Originally published in Alive (July 14, 2004)
In the annals of heavy metal, there are very few mentions of the contributions women have made to the testosterone-driven genre.
Is it because women are made up of sugar and spice and everything nice, ingredients that don’t bode well in the world of aggressive rock? Or has the music industry not given women a chance to prove females can rock just as hard and heavy as their male counterparts?
The answer is becoming clearer as the aggro-metal genre is starting to see female-fronted bands break through, past the heavy-metal mores and into a world previously dominated by men.
One of the brightest (or darkest, based on the style of music) up-and-coming bands in the field is Otep, led by artist/poet Otep Shamaya, a woman that Marilyn Manson has said frightens him.
The band’s forthcoming sophomore release, House of Secrets (Capitol Records), reveals a lifetime of pain, struggle, emotion and loneliness packed into 44 minutes worth of heavy-as-hell music. To an extent, the record is an exorcism for Shamaya whose singing, howling, screaming and grunting through the 12 songs may not be pretty but is brutally honest.
Otep was invited to perform on this year’s Ozzfest tour (the third time in four years for the West Coast band) and will be joined, for the first time in the festival history, by another female-fronted band, Lacuna Coil.
Shamaya checked in from Hartford, Connecticut, where the 2004 Ozzfest tour was preparing to kick off.
What are some of the hurdles that you’ve had to jump over as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
We live in a fantastic country. However, it’s still very misogynistic; it’s overtly sexist. When I’m on tour and standing with one of the male musicians and another male will come up, I’ll be introduced first but he’ll shake the hand of one of the male musicians first. Or, if there is business being spoken about, they’ll look to the man when usually I’m the one that makes the decisions. Those have been the biggest issues that I’ve had to deal with, along with respect and the “Oh, she’s just a girl, what does she know?” attitude.
In some respects, women are to blame because we support these glorified back-up dancers who then become these pop-vomit messiahs for music and are worshiped for the hair gel they use. They don’t write their own material, they don’t sing live, their day is spent with a stylist while everyone else sort of dictates their career for them. Yet they are the most respected women in music.
Is it tough playing to an Ozzfest crowd that’s primarily made up of men?
I think it’s going to be fine, but there have been times where it’s been kind of tough. Some of the people out there will come up and say the most idiotic, asinine, sexist statements and they think it’s perfectly fine, little things like calling me “honey” or “darling”. I say, “OK, fine, if that’s a term of endearment and you don’t mean anything by it, why aren’t you saying it to my six-foot-four bass player? Why aren’t you calling him ‘honey’ and ‘darling’? Why am I being singled out? Maybe I’m not sweet. Maybe I’m not a darling.”
Just that little word, ‘honey’, is an introduction to the their entire philosophy on women and segregating. The only person who should call me ‘darling’ should be the person I’ve chosen to be my partner in an intimate situation, not some stranger walking by me.
You must get approached by females who look up to you as an influence or a role model. What advice do you give them?
I tell them to be better than me. Don’t be me, don’t be this band. Take art and creativity to the next level. So what if you fail, at least you’re going to come out with something that is unique and inherent to who you are versus trying to sound like everybody else. If you’re a cashier at a bank, you don’t behave any differently because you’re a girl so why would you in an art situation when you have more power than just pressing keys and taking money? You have the ability to speak with a voice.
It’s very rare in this world that women have those rights. We actually have a voice in this country, though there are many hands trying to cover our mouths. We can still fight back here, and that’s rare. In most countries, we can’t and that’s evident by the illegal war in Iraq and what’s going in in the Middle East. We’re exposed to that very orthodox and oppressive culture that treats women less than livestock in some respects. It’s mirrored in our own religious dogmas here as well. In conservative Christianity and Mormonism, women are more of the housekeeper, more of a slave to the master.
You spend a lot of time answering e-mails and staying in touch with your fans.
It’s important because it keeps me grounded; it reminds me of where I came from. I grew from violence. I grew up in poverty. I don’t want to forget that. It’s an honor to have people so interested in our message and in the music and so supportive; it’s only right that I give something back.
Art has saved me so many times when I could have given up, I could have surrendered. When you are in those dark places, sometimes you don’t want to talk to your friends, you’re ashamed. The “U Are Not Alone” section of our website gives our fans the opportunity of doing it on their own, anonymously. Loneliness is the killer. When you feel like there is no one else in the world that is exactly like you, that’s when it gets too much and you’re over-whelmed. That’s when the surrender is so easy to accept. Basically what we are saying is, “Pain is part of life, it’s what happens. We have to survive.”