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Ozzfest Special: Interview With Otep Vocalist Otep & Bassist Evil J

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, September 8, 2004 @ 10:28 AM

Blood Pigs: Kerby Waxes

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“Aw man, she just yanked her hair out!”

“What the hell? Is she shoving it in that pig’s mouth?”

Yep. If you happened to be standing near the second stage at this year’s Ozzfest, you probably remember this band’s female lead singer—no, not the one from Lacuna Coil either. Instead, this frantic description would have doubtlessly accompanied the antics of the uber-aggressive, spirited vocalist for OTEP. Any spectator watching their set would have to internalize the realization that this group is as authentically serious about their music as they are their politics that is to say, very painfully serious. OTEP is currently touring in support of their sophomore effort, House of Secrets--a disc which has taken the group’s usual blend of artistic, emotional metal and expanded it far beyond even the impressive parameters of their debut Sevas Tra. According to the group, their music is designed to challenge and inspire thought in those who listen, and if the effect is striking, then that’s pretty much the idea.

If OTEP’s music isn’t enough to initiate discussion, surely their prominence within the Rock the Vote movement should be enough to garner the band substantial dialogue within the metal community. For such well-spoken artists to display a willingness to exercise this privilege has proven especially important during a time in this country--the land of the free--where stating one’s beliefs should never be a cause for censorship or fear. That being said, even Ozzfest hasn’t been immune to the question of how much political activism is too much—early in the tour, images of Bush and Hitler could be viewed in the background as Black Sabbath performed during their headlining set. The result was that many in the audience and on the Internet were angered by the allusion, and a relatively quick decision was made to pull this portion of the video for the remainder of the tour.

Whether reading OTEP’s opinions ultimately becomes a source of agreement or contention, it shouldn’t diminish the risk any musician takes when they use their work as a forum for political or social expression. In cases like this, proper respect should always be given for any individual willing to risk potential ticket or disc sales in order to publicaly state what they believe regardless of the popularity of the position being taken. Face it, anyone can avoid an issue or ride the fence or remain apolitical, but true heroism makes itself evident even in the face of ever-present political or economic ramifications--should this standard serve as the litmus test for true patriotism, then OTEP has consistently succeeded in displaying themselves as proud, responsible Americans.

KNAC.COM: Specifically, why has your band been so extremely active in the Rock The Vote movement?
OTEP: I think it’s important to celebrate our democracy—especially now--with what happened on September 11th and with our current…resident in the White House. I think that our civil liberties are in danger and that the men and women in our military have been put in danger for no real reason.

KNAC.COM: What about Halliburton? There’s a good reason.
OTEP: Yeah, our troops are over seas just so somebody can go and put a check in the win column. I don’t expect people to just follow us or our point of view, but they should at least be informed and vote. People just need to realize how lucky we are that we have this opportunity as Americans.

KNAC.COM: Isn’t it your right as artists to express your opinions?
EVIL J: Yeah, art has always been a place of freedom of speech. It gives you the freedom to expose what your beliefs are and what you feel strongly about. You’re not always supposed to agree with what someone says, but what they create should make people think. That’s always what we try to do—get people to think. You don’t have to agree with us, but at least think about it and think about reasons why you don’t.

OTEP: Everybody makes a statement from the cars you drive to the people you date, your hairstyle, music or even your t-shirt makes a statement. Why not make a statement about something that’s important. Our song “Warhead” is something I was compelled to write. It wasn’t something that was fanciful. It was just something that I was provoked to do. That is art’s mission. It is supposed to provoke you into an emotion or an idea or an action. That is what we try to do. That goes for every song we write.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that provoking an audience is as important as an artist’s personal catharsis? Or do you think that if the catharsis is genuine that it will automatically provoke the audience?
OTEP: I think if it’s real, then yeah, it will. I think that many times you can tell when it’s not real for an artist just by how they interact with the audience. If they have to keep prodding or poking the fans to raise their hands and scream or do this or do that whereas this is just something that I need to do. I’m lucky that this is also something that I want to do. I just need to do this emotionally, spiritually, physically—I need it. I think that as long as it’s real, you will get a reaction out of people regardless.

KNAC.COM: One time in an interview you said that the perfect moment for you onstage hadn’t occurred yet. Is the perfect moment even possible? If it ever did happen, would a musician even want to continue playing?
OTEP: It may not, but that’s the treasure, it’s what you keep diggin’ for and searchin’ for—I haven’t had that moment on tour yet that I thought I would. I haven’t had that moment on stage yet, but I’m getting close. There are moments during a concert where I don’t see anything but liquid fire. It feels like I’m at one with something beyond myself. Hopefully, I’ll never reach that point though because it’s the journey that’s important.

KNAC.COM: Would it be too much of a stretch to say that it would be a spiritual type fulfillment for you?
OTEP: It’s quite possible that it would be, and the San Bernardino show that we just did was pretty close. I’m just hoping that my creative hunger will raise the bar again and allow me to try to discover so much more.

EVIL J: We always have goals that are in some ways unattainable, but then we also have goals that are somewhat attainable. She and I have had moments where it feels euphoric, but that ideal moment might not even be something we were aware of at the time. It might be presumptuous of me to even assume that I would know once I’d hit it. For me, it just drives me on the stage to hit a certain level of performance. It isn’t about just having people look at me, it’s about playing sounds that make me excited.

KNAC.COM: So basically, it’s just a matter of achieving the proper balance between reality and the ideal that makes for the proper environment for making music?
EVIL J: Yeah, I think one of the ways to achieve enlightenment is when you can separate yourself from the technical aspects such as whether or not your gear is gonna be working and you can just concentrate on a good performance. At that point, you just allow yourself to succumb to the muse and allow yourself just to kinda go with it.

KNAC.COM: Why does this band attempt to aim for some type of cerebral fulfillment to go along with the music whereas many other bands are content to just pound out whatever suits them at the time?
OTEP: I just always wanted to create something that was as creative and violent as my hungers were. That’s what I think we have attempted to do.

EVIL J: It’s very organic music.

OTEP: There’s a very primitive part of me that needs the violence of what we do, but also the psuedo religious facet of it as well.

KNAC.COM: In a daily survival type mode, how important is your personal expression?
OTEP: It’s all there is, man.

KNAC.COM: If you didn’t have this forum, how would it affect your life?
OTEP: I don’t know. There is no way to separate it from who we are. What you see on stage is exactly what we are. Being an artist is my salvation. If it wasn’t for this, I’d probably be hurting myself or hurting all of you. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: When the group is out signing for fans and they interact with you, what is the proper attitude for a band to have? Do you try not to think about it, or do you have to just embrace it?
OTEP: You have to—I’m overwhelmed and humbled by it. There’s the community that’s like, “your music is so important to me” and then there’s also the community that’s like all about the brutality of it. We’re also getting a lot of military personnel who are coming out and thanking us for speaking out and supporting them. Some have even said at the last couple of venues that they were going to be shipping out in the next month. That’s heavy because this could be some of the last times anyone is to see them around at all. When I hear that, it’s just validation that we’re doing this for all the right reasons, and that even as serious and pious as we take this that is what matters and that everything else is just an illusion.

KNAC.COM: How do you feel about certain artists such as Linda Ronstadt being villified due to their political beliefs and their willingness to use their celebrity to express themselves?
OTEP: It’s frustrating and infuriating to see people react like that when it’s our right and duty to dissent—especially during war times. Who says that you aren’t supposed to challenge a President during war times? That’s bullshit. That’s when you should be opposing him and double-checking. Especially when we have some asshole in office who when given a chance to fight for his country during Vietnam used his parents’ privilege and their name to get out of it and hide in Texas. There are a lot of things I don’t respect, but I especially don’t respect people who act without experience. Add Dick Cheney too—that guy got five deferments from Vietnam. He just says, “I had better things to do.” Better things? What about now? What about these guys? You’re sending them to fight, and for what? There are no weapons of mass destruction. There is no reason.

KNAC.COM: There are billions of dollars worth of reasons.
OTEP: Well, it’s totally about that, but then you have a guy like John Kerry who came from privilege, but actually volunteered to serve his country. He didn’t even have to get drafted—he volunteered. With Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 911, I think the balance is there. I’ve seen it, and it’s fantastic. It’s important to balance the equilibrium of the nation when you have guys like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News Channel spewing all this propaganda. The whole attitude is that “don’t bother thinking—we’ll think for you.”

KNAC.COM: You mean Bill O’Reilly and his “no spin zone”—there’s a misnomer. How much does it bother you that there is still a significant portion of the population-- who in the face of a nation crisis that even dwarfs Watergate in its severity--chooses to sit back, not think, cover their head with the flag and wait for George to lead us out of the darkness?
OTEP: I think that’s the big issue. One of the things people were questioning before we went out on Ozzfest was how accepting people were going to be of our “Warhead” video and our anti-Bush message. The response has been overwhelming positive. I think people are seeing a huge shift in support. That is especially true of the people who matter the most--the people that are eligible for the draft, and they will reinstate the draft next year. They have to—membership in the military is down and in order for us to safely spread out and protect the homeland, there is no way that can happen unless they reinstate the draft. They will do it really smoothly too—they’ll just say, “we only need 10,000 more troops”, but when they reach that, then they’ll say that they need 15,000 more. It is frustrating, and it is infuriating, but it isn’t anything new. How else would a country based on freedom and “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal” engage in 400 years of slavery. It’s taken us 228 years to reach this plateau, but how can we try to push our morality on the world when it has just been recently that women have been given the right to vote? We had to be covered up—that sounds familiar. We couldn’t even be heard in public. We couldn’t speak out against a man. Even today, the most sexist, segregated place in this country is at church on a Sunday morning. You still have women who aren’t allowed to be ministers.

KNAC.COM: Of course Dubya gets a large percentage of his support from the church.
OTEP: That’s because the right wing has always preyed on the lowest common denominator which is fear and terror. People have always been spoon-fed, and they’ve always blindly followed leaders. That just means it’s up to that one movement to continue to push and push and fight back against the overwhelming swell of propaganda.

KNAC.COM: In the DVD, you discuss pretending to be sick so that you wouldn’t have to go to church. Can you describe the feeling you had when you were seated in a pew those mornings?
OTEP: I felt like I was swimming in a sea of hypocrisy.

KNAC.COM: And you were forced to go by family?
OTEP: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: Did they go?
OTEP: For a while…and then it stopped for whatever reason people stop going to church.

EVIL J: My parents still go, and my mother plays organ in her church. For me, it was like when I went to college people asked me if I was still going to mass. I was like, “no”. It’s like this whole organized religion thing that is such a blind follow. There’s no questioning. We should always modernize things and question things—for some of this though, there is no modern translation. We’re still talking about things like “let he who is without guilt, cast the first stone.” Things just aren’t necessarily that simple anymore. I was an altar boy, and I went through all those phases because that’s what my parents thought I needed. It was the traditional sense of lifestyle. It was like if you go through these steps, you’ll grow up to be a great person. Well, we still have priests who are leaders in the religious world doing things to young boys that are unthinkable and absolutely horrific. Why do they still think they are so superior or so much above everybody else? Since I’ve been away, I look at different religions and I take from each one what I think is the most important to apply to my lifestyle.

OTEP: Growing up in a Christian house where everything is about oppression and living in fear of a God who loves you doesn’t make any sense. I don’t think that type of thing is going to change either. People have always kind of done that type of thing.

EVIL J: It seems like they need it.

OTEP: It’s like a corporation. It’s like the tobacco industry—it needs its addicts.

EVIL J: The Vatican, to me, always seemed like a kind of business. It was the main office of a corporation. The Vatican could keep control of an entire country because the king had to answer to God. Who was God? The Vatican. Its tumbled down from there ever since.

OTEP: In fairness to our country, at least there is some semblance of a separation between church and state.

KNAC.COM: But when you have a president who is garnering support directly from the church due to his stance on abortion and fictionally religious image, how can there truly be a separation?
OTEP: In all fairness though, the money we print says, “In God We Trust” on it.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, and church does equal establishment. It’s where the money is and the people who belong to them typically vote.
OTEP: Yeah, but then you’re only taking into account White Anglo Saxon Protestants. You’re not really considering the minorities.

KNAC.COM: Who represents us though?
OTEP: Sure, but Afro-Americans do vote.

KNAC.COM: Not in Florida.
OTEP: Oh yeah—Florida is fucked, but that’s because Jeb Bush is the Governor.

KNAC.COM: Which of course puts us in the tenuous position of telling other people how to establish democracy when we can’t even hold a corruption free election ourselves.
EVIL J: Yeah, we’re gonna tell you how to run your country because ours is a symbol of perfection.

OTEP: One thing I think we might see in this election is a huge military vote against the Bush administration. I think that would set a precedent not only for this administration but for future administrations that you need to take care of those people that you’re putting in harms way.

KNAC.COM: I would imagine someone fighting in an obviously worthwhile war such as WWII could feel as though they were putting themselves in jeopardy for a purpose. How can someone currently stationed in Iraq consider that the position they are being placed in worthwhile? Is Dick Cheney’s band account an appropriate reason to put peoples’ lives in jeopardy?
OTEP: Sure, or Condoleezza Rice who has an oil tanker named after her. This is why I reiterate at every show that we do support the soldiers and our armed forces and we hope they do whatever they can to come home safely. Come back to your families, and hopefully after November you won’t be bothered by this guy anymore.

(Photos by Sefany Jones/ KNAC.COM)

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