Otep adjusts to being sole female artist on Ozzfest

There is some irony to the fact the ever-popular Ozzfest tour is the brainchild of "The Osbournes" matriarch Sharon, yet it's an event almost exclusively geared toward and performed by men.

Well, almost ...


Special to the Journal-World

Otep released its full-length debut, "Sevas Tra," on Capitol Records in June.

Singer Otep, who fronts the Los Angeles-based group of the same name, remains the solitary female musician on the tour. And since Sharon Osbourne is currently undergoing chemotherapy back home while her husband, Ozzy, headlines the new metal carnival, Otep is even more secluded in terms of gender. Luckily, her music speaks loud enough to compensate.

The band's latest disc "Sevas Tra" (read backwards as "Art Saves") offers 13 blistering cuts that validate Otep's rep for being just as brutal as the dozens of male-only acts comprising Ozzfest. On tracks such as "Tortured" and "Battle Ready," the vocalist is comfortable growling, whispering, lecturing and rapping her way through topics laced with virulent feminism and peppered with shards of ancient imagery.

None is more attention-getting than "Jonestown Tea," a first-person account of teen-age sexual abuse at the hands of her father. It's a graphic, harrowing catharsis � and Otep's record label swears every autobiographical word is true.

This song also gives some explanation why the vocalist won't reveal her age or background.

A conversation with Otep (an anagram for Poet, though the singer insists "that's my real name") confirms she is using her material to better the psyche.

"I think I'm finding who I am as every day goes by," she said, while calling "from someplace in Illinois" during a day off from the tour.

The showWhat: Ozzfest, featuring Otep, Ozzy Osbourne, System of a Down, Rob Zombie, P.O.D., Drowning Pool, Adema, Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, Down, Hatebreed, Meshuggah, Pulse Ultra, Neurotica, Lost Prophets, Apex Theory, Glassjaw, The Used, Mushroomhead, Seether, Chevelle, Ill Nino, Switched. When: 10 a.m. TuesdayWhere: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Bonner Springs.Ticket price: $40.50-$129.50Ticket information: (913) 721-0001

"Every poem that I write, every performance that I do, every song that I record, I'm peeling off more layers and cutting off the corruptible matter of who I am. I think that is what art is supposed to do for an artist: allow you to discover exactly what it is you're supposed to be."

There is conviction in Otep's idealism that is worthy of anyone's respect � even within a muscle-headed environment like Ozzfest where little is stacked in her favor.

Q: Do you feel more or less feminine when touring with dozens of male-only bands on Ozzfest?

A: "I am very aware that I am a woman, and it's magnified when you're not around as many women. But there is also this sort of mindset that goes along with the unevolved and the evolved. I think my band is a shining example of enlightened, evolved individuals, regardless of their gender. It all boils down to respect. Unfortunately, in this genre of music respect for the opposite sex is not something that is valued very highly. Although I am treated with the utmost respect on this tour � I think people are amazed at what I'm able to do vocally, being able to scream like a Balrog demon from the abyss or some Banshee from the highlands � I can't hang out with the bands sometimes. That's because I see the way they act around some of the fans."

Q: Have you had much dealings with Ozzy or Sharon Osbourne directly?

A: "I've never met Ozzy, but I know Sharon fairly well. And I know her kids Jack and Kelly. I haven't seen Sharon because she hasn't been around. But we've dedicated the tour to her getting better. Every day I make a point to bring her name up to the crowd and have them cheer as loud as they can, so she can hear how important she is. Without her, Ozzy probably wouldn't be around, Ozzfest wouldn't be happening and we certainly wouldn't be on the festival. She's living proof that one person can actually make a difference."

Q: How have the other members of Otep dealt with the inevitable fact that you're always going to be the focus of the band?

A: "I don't think I am primarily the focus. When people listen to the record, they know I didn't play those guitars. They know I didn't play those drums or those bass lines. They know it's not just me. It is my vision and I am the chief protector of the faith, but at the same time everyone in this band is a true artist and is a master of their position."

"Jonestown Tea" was the most terrifying song I've heard this year. Can you recount how that song came together?

"I wanted to do something dramatic for the record. At one of our rehearsals, management was there and some people from a label scouting us, and we just started (to improvise) ... By the end of the song, which was about 13 or 14 minutes later, people's jaws were on the floor. I'd kind of gone off into this other place and didn't really realize what had occurred. Something remarkable had taken place. Once we'd gone through that � and everyone was like, 'Where did that come from? � I decided that this was something important that I wanted to express and communicate on the record."

Q: Is there any danger of revealing too much of yourself through your lyrics?

A: "I think that is more important than anything else. It's important for artists to be vulnerable and put their identities into what they write. Otherwise you get a bunch of cookie-cutter bands that all sound the same and they're all writing about the same things; you're not really getting truth. It's important to say something. It's important that you speak in a language that is universal so you're not spoon-feeding them anything. But you're allowing these absolute strangers � who know nothing but will understand everything � to connect with you in their own way."

Q: Do you think other bands at Ozzfest are seeking that type of connection with the audience?

A: "It's so rare, especially in aggressive music. Because it's all about testosterone and 'I have to show you how tough I am.' It's like those caterpillars that aren't really poisonous but their colors are supposed to look like they are. That's what it is with these bands: They're flashing their colors to make people think they're poisonous when they're not."


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