The roots of animal liberation, human liberation and the attempts to right the wrongs of the world have been the essence of hardcore punk for a long damn time. In his role as DROPDEAD’s frontman, the visceral growls of musician and activist Bob Otis have provided a voice for the voiceless for the past three decades. Bob is a man that has stood on a stage and fought for what he believes in across the world so when I got the chance to interview the Providence local I must admit, I couldn’t believe my luck.
VC: Hi Bob! To those who don’t know where you are and what you do, describe yourself in as many or as few words!
Bob Otis: I would describe myself as an imperfect human being seeking to make the world better in whatever significant ways [that] I can.
VC: You were heavily involved in animal liberation during a time when it maybe wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. But what was your first experience of veganism and what prompted the change in lifestyle?
BO: My first real understanding and leap from vegetarianism to veganism was when I finally got to see what happens in the dairy and egg industry via the internet. I had become vegetarian 25 plus years ago because of information provided by a lot of the early anarcho-bands that had a huge influence on me and of course everyone in DROPDEAD. You had bands like Conflict U.K., A.O.A., Rudimentary Peni, Icons of Filth etc. These bands influenced me to go vegetarian by providing pictures, info, booklets as to what goes on in the meat industry. When the internet finally came around and information was easier to come by, then I was able to understand that I was only half in the battle as the egg & dairy industry was equally, if not more, cruel and destructive towards animals and the planet. The information and proof is right there and overwhelming, there’s no denying it and doing so straight up means you don’t care. I do care and made the change.
VC: Although your activism stems far and wide, most people would see your main form of activism in your music. DROPDEAD’s lyrics deal with political & animal liberation, and human rights. Was it always the intention for the music to speak up for injustice?
BO: It was and is for me. I’m in a unique situation where I have the attention and ear of sometimes thousands of people at a time. As fun and exciting as it is to be in front of an audience playing such blistering music, the ideology and lyrics have always come first.
It is an opportunity to discuss with many young people that may not have heard the ideas before. The plight of animals around the world, how to stand up for them – through things like their veganism and all the way to through to direct action. Although I try to be as active and political for animals I can in my private life, I do feel my biggest impact is influencing and helping others make the change and stand up for those without a voice. But yes, that is definitely still the ideology that keeps me climbing up on that stage 25+ years in!
VC: How difficult was it to be heard in those days when promoting a vegan lifestyle? It’s certainly not like these days where it’s closer to the norm. What were some of the worst reactions you had and how did you handle these situations?
BO: After all these years we still occasionally get trolled or hear a negative reaction at a show. Attacking people’s hard ingrained lifelong beliefs isn’t always easy. The majority of the world is raised believing animals are here to service and provide for us. That belief dies hard for a lot of people. But when trillions of animals are suffering every year around the world I’m willing to put my beliefs and my humility on the line if I can make any dent in the suffering.
I can’t be silent. It is something that weighs on me incredibly every day. The clock is ticking. I feel haunted, almost as if I can hear the cries of those being slaughtered just outside of the depths of my perception.
As far as reactions, I’ve certainly faced off with hecklers and people who have confronted me for “preaching” and have almost come to blows once or twice! But I know without a doubt that I am right and it’s the risk that I need to make. For any negativity we’ve gotten through the years, the avalanche of love and respect we get outweighs it tenfold. When kids come see us at the end of a show and tell them they have been ten years vegan because of us or take part in a protest or direct action because of information or support we have given them – then my heart swoons and I know I am on the right path. I don’t care about notoriety or trying to be a “rock star”…fuck all of that. I care about influence and who we can get on our side against this kind of injustice. If we can influence even one person a show to change, then I feel vindicated.
VC: Bands and music have such a big voice. How important do you think it is for bands to take a social stance on things like war, human rights, trans-phobia, veganism and situations which result in social injustice?
BO: I can only speak for DROPDEAD and for us it is the motivating factor. We play political hardcore punk. If you have nothing to say in this forum then you’re missing the point. We are angry, we are unwavering and we are in your face about it. But all of it, as blasting as it may be, comes from a place of love and respect. We want to live in a world where everyone and everything is treated with respect and caring. I think the majority of human beings deep down in their heart are “good” but society has been manipulated, brainwashed and dominated by those in power to be forever distrustful, hateful and disconnected from one another. A united mankind is the last thing governments want. We preach the opposite.
VC: That kind of message is the foundation of punk. Do you think it’s perhaps more important for other genres – even like pop music – to take a stand to bring issues like veganism fully into the mainstream and public conscience? What do you think is the future for veganism in music and in general?
BO: I think veganism is having a breakthrough right now. It has infiltrated political hip hop and extreme metal, but I still think it’s got a long way to go. I hope young and upcoming bands pick up on the message. When you play in a band, you have an incredible opportunity to communicate with your audience. It’s a great base to begin to discuss ideas like animal rights regardless of if you play anarcho-punk or folk music. Influence people, incite people, push change and make the world a better place. That’s why I do it. That’s what all of this is all about.