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Otep - Secret Agents


By Dark Starr

(This is the first part of our double interview with Otep. The second interview, which I conducted with her live at Ozzfest, will appear in a few weeks.--Dr. Mality)

Otep is the main creative soul behind the band, or as she describes it, ìcollectiveî that bears her name. The group are currently playing the Ozzfest tour for their third time, and have just released their second album, House of Secrets. This interview was truly one of the most exhilarating I have ever done. It is a true pleasure to find someone who is so committed to the pursuit of art. It is also refreshing and inspirational to speak with a true patriot. I mean that in the traditional sense of the word, not the divisive way that it has been bandied about lately. In any event, Otep shares with us her thoughts on the creative process, influences, Ozzfest and the current political scene. This one is a ìmust readî as she is a passionate and intelligent individual with an important message.

WWC: The band shares a name with you, which raises the question ? is it a band, a solo project or something else?

Otep: I started the band. The intention of the band, the message of the band is unique to me. Itís my perspective. I was lucky enough to find one musician, Evil J, that has consistently supported the message and consistently supported the cause. I would say it's a collective that has a unique message; my message.

WWC: You come across as someone who is very interested in the intellectual side of the creative process. Would you see this as something unusual in the more extreme music?

Otep: I think that it's rare. It's rare that I find anyone that shares the hunger for that. The majority of the people that are in this industry, regardless of genre, are in it for the most two dimensional reasons. They're in it for the notoriety, the fame, the money, the girls, the drugs, the parties, to be somebody. For me it was a weapon to defeat my inner demons, a way for me to slay many enemies, a way to enable me to survive the war of life.

WWC: What do you see as the differences between the first album and the new one?

Otep: I think the new record is bipolar in that it is as creative as it is violent, much like me. I think it's excessively more heavy, and I think it's excessively more creative than the first record. A lot of people ask me how I compare the two, and my standard answer is ìsame roots, just a much bigger treeî. I think that it was our first record. We're very proud of that record. It sort of set the bar for us. It set a standard of who we are let people know who they're dealing with, but at the same time I think House of Secrets raised that bar for us even higher. It forced us to increase our skill level; from song arrangements and composition to playability to challenging me to force my own creative and lyrical evolution, and I'm really proud of it. I think it's the best work we've done.

WWC: Who would you see as your influences?

Otep: There's many; I'm more of a literary artist, than I am musical. I think the standard answers are there. I think we can go back through recent history and a find people that set a standard of excellence, and we try to aspire to that. But, I've always been really attracted to artists who live their lives by passion, and they were sort of controlled by it, were just compelled to create, create, create at all costs, no matter if it hurt.

WWC: I know you see yourself more as a poet first. Do you relate to Jim Morrison in that respect?


Otep: Absolutely! I think James Douglas Morrison was the first. I think he was celebrating a long line of traditional bards who used musical performance art as a medium to communicate a message on all levels, going back to the theater. So, yeah, my first real introduction to creative music was listening to the Doors when I was a kid, sneaking my parents' records and listening to them and hearing ìThe Endî. Really flipped on a switch inside my head that said, ìWow, music can be art. Music can be poetry and there's no sort of set disguise for it. There's different formulas and different ways of experimentation. So, I'm eternally grateful to their sacrifice and to their commitment to recreating the boundaries of music.

WWC: I actually hear a lot of similarities between some of your work and Morrison's.

Otep: That's nice. You know, my first real introduction to them was a poetry book. I thought he was a good poet. He reminded me a lot of Kerouac, and I was a big Kerouac fan. So, I immediately really dug his writing. Then, I found out, oh, he's a rock singer, too, and I pulled the record out. I was completely blown away that someone was able to seamlessly tie their creative energies into one motion versus being a singer or being an author. It's always nice for people to be able to notice the master inside the apprentice, so any comparison to me and the word magus Jim Morrison is an honor and something that I am completely ecstatic about.

WWC: On the notes I got with the new album, for the song "Requiem", you say that there's a voice at the end that isn't yours and doesn't belong to anyone you know. Are you referring to a physical voice or something figurative, and if physical, are we talking something supernatural here?

Otep: I don't know. There is actually a voice on that song near the end that does not belong to me. We isolated all five
mics that we used, and it wasn't on any of the mics. That particular song, when I listen to it, I can actually hear a piece of me dying. The creative process for me is very instinctive. I have to sort of surrender to the subconscious mind and let it lead me wherever it's going to go, wherever the muses dictate. So, I don't really realize my emotional state at the time until time passes and I got back and re-listen. I say, "Wow, I was really at a bad place at that time". So, I go back, and I listen and I remember being swallowed by a sea of despair. I was in a very, very dark place, and a very dangerous place. And, a part of me needed to die. A part of me must be sacrificed so that something else can be born, and I can hear it. I can hear it every time I listen. The first time we listened back to the track we heard this voice. It's very quiet. It's not something that we did or is for publicity purposes, it's actually there. I told them, "don't take it out. Leave it", because it's important. It wouldn't have appeared there had it not been important. We spent a good deal of time trying to discover the source of it. There was no one else in the studio but me. It's quite terrifying, but at the same time I think that sort of accentuates the power of what we do and the energies that we can conjure when we are creating what we create.


WWC: On the notes for the song "Warhead". You say that you are crying for a cultural uprising against empire. Is this referring to anyone specific or more in general?

Otep: Sure, it's specific. It's absolutely the Bush administration. I'm a student of history. I've always been interested in politics. This is the first time that I've ever felt this compelled to be this involved, ever. It's because I fear for my country. I fear for where we are going. You know, tyrannies do not happen over night. It's not like the movies have us believe where all of sudden tanks appear on the street and there's martial law. It's a slow strangulation of our civil liberties, of our rights, and that's happening. The greatest trick that they ever pulled was getting us to believe that we wanted their grip around our neck, and that we were actually asking them to tighten it. So, I think it's my duty as a proud American to celebrate my citizenship and my right to dissent, my right to speak out with an informed opinion. People don't have to agree with me. I just hope that people enlighten themselves to the issues, and to what is really going on, and look back four years ago. Where we were as a country and where we are now. Be involved. Be informed. Be an American. It's rare that we actually have the opportunities that we have here, especially women. I think it's time that we start celebrating that. This whole apathy thing where voting doesn't matter or being informed about your country doesn't matter. I think seeing other parts of the world where they're begging for it. They're gagging for freedom - it's rubbing our nose in it. That we should be thankful that we live in a country where we can question our leaders, where we can stand up for our rights. I think it's our duty as citizens of this great nation.

People say artists shouldn't make a statement. That's bullshit because the type of car you drive, that's a statement. The type of shirt you wear with the logo on the front, that's a statement. The person that you choose to date that's a statement. Where you chose to live is a statement. What your job is, is a statement. Why shouldn't anyone, not just artists, everyone have the right to stand up and speak their opinion on something that not only affects us but is going to affect future generations? You know, the native inhabitants of this nation, who of course were robbed of their land, one of the things they always do whenever their government is deciding is to think seven generations ahead. How will this affect the next seven generations? I think that that's a task that we should learn from because we're still paying. You look back and say, "Oh, they inherited this tax problem from so and so", or "the radiation levels are from so and so". Well, all of these would have been solved had we been looking ahead.


Sending young people to die in Iraq when we had no business going there in the first place. There's no weapons of mass destruction. There's no ties from Iraq to 9/11. We have no business being there. If their war qualifications were: hostile rhetoric to the United States, weapons of mass destruction, and harboring and state sponsorship of terrorists, well how about we go to Saudi Arabia because 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudis.

You put that on any other nation; you say that's Sudan or that's Libya. Say it's any of these other nations, 15 of the 19. We'd be in there now. We wouldn't be playing around in some other country. But because this government is so tied to the Saudis because of our love for gasoline and oil, we're not going to do that. Now, when they're offering amnesty to terrorists. People that attack United States citizens, people that attack our military, they're offering them amnesty now. No one's saying anything. I'm surprised the streets aren't filled every day, but hopefully people will get the message in November. Even if it's a passive "Maybe I'm a Republican, Maybe I'm a conservative, but this guy's not a Republican. This guy's not a conservative. It's the Bush/Cheney party. It's not the Republican Party.

They had their chance. Let's give it to John Kerry, and in four more years we'll find another Republican who can take him out. That's what I'd like to see.

WWC: On a lighter note, you're no stranger to Ozzfest. What can you tell me about your experience at the show and your feelings about being on it again?

Otep: 2001, as honored as we were to do that festival, we were on the third stage. They actually had a third stage back then. We didn't even have an album out. We had a five song EP. Not that many people knew us. We still were at the top of the festival for what we were able to do. For me, 2002 left a larger impact because people knew who we were. They knew what we did live; a savage, brutally poetic performance, and our new record was out so people were ecstatic over it. It was something. There were times where I would slip into my creative possession, and I would look out and it would almost feel like we were in the ancient world, and it was a massive mystery cult festival, a religious sort of gathering of violent pagans.

It was absolutely amazing to see people swirling in the pits recreating the DNA helix, finding themselves, rites of passage.
It was magnificent. People would lose all inhibitions and go wild. It was quite liberating for us. We expect to top that this year. It's already started with the way the fans reacted once we were actually announced that we were added to Ozzfest. We've been working really hard on our new Ozzfest set, and we've got all this built up emotion. It's time. It's been a while since we've actually been out on tour because we spent a lot of time on the record. We're really, really excited about being on Ozzfest. We're absolutely honored that we were asked to come back. We actually have a 1 PM time slot. Most bands rotate except for the headliners. We actually will be performing every venue at 1 O' Clock.


WWC: Several things in the press kit, along with some things you have said, make me think that you might be a pagan. Are you?

Otep: In the traditional sense of what a pagan is. I'm not a follower of Wicca or any of the new age stuff, but a pagan means many gods, and I believe that the multiple energies that I find strength and courage and inspiration from seem to have a feminine face (which is goddess worship) and seem to take on many identities (which I assume is pagan). I believe in perfecting my art through ritual, which is also pagan. So, I would say, ìyesî. It's not something I would endorse. I'm not going to say every one should become pagan, but I do believe that everyone should question religious authority.

WWC: What was your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Otep: (laughs) Our biggest Spinal Tap moment? (laughs) That's silly. Probably on our last tour our drum tech, prior to attacking our bus driver while we're driving down the Florida freeway at 4 in the morning, made this drunken outrageous statement that our bus will never reach the greatness of Spinal Tap. He proceeded to kick our bus driver into the windshield, and we had to have him arrested. So, that would be it, I guess.

Capitol Record's Website

Otep's Official Website