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Otep Shamaya hones her survival insincts

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Doom with a view: Shamaya's band opts for the timeless Mad Max look. - PAUL BROWN
  • Paul Brown
  • Doom with a view: Shamaya's band opts for the timeless Mad Max look.

Anyone who has followed the band Otep knows the extreme metal band's frontwoman is no shrinking violet. Otep Shamaya is smart, informed, opinionated and plenty outgoing. She's also the main songwriter in a group whose string of personnel changes have left her as the sole original member.

But despite appearances, Shamaya insists she's not a control freak, pointing to her unlikely collaboration with producer Howard Benson on Generation Doom. She recounts her initial visit to the studio of the Grammy-winning producer whose clients have included Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry and Rascal Flatts.

"We get into the control room," she recalls, "And he says 'Enough of the particulars. You've seen how we do things here. You understand how we do it, and what we're going to do. You've seen the bands that I've worked with. Are you willing to change what you say, and how you say it, if you work with me?' My stomach kind of dropped and I was just like 'No, I'm not.' And he's like 'Great, let's do the record.'"

The pairing proved so successful, in fact, that Shamaya ended up taking Benson's advice when he suggested she totally rewrite a verse in the song "Down." "I'd never had anybody challenge me like that before," Shamaya says. "He could have let it go, like any other [producer] would do. But he didn't."

The album's other primary influence was Ari Mihalopoulos, Otep's guitarist since 2011. Fans of the band's previous six albums will take comfort in fierce rockers like "Zero" and "God Is a Gun," which are driven by Shamaya's feral screams, roiling guitars and relentless beats. But there's also "Equal Rights, Equal Lefts" — a call to action for gay rights inspired by an encounter with a homophobic man who took issue with Shamaya being gay — which incorporates hip-hop rhythms and electronic-laced sonics, while "Lords of War" sprinkles Middle Eastern textures into the mix.

Visually, Otep's current look draws upon Mad Max, a film she sees as a reflection of where we're headed as "a global community where water becomes the rarest commodity on the planet. Brazil's been hit really hard and they're having water riots, actually. Then you look at what's happening in Flint, Michigan, all of those things are building up."

Shamaya's current headspace is a radical departure from when she announced a few years ago that she was retiring from music.

"It didn't have the same magic for me that it had before," she explains. "I had been doing it for a long time, a decade, and I didn't want to waste anyone's time. I didn't want to fake it. And I was tired of the music industry executives who were sitting there in their big comfortable lounges, and were trying to tell me what my message should be and what my fans mean to me, and what genre we're supposed to be in."

But after establishing a career doing voice-overs, an emotional upheaval drove her back into the studio. "I had gone through a really devastating breakup," she recalls, "losing my best friend and my partner and my lover and my confidant — all in one person."

For Shamaya, the only way out was through her music. "I just began putting those feelings onto paper, I started to hear melodies, and then those melodies became songs," she says. "And then I knew the spirit of music had returned to me."

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