Otep

An interview with Otep Shamaya about the new album Kult 45
by Tommy Rage
November 2018

Otep's new album: Kult 45

Otep's new album: Kult 45

What happens if you have a lot to say about the President, the LGBTQ community, and how bad an opening band is? Well, you put together your very own band (even though you have no musical skills or knowledge) and then release seven power-driven albums, each with its own message. That’s exactly what Otep Shamaya did. As the lead singer and founding member of Otep, along with current members: Ari Mihalopoulos (guitar), Justin Kier (drums), and Andrew Barnes (bass) have released the bands eighth album: Kult 45. Having always had a strong opinion about politics, gun control and other social issues,  Otep takes an educated stance on issues she feels is important to her and to her fans. The origins of Otep began when she was a young rebel, as she explains it, “I was a lost kid on the streets of LA, hanging out with the wrong people and getting into trouble. I snuck into a festival and saw this really crappy band playing on stage. They were drunk and really disrespectful to their audience. I thought, ‘they are terrible! I can be that terrible, I’m gunna start a band!’ My friend who was with me, said, ‘You don’t even know anything about music, what are you talkn’ about?’ I said, ‘You watch [laughter].’ By the next year, I was on OzzFest. After only four shows, we got signed, with no demo; just based on our live shows. We maybe had 5 songs; I lied and told them 11, but I guess that doesn’t matter now [laughter].

With her band exploding onto the music scene in 2001, Otep took on a calling to spreading her personal messages and thoughts throughout each album. From 2002’s Sevas Tra to the newest release Kult 45, Otep has always focused on the rights of people to stand-up for what they believe in. Kult 45 is no exception. “Hail To The Thief” and “Halt Right” are clearly a jab at the 45th President. “It’s important for the other side of America, who don’t see this President as legitimate, who don’t respect what he does or says or what he stands for; that we have a voice and it’s especially important for people who see that he is using the podium for fear mongering. I felt that it was important to speak out against his xenophobia and his attacks on what he calls ‘others’. [Trump] started out with Mexicans coming over the border, like this migrant caravan of women and children, that are trying to escape places where gangs and cartels over-run the country and force woman to be mules and force those families with their drug trade. And yet, they are coming to the one place where they think it’s the most beautiful place on earth, the US. We used to welcome the immigrants in, ‘Give me your tired, your tired masses, yearning to break free.’ We used to call American a melting pot. So, with the rise of all this hate, which is great fuel for a fire; and it’s just something he uses to rile up his bases and hate works. Especially for the type of person who feels that they have been marginalized, and they are being brain-washed by a former TV personality, an orange buffoon, Trader Trump, Donny Little Fingers; I have all kinds of names for him [laughter].”

Throughout all fifteen songs, Otep speaks her mind and doesn’t hold back. She went into recording Kult 45, with both a message to share, and a desire to let each musician have their own voice. “Aristotle (Ari) and I co-produced this album, it was truly wonderful. The band’s talents and skill, and their ability as musicians sometimes gets overshadowed, because I am this controversial figure [laugher]. On this record, I sat everyone down and I wanted everyone to know that we wanted every instrument to have its own distinct voice. So I said, ‘bring everything you have, from every influence you have. It doesn’t have to be rock or metal, or anything that you would think that would normally apply to this powerful album. [I said] bring all your inspiration in and let them go.” That talented mixture of metal shines from song like “Trigger Warning”, “Invisible People”, and “Boss” which flexes the talents of drummer Justin Kier and bassist Andre Barnes; to songs such as “To The Gallows” and “Molotov” in which guitarist Aristotle “Ari” Mihalopoulos adds both energy and eloquence. When asked about what kind of music may surprise Otep fans that she likes to listen to, she laughs and shares, “Most of my fans know that I listen to a lot of hip-hop, but I’m very selective of my hip-hop. I like to listen to all forms of music, but I guess there is a song called ‘Holy Grail’. It’s a collaboration with Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z. I listen to that a lot and that might surprise some people. Lately I’ve fallen in love with a song by Willie Nelson called ‘Time Of The Preacher’. It’s a beautiful song and beautiful lyrics and when I discovered it, I just loved the lyrics. I recently went through a break up a few months ago, so these have been my ‘go-to’ songs, especially the Jay-Z song [laughter].”

Having to deal with her breakup, Otep continues to voice her support of fellow gay and lesbian fans. The metal ballads of “Sirens Calling” and “Be Brave” share a strong message of support from Otep herself. “Sometimes it’s hard and you feel like you’re all alone. It can be a lonely feeling when you speak out, especially when people don’t feel the same way, and you step outside your comfort zone. I sometimes get messages from fans who share that they have the courage to ‘come-out’, and that always hits me real hard. I had a young woman on the last tour come up to me and say, ‘you gave me the courage to come-out and my whole family disowned me, but I’m living my authentic self now because of you.’ It’s one of the most touching things I’ve ever experienced!”

Kult 45 is clearly an album with several political and social messages. Never one to shy away from speaking her mind, Otep is a powerful voice which stirs emotions on many levels. When asked about being at the front of social movements, Otep reflects, “I didn’t think I was going to be a person of notoriety and that people are going to look up to me; and the words I write are going to be the reason they embolden the courage that’s within them. Music is just a catalyst and helps. You always have that courage. And I’m happy to come back to Madison. I have a lot of friends there, and we have wonderful fans and great shows there. We always get excited when we get to play Madison, and I’m really excited to play there again. I love Madison, it has a very special place in my heart.”

Otep plays Stormy’s Music Venue in Beaver Dam, WI on November 30th.

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Otep
CD: Kult 45 Record Label: Napalm Records
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