An Interview With Otep Shamaya!

An Interview With Otep Shamaya!

You just started a tour with Five Finger Death Punch and Shadows Fall, how has that been so far?

It’s been incredible. The audiences have just been really there and energetic and really supportive. A lot of passion, a lot of new fans for us, which is really exciting, because we’re playing to people who haven’t necessarily been introduced to our music yet and so that’s been a lot of fun and playing with 2Cents and Shadows Fall and Five Finger Death Punch has been — it’s just been a blast and a great time.


Which new songs have you added to the set list?

Well, on this run, because of where we end up in the lineup, we’re only allotted a really small set time, so we’re only playing the title track on this one. But on our last tour we were playing Run For Cover and Serv Asat.


Smash the Control Machine debuted at #47 on the Billboard Top 200 chart; with every album you’ve released, it always continues to climb the charts — why do you think that is besides your increasingly large fan base?

Well, it could be that we get better with every record and that makes — we try to get better every record. So, I hope that’s part of it. I think that we have — the kind of music that we do is a bit outside the mainstream. Sometimes it takes — not a lot of people stay in the underground anymore; being an underground band isn’t cool anymore, you know? So, not a lot of people even look there for quality music, you know? They think what’s on TV commercials is quality music. But, we’ve had a lot of love from the radio this time, which is really an honor because as geeky as it may sound, there really isn’t anything like turning on the radio and hearing your song being played. So, we’re happy we’re getting a lot of love from radio; a lot of support from them which is again, truly an honor and very, very exciting. And, I think the record itself is very powerful. I think it’s a strong, strong record, and I think it’s touching people from all different types of backgrounds and listening–you know, play-lists, people that might not ever listen to something they think is–the genre that we’re in, the music itself is breaking those barriers for them.


Your lyrics in UR A WMN NOW are so powerful and real, and I know it’s touched so many people’s lives already, and you asked on your blog for people to share their stories about how it touched them or inspired them. What has been the most touching story you have heard yet?

Well, there’s just so many, I mean the third verse of that song is based on my own childhood, my own life and being a part of that uncertainty and the child looking up to the only thing that you know, that is your caretaker that is your world is your parent and you know, looking up to your Mom and kind of maybe sensing her unease but her looking back at you and saying “Don’t worry, we’re going to be fine.” So, I knew that — I got messages even before I wrote UR A WMN NOW, I would get messages from single parents, from male and female, fathers and mothers, or young mothers who are trying their best under the circumstances to give their children the life they never had and I just–I wanted to share those stories, I wanted to maybe give–if that song has inspired them, then maybe their words would inspire somebody else, and that’s what I was hoping to do with that song.


Smash the Control Machine sounds even more and energy driven than anything you’ve released so far, did you do anything different when you were recording the album that you didn’t do last time?

Yeah, we wrote and recorded at the same time, we’ve never done that before. Two months, writing, recording; writing in the mornings, recording in the evenings, scrutinizing in the afternoons. We were going over everything with a fine tooth comb and pulling our hair out, but enjoying the process the entire time. I was in the studio with the producer, Ulrich Wild, who also produced the Dethlok albums, and he’s got a long history–he’s done Static-X; he’s an incredible producer. But, he and I would be in the studio sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. You know, there’s this idea that I think sometimes even musicians get in their head that after a while, it should get easy, you know? I don’t think it should; certain things should get easy but the work never should. You should always try to pour everything you have into your records, into your things you create. And, as someone who is also a literary writer, not just a song writer, you never publish your first draft, you know, that’s like the crime of the writer. So, if we write a song, and we think it’s finished, that’s our first draft; we’re not going to release that, you got to go back in, fine tune it, make it better, and — what’s really great about being in there with me and being patient with my own terrible, terrible scrutiny because I’m sort of a tyrant when it comes to that. Its got to be the best, its got to be absolutely, the song progressions, the emotional impact that they summon, all of those things have to be important, all of the things have to happen. But, I think that it matters to the listeners, it matters to me; you can’t take a song back. Once it’s out in the public and once it’s released in the atmosphere, it is there forever so, you got to make sure it sounds the best and is communicating every message that you want it to.


I have to say that Smash the Control Machine is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, so far.

Well thank you, that’s very nice of you. I’m very proud of it, I’ve never said this before but this is definitely my favorite record.


I noticed that your lyrics are a little bit more chilling in this CD, ie Kisses and Kerosene; what was going through your mind when you were writing that?

I had read an article about a rather diseased rodent of a human being, who had hurt some children in the most terrible way imaginable. During his trial, he was sort of just laughing at what he’d done and how he hurt these kids and taking their lives. And these are young kids, these are little eight/nine-year-old children. And I just — you know, there’s a part of me that’s got this — I’m empowered by the vigil anti-spirit and I didn’t think that sending him to jail was an appropriate punishment, and that was my idea of what the appropriate punishment would’ve been to someone who steals innocence and hurts children.


That is so terrible, so disgusting how there is so much of that going on in the world.

Yeah, well, you know, the thing is, is that we’ve–it’s probably gone on a lot longer, and well, we know it has, and we know that it has been under-reported. So, now that people are actually paying attention, I think we’re gonna find out more about our species than we want to. But it’s only through embracing these truths, these harsh realities, that we can actually do something good to stop them, you know? A lot of people listen to our music and think “oh it’s so negative, it’s so angry, it’s so loud.” But, to me, it’s about exposing something so we can do something good about it and so that it’s about summoning righteousness, it’s about burning brighter so we can destroy the darkness.


What song would you say is the “Perfectly Flawed” song on Smash the Control Machine? I ask because it has had quite a following, I mean I’ve seen so many people with “Perfectly Flawed” tatooed on them.

From a message stand point, I would suppose UR A WMN NOW, but it’s for the concourse of that, it’s showing–you know there’s a narrative that occurs on every record, and there has been this idea of, if you look at the first album, there’s a song called Emtee, and on the second record, there’s a song called Autopsy Song, and on the third record there’s a song called Perfectly Flawed, and on the fourth record, there’s a song called UR A WMN NOW. These are this progression, there’s this journey, there’s this growth from being Emtee to being UR A WMN NOW, and the narrative is there. I think UR A WMN NOW, although addresses some of the rigid, archaic, and barbaric rituals that we still cling to today, is in our cultures. It takes a girl into womanhood, whether it be (inaudible), whether it be marriage, if it’s child-brides or not, or if it’s the third verse, like my Mom did, which was take control of her own life, take control of her own destiny, regardless of the circumstances that were put in front of her. Regardless of, as many women face, a mistake that had occurred. Now it’s responsibility; life has changed; here’s my responsibility; I have to take care of myself and another life; I’ve got to do it right; and that’s when I think we’ve become women, is when we decide to take control of our own destiny, aside from what our friends say, or our peers, or our co-workers, or our family, or society, is when you’ve decided to live life on your own terms, be happy, and fight for the exitance you deserve.


What would you say was the hardest song to write, not only lyrically, but musically too?

I don’t know if that question really applies because there wasn’t really a song that was hard to write, UR A WMN NOW is definitely hard to perform because it was very emotional, there were a couple of times where I had to stop and I’m not a very — I’m not someone who tends to cry a lot, but that song was very difficult just remembering what my Mom went through when I was a kid and knowing how hard she worked to give us the life she wanted us to have. Rise, Rebel, Resist wasn’t hard at all but it was also one that was based on human rights, civil rights, and about justice and fairness in this country. So, it was a very emotional for me to do. But, the great thing about this records was that everything was just so magical. It just flowed out of all of us. The rivers of imagination were bubbling to the shore and it was truly incredible.


What will be your next single or next music video?

You know, I don’t get to choose those.



No, it’s really up to the label and managers. Once it’s chosen, I get input on creative. But, they get to chose. We don’t get any choice on where we tour, we don’t have any choice on what stores sell our records; that’s just, you know, part of the whole art versus commerce game that you play when you decide that you want to be a professional musician. But if I had a guess, I mean, my hope is that if it was Rise, Rebel, Resist; I got some great ideas for a video for that. If it’s UR A WMN NOW, I got great ideas for that. If it’s Serv Asat, I got great ideas for that. If it’s Numb and Dumb, I got great ideas for that. But, if it’s Head, yeah… So, it can be any of those songs, that’d be great. Even Run For Cover; a lot of that song, when I was writing it, I was getting messages at the time from soldiers– supportive messages from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was thinking heavily about them and how they all thank us for writing our music and speaking out when they can’t and how our music helps them when they’re out on patrol. And, I wanted to write a song that would get everyone pumped up enough to fight their own battles.


I’ve noticed that your fans are just incredible passionate; when I put it on MySpace that I was going to be interviewing you, I received tons of comments and messages from people; one of them told me to tell you they’re your number one fan in Egypt, and then another one wanted me to ask you what your thoughts are on Native Americans because he said that they never seem to get much recognition.

The first reference you gave, I’ll address that. I find it incredible that we have people who listen to their music in places like Egypt because women like me, aren’t really valued in places like that. Not saying that there aren’t women like me there, of course you know there’s women, they have heavy restrictions placed on them there. So, it’s wonderful to see that there are people who are embracing music like ours in places like that. We also get fans from Turkey, and Iran, and I’ve had messages from Pakistan over the years. So, it’s pretty incredible to me. Hopefully the message itself is breaking through and people are starting to — the seeds are being planted — and know that they deserve fairness, and justice, and equal rights in their own countries.

As far as Native Americans — well, with all the hubbub, and brewhaha, and ballyhoo, that’s been going on from the Republicans and the conservative right and the religious right over health care reform, and all the balderdash that’s been spewed out from them about giving illegal immigrants health care; well, until the United States government honors all of it’s treaties with indigenous and happenance of this plan, and this means the Native Americans, and that means the Navajo’s, the Apache’s, the Cherokee’s, the Choctaw, so-forth and so-on, until they honor all of the treaties with the Native Americans, we’re all illegals. We’re all illegal immigrants; our ancestors came from Europe, and sometimes our ancestors were brought here without their consent; some of us aren’t immigrants. The descendants of slaves, they didn’t ask to be brought here, they’re not immigrants, they were forced to come here.

So, when the Colonists first stepped foot on this land, they were invited in, they were taken in; and America’s much different from Europe; the climate, the soil, and everything; the types of food, the types of vegetation that occurs here; and the Native Americans took them in, and taught them how to live the land, and taught them how to grow food, grow crops, what to hunt, where to hunt; taught them medicinal aids to help them if they got sick; and then we end up pushing them off their own land and pushing them off of their reservations, which is land reserved for the, but, the soil they use is so rocky that they can’t grow anything; they couldn’t at the time. Usually, it was so far away from clean water, that they would get sick; the United States government would raid these reservations and whatever they felt that — say the tribes are getting too demanding; they would murder the men, they would murder the young boys, they would practice biological warfare by giving blankets filled with Small Pox to these people– and this is the land that Conservatives and Republicans like to look back at our forefathers for all the good they did. Well, they wrote a good piece of paper, they wrote a couple of good pieces of paper; they wrote the Constitution, they wrote the Declaration of Independence, and that was great. But they made their practice what they preached; when they said that all men were created equal, they didn’t believe that; notice how they said “all men” — well, we interpret that as as all humans, right? We assume that in a sociological standpoint that the man means human; so of course women are included in that. But, at the time, women couldn’t vote. You know what year women were granted the right to vote?


I can’t remember, was it in the 1960s?

Oh, no, no, no, no. Now listen, if you’re going to be a journalist, you need to know more than the people you interview.

The 1920s — the 20s fought for — in the 1960s, was for equal pay, equal rights; women still make in the 21st Century, I think it’s 70 cents, which has only gone up a dime in 40 years, to a man’s dollar, before being even more educated, before even having more work experience; all because of some archaic idea that men are superior to woman, in some odd way. Even though men, traditionally the stereotype is they can’t multi-task, women can. You go back and you look how — and we own slaves in this country — we were ripping people out of their homeland, bringing them here, entire families; tearing those families apart, and shipping them off onto other countries, I mean to other parts of our country, and then beating them, murdering them, raping them — and that’s the God-fearing forefathers of our nation.

Any woman that didn’t cover from wrist to ankle, neck from wrist to neck to ankle — sound familiar? It’s what they do in Saudi Arabia now, right? — could be put in jail. If she wore makeup on the streets, she’d be attacked; if she went out with an escort, she could be arrested. So, we’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time, and that’s the beauty of America. America is not based on a bloodline, or a monarchy, or any of that; it’s based on idea. Based on an idea that somewhere down the line, we believe that all people are created equal. And it’s up to the good people, the people that are free thinkers, the people that embrace common sense, the people that embrace justice and terrorists and say “I don’t have to be poor, to understand the plight of the poor; I don’t have to be a woman to understand the plight of women; I don’t have to be homosexual to understand the plight of homosexuals, or not to be African American, or Hispanic-American, or even Irish-American; I mean heck, early on, the Irish weren’t allowed to vote.

We’ve had such strange phobias and weird lines drawn in this country, with us against them, and them against us, and us against each other, and it’s still like that, you know? Divide and conquer, divide and conquer. But, it’s an idea, American is this glorious beacon in the fog, even when the fog is so thick and it’s still just a firefly, we see the light, and it’s up to us, the strong, the one’s that have been touched, the ones that cannot refuse to be silent, to keep trudging through the muck– no matter how thick, or stinky it gets– towards that beacon; towards our promised capacity. Because if we leave it up to leaders, if we leave it up to politicians, if you guys leave it up to rock singers, it’s never going to get done.


We are a nation of for and by the people, it is the citizens of this country that make us unique, you know? So, it’s up to us to keep fighting for this beautiful, beautiful country, to make sure that our freedom and justice is applied to all of us equally and fairly. Otherwise, we get what we deserve, and that is seeing our country turn into a theocracy. I hear all the time how certain conservatives want to secede from the union, like the Civil War — GO, PLEASE, GO; I will let them go, pick a state and go there; that’s your country, leave us alone; you guys can install a theocracy, which is a religious based government; they can reinstall slavery, because you know that’s what they want to do; they can minimize women’s vote, put women back in the household as wives, and that’s fine. There’s women out there that choose that, but if you have no choice, that’s when it’s a problem, but that’s what they’re going to do and there will be no middle class; it’ll be wealthy people and they’ll be eating the poor.

Meanwhile, over on this side, we’ll have peace, and we’ll have love, art, and we’ll have science, and we’ll have alternative energies; we’ll have a clean environment. We’ll have a powerful military, educated and healthy civilians and citizens of this country. So, if that’s the law I’m able to draw, go there. But see that’s not the law in their line they want to draw, because you have states like Texas where the governor talks about feeding from the Union, right? Yet when they got hit by the H1N1 Flu, the Swine Flu; guess who was asking for federal money? Texas!! Louisiana! The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, said he wasn’t going to take a dime of President Obama’s “socialist stimulus money.” Well, guess who took the money and put his own name on the checks and presented them out and they were coming from the state of Louisiana? Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana! They’re all hypocrites! They’re all these opportunists, they’re deceivers; all they’re trying to do is summon up this very small, very loud fate (inaudible) who hate the fact that we have a bi-racial President. They hate the fact that unlike them, which they live a very narrow, rigid life, are getting justice and fairness under the law. They can’t stand it. But, they want what they feel like is in their old movies, where everything was black and white, and women were in place, and black people were just there for fun and maybe to dance for us and sing songs, but they couldn’t date our daughters, they couldn’t eat next to us in a restaurant. Homosexuals were killed, or put in prison, or mental homes.

That’s the kind of world they want to bring about; that’s not America, that’s not what we’ve been headed, as you’ve seen, we’ve fought this all along, you know? They say “well that’s what the people want, well that’s what the people want.” 80% of the American public was in favor of slavery at one point. Was that right? Or was that wrong? You know just because the majority thinks something is right, doesn’t make it right. So, that is up to us, the people that see the wrong, that see the injustice, that stay educated, stay informed, stay involved. And there’s an old phrase “the squeaky wheel, gets the oil.” Right now, our wheels aren’t very squeaky; the other side, they’re the ones making all the racket. We have to drown them out with righteousness with American pride, American loyalty, to American nationalism, and destroy this strange odd little separationist mentality in this country. We can do it if we do it; if we care enough about it, we can do it. We just have to get up, stand up, speak out, and don’t be silent.


You have so much knowledge on politics and history. I mean, I just learned so much from what you just said; what exactly sparked your passion for politics, human rights, and history in general?

I suppose it started from when I was a very little kid, a wee-lad, when I was just a tiny little girl. I had three things I knew I could do well. One: I could draw, so I was pretty artistic. Two: I was pretty strong so I knew I could fight. And three: I was pretty smart, and I could out-smart most of the bullies in our neighborhood cause’ we grew up pretty poor; when there’s poverty, there’s violence, and there’s always someone trying to take something away from you. When you’re poor and you don’t have a lot that you can take away, the one thing you refuse to release is your pride, your respect; you’re not going to take that away from me. I suppose it probably started from that, when bullies tried to pick on my siblings and my friends in my neighborhood and just never-ever feeling like I could back down from that and allow them to do that. And then secondly, I think I’m extremely competitive, and I don’t ever like to be — I don’t like to not know something, I don’t like to be in the dark, I have a natural inquisitiveness; I hunger for knowledge.

I feel like I may not have been born to the richest family or the most powerful family, I may not be born with the skills of Bruce Lee in a physical fight. But, intellectually, I feel like that’s something that I could out-run, that I could out-fight, I could out-think anyone, and it’s just as simple as feeding your head. It’s not fun, unless you’re passionate about it. But reading and listening to– instead of watching whatever it is that people watch on television; a movie, or some TV series, or something– I tend to watch news channels and watch MSNBC all day long just to listen to them because I believe in their politics, and I believe that they give a side that is very rare in this country. Political news is pretty much — well, we all know what Fox News is.


Oh yes.

Yeah, it’s what the dog does in the yard.


Yeah, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, they distort the news too much.

Yeah. Right. So, I like to listen to–watch programs like Keith Olbermann, I like to watch programs like The Ed Show, Rachel Maddow, just so that I can get that other side. People like Rachel Maddow, she’s not just a personality on TV, she’s got a PHD, she’s a road scholar, she’s a brilliant, brilliant person who can see through a lot of the lies, and she’s a political junkie, and a fan of politics; a wonk as they call it, W-O-N-K. So, if someone who might be one of those people who can tell you who won the 1962 Superbowl and what color their jerseys were, and all that; she could tell you that about politics. So, I learn a lot from that, but I also try to read, I try to keep up on websites, and news sites, and opinion sites because this is what happens when the population becomes observers, and all they want to do is look at their new iPhone, and watch the new episode of Lost, and go hang out with our friends, is that the opportunist who are actually in charge plight in and take advantage of our trust; so it’s up to us to stay informed.


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