singer Otep Shamaya says she never thought highly of bullies (so you can imagine what she thinks of President Trump).
“To me, that’s the root of all my activism,” she says in a recent phone interview from an Atlanta tour stop. The band brings its Resistance World Tour to the Agora Ballroom
on Saturday. “I was the wrong mark for bullies to choose. [Bullying] made me want to stick up for my brothers and friends. As I got older, I understood that there are other things to fight for and for creatures who have no voice, like animals. To me, that’s the last bastion of pure unfiltered bullying.”
She says a sense of activism permeated her writing from the very first time she picked up a pencil.
“I was always fighting for the underdog,” she says. “I grew up pretty poor, but my mother was an archaeological scholar. She wanted to be a field worker and researcher. We were surrounded by books and literature, and we happened to go to school with other kids who were more affluent but not nearly as well read or well behaved. Yet, they had nicer things than us and thought they were better than us, but it doesn’t make you any better than anyone else.”
Shamaya describes herself as diehard working class and says that “what happens in our country filters through me as an artist.” When the band first formed in 2000, she took aim at George W. Bush when he was in office. Now, she's now directed her attention to Trump.
“Here we are now almost 140 days in on Trump, and I would take George W. Bush back, and I hated that guy, and I’m a liberal,” she says.
For the current jaunt, dubbed the Resistance World Tour, the band will focus on “social activism, equality and political awareness.” The group has even curated a special set for the show that will feature songs that relate to the current political climate.
Produced by Howard Benson (Papa Roach, Flyleaf), the band’s latest album, Generation Doom
, features a compelling mix of hip-hop, metal and spoken word — its songs clearly advocate fighting the powers that be. Album opener “Zero” features parched vocals and pounding drums as Shamaya screams, “I don’t give a fuck.”
“I had gone through a pretty gnarly break up, and some of that filtered into the writing,” she says when asked about the themes on the album. “There was a poem I was writing and that’s my process whether I feel joy or anger or pain. I like to put it on the page. The chorus to ‘In Cold Blood,’ ‘Something's wrong with me/For thinking something's right with you,’ was a direct line from a poem. Police shootings of unarmed black kids and that racial profiling that still goes on today inspired other songs.”
And then, there’s Trump, whom she calls Cheetos Hitler.
“Through the Trump candidacy, we were seeing this rise of hate speech,” she says. “The thing that makes me so angry is that he doesn’t have to be held accountable for one goddamn thing he says. Everything he says is a lie. It normalizes a level of idiocy that we haven’t seen. George W. Bush is doing a dance in the shower, saying, ‘I’m not the dumbest president.’ [Trump] had all these things. He was going to defeat Isis in 30 days. He hasn’t done that. In fact, he’s polarized us in the region. These aren’t things I want to write about. Artists need to reflect their times, as Nina Simone once said. That’s what I do.”
Benson helps the band achieve is most sonically satisfying release to date. The band’s cover of Lorde’s “Royals” turns the pop tune into a hard rocking anthem with chugging guitars and call-and-response vocals.
“I was listening to the radio and a Hendrix song came on that was a cover of the Dylan song,” she says. “They were contemporaries. That’s cool. You don’t see that a lot. I thought there was this song I like by artist Lorde. It’s a celebration of the working class. She was 15 when she wrote it. It’s this brilliant insight from this 15-year-old about being proud of yourself no matter where you come from. I wish I would have written it. We want to honor it. We played it for Howard [Benson], and he heard the big guitar opening and heard the vocals come in, and he said we did it. We play that song on this tour to remind people of the working class.”
Shamaya says she doesn’t have an agenda other than that she simply wants people to “pay attention” to what's been happening at the White House.
“Things don’t happen overnight,” she says. “They gradually happen. If you put a frog in boiling water, he jumps out. But if you put a frog in water and slowly heat it up, he’ll stay in it until he dies. That’s been in the back of my mind. People need to be reminded that they truly have the power.”
Otep, the Convalescence, One Day Waiting, 6 p.m. Saturday, June 17, Agora Ballroom, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $15 ADV, $18 DOS, agoracleveland.com.