Interview: Otep talks return, Generation Doom and more

TFRR: Thanks for taking time, I appreciate it. So the new album, Generation Doom, there’s new Otep music coming out April 15th with Napalm Records. The last you and I talked was when you were getting ready to release Hydra, and at that point, we thought that was the last album for you, but now you’re back. What changed along the way, and what does it mean to have Generation Doom out? Otep: Well, at the time, I really thought that was going to be our last album. I’d come to that conclusion, that I’d had nothing left in me to make another record. I didn’t want to fake it, for my fans or for myself. Just getting away from the industry of music and some of the people who don’t necessarily love it, and they’re just in it for the money. It’s hard for me, because I got tired of listening to someone tell me what genre I’m supposed to be in, or we couldn’t get this stuff to this festival because we’re too heavy, or get the other festival because we aren’t heavy enough. Or, you know, someone doesn’t like my political views, or they’re trying to con us into this particular genre that I don’t believe we belong in. We kind of transcend genre limitations. Genre doesn’t guide me in songwriting, and genre doesn’t guide me in vocal delivery or how I create the song, what guides me is the message, and how important our fans are to us. I’d just gotten to a place where I was getting tired of the music industry under my experience. I hadn’t been taking advantage of fans or really putting them in the place they deserve to be, so I was done. I just wanted to walk away. And I do voiceover work here in Los Angeles, so I did the last Hobbit movie, Battle of Five Armies, I did a PlayStation game, I did some other stuff… So I’ve done some pretty big stuff but they make me sign confidentiality agreements on things. A lot of video games, a lot of feature films, and I focused on writing a new book, I wrote a book I shared stories in, and I toured. We toured as an unsigned band, and there were just these magic moments of being free and liberated, and not listening to someone sitting in an office telling me how I should perform on stage on the road. Just a number of things. It was freeing, to have that connection with the fans and have that connection with the music all over again. So I don’t know, it’s kind of a love affair that’s returned, and that’s really important to me. TFRR: Nice! I mean, listening to Generation Doom, I drove from Indianapolis to Iowa today, so I’ve listened to the album three or four times today alone, and you can tell that spark is just THERE. You can tell that you’re feeling it on this record, I mean, this is an Otep record from front to back, side to side, all the way through. From the beginning of “Zero,” all the way to the end of “On the Shore,” I mean, good God, you kick our ass on this album. Otep: Aww, thank you! TFRR: Yeah! It’s awesome. Every song you write, there’s a deep message, and there’s more to it than just the song itself, especially the album title. As a whole, what is Generation Doom, and what does it mean to you artistically? Otep: I think I’ve returned to a very personal, private place with this album. I wrote a bunch of poetry as a means of communicating my experiences in the world, which is really and truly how I function in the world, how I’m able to handle everything I experience, joy, anger, terror, sadness, depression… So I think just looking at where we are as a country, to see we have all this technology in our hands to really move our country forward, further and further away from the things that divide us. Like not recognizing climate change as a real thing, and we’re still fighting wars based on outdated religious texts and corrupting those messages into something that’s beneficial for evil, greedy men. I think not understanding the impact of animal agriculture has on our planet, you know, it takes a thousand gallons of water to produce a single steak. A thousand gallons of water. And if you look back at all these giant hedge fund managers and big Wall Street investors and bankers who saw the coming of the collapse of the house market back at the Bush administration, they saw it before anybody saw it, they saw the trend, and these same people who saw that and made billions and billions of dollars, saw the working class basically get destroyed. Now we’re investing in water sources, we’re buying up vast water sources, they’re investing in water because we’re running out of clean water. So it seems like we’re getting closer and closer to building better alternatives to energy to live on this planet. It seems like we’re on this sort of crossroads, where we’re going to linger, move forward, and be the doom of that which has destroyed us in the past, OR, we do nothing, and we will be doomed. We will be the Generation Doom. So it’s sort of a double-meaning, with the album title, so I went through, and when I wrote the record, I really wanted it to be more of my personal observations than political or anything else. So most of this stuff is cultural, and it just felt a lot better to go back to that place, which I don’t think I’ve really done since The Ascension, to be honest. Most of the other work has been very political and about organizing people to fight against injustice and all of that. This record is very personal to me and my own experiences and observations. For example, “In Cold Blood” was a very painful song for me to write because it was about this really devastating break up I’d gone through. You lose your companion, your confidant, your lover, your best friend, and they’re all the same person. That one special person who could make your day go away with just a smile, and suddenly that’s gone. There’s emptiness to that, and in the past, I think I would have just choked it up and not really shared that emotional journey that I went on with that. I felt like that would have been dishonest intellectually and dishonest artistically if I didn’t put that into some form of art, so I wrote a poem, and that poem became a song. And I did that with every song. Everything was based on some form of interaction, some form of my reaction to some things that have happened in the world, and to me personally. It’s a very personal album, and I share a lot of private things. It was very uncomfortable at first. TFRR: I can sense that on a lot of them. Otep: Especially with the success of “In Cold Blood,” I never thought that would get as popular as it has. I thought it would just be a solid track, people would listen to it…and that was really surprising to me, considering how personal of a song that is to me. I’ve had fans reach out and thank me for sharing it, and let me know they’ve gone through similar things or they’re going through it right now, and they’ve come out the other side better for it and to be strong. Having that support for something so painful and personal is really gratifying. Again, it reminds me of the first record, and reminds me of how people were really able to connect and relate to a lot of the songs TFRR: Yeah, you talk about how personal you get on a lot of these songs. One of the songs that stands out lyrically, and even musically, is “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts.” Otep: Thank you. TFRR: Yeah, very different from what we’ve heard from you in the past. It’s got almost—and I hate to say it—almost a rap, hip hop vibe to it in some ways. Otep: A little, yeah! Some people have a hesitancy to use the word “hip hop” in reference to me, which I don’t know why, because I do a lot of—if you want to call it, a word for it—rapping on a lot of songs on every record. Thank you though; I really appreciate it because I fought for that song because the label didn’t like it. The musicians weren’t happy with it either because it wasn’t “rock” enough, but for me, I had my own reasons. This event really happened to me. I was with one of my exes and we’d gone on holiday for our anniversary, and I had this grown man—and older man, big guy, big dude—come over to me, slap me on the shoulder and pick a fight with me on the beach at Hawaii, and he was upset because I was with a girl. If anybody knows anything about me, I don’t have fight-or-flight, I just have fight, it’s my make-up, it’s just my thing. He was a big, giant bully, and he was trying to push me around, and I don’t get pushed around, so we almost went to blows. He actually asked me that, he said “you’ve got quite a mouth on you,” and I said, “brother, you have no idea.” We exchanged some words, and he said to me, “you believe in equal rights?” and he put his fist up, and I said, “I do”, and he said, “what about equal lefts?” and he put another fist up. First of all, I thought, “that’s pretty good.” I’d heard that expression before, so it was pretty neat that he’d thought of it at that moment. It was like he’d been waiting for the right couple to come along so he could pick on them. There was no reason for him to do that. We were in Hawaii, and Hawaii’s one of the most progressive places on the planet; they had civil unions before people even knew what the term was. It’s marked on Gaycation as one of the safest places for gays and lesbians to live, as well as to go on holiday. So I was extremely surprised to be attacked by this guy out of the blue when we weren’t doing anything but walking, and he just started to fight with us. He said that to me, “do you believe in equal rights?” and I said, “man,, whatever you want, I’m with it.” And then you know, he started to back up and walk away, and he called me a dyke, and the first line in the song says “he called me a dyke, I called him an ambulance.” So things like that are those real things that happened to me, and that song especially, I wanted to bring to the forefront, because as much as I appreciate our straight and heterosexual allies, it’s time for gay people to unite and fight back. [We need to] do what Harvey Milk did with the Castro district in San Francisco to make gay-safe areas where we can get together, we can organize, and unite and become a political power. It’s still legal in I think 16 states in this country to be fired from your job for being openly gay, and that’s in America in 2016. How is that even possible? There are places around the world where it’s easy to be put in jail for life for being gay. There are places where you’re killed for being openly gay. In fact, in America, during this presidential cycle, five republican candidates went to an Evangelical event where the minister stood on stage in front of thousands and thousands of his members and basically admitted that he was trying to form a lobbyist group that would give money to politicians that would help bring about legislations that would make it illegal to be gay in the United States, and that anyone caught being gay in the United States would be given the death penalty. That’s this year. Five of the republican candidates listened to this man say these evil things. You can look it up online, he talks about carving smiley faces in the backs and shoulders of gay men, I mean, this guy’s insane. He’s an insane man, and he’s licensed to say these things because he holds a bible in his hand. He said if his son got gay married, he would sit outside of the church naked and cover himself in feces. This is a man of the church, he said those things. Then five members of the Republican Party came out and spoke to these people, asking for them to vote for him. TFRR: Wow. Otep: And that’s in America, that’s right now. So this song, “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts” is a call, I mean, there’s a little bit of satire, a little tongue-in-cheek about who I am and the things I’ve done in my life, and meeting a lot of girls who I’ve been their first girl and all that in the song as well. But it’s also a call to gays and lesbians to get together and fight for our right to exist. Musically, I wanted to use a trap beat, I wanted to use hip hop, because homophobia is sort of rampant in that genre, although it is getting better. You still have it though, I mean, it’s okay for Kanye to be talking about a blonde dyke, it’s okay for Lil Wayne to say “no faggot shit,” or when he’s talking about his homeboys to say “no homo.” That’s still rampant in that world, so I wanted to take it into that world and be like, “yo, I’m here, I’m gay, I rap, I’m a writer, I can say the things I can say, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me,” and at the same time, I’m calling on gays and lesbians to unite together unlike most rappers. I mean, I’m living my truth, I’m being authentic, and everything in that song is real. So I’m proud of that song, and the label fought against it, the producer had some concerns, it was too—what did he say?—it was too “raunchy” I think is the word he said. I had one line, “she’s so sweet, I had to take her,” I was like “come on man, that’s nothing.” The last line of the song, in the third verse, is, “say what you say, and do what you do, but I’ll always get more pussy than you,” and that’s true, you can make it illegal if you want, but I’m still going to get more pussy than you. TFRR: I was going to say, there’s a lot more vulgar stuff in that song than that one line that he wasn’t sure about. Otep: That’s right, I was like, “dude, you’re focusing on that one line, what about the other stuff I say?” And I wanted the label to release that; there are gay radio stations on satellite radio that were pushing me to do that, and I’ve even got some friends who are sort of hip hop moguls out here, and I was talking to them about doing it as well, and they were like, “that’s going to be a hard song to sell because you’re openly talking about this,” and plus it’s got kind of an industrial, metal chorus, a bit Nine Inch Nails explosion chorus. I was like, “well, you know, whatever, they can call us rap core if they want, they can call us metal if they want, I don’t care.” We are what we are, we write the songs we write, and that’s it. I’m really happy you mentioned that song, because it’s nice to hear people say… I don’t know, I’m used to people telling me I was wrong about the song. It’s nice to be validated in that way. TFRR: It’s got the best of both worlds on it, you can write to it, you can rage to it, you can mosh to it, all at the same time. Otep: Yes, thank you! We’re playing it live, on tour. TFRR: I was going to ask about that! Oh yeah, that song is way too good. And I’ll tell you the reason why I knew it would work: “Apex Predator.” When we first played “Apex Predator” from Hydra on tour, the whole audience would freak. There wasn\’t one person who said, “why is she watching me? Who is she?” They just loved the song, and I think it’ll be the same with “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts.” TFRR: Going back to the first record, Sevas Tra, songs like “filthy” and stuff like that on that record, there are some rap-style vocals on the earlier songs you’ve written. Otep: Oh yeah, I mean, “Battle Ready,” “T.R.I.C,” “Menocide,” “Posession,” “Filthy,” most of the songs I do is oratory, it’s not really singing. That’s why this record was sort of a departure for me, because I could sing, I’d just never worked with a producer before that really wanted me to or was interested in hearing that until I worked with Howard Benson on this record. He was really something special to work with; he really pushed me to go into my comfort zone and then just run the hell away from it. He was like, “go there, now get out of it.” TFRR: This record is some of the heaviest I’ve heard from you. Not that the other records weren’t heavy, but this one… If you go back to Sevas Tra and Ascension and those records, there’s some heavy shit from start to finish. I actually turned this record on at work for the first time, and… Yeah, that went well. Otep: [laughter] We really wanted to return to those roots, you know, and I talked a lot to my guitar player, Aristotle, and that’s how he sort of sounded before he joined the band. He found us in Sevas Tra, and The Ascension, and coincidentally, those are two of my favorite records; it’s hard to pick a favorite record, but those are two of my favorite. In fact, during our live set, most of our music comes from those two records. And I mean, songs like “Zero,” that song is insane, and I love it. That song’s been living in me for a long time, and it’s been wanting to come out for a long, long time. And the title track, “Generation Doom,” there was so much fun with that song, just releasing every emotion, not holding back, and just letting everything out and directing it at everyone while I sing it, destroying the room, putting my head through a wall while recording, I mean, there were some really magnificent moments from this record. TFRR: Oh yeah, it shows. I love it. Otep: Good! TFRR: You’re going to be in Indy at the end of April, I believe. You’re hitting the road, you’re heading out with Lacey, September Mourning, Doll Skin, it’s a kickass tour lineup; I can’t wait. You talked about it a little bit, but how’s it going to feel to be back on the road any actually play some of these songs live with this lineup? Otep: Yeah, I think it’s going to be great! I think it’s one of the strongest tour packages we’ve had in a long time. And I mean my band, Justin is one of the finest drummers you’ll ever see; he’s a genius of a percussionist. He can play groove, and he can be technical at the same time, which is extremely rare to find in a drummer. And of course, my guitar player Ari is insanely talented, and he can play every instrument on the planet. To be able to share the stage with them, and share the stage with this tour package, and to get out on the road, I mean, it’s been a minute since we’ve actually toured, so for us to get back out there and do it this way, I’m really really happy about it.