I feel like the Metal family is much bigger than a lot of people want it to be. But it is. I mean, you know.
Yeah. We’re not supposed to be narrow minded people, so why should our choice in music be narrow.
That’s right! That’s exactly right. Thank you very much. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Thank you so much Otep. Metal On Loud!