Anyone who has followed the band Otep knows frontwoman Otep Shamaya is no shrinking violet. She’s smart, informed, opinionated and plenty outgoing, particularly on stage and on album.
And because she is the main songwriter, because she is the sole original member of Otep left – and last but not least, because the band is named after her – there’s a tendency to see Otep and the group’s music as being entirely her baby.
Shamaya is the leader and main creative force in her band. But Shamaya said she’s not necessarily a go-it-alone control freak, as some might assume.
A case in point is the new Otep album, “Generation Doom,” where Shamaya found a collaborator who was confident and strong-willed enough to challenge her: producer Howard Benson.
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In a late-March phone interview Shamaya pointed to a moment when Benson questioned one of the verses in the song “Down,” telling her she should rewrite it to make it stronger.
“I’d never had anybody do that before, challenge me like that before,” Shamaya said. “He could have let it go, like any other (producer) would do. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. And that’s what makes him Howard.
“It was really a joy to work with him. I learned so much. … I think that’s one of the things that may surprise a lot of people, but I really enjoy collaborating with other artists and other writers. I want to be challenged and I want to be inspired and I want to do the same for them.”
I was tired of the music industry
That Shamaya even got to work with Benson would have seemed unlikely a couple of years ago.
In January 2013, as Otep released its sixth album, “Hydra,” Shamaya announced it would be the band’s last album, and she was retiring from music.
“I think at the time I was very serious about leaving music. … I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I didn’t want to fake it,” she said. “And I was tired of the music industry, the executives and so forth who were sitting there in their big comfortable lounges and were trying to tell me what my message should be and trying to tell me what my fans mean to me and trying to tell me what genre we’re supposed to be in.”
Although Otep toured behind “Hydra,” for a time, Shamaya made good on her words. She did voiceovers for movies, television and video games (including “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies” and the popular Playstation game “The Last of Us”) and also wrote a book of short stories, “Movies in My Head.”
But circumstances eventually led Shamaya back toward music.
“I was going through a lot of turmoil during this time,” Shamaya said. “My dog had gotten sick. I had gone through a really devastating breakup. Losing my best friend and my partner and my lover and my confidant, all in one person, was gone now and I was dealing with a sick dog all alone. So I really was very, very emotional and depressed and angry and resentful. I didn’t know what to do with it.
“So I started writing again. I just started putting those feelings onto paper, and those poems, I started to hear melodies and from those melodies, that began songs and I knew the spirit of music had returned to me.”
‘Equal Rights, Equal Lefts’ is a call to action for gay rights
After landing Benson (who has won two Grammys for his producing), Otep, which also features guitarist Ari Mihalopoulos and drummer Justin Kier, went to work on “Generation Doom.” Like the band’s other albums, it features fierce rockers (“Zero,” “God is a Gun” and “Feeding Frenzy”) but also a few twists.
“Equal Rights, Equal Lefts,” a call to action for gay rights, was inspired by an encounter with a homophobic man who took issue with Shamaya being gay and features hip-hop rhythms and electronic-laced sonics. “Lords of War” has Middle Eastern textures sprinkled through what is otherwise a raging rocker.
Shamaya said Otep plans to play most of “Generation Doom” in its shows this spring, which includes a stop in Orangevale at the Boardwalk. The group also plans to incorporate elements of the “Mad Max”-inspired motif used in photos promoting the new album. She said the look is meant to illustrate wasteland that will be created if global warming goes unchecked.
“ ‘Mad Max,’ it’s one of my favorite films,” Shamaya said. “It is an action film, but there’s great subtext, at least that I was able to pull from it, that really illustrates where I think we’re headed as a global community, where water becomes the rarest commodity on the planet. That’s actually happening, that’s true. … So for me to see that film and the way it illustrated (the future) very poignantly, I decided it was the perfect visual for ‘Generation Doom.’ ”
Otep – Generation Doom Tour
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 12
Where: The Boardwalk, 9526 Greenback Lane, Orangevale