by Alan Sculley and Clint Burgess
Since its release last year, Otep's second album, House of Secrets, has been painted in the media as a politically charged album, to the considerable dismay of singer Otep Shamaya. Much of that image stems from one scathingly anti-Bush single, "Warhead," which attacks the current administration's policies on Iraq.
"There's only one song on the record that is of a political nature at all," Shamaya says. Of course, she's referring to "Warhead." "People just sort of grazed over things and take along with them the quickest and easiest idea they can grab. Most fans, once they get past that and get into the other aspects of the record, know that it's much more of a personal album for me. It is my views, my opinions and my reflections on myself and the world around me. And that's all most art is. It's personal."
The lyrics on House of Secrets bear out the assertion that Shamaya's politics are primarily personal: She's confronting some serious demons that have dogged her throughout her life. She seems to treat the need to break free of traditional societal roles (be they gender-related, occupational, sexual or sociopolitical) as if involved in an all-out war for the right of self-determination.
Exactly what life experiences, relationships or factors relating to her upbringing fuel Shamaya's lyrics is anyone's guess. She's reluctant to share details about her life. "I don't like to discuss my private life very much or what's happened to me in my childhood or how I view things or any of that," she says.
Personal history aside, one thing is clear: Shamaya is absolutely uncompromising when it comes to her art, its message, its sound and even the musicians with whom she will collaborate.
The band is now on its third guitarist (Scotty CH) and second drummer (Doug Pellarin) since forming in the fall of 2000, with only bassist, eViL j, having been with the group throughout its history.
"It takes quite a bit to be in a band like this without killing each other," says Shamaya. "The aggression you hear on our records -- someone asked me once if I have a bad temper." Shamaya fired back a question of her own: "'Have you listened to our record at all?' It's a true expression of who we are," she says. "It's hard to find people, I think, who are in music for the right reasons. Most people are in it for the celebrity or the notoriety or the money, the drugs or the girls. But none of that is what I started this band for."
On House of Secrets, though, there was one other kindred artistic spirit who played a key role in the project: producer Greg Wells. A veteran of sessions with the Deftones, Michelle Branch and famed metal producer Terry Date, Wells wrote music to go with Shamaya's lyrics for six of the album's 12 songs and shares writing credits on three additional tracks.
"I'm not a musician," Shamaya admits. "I can compose and arrange, but I can't play the instruments. I don't know that part of it. And that's one of the things that I think Greg said he cherished so much about our work together is that I don't think like a musician, but when I write songs I bring a different bit to it. And what I got from working with him was just this subtle and amazing musicianship because Greg is one of the most accomplished musicians who I've ever met or ever known."
The sound that Shamaya, Wells (and eViL j, who receives writing credits on three songs) is among the most brutal in metal -- and if anything more extreme than on the first Otep album, the 2002 release Sevas Tra.
Songs like "Sepsis," "Warhead" and "Hooks & amp; Splinters" are roiling masses of barbed guitars, bludgeoning beats and screamed lyrics. And the band's use of quiet interludes (which themselves are tense because of the lack of volume) makes the loud material seem that much more extreme. Clearly, this isn't the album to play if you want melodic hooks or pleasant background music.
Recreating the fury and the radical shifts between eerie quiet and roaring rock in a live setting would seem to be a challenge. But Shamaya says, if anything, Otep delivers a more complete experience in concert.
"We are so focused on perfecting our live show so that we can master what you hear on the record. It will translate sometimes even better in the live show because you can actually see the emotions in our faces. You can feel the intensity within our bodies and you can actually see the buildup as opposed to just hearing it because the record only really attacks one of the senses, where the live show is a complete and total mutiny of all your senses. That's what we try to do live."
Locke Down -- Dichotomy is a good word to describe Locke and the Chris Wilson Five. A majestic maestro of the microphone, Locke goes all-out at live shows. Equally off axis is the Chris Wilson Five, a collection of technically proficient, classically trained musicians who can groove with a soul vibe not commonly found in this region. At the Big Easy this Saturday, the band hosts a free CD-release show for its first full-length album, Loose Ties.
Locke and the Chris Wilson Five came to fruition about two and half years ago for a gig at First Night. Until recently, a rotating door membership plagued the band's makeup. But now the hard work is paying off, and the gang has been named one of five "bands to watch" by this very newspaper.
"Right now, everything is pretty solidified as far as the lineup [goes]," says Locke.
The sound of the group has undergone a refinement that has resulted in a cohesive effort toward a common goal -- to bring it, and bring it with a vengeance when they play live. With Loose Ties in tow, the band will be hitting the local circuit hard over the next few months. At the B-Side on May 25, Locke and the Chris Wilson Five will be slamming alongside the amazing Crown City Rockers, purveyors of phat tunes intense enough to bring down the house.
On and off over the past seven months, the group has been self-producing an album. As Wilson explains, "What should have taken two months stretched into seven."
The sessions were marred by endless technical hurdles that tested the band's patience as well as their superstitions.
"It is not an exaggeration to say this band is cursed," Wilson asserts.
But the efforts of the band have paid off in a finished product that showcases their individual as well as collective talent. All of the tracking and production was undertaken by Locke and the band with some fine-tuning and mastering credits going to Joe Varela at the Black Lab Studio. The final mix effectively captures the band's alluring raw vibe without it sounding sloppy.
Locke's rapped rhymes are enhanced by the instrumentation behind them. Drummer Matthew Prime Coleman holds a sizzling back beat while Wilson breaks up the tempo with imaginative percussion grooves. The enormous booty bass -- compliments of Vinny LaBelle and Jason Shultheis -- adds a subtle sexiness to the sound on keys and sax. Finally, Kyle Smith implements the perfect wah-wah guitar riffs to enhance everyone else's spice. The execution and diversity is amazing -- and translates into a collection of songs able to ebb and flow assuredly in and out of your conscious and unconscious states. -- Clint Burgess
Locke and the Chris Wilson Five, the Side Project (of which Clint Burgess is a member), Ambulance for Angeles at the Big Easy on Saturday, May 21, at 7 pm. Free tickets available at Boo Radley's, Unified Groove Merchants and 4,000 Holes. Call 325-1914. Also with the Crown City Rockers at the B-Side on Wednesday, May 25, at 9:30 pm. Tickets: $7. Call 624-7638.
Publication date: 05/19/05