An interview with Otep Shamaya, singer and songwriter with the metal band that shares her name, is never dull. The razor-sharp, politically active and damn funny frontwoman has never been short of a word or two about that which grinds her gears, sociopolitical issues informing the majority of the band’s lyrics. In conversation, too, she’s a revelation. One topic leads to another as thoughts whiz by at hyper-speed, each one carefully considered. Frankly, the world needs artists like Otep right now.
The band’s eighth album, Kult 45, dropped at the end of July, the title a less-than-subtle reference to the current president. So far, Shamaya says, the response from fans and critics has been excellent. The singer puts this down to the fact that the album feels not only authentic but incredibly timely.
“It’s an absolute reflection of our times, in opposition, as part of the resistance,” Shamaya says. “Living under a president who obviously committed conspiracy with the Russians to hack the election, he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, he only won the electoral college (which was designed to help slave owners), by 77,000 votes and some change. My goal was to remind people that this is our nation. It doesn’t belong to the politicians, it doesn’t belong to Resident Trump, Traitor Trump, Donnie Little Fingers — I’ve got a lot of names for this guy. It’s not his country, even though he thinks it is. It’s ours.”
Shamaya wants to make sure people here in California understand that we have protections in this state that others don’t have — that there are still places where an employee can legally be fired for being gay, for example.
“That’s not a byproduct of the Trump regime, that’s a byproduct of ignorance and some failures by the Obama administration to make sure that those protections were secure for us,” she says. “I was a fan of President Obama. I didn’t agree with him all the time — he and I had major disagreements on the LGBT community in particular, and the way that he compromised way too much with the Republican party on good faith, thinking that if he did something for them they would do something for him quid pro quo, and that of course turned out not to be the case.
"Kult 45 initially started out to be about the people that Donald Chump supports, which is white supremacists, hate groups, these groups of toxic masculinity tribes who think that women should only be vocal in the home when they say, ‘Dinner’s ready,’ that’s about as much as they should speak. But also to touch on other issues that are still pervasive in our country, with regards to rape culture, gender roles, and even fighting for your own self-care and self-love, stepping out of your comfort zone to achieve your dreams and goals and not allowing anyone else to define you.”
Otep’s previous album, Generation Doom, was released in the middle of 2016, a good half-year before the last presidential election. That record seems almost prophetic now, something Shamaya puts down to her self-proclaimed obsession with political facts and stats.
“I saw the trend coming when I first heard old Traitor Trump was running for president,” she says. “I saw the danger and the peril that he posed to our nation because, first, he’s never governed. He has no idea how normal people live. He has no idea how government works and how a bill becomes a law. All he wanted to be is famous. How he ran as a job creator when his slogan was ‘You’re fired’ — he got off on firing people on national TV — the disconnect there is unbelievable to me. The people that voted for him — he was speaking their language in that he made it OK to be hate-filled — racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, all the way around.”
Musically, Shamaya says that with Kult 45, she tried to capture the live energy that the band always brings, while retaining the feel of a polished studio album, and she feels she accomplished that. Indeed, the album is brutally heavy, with a hammer-blow ferocity that is on-the-nose, but also just the right amount of punk-rock raw.
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“When I started the band, I didn’t know much about music,” she says. “I was more of a knucklehead running around the streets of L.A., getting in trouble, and I thought I was going to be a street artist or street poet. But what I did when I finally decided to get into music, I went from a spoken-word, hip-hop–style sound to electric instruments and more rock music. I went back to the bands I knew influenced me in that way, and they were all jazz-based. The Doors were a jazz-based band, even Rage Against the Machine are jazz-based in that every instrument has a voice. That’s what I wanted on this album, especially. I wanted every instrument to have a voice, every player to shine.”
This week, the band Otep perform at the Whisky, and Shamaya says that we can expect a “complete and utter mutiny of the senses,” which is a fascinating way to describe the wonderful chaos that will inevitably occur. Get like-minded, politically charged music fans in a room together, and the band is simply the touch-paper.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she says. “It is also a call to action for people to get involved, to remind them that being a citizen of this great democracy is no longer a spectator sport. Voting matters, and being involved matters. It’s a call to action, and also a fun rock show. We try to pollinate with hope, encouragement and courage. Any Trump humpers that want to come should probably put on their body armor because they might get their feelings hurt just a little.”
Otep perform with Dropout Kings, Sleeping Dog, Blue Midnight, Zero, Jane’s Great Dane and Pry Open at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at the Whisky A Go-Go.