Lauren Wise of the Phoenix New Times recently conducted an interview with singer, poet, illustrator, author and activist Otep Shamaya. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Phoenix New Times: So while you were writing this graphic novel that turned into [“Hydra”], did you always have it in mind that this was going to be your last record?
Otep: It’s about making the best record I can make at that time. People can debate the validity of my music, but they can never doubt how much I care about it and how much I work on it. That’s all I do. When I’m building an album, I pour everything I have into it. What people think never enters my mind. I just focus on the song and question if it is saying everything that I need to say. What’s the best composition I can arrange? Lyrically, what am I saying? You know, everyone knows I’m the girl who goes “grrrrr.” Everybody knows I’m the chick who screams. But it’s just an emotional component to deliver the message of the music.
Phoenix New Times: Why is this your final album? I know you’ve mentioned in interviews that it is a bit about being over of the industry, and working hard but having albums leaked and what not. Tell me more about that
Otep: It’s so hard to love something so much, as I do with music, and to give so much of yourself over 11 years now, only to have it just stolen away from you with the click of a mouse. You know, large retail chains are minimizing their catalogs now, and it’s not because extreme music scares or that it’s corrupting minds — it’s because it’s not selling. Otherwise they wouldn’t have rap music where they are talking about bitches and hoes and crack and guns . . . they wouldn’t support that murder and death. If that mattered to the stores, they wouldn’t carry that music. If they cared about quality, they probably wouldn’t carry country music. [laughs] It’s not about that; it’s about what sells. And unfortunately, in this era, pop, rap, country, and some pop-rock is what’s selling. It’s just the truth. I appreciate it when people say they go to the show and buy our T-shirts. That’s great because you’re financing the tour! We appreciate that and love you for that and need you for that: fuel, transportation, salaries. People do this for a living, so they have to make a living. But nobody’s forcing us to do it; we do it because we love it. But it’s difficult to watch the industry you love dissolve in front of you. It’s interesting to watch something you love so much being destroyed. If this happened to a painter, and someone just walked into a gallery and took a Picasso off the wall in a gallery, you call that theft. But music is even more valuable than a Picasso — and there would be a lot of people who would disagree with me — but when someone breaks your heart, or if you have a great day, you don’t go to a museum and stare at a painting. You put on your favorite song. It stays with you for the rest of your life. You can turn on the radio and hear a song from your past or a moment in time that will never exist again, but when you hear it you get that feeling again and it’s resurrected. That song is a Picasso then. It doesn’t cost a million dollars. It costs 99 cents. You’ll always have it for less than a dollar.
Phoenix New Times: Do you have a viewpoint on how to bring the industry you love so much back to life?
Otep: As far as the industry is concerned, it’s a company. A corporation. Their job is to make money. My job as an artist is to go over the edge; to find the edge, go over it, look over it, teeter over it. You can’t fault a lot of the industry. They think, “Extreme music and underground bands, their fans just pirate their music — but the fans over here, they actually buy music. I can lay off half my staff who love music and build their lives in this way, or I can find bands that actually sell, the company makes money, and I can pay my staff.” So it’s a weird place to be in, defending the companies for their choices, when it’s just as simple as the fans need to buy the music that they love instead of going to YouTube or, or whatever. Even going to spots like Pandora or Spotify, at least when you utilize those, pennies are generated. You go to any AR today and say, “I got this great act. Crazy lesbian frontwoman; she screams and does poetry.” They would say, “Oh, great. Good luck with that.” Capitol Records gave me a shot and took a chance on me. Now you gotta produce results immediately in order to survive. You know, you have bands like KORN and NINE INCH NAILS and RADIOHEAD saying that it’s okay to pirate. Okay, but you guys have already sold, like, millions of records and have stock. You’re not a working-class band. That’s what pirating hurts the most. It helps exposure for unknown bands, doesn’t affect the big bands. But it affects the middle-class bands.
Read the entire interview from Phoenix New Times.