Otep Shamaya: Donald Trump Is Running a Cult
Otep Shamaya was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The frontwoman has a history of pushing boundaries with her music, which intensified on Otep's new record, Kult 45. The themes of the album are ones that are resonating within society today, from the Trump presidency to social justice and equality for all communities. To dive further into what the album is about, check out the chat below.
We're here to talk about your eighth full-length album, Kult 45 which is out now. Lyrically it's a rallying cry in a chaotic time. How infuriating does something have to be before you write a song about it?
[laughs] Well it has to be an egregious act of cruelty or stupidity or ignorance or just overt xenophobia, racism or sexism -- something that really pushes the boundaries of what we consider common courtesies as human beings on this planet... or that jeopardizes our democracy in any way — our civil liberties, civil rights. [It has to be] something that's extremely egregious would push me to that point as far as creatively, and we've been seeing a lot of that In the last year-and-a-half.
Otep the band tends to be viewed singularly as Otep the vocalist. Why then was it important to you that each of the other band members make their own distinct mark on this new album?
I think for the reason why you just said. The band is named after me. That is my real name: Otep. But I think that sometimes because I'm so outspoken and I am the girl that goes “grr," and all the other names they call me... I think that's sometimes the challenge and the musicianship of my band gets overshadowed. So for this record I really wanted them to shine and have their own voice within each song. Each band member is extremely talented. They're the best band I've ever played with and the best group of musicians that I’ve ever played with and I've gone through quite a lot of musicians, but these guys are truly talented. They’re in it for the right reasons. They wake up every day with a smile on their face.
We're all family. Basically they’re all my brothers, and I really wanted them to have an opportunity to showcase their musicianship and their talent and kind of go back to the formula that I really originally wanted to build the band upon, which is sort of the jazz foundation where each musician has a voice. I think we were very successful in doing that on this album
The intent of Kult 45 seems to be instigating and inspiring patriotism. Who challenges and inspires you socially, musically and otherwise?
Well, for this album I went back to a lot of my early inspiration including Rage Against The Machine. They were really — outside of folk singers or bands from the '60s, or Woody Guthrie or Bruce Springsteen even, a lot of people who sing "Born in the U.S.A.," they just sing the chorus, they don't really sing Bruce Springsteen's vocal verse lyrics. I think they were the first really powerful band that spoke truth to power and were fearless about it.
I remember that pollinating my mind at a very young age that, “Wow, music can do this, it can be good, it can be powerful, it can be groovy and yet it can still have a very political and strong message.” There are a lot of great bands, young bands that are coming up right now and a few bands that have been around for a number of years, that have been doing similar style, doing political protest music.
Bands like Stray from the Path, which we all love, and there are a few others that are really, really... we were listening to a few yesterday and we were just like, “Yeah these guys, we want to work with them, oh we want to work with these guys.” So we made a list and handed it to our agent. But you know I listen to a lot of different genres as well. Even a lyricist like Kendrick Lamar, who is a hip-hop artist -- he speaks a lot about his community, and about the evils that attack his community, but also the evils inside his community. I think there's a line and I'm paraphrasing here, "It ain't black power if you kill my daughter" [edit: "Ain't no black power when your baby killed by a coward"]. That's a very powerful statement to say and so my mind gets turned on by lyricists and when people have something to say and something when they remember where they came from, their roots, and also when they're standing up to being marginalized or attacked by greater forces in our society.
You're very serious about fighting for things that matter. When and how does lightheartedness surface in your music and your life?
I think people have this idea of me that I'm always like really serious and I am. I do take things very seriously with regards to the working class and women's rights and LGBTQ rights and even, you know, the Black Lives Matter Movement that's going on now is just horrendous being that young woman near Wilson who was recently murdered by a white supremacist. Then you also have cops killing back kids at traffic stops. I mean, there's a lot to be angry about.
We have a couple of songs that are kinda funny. "To the Gallows," which doesn't sound like it'd be — it's gallows humor I suppose you'd say. We talk about Trump and his hair and, you know, just silly things like that. So, you know, it comes out when appropriate I guess. In my personal life, I mean, yeah I don't just sit around and you know the search for the world for issues to be angry about. I mean, it just kinda happens.
Otep albums are typical and aggressive, to begin with. Compared to everything else you've done, where does Kult 45 fall not only in relevance but also your sense of social responsibility as an artist?
Honestly, you know, you're always sort of partial to your first album because it's your first record. But, this is probably the closest that I've come to really finding my own sound and style and also probably the closest that I've ever devoted an entire album to social change and inspiring people to remember that this is our country, that the backbone of this nation is the working class. We the working class, are the heroes of this country. We build the roads. My brothers are all in construction. I mean, they build houses for a living. It's a big deal. So, this record is probably the closest that I could say that I'm most proud of.
This is most aggressive record I would say that we've done and also, one that covers a large variety of topics, not just Trump -- not just his cult, which is the title of the album, Kult 45. It's about the people that support him. Not talking about the Russians, of course. This is about Americans, the people that supported him and blindly support him and then, you know, if you ever get into an argument, like I can get into, as a liberal. I am a liberal and that means I believe in the working class, and I believe in worker's rights and all that.
I can get into a discourse - a political discourse with a conservative, and we might disagree a lot and that is okay. We will walk away and shake hands but you can't do that with a member of Kult 45. You can't do that because all they do is regurgitate whatever he says but they are supposed to say. He most recently said, 'Don't believe anything you are seeing or hearing, just listen to me' and that is what dictators say, that is what cult leaders say.
I have had my fair share of run-ins. I live in Los Angeles and I have had my fair share of run-ins with cult members before and it is exactly the same thing. It is a very shallow conversation and they can only remember or regurgitate the things that they are told to say. Once you get past that their empty puddles and there is nothing left. They don't have anything left.
It sounds like you have a herd of dogs out there with you.
I do. They want to be some celebrities too. Hey, listen, don't try to steal my shine there, dogs.
Congrats and good luck with this album.
Thank you so much we are very, very proud of it. I mean, we have covered topics, again like I was telling you earlier, from Trump and his cult to gender roles, and gender norms to standing up for yourself and going after your dreams and goals in a song called "Be Brave." We are really proud of this record. Also, we co-produced it. Aristotle, a guitar player of mine, we co-produced the record so we feel very strongly about how much this record means to us. It is ours. We did it. So we are very, very proud of that. I want to thank you, Jackie, for your years of advocacy and support for us. You have always been so good to us. Thank you for having us on this show. We really appreciate it.
Thanks to Otep for the interview. Grab your copy of 'Kult 45' on Amazon or iTunes. Follow the band on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
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