|THE ARCHIVE ORGAN INTERVIEW...FEB 2002|
One day, in Los Angeles. SHAARI SUE met OTEP - here's what went down in L.A
So the way I always
heard it, girls are supposed to be all sugar and spice and everything nice
and cuddly and feminine to boot. Although she is probably one of the most
beautiful women I have ever met (and not just on the outside), Otep's demeanour,
her powerful presence and certainly her raw deep voice add up to one hell
of a tough rocker chick girl. Don't get me wrong - this isn't anything
nearing an insult, rather I am awed and inspired by this woman, there's
a lot learn from her example.
As she is quite open about and quick to tell you, Otep grew up surrounded by abuse and degradation. Yet, somehow, she possessed the strength of soul to turn her physical and psychic pain into artistic expression. From an extremely early age she began drawing and later writing poetry, and eventually, she turned her talents towards musical expression. Otep's vocals and lyrics are haunting, hypnotic, wild, controlled, motivating and frightening all at the same time. I imagine her songs must exorcise at least some of her demons, I know they sure tapped into mine, as I'm sure they will into anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the OTEP collective. Otep's mission to reach out to and heal others (and herself) doesn't end with the music. She's created a web site geared towards fostering a community-like safe haven for everyone and anyone who has ever felt like a misfit in this harsh world. Littered with quotes from Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Kerouac, Gandhi and Nephtys, the website and Otep are far from promoting a self-pity whine fest. Rather, it's a call for self empowerment and responsibility. It's a thing of beauty and profundity. Do yourself a favour check otepsaves.com and Otep's newly released album 'Sevas Tra' out. Now read on and surely you'll get a whiff of this heady scent that has seduced me so
Are Otep original?
For sure! Everything that is created has its inspiration but it was very important to me when I started this project that we were going to be uncompromising, and that we were going to be anything but obvious and that we'd follow our muse whereever it lead us. I had to something very personal, private, and vulnerable, because to me what is making art, to me, but a very private and personal event and that needed to be communicated in this project. So, so far, yeah I think we're pretty original. We try to be authentic in what we do. There have been some comparisons, but I find most of them to be pretty superficial, anyhow.
Superficial in what way?
Oh, just every comparison is right on the surface: There's a woman in the band, so right away they compare us to other bands with women in them. Nothing to do with likeness or genre or anything. People seem to draw a certain comfort from pitting people against each other especially when it comes to women, and that's unfortunate. I don't know if that happens so much in England and Europe.
I think it might within a certain genre...
Well, I get a lot of "well, you're better than..." or " your voice is heavier
than this other woman's voice." I don't know, but I don't think people
walk up to Jonathon Korn and say: "your voice is heavier than Corey Slipknot's
voice.." So when they make those kind of comparisons between me and
other women they just are showing that they just want to see the self-destructive
volatile female destroying herself on stage that's all that really matters,
that's all they really get out of it. So they make comparisons to
someone that might have a similar style in the way she might communicate
her message, but no at all on what the message actually is.
Is being a woman in the metal world a hindrance, a help, or do you think it's had no impact?
Uh, geez, I don't know, I don't know how to answer the question because I'm not a man. I don't know how I would be received if I were a man. I probably wouldn't write the same songs... I do think that I get treated differently because I am a woman and not a male vocalist.
Well, my perception is that I don't get viewed and judged on the quality
of my voice, or how hard I work, or what I'm able to do on stage or on
record or the things that I write about. I think initially I am just
viewed as this oddity, or this freak of nature or "she's good for a girl,"
or "her voice is deeper than most men, is she real, or is she fake, or
is there really another vocalist?" When it comes down to it, I think
the best way to describe how I feel about being a woman in this genre is:
It's like being a very qualified diaper on the active ass of a very glutinous
baby. I'm just not treated with respect! I mean they do things
like call me baby or darling, which they think is respectful, but instead,
it's separating me and segregating me. And not that I necessarily
want to be grouped together with them, But I'm an artist and that's what
I am beyond anything else. I mean when I die, and this biology turns
to dust, all that's left is my art and that's what I want to be judged
on. It's ridiculous how superficial the judgement about women artist
are: She's too fat, she's too skinny, she's not pretty enough, her breasts
are too big or too small, it's all too external. To me, art has always
been a very internal experience and a very private one. So, making
this transition is difficult. I was born into poverty and violence
and I would just sit in my room writing and drawing things for days on
end and now to have people judging me on things I was totally unaware of,
and putting me into categories that have nothing to do with what's on the
inside is just completely bizarre.I've never been out and out disrespected
to my face but hopefully with what we do as a band we can break down the
paradigms that people accept right now. Even women that are in the genre,
a lot of them just take on that same face that they think they should have
to: "well, if I just wear this, and say this, and sing like this, I'll
reach my audience, because my audience is men and this is what they want
or expect" - I don't write music for that reason. I never played
any instruments growing up, I haven't received any training, this is just
sort of a new challenge.. Maybe some miracle will come out of this and
we'll get more and more women into aggressive music, because women are
just as aggressive as men. but we are sociologically trained to be these
very docile, obedient creatures: "Oh here's your baby, hold the baby"
You want to see sociology in action, just go to any toy store in America and you'll see how we train our young children to be. Boy's toys are all militant and aggressive, we're training these tiny gladiators and tyrants. You go to the girl's sections and it's all about being servitude and motherhood and being pink and fashion and flash. It's very unfortunate. So maybe, we'll see women who have a hunger for this kind of art who won't see themselves limited by who they think they are supposed to be.
Sorry to have to ask you the `woman in rock' question...
No, no, no, it's fine. I get it a lot and because there aren't that many women in the genre.
And what would you call that genre?
There is no way to. I wouldn't think there is. We fall into so many different categories, we incorporate so many elements from so many genres. We have double bass drums, we have `she screams like the devil'- It must be techno. Oh wait! It can't be techno because there's all elements. So there's nu-metal, which is fine, but there aren't any clever labels yet like `grunge' or `acid rock'. Hopefully something really clever will come along. I like Art-Core. That's what I prefer, because I think that's what we do, Art-Core. And without sounding pious or whatever, the whole reason I started this band was so the I could explore something that I had never done, artistically and see what I could do with that. You know, when you are an artist and you're a writer or a painter, it's all very internal. You made experience the same emotions that I experience on stage but it's a much different manifestation. There is this madness that exists and once that beast is brought out of hibernation it is very powerful and very empowering. In order for us to do to well what we do well on stage, it's important for me, for us, to be able to regress into ourselves to use the metaphor of shedding our skin. Find that very primal place, those waters of primordial chaos, the shivering little tiny creature that really is who we are, that runs this mechanism of flesh that we call `me.' Find that, give it a voice, remember why we wrote this song the emotions themselves and surrender to them, conjure them up like a phoenix rising. It's painful some times, but oh so powerful and so liberating. It enables me to remove those harmful spirits that are completely uninvited but have been given to me.
Given to you by whom?
From whoever. From whoever it is that gives all of us these things. I was raised in a very volatile atmosphere. I think it shows in my music that I have this sense of betrayal that I am dealing with. I feel like I was betrayed, abused, neglected, blah, blah, blah...whatever. But that's what I think art is for - so I don't absorb it and become that creature that they wanted me to become. It's mental alchemy. I take something heavy and leaden and transform it into something golden. Negative energy just destroys the energy that you can use to create something else. So on stage it gives me the ability to... to give these... these moments of my liberation to people that may need them as well. Sometimes when I connect with our fans, I find that they have all experienced their own personal silent holocaust.
Are those the people that you are a voice for?
I give voice
to the oppressed. I think initially I was... I mean I write for me,
I create for me, that's where my need, my appetite to create comes from.
It's mine, I own that, it belongs to me. But if I can reach someone
who has had similar experiences or who is suffering like I have, maybe
that's just has feeling of neglect or is a product of violence, than something
is working. What we are doing is working. The places we go
with our music are working.
I think our music touches people who have a need for something real, something authentic, Something sacred without attaching it to organised religion. Something that just feels pure no matter how obscene or aggressive it seems. It's still pure and it's raw and it's able to filter through bullshit sociology and cultural roles and things, and it's primal and goes right to the source. I'm not trying to spoon feed or anything I mean I'm not about "this is how you are supposed to feel, this is how you are supposed to think." I don't have any answers. I get emails from people 13-35 years old they tell me that they found something in my music that they never felt before. That, to me, is `wow!' You know it blows me away to imagine that something I had written affected a stranger but I think that's what people are searching for right now. An absolute stranger who knows nothing but understands everything. I think that's what people get when they listen to my music.
Are there reoccurring themes in OTEP's songs?
Hmm, pain, art saves. That's it.
You've just spoken about the spiritual aspects of your music - Do you think there's a place for that in rock?
Oh, absolutely. Music began, in it's very primitive life form, as a way to help enable the holy people of the tribe enter into the spirit world in order to find the answer or the cure or to help navigate them through the world. That's what's music is for I think it has this very religious quality to it. I think part of the part of the problem we have is that we are all searching for a messiah or a saviour, some one to make us feel ok when we're not ok, something to tell us what's right or wrong. That's the function of religion answers and reasons. Music does that. Music has always done that. I just think it's unfortunate that more bands and song writer don't take it more seriously, when in fact it's very serious. You go back 2,000 years to the Sermon on the Mount and you see one man above and all these people screaming down below. Go to Ozzfest and you'll see the same thing. You'll see some people lost in ecstasy, whirling dervishes, Sufi dancers, you'll see everything, the great pagan mysteries of antiquity. Right there, in this one eternal moment. This will all go on without them being aware that that's what their participating in without them even knowing what's going on, they just know that something feels right. They don't feel like they are out of frequency any more: They find their vibration.
A few moments ago you said that you wished artists would be more responsible, what do you perceive that responsibility as being?
An artist's primary responsibility is to be honest. Picasso said that art is a lie that tells the truth. I think that's an important thing. A lot of time you'll find that people in bands do this just because they want the lifestyle. They want the girls (or boys), they want the drugs, the want the money...You don't find a lot of people that for them their music is art. You find a lot of imitators: "oh this worked for Radiohead so I'm gonna sound like this and this worked for..." There isn't enough of the individual in the art, they're just copy catting. When they do that we don't have the ability to absorb their likeness into the collective (to reference the Borg). And it's like "excuse me, who are *you*? What are *you* about?" It's ok to draw on your inspirations, but make it yours. I mean, I'm not telling people what to do or how to think...
But don't you think that people need to be told to think?
How very Nietzschean of you...
No, I mean especially you who uses so many literary references in your music and your speech and on your website...
I think in this climate where thinking is perceived as unpopular, it's not cool to think. In this climate of machinery and people just look at 2 dimensional images all the time and stay very surface. Just float along and wait for the waves to devour you... I think that it needs to be told that it's ok to think. That why my website is inundated with artist quotes, I've Latin and Egyptian ones, from antiquity... I want people to think I want them to be inspired and to go to research as to where they came from. Let them finally feel like they are part of something bigger even if they feel like outcasts within their own environment. So yea, people do need to be reminded to think, it's the internal stuff that counts and that's the stuff you can control. It's such a strange razor blade that I walk because I don't want to spoon-feed people, but I do want to inspire them. I want to put an end to the ever-popular trend of apathy. I don't want people to be apathetic, I want them to be empathetic. I want people to care and to share and to feel like they are important. Mainly because I never did and I know where that can take you, not a very good place. But art can take you right out of there.
When you're writing is it therapeutic for you? And if so, is it more therapeutic as you are writing or in retrospect?
That's a good question - I never thought of it that way...Of course it's therapeutic. But I didn't realise until adulthood that that's why I was doing it. When I was two years old and I would draw it had more to with discovering my physical body and what it could do (oh, I have fingers!) But I didn't understand my appetite for it. But it's always different: The most perfect I ever feel is when I am writing or when I am on stage. Otherwise, I just don't feel comfortable in my skin it's like I don't belong. When I'm creating everything is just quiet and peaceful. When I'm on stage it's still quiet, but violent...
Do you mean quiet on the inside or quiet on the outside?
Yea - but like I said it's very important for us to regress when we are on stage and sometimes I will lose all sense of time and where I'm at and I will surrender to the music and I'll see this digital fire swirling everywhere...And when the set is over people will be like "oh my god, you cut yourself, you beat yourself and you're bleeding and uh.." and I just don't remember it, I just don't. Which is a shame because I really would like to experience those things. So when that's happening there is just this calm that's on the inside.
In song writing are there any topics that are off limits?
No. Absolutely not, I may change names, but all topics are fair game. Nothing is off limits for art, as long as it's sincere. You do find people who will do things for shock value and for "look! I'm scary" or "look! I'm really demented!" But I think you can sense that. But no, I try not to put an limitations on what I write or how I write. In our band everyone comes from different backgrounds: geographically, how we were raised and even musically. The one thing we have in common is that we are all hungry for our art and we are all survivors of something. Our bass player has jazz-rock-techno-hippie influences, our guitar player has industrial to grunge to death metal and the drummer is a jazz fusion drummer so basically he can play anything. And that's the thing too, if they have ideas it they may not fit with what I have in mind for that particular song, but I definitely want them to hang on to that drum beat or riff so we can work them in somewhere else.
You talk a lot on the website about the concept of `truth' and the search for `truth.' Where do you seek truth and how do you define it?
Truth? Where do I seek it? Well, I search for it within myself. As for what it is, well, the only truth I've known is suffering. It's the purest, truest thing that I have ever felt. So I know that it's not going to lie to me or deceive me in anyway. Pain is real, pain is truth.
Are you saying that there is a comfort in that?
Sure. Absolutely. I was cultivated in pain. Now I don't have that
pain and sometimes I miss it. And now those people who hurt me aren't
around me anymore. It's very important to me to pour all that into art,
because, you know, otherwise I become what they wanted me to be. If I surrender
to that...You know, love is such a bizarre thing because who knows what
love really is? Who's ever really been in love? But every knows what
pain is and what it feels like - that's truth.
As far as truth in art, I think it's important for artist to lace their creations with tiny reminders of themselves so we get a sense of who they are, what's real about them.
Rituals seems important to you, can you talk a bit about there place in music?
Music is a very sacred thing. Music, for me, is such a healing thing.
I think Performances should be rituals. When we are on stage, we
could be back 3,000 years ago. I shared on the website about some amazing
visions I had during the last Ozzfest where you could almost smell the
temple fires burning and the ritual incense, coming down out of the temple
and I could almost hear the Pretorian guards coming to take us away because
we were challenging Greek society...
You know I get a lot of flack from Christians who think I am anti-Christ or a Satanist or whatever. It's just that I don't particularly lapse onto any organised religion. I think they are all just ways of trying to decipher the unknown and figure things out. Which is what I'm doing, but with music. To me, art was the only god that made any sense. So now music is my religion and performance is how I worship that god. That's ritual. And I hope that people find holy and sacred in that. And you know, so many gifts have been given to us, as a band, by god and by the Muse. Our musical career is going so well, some where, some thing is appreciative of what we've gone through and of our message. If we stop respecting that muse, it will all be gone. And I don't want that, I want immortality. When this body lay rotting I want my art to live forever. Maybe I won't have been the best at what I did but my passion and my intention is overwhelming, my love my addiction to it... It is my responsibility and my band's responsibility to always respect that muse and never lose sight of this Mecca. Once/If we do that, than everything is lost.
Freedom is a pen.
Otep's debut album
is out any moment now, it goes to places that others don't begin to scratch
at, metal with depth when for most these days it's a shallow fashion statement/marketing
exercise, that's why we're more than happy to fill our time and space with
Otep - take the time to find out more from www.myspace.com/otep