- PR Brown
- Justin Kier, left, Otep Shamaya, middle left, Aristotle Mihalopoulos, middle right, and Andrew Barnes of Otep.
Otep Shamaya is intense. As a songwriter, as the frontwoman of her synonymous metal band and as an activist, the California native has famously built a career around strident positions. Whether it's on LGBTQ issues, on veganism, on political agitation or on issues of social justice, you always know where you stand with Otep.
Take, for instance, her forthcoming album, Kult 45. On the lead single "To the Gallows," she motivates her base with "a song for the heretics/ to resist the dictatorship." She calls Donald Trump a "traitor" and a "morally corrupt demagogue" before grinding through this chorus: "Blood on your hands/ Blood on your suit/ Does your necktie/ Feel like a noose?/ We'll walk you to the gallows/ You can choke on the truth."
"I'm pretty fearless about confronting that which is false or misleading," says Shamaya, who describes herself as a "loud-mouthed lesbian radical" standing up for America's working class and marginalized groups. "Once we started to see all the traitorous things that Resident Chump started doing after being put in office—the trampling of our Constitution and our civil liberties—I knew I needed to write about what's happening."
Co-produced with guitarist Aristotle Mihalopoulos, Kult 45 is polished and professional while properly capturing the full Otep band's legendary live energy, which Shamaya calls "spiritual intercourse." Taking on gender inequality, rape culture, newly resurgent American hate groups, evangelical hypocrisy and gun violence, the songs on the album edge away from the nü-metal tag critics once bestowed upon them. Instead, Kult 45's fast, heavy sound is rooted in that most political of hardcore bands: Rage Against the Machine.
Like Rage, Otep examines the broadly intersectional state of activism and agitation. "The Resistance is exclusively inclusive," she says. "Seeing the way that all these things come together is empowering. This is the ugly side of America, detaining asylum-seekers and ripping their children away from them for a misdemeanor offense and then quoting the Bible to try and justify it without finishing the verse where the same guy saying it's Biblical to follow the laws is put to death for not following the law."
Never one to shy away from provocation, Shamaya outlines the way that our current state of affairs pales in comparison to the genocide of Native Americans, to the transatlantic slave trade and to the Japanese-American internment camps that dotted the Mountain West (including Utah) during World War II. "When people today say, 'That's not America,' well, that's a falsehood," she says. "We have a long history of stealing children away from their parents and Resident Chump is just the latest despot doing it. His regime is cruel and corrupt, and it all comes from the fact that, until he became president, Trump spent his whole life feeling powerless. Now he can finally live out his fantasies of being cruel."
It's hard to contain Shamaya's rage in just a 20-minute interview, but when asked to riff on another subject near and dear to her heart, she chose gun violence. The second single off Kult 45, "Shelter in Place," arrived in the world with a very vocal and very direct message against the NRA: "I was compelled to take it directly to the source of the problem, this gun lobbying group, instead of trying to wade through all the conservative folks who wouldn't otherwise hear the message."
Calling herself a "Second Amendment liberal," her common-sense arguments are ready-made to cut through the partisan muck. She believes in gun ownership and gun laws, along with stricter enforcement of such laws. "People who don't really want to understand me or feel threatened by my stance say I'm anti-gun, even though I'm not," she says. "Wanting people to stop at stoplights doesn't mean you're anti-car. The same way I want people to obey traffic laws, I want people to obey gun regulations. All it took was one guy with a bomb in his shoe and now millions of us have to take our shoes off every time we enter an airport. And yet, since Columbine, we've done very little to stop gun violence."
Breaking down the velocity, range and killing power of a bullet fired from a handgun versus a bullet fired from an AR-15 while bemoaning the fact that the NRA never seems to step in and defend the gun rights of marginalized groups, Shamaya definitely knows that of which she speaks. An avid reader and "sadistic scribbler," her expertise is evident. "What I say is meant to provoke," she says. "I'm not afraid to stand by it. I just make sure I know what I'm upset about."
But she's optimistic about the coming November midterm elections. "I don't think Trump and his regime know what they've started," Shamaya says. "They've reawakened the American spirit, which is not based on a monarchy or a bloodline. It's based on an idea—that all are created equal and equally deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There's no asterisk about what gender, orientation, race, religion or creed you have to be. It just says 'all.' That's what we're fighting for."