Otep Shamaya had never been shy about expressing her opinions in songs she wrote for Otep over the course of her Los Angeles band’s previous seven albums.
In 2016’s Generation Doom, for instance, she tackled climate change, ISIS and, on the song “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts,” homophobia. Shamaya delivered a sharp rebuke to a man who took issue with her being gay, summing up the encounter with “He called me a dyke. I called him an ambulance.”
But Shamaya, in a mid-July phone interview conducted between stops on the band’s Fire and Fury summer tour, said that even her bandmates in Otep were a bit taken aback by the lyrics for the group’s new album, Kult 45.
“The guys told me, they’re used to me not pulling punches, but they didn’t expect such a body blow on this one,” she said. “I was pretty happy to hear that.”
This time, her target, for the most part, is President Donald J. Trump, whom she sarcastically refers to as “Resident Chump.”
The lyrics on Kult 45 pull no punches. And during this hour-long interview, Shamaya pretty much unloaded on Trump and his supporters on an array of topics, from separating immigrant children from their parents to the less-than-savory accounts of Trump’s alleged affairs and behavior toward women — acts that she feels have rendered America considerably less great than it was when Barack Obama occupied the Oval Office.
For instance, the song “Molotov” takes on hate groups that Shamaya feels have been emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric. “Shelter in Place” (“Hey, hey NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”) was inspired in part by the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Shamaya, herself a gun owner, doesn’t support banning all types of guns, but said she’s frustrated by the lack of virtually any legislation to reduce gun violence.
“It shows you that these people love their guns more than they love other peoples’ children,” she said.
So yes, Kult 45 is sharply critical of Trump, but Shamaya said it’s also her commentary on people that still support the president and his policies.
“All they’re filled with is whatever they’re told to think and told to say by their great leader. So they [Trump supporters] operate exactly like a cult,” she said. “And that’s what I think ‘Chump’ has always wanted. I think he spent 70 years waiting to be cruel. I think he spent 70 years waiting to be worshipped.”
In addition, Shamaya said, Kult 45 is directed toward what she sees as a growing majority of Americans who want to make sure that Trump becomes a one-term (or less) president.
“I guess when I was writing this record, I just wanted to make sure that people who live in red states and people who live in blue states, but primarily people that were against Trump, had a soundtrack for that and also knew that they weren’t alone in the feelings they were feeling,” she said.
Shamaya knew going into the album that she was going to court controversy and likely offend Trump’s supporters. It’s a key reason why, after using outside producers on all seven previous albums that Otep has released over an 18-year career, she and guitarist Ari Mihalopoulos co-produced Kult 45. Shamaya didn’t want any outside people in the studio who could push the group (which also includes drummer Justin Kier and bassist Andrew Barnes) to question or tone down any of the songs.
“It was just me and the musicians. That was really something that enabled us, I feel like, to not be shy and not have another voice in the room that doesn’t go on the road with us six months out of the year, that doesn’t understand what we see when we see our audiences and their expressions and what we see in their eyes and what we hear from their voices,” she explained. “It really, I think, brought us closer to the core of who we are than any other album except for maybe the first one.”
The music on Kult 45 is nothing if not forceful, and draws from an array of influences. Songs like “Shelter In Place,” “Halt Right” and “Boss” bring together rap and metal, while “Molotov” and “Said the Snake” lean more toward hardcore, with roiling guitars and blasting drums.
“We just don’t really fit into a single genre,” Shamaya said. “We pull from hardcore. We pull from metal. We pull from punk. We pull from grunge. We pull from rap. We pull from spoken word. Whatever inspires us is what we write. And that was one of the rules when we wrote this record, was just let the music lead you.”
Fans can expect to hear three or four new songs in Otep’s headlining sets this summer.
“We just kind of pick and choose, every tour, which songs we know the audiences really respond to, which songs are really fun to play live, and we have seven other albums to pick from,” Shamaya said. “This time, we brought back some songs we haven’t played in a few years. It’s a really powerful set, for sure, and geared around the album as well.”
Otep performs on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 8 p.m. at the Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 805-653-0721 or visit www.venturatheater.net.