Otep Unleashes on Trump, Bono and Steel Panther’s ‘Pussy Melter’
Oftentimes, you have to ease artists into discussing politics; they are generally aware that anything that they say that is in any way controversial will be repeated, retweeted, and may end up dominating their narrative for weeks or longer, often at the expense of their new project.
With Otep, however, all questions somehow lead back to President Trump ... or as she calls him, "Resident Chump." In this interview, she discusses her feelings about him at length, and also addresses metal's recent minor controversy around the guitar effects pedal infamously known as "The Pussy Melter." Her response: "Those guys aren't getting that much pussy! I get more pussy than they do."
You never pull any punches, but the lyrics in "To the Gallows" about President Trump -- "He's just a morally corrupt demagogue, who's in lust with his daughter so he pays porn stars to dress like her/but beware: you can piss in his mouth, you can piss anywhere, but 'watch my hair,'" -- those are really "punchy."
Otep: Well, we've never dealt with anyone that’s as moronic or corrupt or as heinous or cruel as someone like -- I call him "Resident Chump," because I don't believe that he's the President. He was selected by the Russians and white supremacists and all these people that are very anti-American. So he resides in the White House, but he lost the popular vote by three million votes. He only won the electoral college by 70,000 votes. The electoral college was designed to help slave owners, so that seems to be kind of apropos or ironic that he won that.
The things that he says about immigrants and the LGBT community... he's [guitarist Ari Mihalopoulos] the son of an immigrant, and I'm openly gay, so he's attacking our communities. He himself is the son of two immigrants. He's married two immigrants. He's married to one now. He's cheated on all his wives. He's cheating on her, and he's cheated on them all openly. He’s just a morally corrupt human being and he’s just heinous.
Trump’s a coward. He likes to be on TV. He always wanted to be famous. How people thought he was gonna be a job creator when his famous slogan was “You’re fired” is beyond my comprehension.
I don’t really trust trust fund kids, especially big tough guys whose hands are soft as a baby’s foot, never been in a fight before in his life, never served in the military. I come from a military family, so that’s insulting to me and my family. [He] got five deferments because of his rich daddy, which means five other men, probably from the working class, probably from the poverty class, took his place and went over there and fought in that war. So to have that sort of disconnect, that you’re actually sending someone else in your place to maybe die, and you don’t care about it, and you’re running around here in New York in your limousines, and you’re spending your daddy’s money, I think that tells you exactly what kind of shallow and ugly person that he really is. Inside and out, he’s a hideous human being.
Every day, he seems to do three crazy things, and any one of those would be an ongoing story with any past President. With him, it's hard keeping up with everything he does and says.
Well, he’s an agent of chaos. He loves it. You could say many things about how stupid he is and how he doesn’t know how to govern, but one thing that he does know how to do is: he knows how to mix it up with the media really well. So when all this stuff was coming out about Stormy Daniels, all of a sudden we’re detaining asylum seekers, and he’s ripping children away from their parents, and these are people who are trying to escape the same people that he says he’s protecting us from, MS-13, cartels and all that. These are people who are coming to America to try to escape that.
I actually talked to a journalist who did an interview with me, and he’s said that when I wrote “Warhead,” which was against George W. Bush and the illegal war in Iraq, he said he hated me. He was an evangelical, and he was like, “I hated you, I hated you, because you were dissing the president, and you were dissing the troops.” I was like, “I never, ever spoke badly about the troops, ever. Never. They did their job, even though they didn’t want to.”
He said, “But something kept bringing me back to that song. Then when I started to realize what you were saying, it really gave me a different perspective on the war, the President and where our country was at that time.” So music is a powerful form, and art has always been a powerful form for political and cultural change, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
When we last spoke to you a few months ago, you kept referring to the President as "Traitor Trump," and I thought, "Wow, people are going to go after her for that." But after Helsinki, it seems like even some Republicans are starting to feel that way.
Republicans are saying it. The name of our new record is Kult 45--spelled with a K, by the way, which is, again, a reference to his support of the alt-right. Anybody that says, “There’s good people on both sides,” that there’s good people in white supremacy groups, is just a moron, or they’re racist, too, and they believe in that ideology. There aren’t good people in those places. I don’t care who you are or what you believe, if you think you’re superior to someone just because you have a melanin deficiency, then fuck you. Seriously.
They also have to remember that all these wannabe Nazis, we kicked the shit out of them in World War II. So they’re on the losing side of what we already did as Americans. We beat the hell out of them.
Same thing with the people waving the Confederate flag.
Same thing, yeah. That is a flag of treason. Why these people find empowerment by being on the losing side of history and the future is just beyond my understanding and control.
I'm sure you get fans complaining about you talking about politics all the time.
I tell them then that you haven’t been paying attention for the past 15 years and the last seven, eight albums now we’ve written. You obviously haven’t been listening to anything that I’ve been saying or writing or standing up for. The fact that the Republican party has been very successful in convincing the working class that they stand with them, which they don’t, you’ve gotta give them some respect for that, because they’ve been able to use propaganda well. It turns out they probably learned that from the Russians, who’ve been involved in our politics forever.
I think Trump, when he bankrupted his casino -- like who bankrupts a fucking casino, right? He’s an idiot. He’s not a businessman, he’s just a trust fund kid, but it turned out that he was fined by the United States government for laundering Russian mafia money through his casino. So he’s had a long history with these people, and it turns out that they just arrested an agent, a Russian agent who has infiltrated the NRA, and they funneled $30 million into the NRA, which then funneled it into the Republican party. That’s against campaign finance laws. It’s treason.
For me to call him "Traitor Trump," I knew it from the day that he said on television, looked into the camera and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, hack Hillary’s emails.” I knew right then that there was something very wrong with this man. The fact that he buddies up to someone like Putin, who’s just a hideous human being, that he pals around with the leader of North Korea, although he used to call him "Rocket Man." He even said, “When I went to North Korea, when their leader speaks, everyone sits down and listens, and that’s what I want my people to do.”
No, man. Fuck you. We don’t do that. This is America. I don’t know where you think you are, but that’s not who we are. We’re protected. We’ve got the First Amendment, so we have the right to free speech. As long as I have a platform, I’m gonna use it, especially because I come from the working class. My family are law enforcement, military, construction workers and every decision he makes regarding tax cuts for the rich and raising taxes on the poor affects my family directly.
So I don’t wanna look back on this era in my life one day and say that I didn’t use every platform I had, every moment I had, to speak out against him and to shine a bright light on his crimes and his trampling of our civil liberties and our Constitution.
A lot of military, law enforcement and blue collar workers support him.
Well, not in my family. They all hate him. They despise him. In fact, some of them have been lifelong Republicans, but as soon as they saw that "Traitor Trump" was gonna be the nominee, they were like, "Oh, no way!" Just on the merits of what he says, how he can just grab a woman by her genitals and all these things, being a sexual predator his whole life, but also the fact that he’s never governed before. If Democrats retake the Congress this fall, which I hope we do -- get out and vote, everybody -- they should pass a law that says anyone that’s running for the highest office in the land should at least take the same test that immigrants have to take in order to become citizens so that he would know how the government works.
This kid, he doesn’t even know how a bill becomes a law. I’d ask him that. How does a bill become a law? Tell me. He says that he’s the working class president. I’d like to take one of my brother’s tool belts and lay it out in front of him and say, “Pick out a hammer.” He’d probably grab a wrench and go, “This?” He doesn’t know. If his hands could even pick it up, because he’s got little tiny fingers.
If there’s a bright spot that happened at the "Treason Summit" with Putin, a lot of even Republican members of Congress now are starting to keep certain aspects of our intelligence agencies, and where our spies are and all that, away from him, because they believe that he’s -- well, he’s already done it. He already gave it to them when the Russians came and visited in the White House. He gave them information, like, “Hey, we’re doing this with Israel.” It’s like, they’re our enemy. They’ve been our enemy. I think it was Nikita Khrushchev who said, “We’re not gonna destroy America through war.” They can’t. We’ve got the best and strongest military in the history of world. He said, “We’re gonna do it from the inside,” and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
This seems like an important era for you to put out a record; there aren't a lot of out LGBT artists in metal, outside of you, Rob Halford and a few others.
When I think about myself, I don’t really think about myself any differently than I think about anybody else. I didn’t start a band because I thought, “Ooh, I’m a woman. That’s a good trick or gimmick I can use to get signed.” I just thought, “Why not start a band?” And we got signed after four shows without a demo by Capitol Records, right off the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and we had to learn really quickly how to do it.
It is difficult for me sometimes, though, that more bands aren’t speaking out when they should be, because they should care about their fans, and even if their fans don’t agree with what they say, I think if more and more people were speaking out, they’d listen a little bit, and maybe we’d pollinate them just a bit with the idea that "Resident Chump" is not on your side. He doesn’t care about America. He cares about himself, period. He cares about his family. That’s it.
So, as an LBGT person, as an out lesbian, I feel that it’s a responsibility that I have, even as a citizen of this country. I deserve equality. Our community deserves equality. If you don’t give us the same rights as everybody else, and that’s taxation without representation, which is what started the Revolutionary War, and I’m also subsidizing heterosexual lifestyles. So I feel like it’s worth fighting for.
We’ve definitely seen over the years more and more people -- gay people especially -- coming out to our shows and being open about it, whereas before, they were afraid to be open at an aggressive, political rock show. Now we’re having people come to us, and they’ll say something like, “Hey, this is my husband” or “Hey, this is my wife.” You’ll see them in the audience, and what’s great about our audience is that they’re so accepting.
I remember I was doing a VIP [meet-and-greet] once, doing a signing. And there was two guys at the back of the line. They were being really loud, and obviously, they’d been drinking. They looked like something out of central casting for Duck Dynasty, big beards, wearing camo. They had American flag bandanas around their foreheads, and they’re just loud and being boisterous. I’m like, “Oh, great. What’s this gonna be when they get up here?”
They come up to me, and they stand in front of me, and they go, “Otep, hey! I wanna introduce you to my husband.” I was blown away, and I was also kind of ashamed of myself for not thinking that maybe they were together. I had actually fell into a moment of stereotyping them when I had no reason to do that. That was a really wonderful moment to see that these two guys, beer bellies, camouflage and all that, coming out and saying how much they appreciate the fact that they can come out and be open and all that.
The other thing that we get is we get a lot of soldiers. We get a lot of military personnel. I don’t wanna get too emotional, but this always makes me very emotional to talk about, but they give me their medals, because they tell me that they can’t speak out. They sign a document when they join up that they can’t be political when they’re in service. I’ve got a whole box in my house that are really well-preserved medals from men and women who’ve been in combat. They just thank me for speaking out for them, because they can’t do it.
We play Colorado Springs a lot, and there was this young man, really well-put together man, handsome guy, tall, about six-two, came through the line and he’s like 18. He’s like, “My father was really cruel to me growing up, said I’d never make anything out of myself," and he said, “But your music taught me that I had some worth. So I joined the Marine Corps, and I’m deploying in two days. And so I was like, “Congratulations. Be careful, be safe, take care of yourself over there.”
The next time he came through, he had been back from deployment. He came dressed in his gear and everything, and he gave me his medal. He was like, “You deserve this," and I was like, “I don’t deserve it. You did this, not me.” Then the next time we came through, he was in a wheelchair. They brought him through the line. I recognized him immediately, because I’ve talked to him several times. He’d been hit by an IED, and he couldn’t stand anymore, but he stood up for us to get a picture and to get something signed.
There was no malice in his heart at all about it. He still thanked me for giving him direction, the music that gave him direction in his life. I saw this young man, who will now for the rest of his life have to deal with these injuries and these obstacles, and how brave he was. I think about these old men in suits who send these young men off to fight -- young men and women now off to fight their stupid wars without thinking about the consequences of what these people are gonna have to live with the rest of their lives. That’s not even talking about PTSD. My cousin suffered from PTSD, and he killed himself because of it. The VA helped him a lot, but he just couldn’t get past it.
So there’s real world consequences when people are always talking about going to war and fighting and all that stuff, especially when you’ve got a guy like "Traitor Trump," who, again, never had a fistfight in his life. He’s never served anywhere. He doesn’t know what that’s like to watch your buddy die. We’d get those stories all the time, like the guy who was -- he was an ammunition guy in a tank. His tank got hit, and his buddy died, and they were listening to our music. He was a huge fan, him and his buddy, and his friend didn’t even know our band, but he knew that his friend was a fan, so he came, and he gave me his hat and said, “He would want you to have this.”
What do you say when people say that if you don't salute the flag, you are unpatriotic?
The whole taking a knee thing, no one said peep, they said zero when Tim Tebow was taking a knee during the National Anthem when he was protesting abortion. Nobody said anything. They didn’t say anything about it. But Colin Kaepernick takes a knee and he’s anti-American, unpatriotic. Then I sit there and I think, “How many of you fuckin’ bozos who are out here saying he’s unpatriotic, when you’re sitting at home watching the football game, actually stand up and put your hand over your heart? Or are you just sitting there stuffing your face with nachos and chugging beer? How many of you actually do that? You love your country so much, why aren’t you standing up and making your kids stand up? “Everybody come in the room. We’re playing the national anthem.”
Why do we play the national anthem at sporting events? It’s not about the military; it’s football players. No disrespect to football players, but really, why do we have the national anthem there?
I think [protesting is] one of the most patriotic things you can do. Colin Kaepernick was protesting police brutality, the murder of young, unarmed black men by police officers, which is still happening. They feel even more emboldened now, because they’ve got this big orange colostomy bag sitting in the White House. Again, that’s worth fighting for, and that’s worth speaking out.
On a different subject, I wanted to ask you about the minor controversy around the guitar effects pedal that was called "The Pussy Melter."
I think we gotta sometimes pick our battles. Yeah, it's a little offensive. It is sexist, obviously. I take more umbrage with bands that say, "What is this politically correct shit?" Well, "politically correct" means you're just being respectful to other people. That's what being politically correct means. When you demand respect, and then you don't get it, and you're upset about it, then what is that? You're a hypocrite.
Some of the guys from Bad Wolves and Five Finger Death Punch supported the idea that there's nothing wrong with that name.
I've toured with Five Finger Death Punch before. I know Ivan [Moody] very well. I've seen him get angry when fans have disrespected him, and I've seen him go after them and try to fight them and all this stuff. Ivan's a big fan of ours. He's told me that, but at the same time, as a straight white male, that is not your job to decide what is offensive and what isn't, to women or to people of color, or the LGBT community. That's not your job, because you guys pretty much run everything in the world.
So for them to get so upset about something like that is just ridiculous. I think if I saw the Pussy Melter, I'd probably laugh at it and be like, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Those guys aren't getting that much pussy. I get more pussy than they do! A pedal's not gonna automatically get you pussy, you fuckin' buffoons."
At the same time, we want to be treated as equals and not genderize everything, and also to be considered based on the merits of our talents and our intellect and our accomplishments versus just being seen as an orifice to be filled.
They're changing it to "The Butthole Blaster." At least that's not sexist.
It could also be considered homophobic.
A few months ago, Bono said something about rock music becoming "girly." I know what he was getting at, but I couldn't believe that he, of all people, used that phrase.
The idea that women are weaker is still a stereotype that permeates all cultures, but it's disappointing. I don't dislike U2, but I'm not a big fan. It's just not my style of music. I've seen him play, and I think he's probably the last person to use that word "girlie," because the clothes he wears, the way he combs his hair, the sunglasses, how vain he is -- give me a fuckin' break, bro. If anybody's girlie, it's you.
I saw PJ Harvey open for U2 once, and she was badass. Like, would he say that to her face?
Exactly, and he wouldn't say it to mine. I'll tell you this--what is "girly?" What does that even mean? Does that mean "weak?" Does it mean that it's not strong enough or it's not smart enough? What does that even mean, “girly?" I think that's a part of the sexism that permeates even language. When people used to use the term "gay" as a derogatory term, "Oh, that's gay. That's so gay. Why are you being so gay?" and all that.
Then I would say, "Well, I'm gay." And they were like, "Oh, no, no, no. We don't mean homosexual." I said, "OK, then the original meaning of the word gay means happy. So are you saying it's happy?" They’re like, "No, no, no, no. We're saying that it's weak and that it's feminine." I'm like, "OK, so you're saying that being a woman means that they're automatically weak."
We have a song on the record called "Boss." It's about challenging gender roles, because even a lot of my female fans will say, "Oh, Otep's a boss bitch." I reply to them, "Why can't I just be a boss?" So the chorus in that song is, "I'm not a boss bitch. I'm a boss, bitch."
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