Shadow Soldiers: Come Into the
An Interview with Evil J and Rob of OTEP
By Dominic Pierce-Toogood
It's official. Whether it's 10 at night or 9 in the morning,
OTEP's live set kicks ass. Followed loyally by their legion of fans (named the 'Shadow Soldiers') OTEP march onwards to certain fame and fortune, wielding
their own brand of nu-metal mayhem, a ground-breaking debut album, "Sevas
Tra," and a lead singer of whom Marilyn Manson said "That girl scares
New Jersey is in mid-heat wave and that's without OTEP adding their own kind of metal fuel to the fire. Amid the biting mosquitoes, the blazing sun and the screaming carnies selling their wares in the 'Village of the Damned,' we managed to catch up with the men of OTEP (Evil J, Moke and Rob) at Ozzfest 2002 to discuss government conspiracies, spoken word records and the wonders of a decent cup of joe!
Rough Edge: Excellent show, again!
Evil J: Thank you! Early is rough, but there are no excuses for slacking. We have to give everything we have. We played at 9:30 am the last show and I had to lie down for at least half an hour afterwards because I couldn't put together thoughts or anything. I was so mentally exhausted and physically drained, but I knew I did that so that every kid there could witness what this band is like and see it live, whether it's 10 at night or 9:30 in the morning. We don't want people thinking, "Oh, I only got to see them this one time and it was early and they're okay. You know, we take advantage of every opportunity we get to get on this stage and make sure these fans walk away knowing what this band is really about.
Rough Edge: You guys play on a rotating basis this year (at Ozzfest). It must be tough to get "pumped up" for a show at 9:30 in the morning.
Evil J: Most definitely and that's why I'm glad there's an invention called coffee. Starbucks coffee, right there! I'd had about four or five of those before I went on and that may be the reason why I am crashing so hard now! But, I was up at 6:00 AM today just so I could be awake for a significant amount of time because if I had just rolled out of bed and tried to go on stage and do what I do, halfway through the first song, I would have collapsed and wouldn't have been able to do anything. And these kids pay a lot of money to come to our show. Being at Ozzfest though, every penny is worth it because there are a million amazing bands on this tour. They're all going to play great too and that's the thing. The rotation keeps every band modest in a way and we all have to sacrifice and play that early slot. We all sympathize for every one of us. That's why it's a beautiful thing, when you're up there at 9:30 am and you see guys from other bands already awake, standing there watching you. Then you return that favor. It really is a family.
Rough Edge: So there's a lot of camaraderie on this tour?
Evil J: This tour is the most amazing experience I've ever had because everybody is like family and every band is already like almost kind of sad because we all know it's going to have to end at some point. You make relationships through this tour with other bands, they get to see what you're about, you get to see what they're about and when this finishes, you go back on the road together. We've played with Drowning Pool in Europe and that was a lot of fun. We've played a couple of shows in California with Flaw. That was our first intro and we're all so excited to be here hanging out in the summer on Ozzfest. That's just been the mutual feeling from the get go. I'm just so glad that what we do is respected by these people and I'm sure in return, they feel that same feeling and sensation that they like the respect we give them. And nobody has to do that; nobody has to love you or anything like that. But, this is all real. None of this is just pumping you up artificially just to be political. The Osbournes aren't political. They do what they want to do. You like it or you don't and that's the way the rest of the bands are. Everybody has loved it to death!
Rough Edge: How does this compare to last year, because last year some of the main stage bands didn't seem to get along. Like, Slipknot have publicly slagged off Linkin Park, Crazy Town got lots of bad press on that tour.
Evil J: We're actually good friends with Crazy Town and that's the other thing I learned in this industry. You don't have to like everyone's music, but that doesn't mean they're not great guys. The classic phrase we are all taught as children is true if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. If you don't like a band, there's no reason to slam them for it because there are a million other people that do like them. I wasn't personally a fan of Linkin Park's music, but here I was on the tour watching them and they were one of the best bands on the main stage. They put on a phenomenal performance and they turned me into a fan. Slipknot were great last year. All those bands were great. But the camaraderie that we have this year between bands and that love and respect was non-existent (last year). It was a lot more distant. Not a lot of bands hung out. We did two shows in a row in Massachusetts at the beginning of this tour and after that first night, the 'Lost Prophets' guys pulled out turntables and we had a discotheque rocking until about 5:00 AM.
Rob: It's called a rave now J .
Evil J: Oh it's a rave! I'm showing my age ...
Rough Edge: Let's talk about your CD for a minute, "Sevas Tra." I, personally, think it's incredible. It's the best CD I've heard in many, many years.
Evil J: Thank you. When we were writing the album each one of us dug so deep down inside ourselves and brought out what we wanted to create for ourselves and played and the chemistry just worked. Everyone played individually. Just playing from their hearts and their souls. It's like you put four people together and sometimes it doesn't work out, but with us the chemistry was all there and we just dug deep and we came out with this album that is deep, dark, aggressive and moody.
We all come from very different backgrounds of like jazz, fusion, funk, you know classical .whatever you name it, it's all there. We do have a lot of different styles. Music is a very personal thing. When kids go home and listen to music, they make it a part of them. They relate. "I've had a hard day at school, I'll come home and I'll put Blood Pigs on" or something like that. Every kid has a song like that that gets them through tough times and we've all had those. We're all fans still. It's a connection and OTEP brings out from the three of us a lot of our deepest emotions and because of her performance (Otep Shamaya's the lead singer) and where she comes from is so internal and so based upon experience and emotions that she's ever had in her whole life, so how could you not also be inspired by something like that. When you go into a frenzy and you want to just scream your lungs out and freak out, one of the best ways to do it is blast heavy, heavy music. This album was just the best way we found to express ourselves. The craziest thing about it was it wasn't a preconceived idea.
This all happened naturally. We had two months to write our record and we managed to more or less finish the majority of the material in a month or so, and had the remainder to fine tune and tweak things here and there. So many bands need so much time to develop their sound and this band hasn't even been together for two years yet. We're already doing what we're doing because we're in connection with ourselves. We know ourselves really, really well. We're getting to know each other a lot better as well that that's just going to make the second record that much better. This first one was really coming from the fact that we really knew ourselves personally, so we could get that out. Now that we're learning ourselves within the group and I know
Rob better, and I know Moke better and I know OTEP better and they know me better, they're going to start pulling things out of me that if I'm not doing it, they're going to say hey, I know this about you, I'm going to pull it out. That's just the way it's been going, so I fear for the world when the second record comes out!
Rough Edge: With your fusion of self professed love of the arts, visual arts as well as musical arts and obviously poetry, do you get the feeling that sometime in the future, we could see an OTEP concert as being an all round media experience. Do you want visuals being flashed up; do you want the audience to be reading poetry in your tour program?
Evil J: From the beginning, a lot of people would ask us while they (their agents) were shopping the band what are you going for and I said, "I would love to see a metal band be a performance art project." I really like the whole idea and concept. Visually, tell a tale. Our songs tell a story. Rob and I started talking about this and we went into the studio to record this record and we were both huge fans of records like "The Wall." You can't just play one song (from that album), you have to start it and you can't walk away until it's done.
Rough Edge: "Sevas Tra" is obviously not a concept album but can we see a "Tommy" from OTEP, or a "The Wall" album from OTEP in the future?
Rob: We could pull it off but we'd never pull it off as good as Pink Floyd did. If we come close to doing it,
if we write music and come close to it, or even if we can do half or a quarter of a good job as Pink Floyd did, we might do that. But we don't want to go in with a concept idea in our mind, like when we went to write this album, we had no idea what was going to come out. We just locked ourselves in a cell for two months and basically just kept playing and playing and playing and playing, then when we were done with that, we played some more.
Evil J: The only way I really see there being a possibility of a concept record is that we obviously have a lot more time now to start working on a second record. I'm sure we'll have more than two months so the only way I see something like that is if we were to do our second full length and then possibly, maybe do a another record a little bit longer than an EP. But as we start writing the material, we might start seeing songs that have a lineage and a common denominator that are joined together, so there's no reason why not to put out a great full length, but at the same point offer some diversity with an EP too. We all have a lot of other stuff in our blood and in our backgrounds that to not experiment with other things would be crazy Otep and I have been talking about doing a spoken word record for a while now. That's something that all four of us could easily pull off and go completely in an opposite realm, where Moke might not even sit behind the drum kit. He'll just sit there and play everything we'll get cans, anything. When we did "Germ" on the EP, ("Jihad"), he's sitting in the room with a napkin dispenser, an aluminum ladder, a plastic tree, a sneaker, a toaster and these are things that he's playing in songs and unless you try it, you never know whether it's going to work or not. But the other catch is having the ability to know when it doesn't work.
Rough Edge: Look at Jim Morrison and what he tried to do, though. It can turnaround and bite you can't it? (A spoken word record). You're a hard rock band, and then you suddenly a do a spoken word record. Don't you run the gauntlet of undoing all the hard work you've done so far?
Evil J: I want people to know there's diversity though. I mean, I can't get all my emotions and thoughts across in just pure metal. I mean, I love it! It's a huge part It's the major part of who I am! But I also experience so much joy and contentment in playing other, diverse things. Who knows, maybe if we actually do a spoken word record, it might not be under OTEP. Change the band's name and the same expectations are no longer set. It allows you some more artistic freedom to experiment and show people just because we're a slamming metal band, doesn't mean we don't have other diversities. All I want is to teach kids and anybody to know what I know and be on a constant roll of education and educating yourself. Become better every day. The moment you stop and the moment you think, I'm the person I'm going to be, then you've just cheated yourself and the rest of the world. You must constantly every day try to improve on yourself and your personality. Say hi to a stranger, say hi to a friend. You have to constantly keep changing and learning.
Rough Edge: You guys talk about fans and the fact that you don't want to let them down. You always give them a good show. You seem to have pretty faithful following - the "Shadow Soldiers." How did that name come about?
Evil J: Shadow Soldiers I think Otep came up with. The first thing that we started around the time of the EP release was we were referring to our fans as the "Strange Species." And the reason that and the phrase "Shadow Soldiers" came up was because on our website some kids were saying, "You should come up with a symbol or something that people could have ... like the fans' own secret society. So that if I see that, I'll know you're an OTEP fan." So it came down to, hey, let's come up with a name. So we got our fans to vote on the website and out of that we have (www.Otepsaves.com) with the "Shadow Soldiers" community but we also have StrangeSpecies.com which is our earlier fan site. There's a section on the Strange Species site called the Eyesee, which are just pictures of our fans. I go on our chat room and I talk and the fans are like "Oh, we love your band, we love your band!" I'm like okay. Well, if you love my band, do me a favor. I want to know what you look like. Post your picture. We want to know who our fans are. We want the world to know how much we appreciate our fans. If these kids don't come to shows and these kids don't buy records, we're nothing but a garage band and, you know, we've all been there and done that. You learn that respect for your audience. We're entertainers. Music is always a form of entertainment and if you didn't show appreciation to the people that you're entertaining, then they're not going to get it back. You just cheated yourself out of any mild success or any internal joy you might have had from it all.
Rough Edge: Does it ever concern you, the men, that Otep (lead singer), seemingly gets most of the attention as the lead singer and as a woman in a male dominated world?
Evil J: She does (get most of the attention), but she's the speaker. I guess you can tell I'm the second speaker. I lose my voice because I can't stop talking!
Evil J: She does a lot, but that was important for the initial kick off of our stuff. You can't ignore the music, but yes, it's the message, it's the words, and it's the visual part and the visual aspect of this band that really pulled in a lot of people. They want an explanation of that. And that all is her. It all came from her. The only reason why we can do these things now, is because we ourselves also dived in and listened to what she was saying so that we can understand it and explain it and try to also intertwine that with what we do musically to end up having this result.
Rough Edge: Let's talk about your future after the tour. What are you guys planning to do? Are you taking a break?
Evil J: We don't want to, but ...
Rob: We're kind of not even thinking about that. We still have a bunch of Ozzfests left to go, but we don't really have any plans after this tour. If they - they being our agents, our manager and other bands - want to take us on tour, we'll go on tour. I've pretty much written my life off for the next two years knowing I'm gonna be on tour. I'd rather be playing then sitting around at home most of the time.
Rough Edge: I've got one more hypothetical question: You find out that Osama Bin Laden is a big fan of OTEP. He's alive and well and he wants you to play a secret concert. What do you do?
Evil J: Did you see his shirt today? (points to Rob). When he was playing onstage, his shirt said Kill Bin Laden. If you get an important icon like that, if we don't respect you and you're trying to use your power or authority to try to manipulate a situation, we don't respect that. This would be cause for this band to show you how tough and how dangerous we really are. Don't put him in a room with us because we're not happy with that. We were recording the record during the whole conflict. Every day we went into the studio, the TV was on and we were following it, waiting for the day we could throw a party because we heard of the capture (of Osama Bin Laden). I'm not going to celebrate anyone's death but I just wanted to know that this guy is no longer going to cause any more issues. There's no reason why anybody in any country needs to be living in fear. We should be able to walk outside of our homes or walk down the street feeling happy and knowing that you're alive! And I don't have to worry about somebody just driving up and shooting me, or mugging me, or car-jacking me or let alone going to the extent of crashing airplanes into buildings with people that are innocent workers that have absolutely nothing to do with him! Most of them didn't even know who he was! You know that guy ...
Rob: Fuck your mama!
Evil J: Bin Laden - don't let him near us!
Rough Edge: I hear from a few sources that they think Osama Bin Laden is dead, and the American government have covered it up and warned that that ghost, you know, the boogie man if you like, is still out there for people not to be complacent, because it's complacency that killed these people isn't it?
Evil J: It is! And I can't honestly turn that across because I honestly believe that our society - the American government has no problems lying to the people. That's the problem. It's like, yeah; I wouldn't doubt that whatsoever. That wouldn't surprise me. If that's the scenario and that's the case. Just don't let us find out! Because the last thing you want to see is the U.S. revolt in a full scale. We've already seen a revolutionary war in this country and it breaks my heart, being from Irish heritage, with all the conflicts that have gone on in every country to feel fear in Northern Ireland and all these different things. It's not something that should be going on these days. It's part of life. It's the ying and the yang. It's the food chain but in a way in order to feel pure joy, you have to understand what absolute pain and suffering is, and that way you can appreciate your good times that much better, but who knows, I think we could still all be happy without that kind of crap!
Rough Edge: Let's hope so. Thanks very much.
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400.