Otep Shamaya – OTEP Interview October 2007

Mike: How’re you doing’?
Otep: I am doing very well. How are you?

I am doing alright. Where are you sitting right now?
Sitting’ in Los Angeles, California.

Nice! I betcha it’s warmer than Canada.
Ah, yes a little bit. Just a little bit.

I got a press release through your label (KOCH Records) saying that you have an interesting new partnership that is going to change the way records are promoted. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sure. The way that the record companies have been doing their business here, it fails. The way they approach music, and have not kept up the technology and all of that, has hurt the audience, hurt the listeners, hurt everyone. And profits are down again. Now there’s this new business model coming out and it’s a true partnership between artists and labels have a vested interest in seeing that the album itself is promoted and is a success. So it’s actually one of those artist-friendly advancements that I’ve known about. I’m really excited to be a part of it. KOCH is a great record company, from my point of view. It’s nice working with people that are not afraid of technology, and not afraid of creative trends, and embrace it and know how to sell records. That is really great.

I’m not really familiar with the old business model – but I’ve certainly heard enough grumblings about, you know, bands aren’t making their money. It seems like there’s a lot of mis –
The old business model was pretty anemic. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Usually bands were only paid for eleven songs on an album no matter how many songs they wrote. I think people started noticing a trend of bands only putting out eleven songs on records. They [the bands] felt they were only being paid for eleven, so why do more? And now with this new business model, it’s revenue sharing, and all aspects of it from merch and tour, record sales, and being paid for every song on your album. If you were a company going into business with another business, you would be treated fairly,
versus someone that is basically taking your music. On the old business model, they own the masters – and even on the new model they pretty much own the masters – and if the record company didn’t do their job and they let you go, and they sold the masters, regardless of how well they promote it, you can go out and tour forever and not have full support or any sort of promotion and have a great record without having a label that really cares. So I think now with the way the trend is going you’re going to start to see a lot more labels that invest in bands that they truly believe in and they truly care about and see them take a larger role in promoting the bands and having the bands themselves reap the benefits of this new partnership.

Do you think that’s commonplace for a band? They put their heart and soul into their music, they cut an album, they get the production and the mixing and everything all done, and to be feeling like you are cast adrift by your label, is that commonplace in the industry, do you think?
Oh, absolutely, yes. I don’t know if we are going set a trend or not in the music business. I’m not really sure. I think it’s more common that bands get sucked up by a label (majors primarily) and are just lost in the mix over there and if they don’t fit in with a certain business model where it’s “Oh these guys sound like this band, lets just promote them like this band” and if it doesn’t work then that’s the end of the show.  And I think that’s what is killing music and also making bands perform very sort of narcissistic, and it has to be about them and the celebrity and what they can get out of the label as quick as possible. And they all suffer and the art just starts to suffer. It’s rare that I find any contemporary band that I can even get my mind around because it just seems like they’re doing the lowest common denominator of what sells. It’s a shock to me. Not in the sense that it is vulgar or obscene, it’s just base, primitive sort of “let’s just put out something that’s a copy of a copy of a copy of copy.”

Right. I’ve heard people say that’s the way music has been going for years and years and years. I don’t necessarily feel that way. I’m still pretty excited by a lot of bands that are putting material out.
I’m glad someone is. I haven’t felt that way in a while, not since I heard Nirvana, Radiohead, and bands like that. I actually thought people were trying to put out important music, you know. I’m an American so I’m, I don’t know, bias, and I like to hear good music coming from Americans and it seems all the American labels are focused on English singer-songwriters. There’s some really great music coming out of that but I think that tends to show something. They’ve neglected the music scene here. They have to go overseas to get something until that well runs dry and then they’re going to come back here…I don’t know. I just wish, I dunno, maybe you can turn me on to some of your favourite bands.

[laughs] Sure!
I don’t know.  I’m very proud of my album. I’m very proud of this record we’ve created. I think it defies genre limits and genre boundaries. We weren’t sure we were ever going to make another record after the second one, just because of the nature of the music industry. Not that we are now that we’re with this new label but, at the time we weren’t sure, so I sat everyone down and said “We’re going write a record we can be proud of. And I don’t want to pander to the fad and the local sonic fashion of what’s happening right now. I want to make a record that we believe in, that we are emotionally connected to and that matters to us. And when we look back on this record years later, we’re proud of it and go ‘wow look at the record we made’ and not ‘look at us, we really sold out on that.’”

And you’re not really a band that has relied on radio play.
No not really. I think genuinely, we’ve had songs that would have made good radio singles. But we never set out to like “oh, we need three singles on this record.” We don’t do that. We sit down, we just write. We start a song with either a lyric idea or a message idea or even a riff idea and the song builds around it. And every song is recorded. Not just the songs we feel are going to be radio-quality, or single-quality or mass-appeal or whatever. Every song matters, otherwise, why do it? I don’t want to waste my time, I don’t want to waste the listeners time. I want every song to matter. In a book, every chapter matters in the whole story and that’s how I feel about songs: every song matters to the whole story of the album.

When you get your band together and you’re recording, how much material will fall off the album per se? Do you write way more material than is going fit onto the disk?
Not normally, no. We’ll start out and have maybe 20, 25 partial ideas and somehow they usually end up fitting to another song. So one riff will be “oh, that would sound great, remember that one riff we wrote a while back, maybe this is a bridge riff,” or “maybe this will be a great chorus,” or whatever. And some songs just write themselves as we go. The first time I think we ever wrote anything, when we were so inspired that we were able to write a lot of different songs (at least I was) and there were a variety of people and we were actually using them. And that’s why I wanted two exclusive tracks that were going to sell the record, so we gave them two songs that were in the recording session but weren’t necessarily going make the initial release of the record. And I’m so glad that they did now because I love those songs just as much as I love the other ones. The same thing with iTunes, they wanted an exclusive track so I gave them this spoken word song that I wrote and was really proud of but didn’t know what to do with it, and when they asked for it I thought it fit perfectly and the label did too. It was nice to be able to use these songs for the first time. Not just having them sitting in the backburner somewhere.

In Britain, a band will release a single and it’s almost like a free reign to drop two or three bonus songs that they’ve either recorded or done cover versions of. I don’t really see a lot of that in North America. It seems to be a really big thing to do in the UK.
Yeah, ‘cause normally they want something different from what has already been released. Especially now with the internet and how people can communicate and share songs so much, they usually want something special from them, they usually call it a b-side. That’s one of things I love about this new label that we’re all in. KOCH is so forward thinking, it’s so great and they were able to convince me that this was a good idea. Also, in the future, we’ll be able to do one record just for the UK and one just for Canada. I love that idea.

If you were to look at other bands that are trying different techniques online right now, and I don’t want to go to Radiohead, but other bands of your ilk –
My ilk?

Yeah, your style of metal – I look at Ozzfest, and everyone jumped on for free and they all toured the hell out of it. And from what I hear it was a success and the bands talked very favorably about it. Is there a marketing model that you are seeing from somebody else that you’re liking?
Well, we’ve always been a bit ahead of the curve. And now that internet technologies are catching up to some of the innovative things that I always try to do with our fans, trying to stay in touch with them. What I’ve tended to notice more than anything, people sort of modeling their marketing ideas and promotional ideas after us. And that’s ok. I assume that it’s nice to be inspiring people but it’s a little infuriating when they claim the idea is there own.

How much do you guys rely on sales at your shows – merchandise and selling CDs. Does that money go more directly into your pocket if you sell it at a show?
Not normally because of the way that the American economy is right now under the Bush regime, gas prices are ridiculous here plus labels are hurting so there’s not a lot of tour support and it costs money to tour. So a lot of that money goes back to finance the tour. I’m sure there are some bands that are doing really really well, some of the pop artists, and all that merchandising goes right into their pocket. But for bands that are like us, you know, working-class bands, we’re still financing most of everything ourselves and it goes right back into the pot.

That’s fair. I was at a gig last night, and I had never heard the term “blackened stage” before, but I guess you have to close your stage off for and hour and let the staff eat or you pay a penalty. Have you heard of that before?
I have not.

I don’t know if it’s just a Canadian thing, but everybody just had to chillax between 5 and 6 o’clock.
I’ve never heard that before.

Just an aside. I have not gotten the new disk yet. It was supposed to be rushed to me from KOCH but I have not gotten it yet. So I’m a little dry as far as asking you questions about the material on it. What I’ve heard online sounds good. A pal of mine has been into you since you started. He came to the Hottest Chicks in Metal tour and he got in with me and said “I don’t understand why Otep isn’t on this bill.” And I kinda chuckled and put you in the back of my head as a band to check out if you’re fitting in with all of those bands then I will probably dig you a lot.
For me, being included in the Hot Chicks of Metal, I’m sure it’s flattering, I mean, if I was included it would have flattering, but at the same time, I’m a bit of a feminist, I’d rather not be considered for my biology, I’d rather be looked upon for the quality of my work. And that’s real and that’s truth. I slave tirelessly for my art, lovingly for my art. I love it. I love to write music, I love to write lyrics, I love write
poems, I love to paint, and this is my life and I’d rather be judged based on that. That’s something I can control: how much effort I put into my art versus my looks which really have nothing to do with me and are pretty much determined by your genetics. I can either thank or blame my parents for that, depending on the day. For art itself, that pretty much relies upon myself and how hard I work at it, so I’d rather be considered for Best Writers in Metal tour, you know.

They (Revolver) do the best guitarists and they’ll pick genres that are mostly governed by the industry, I’m not a big fan of trying to categorize music, I just go because I like live music. I notice you have no Canadian dates on your current roster of dates. Is anything coming?
Yes, they’re talking about getting us into Toronto maybe in December. But early next year we’re looking on doing a full-on Canadian tour.

Nice! I’ll be sure to check you out. I’m liking what I’m hearing from the new CD so far. I have one last question. Based on what I’m seeing here on where you’re taking your band here with your third album and how it’s being marketed, what do you feel the next two or three years is going to yield for the music industry as far as delivery of music, profitability and even just the future bands?
Well, Madonna just signed this huge partnership deal too (much larger than mine of course.) But I think that’s where it’s headed. And I think that’s very empowering for the artist. I think in some respects people might shy away because they feel, “well, you know the label gets more percentages of this, that and the other.” But it’s also more money for the bands. And I hope that’s the case. Beyond the living/financial part of what I hope it does, because people will have less to worry about financially, they can get back to writing good music. From what I’ve seen, this era is very similar to what I have seen on VH1, that the glam days of rock music, I see many parallels to where we are now with popular rock music. I’d like to see those dissipate into what I felt was a remarkable turn in music which came right after that with bands like Sound Garden and Nirvana and those types of bands. It would be nice to see another explosion of very talented, very dangerous, very artistically method-driven bands that are out to offer their music first and foremost and image and notoriety second. If we can inspire anything,
I hope that’s what comes from all of this.

Do you find you can be creative while you’re on the road touring? Or do you just focus on touring and that’s it?

I actually write quite a bit. I find all the travelling to be quite tedious and boring. Performing is remarkable, it’s spiritual intercourse, it’s beyond any sort of emotional stimulus I can receive in day to day lives. It’s really quite remarkable. But the other 23 hours of the day are lame on tour. I’m not a big partier, I don’t do those types of things and I’m kind of a free spirit so I don’t like being confined which is part of being on tour, so I look at it like I’m in boarding school or something. I’m away from home and in the back to write. That’s what I do, I end up writing and recording a lot. I have a little laptop in the back and use Garageband on my Macintosh and try to record as many true production ideas as I can. Plus, being in a creative environment every day of the week for months on end, doesn’t really
allow you to step away from it, like in regular daily life where you can be at home, you can be comfortable, you can go to the movies or go to the beach here in Los Angeles or whatever. When you’re on tour, you’re playing every night. You’re forced to be in that creative world every night. In a sense it’s a sort of supernatural transformation for me creatively, or intellectually. So I create quite a bit on the road. I wrote probably three or four songs maybe more of the new record, just the beginnings of them on the back of the bus on tour. That’s why the idea to cover Nirvana’s “Breed” came from was on tour when I was listening to it 60, 70 times a day before going onstage. Drove the band crazy! But we decided it was a meaningful song for me and that we should give it a shot. And it turned out to be one of, I think, our really amazing concepts.

Well, I’m good. I’ve got tons here. We talked for a while now. You like to chat, which is awesome.
Thanks so much for the interview I really appreciate it.

I hope I didn’t hit you with too many stiff questions.
I hope I answered them ok. Sometimes when people ask me about this new deal, it gets a little strange because I don’t know necessarily all the particulars and details, I know generalizations. But that’s more for managers and lawyers and everything. I know it’s a good deal for artists, and that’s the difference.

For sure. It’s interesting to me. I heard when Korn signed with their label, they signed this merchandising deal where a bunch of the merch that they sold would go back to the label and I keep hearing from different pockets, different genres of music this stuff is happening.
Labels like Roadrunner. I’ve heard they’ve always done that. They sign a band and they take 50% of your mech. And they always did that. Whereas other labels never did and the merchandise went directly to the band but they were losing a bunch of money. So what I think the new model is “We’re going to do revenue sharing, and tour profits, merch profits. But, we’re going to increase your percentage of what you make per record, per song. We’re going to pay you for every song on your record. And we have now a vested interest in your merchandise, to get it out there. Potentially we’ll make more money with us helping you promote the rock business, than we would otherwise.” Plus I think a lot of labels, such as the majors, would get bands more money upfront than they would necessarily get and that all is recoupable so that goes against when they’ve made that much money towards what you got, or what you received, then you start making money. It’s a good deal all the way around. Some people get a little nervous when they hear revenue sharing, merchandise. Otherwise, that’s just the new business model people are going in and you’re going to make more money as a band but you’re going to have to know you are sharing some of your profits with your label. That’s just where we are. You can blame everyone, technology, blame the labels for being fossils, blame the fans for pirating music. Fans don’t pirate Kanye West – he goes out and he sells a million records his first week, so what is every label scrambling to do? Find a metal band that maybe sold 5 thousand records it’s first week, because people are pirating the music? Or do they go find another Kanye West who sold a million records his first week. They’re going to go for Kanye West for a business deal. If fans stopped stealing music, even though I know they think they are sticking it to the man, and really supported the artists. And labels saw that these artists make money and they’re viable in the community then we might see a fling in labels and where their focus and with what type of music. If fans were burning and pirating Metallica, or Guns n’ Roses or Nirvana or any of the hair bands back in the day, Motley Crue and those cats, those bands wouldn’t have the status they have today either. It’s the truth. In the hip hop world, people used to bootleg their stuff and they go out to the street of New York and find these people bootlegging their stuff and they’d beat them to death. But rock people are like “Stick it to the label!” but it’s silly, you’re stickin’ it to yourself, because there’s no money. It’s a terrible situation to be in. Things are beginning to change a little bit, people aren’t as supportive of burning albums as they used to be. Thanks very much for the interview, I really appreciate it, and take care.


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