by Conor Kuzdas
May 2007

Otep - Amercian Metal from Los Angels

Otep - Amercian Metal from Los Angels

Lots of bands claim to have a cult following, but how many have fans who show up with severed pig heads and ready to propose marriage? How many bands are signed to a major label based on the strength of their live show, even before they release a single song? Hailing from Los Angeles, Otep is just that band.

A band since 2000, the two constants in Otep during that time have been classically-trained bassist “eViL j” and frontwoman, lyricist and band namesake Otep Shamaya. Of late, they’re backed by two new members, guitarist Karma Cheema and drummer Brian Wolff. The reasons for the lineup changes have varied, but Shamaya says that the center of the band remains the same: they are message driven, and center around art for art’s sake. Their latest album, “The Ascension,” has several songs co-written by Mudvayne guitarist Greg Tribbett, and the record is produced by Dave Fortman, who’s previously worked with both Evanescence and Mudvayne.  The band’s sound is familiar enough to anyone who’s heard any of the above bands, but also features flares of spoken word and a female perspective, rarities in heavy radio rock. The new albums is their third, and Shamaya says it’s best considered as a fusion between the two previous releases.

So what makes Otep so special that they have such a following? First and foremost, the “art for art’s sake” motif is something the band takes very seriously, and Shamaya’s position as a lyricist is no exception. To “inspire and provoke,” according to Shamaya, is a responsibility of any real artist. This stance, paired with the band’s experimental live show, turns away some fans and absolutely hooks others.

But with a lead singer that is so serious about her lyrics, doesn’t she worry that they might be misunderstood? “Journalists do it all the time,” says Shamaya with a laugh, “certain fans out there misunderstand, but that’s their journey.”

Another dimension that differentiates Otep from their peers are the band’s political inclinations. Not only was the “The Ascension” recorded in New Orleans, where the band played a benefit show for the city, but every song on the album is dedicated to a different charity.  According to Shamaya, the experience was “very intense, a reminder of what’s really important in this world. I kept inspiring us and motivating [the band] every day.” The band also runs an information clearing house to support those dealing with issues such as depression, suicide, pregnancy, rape, domestic violence and other issues.

But most of all, Otep are a live band. According to Shamaya, “playing music is where we live. It’s where we enjoy being artists.” Using everything from movies to burlesque in their stage show, they were signed by Capital Records based on the purely strength of their live act, one that keeps fans coming back.

“I don’t have to win a Grammy, I don’t have to be nominated for anything,” she says, “just knowing the full impact that music can have in people’s lives makes me want to work harder… There are things that I do that surprise people, like screaming and singing dirty songs, but I’ve been hearing ‘pretty good for a girl’ less and less. I hope if my biology does anything, it breaks those stereotypes.”

In addition to her continued work with the band, Otep’s also put out a book of poetry and is putting together a book of short stories. The band itself is currently crossing the country with Static-X and will be at the House of Blues in Chicago May 23, Milwaukee’s Rave May 24, and in Minneapolis at First Avenue May 25. Check out www.otep.com for more info and samples of their sound.

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CD: The Ascension Record Label: Koch Records
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