A few months ago, Otep Shamaya woke up, logged into her Facebook account and sent a message to a fan's sister--a stranger--wishing her a happy birthday.
"They couldn't believe it, and I'm just honored that they feel like it's a big deal," says Shamaya, singer of the Los Angeles-based metal band that bears her name: OTEP.
"I try to use everything that I have to show my appreciation to the people, to take a little bit of time out of my day to answer an e-mail or reply to somebody on Facebook ... I was brought up to value your self-worth by how hard you work, no matter if you're the president or you clean streets. Now that I write songs for a living, I apply the same philosophy to that."
And like the winning presidential candidate she supported with a performance at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (with constant blogging and with her raucously anti-Republican repertoire), the overtly but poetically political singer has worked hard, both through her lyrics and rising celebrity, to make "power to the people" into an art form.
"Hopefully, what we're seeing now [post-Bush] is people informed and involved and taking advantage of what's available to us, information-wise. And hopefully, we'll stay involved and we'll own it," says Shamaya who, somewhat ironically, is named for an ancient Egyptian philosopher who supposedly extolled the virtue of avoiding conflicts. "There was so much that happened in this country that people just allowed to happen: Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, our civil liberties diminished."
In fact, her feelings toward the previous administration are so strong, she says she would gladly surrender the success, fame and personal satisfaction of the 2004 anti-war hit "Warhead," if it would undo the "failed tyranny" she hoped the song might prevent.
"I'd exchange writing 'Warhead,' for Bush never being in office any day of the week and twice on Sundays."
She's also happy to trade the easy attention her gorgeous face and her svelte, tattooed body could claim in the male-dominated metal scene for the sake of self-respect. Shamaya will probably never be seen spilling across the cover of Revolver Magazine's "Hottest Chicks of Metal" issue.
"I don't want to be judged by my gender," she says. "I don't want people to like our band because I'm a girl. I want them to like our music for what it is and what it stands for."
Shamaya says she's not out to win male fans, she's not out to win female fans, she's out for their lives. She wants to change them.
"When I first started the band, I wanted to really learn the community of people that were following us, who they were," says Shamaya, who formed OTEP in 2000. "I spent a lot of time on message boards and forums. That was really the only way to jump in and be a part of that then."
These days OTEP is taking its head-banging populism to places barely conceivable a decade ago. The band regularly broadcasts live video of its rehearsals via ustream.com, a social networking site that is quickly doing for Web cams what YouTube did for camcorders.
"We started doing the Web cam broadcast when we started recording the record, broadcasting in the studio all day long," Shamaya says. "People were waiting in the chat rooms before we even started and they'd stick around all day, just watching."
At first, to keep the songs from their appropriately titled new album, Smash the Control Machine (their first on renowned hardcore label Victory Records) under wraps, they muted the audio.
That didn't last long.
"When we started to get ready to go on tour, we said, why don't we give people a private show," Shamaya says. "Not everybody is going to be able to see us play, or we might not be playing in their area."
The results have been downright democratic.
"We did that for three or four nights," she says. "Over 300 people were watching us perform."
Since 2008, fans have collectively watched thousands of hours of live and archived footage of Shamaya chugging energy drinks, reciting lines from Alice in Wonderland and ranting against America's preference for celebrity over substance.
But the experience, she says, transcends mere voyeurism; during practice she gets up in the camera and tells viewers "to raise their hands, to stand up and jump around with us."
The replies flash across the screen:
"I just woke up my mom!"
"My girlfriend is screaming at me to shut up."
Shamaya loves it.
"Social-networking sites have just exploded and made [artist-fan interaction] so much easier," she says. "It has brought us closer."
Matt, a 24-year-old fan from Tucson, Ariz., who visits the band's online chatroom "at least once a day," has seen OTEP four times in concert but never had the opportunity or courage to talk to her--at least in person. However, during the recording of Smash The Control Machine, he talked to her about the new album in ustream's chat room.
"I don't remember [what I asked her] but it was awesome seeing her on a Web cam and talking to her," he says. "OTEP has changed my view of chick metal singers--she is so poetic and artistic."
On the last night of recording Smash the Control Machine, Shamaya logged into the band's Ustream account.
"We have a lot of work to do, it's the last night, but it's been an amazing experience and I want to thank you guys for sharing it with us," she said. "You guys could help us spread the word ... so hit up your Facebook, hit up your MySpace, your Twitter and let the world know ... I'll see you guys soon."