We recently heard that there’s been a lot of change in Emilie Autumn’s Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, so we gave her a call to find out what she’s been up to, whether she should take up a career in muffin-baking and what’s been happening with her forthcoming book…
“I do smile occasionally”
S] Hello, how are things in the Asylum today?
EA] Things are great! I was actually doing the final proof-read of my book today!
S] Have you had fun writing the book or has it been a lot of hard work?
EA] Oh god… Well, it’s been finished for quite some time now, but there have been all these issues that have delayed the publishing of it, which is always…nice! But, you know, nothing worth doing is supposed to be easy. I like to tell myself that – just to keep everything okay inside my brain. I couldn’t say that it’s been a fun process because it’s such a difficult story to tell. It’s been quite a torturous process, but, at the same time, I had it in my head that it had to be done and the story told, so I really feel like the day that it comes out is going to be the first day of my life and everything up ‘til then is just the dress rehearsal. It’s not going to be easy — there’s probably going to be a lot of people who are going to like me less after it comes out, but that’s fine, it’ll be the truth. There are some parts that may be disturbing or controversial, but that’s okay…it needed to be done. I didn’t kill anybody or anything — it’s not as bad as that. It’s quite funny, and pretty as well, just to balance it all out — but it’s probably not something you want to read right before bed… Sit down with it and a cup of tea, or vodka…or both.
S] We saw a few suggestions like that for tea on your official forum…
EA] Yes! Tea-tails! If the fans have been to a show, they know about the mixing of tea and alcohol – it’s not even mixed, we have the pot of tea that we pour on the audience and then the one that we drink onstage, and I think some people still hold out the illusion that there’s actually tea in those… It was never something that I decreed; it was Captain Maggot’s [Bloody Crumpet] job to make the tea backstage every night before we go on, and her deal is to take everything, whatever beverages she finds – I don’t ask questions – and to mix them together in such a way that creates a unique and fantastic cocktail for us every night. It’s actually my favourite part of the show – never knowing what’s going to be poured into my teacup up on the harpsichord — and it’s so sweet that in the middle of ‘God Help Me’ or something, when I have my first real drink, I have no idea what the fuck it’s going to be. It’s a nice surprise, or shock, but the expression on my face is always real.
S] At your live shows, you always have a beautiful, elaborate set – who comes up with the ideas?
EA] Actually, I’ve done all of that myself in the past, our sets and costumes and things like that, but now there’s my set of Crumpets that are so integrated into the show, I always ask what would work for them. I think, since the last time we were in England, that the show has developed massively, and so we’ll be back in England soon and I’m very excited for you to see it again because there are more girls than last time, and we’re doing aerial things like swinging from the ceiling, setting each other on fire, and all kinds of madness like that. It’s just gotten absolutely crazy and so, with that, of course, I’ve had to take into consideration what the girls need, and not just my little vision of this world and what I need to do to build it. There’s massive dance choreography and acrobatics and contortionistic things that I have to consider in making the costumes now, but that’s really the only thing that’s changed. I have always kept total control of all of that because it seems the only way to get things done right, and it’s very hard to let go of any detail, especially at this point where we’re still very new to a lot of people, and I still have to hold tight to my vision to make sure that it doesn’t stray from what I wanted. It’s quite difficult to explain this vision to other people, so I tend to just do it by myself.
S] How do you recruit girls into your Asylum?
EA] That’s something that gets asked a lot, because it’s something we’ve never really been open about. The absolute truth is that we literally find each other. It’s the thing I really, truly believe in — that, if you’re supposed to be an Inmate, I envision that a kind of signal goes out into the sky, you know, like Batman. It shoots up there and somewhere in the world a girl sees it, or I see theirs. I want to bring like-minded crazy girls towards me and guide them into this whole world. Honestly, I don’t go searching for them — these beautiful, talented girls just turn up in my life and they end up basically living in the Asylum with me. There’s no audition process or anything like that — you just find these people and you go, ‘Okay, we’re going on the road, right? Right!’
It’s miraculous – I still consider it the luckiest part of my entire life to date. To get together and tour the world, as hard and unglamorous it truly is – to be able to do that with your four best friends and count it as your job is pretty fucking great. Because, no matter what happens, however I get fucked over by my staff, whatever the fuck happens in my life, I still don’t take that for granted.
S] From your tour blogs, it sounds like you have a great time. Is that the case?
EA] So much shit has gone down, because of the nature of the music industry, that things will always happen, but, as long as the girls and I stick together, we will always find a way to make it work. Things will get easier – I’ve got new management, a new label, new booking, new everything…it’s another world overnight, and now we’re going everywhere; I’m doing so much more…we’re making a video at the moment and it’s going to be insane — nobody has any idea what’s going to be launched, and that makes me so deliciously thrilled that I’m going to get to show this and that it’s more than anybody could possibly expect. Even that being the case, on the road there’s no time to see anything, no time to do anything…like everybody says, you turn up to the venue, you do the show, and, by four A.M., you’re back in the tour bus, then you sleep a few hours and drive to the next place and do the same thing all over again. It’s like, I go to Rome — do I get to see the Coliseum? No. I go to Venice — do I get to see the canals? No. But it’s okay – I’m still there, and I just keep telling myself I can come back later if I do a good job.
S] Do you have any plans to take time off to see the places you want to go to?
EA] No, I’ve been working absolutely constantly since day one. Someday I suppose that’ll happen, but then I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t, just because if it’s not touring then there’s some project to work on — either a book, or a new record, or something, and it looks as though this upcoming year is going to consist of several tours and then recording at the very least.
S] So you’re working on some new material now, then?
EA] Yes, and how the hell will I find the way to do it between all these tours? But it’s going to happen, and it definitely wouldn’t be the hardest thing I’ve done, so it’s going to be fine and fantastic. For now, we’re touring places that we haven’t in the past — we’re finally covering North America at least a couple of times over, and doing more in the UK as that’s such an important territory for us, and it’s actually my very favourite place – I almost moved there! I first visited England when I was twelve to play some concerts and I’ve been going back frequently ever since. It has a lot to do with the whole alternate reality that I’ve created and live in most of the time – the ‘Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls‘ is, in fact, based in London, so it’s very important to go there and play and do book readings. The book I’ve written is so literary and wordy and full of history, and, to get the most out of it, you’d have to have a real sense of that history. Everybody in the world who speaks English is going to get it, but not as much as those who have lived it and lived there. It’s always a very exciting thing to go to the UK — it’s almost like a sort of homecoming — it’s where my ancestors came from, and where all of this went down.
S] What is it that attracts you specifically to the dark side of the Victorian era?
EA] A lot of things… I think that the overriding cause for all of it is that, a long time ago, I discovered parallels between then and now. Everything all of a sudden becomes very interesting when you learn how it relates to you. It’s not history – it’s now. We’ve all heard the term that history comes full circle, and it is so true. You begin to realise how little has actually changed — that’s the dark side of it. That’s the dark side of then, and even more so the dark side of now. My most passionate study is, of course, the study of medicine, and the history of psychology and psychotherapy from the beginning of time, but why it’s so interesting in the Victorian era in particular is that it was really the blossoming of everything — mid 1800s up to the turn of the century. That is when everything we know now really started. You can also relate it to the industrial revolution and electricity and mechanics and all of these things going on at once…the class system falling apart, social upheaval — all of that had everything to do with everything we live now. Even when considering how much we owe to that era, for good and for bad, we still assume that they were right about certain things when, in reality, they weren’t. In some things we’ve come a long way, but in many things we haven’t, and one of these cases is the subject of mental illness, primarily because the mentally ill can’t really speak for themselves — at least not in a way that anyone takes seriously. This is really, really in the dark ages, and I would never have known this entirely had I not found myself incarcerated in one of those institutions and then realised, ‘Oh my god, nothing has changed.’ That was fucking terrifying, and really the start of everything…realising that I’m still there, in the past. My personal ancestry is littered with these experiences, and so I realised that this came full circle as well. I could go on for hours — it’s a long book.
S] Is mental health and your personal history the subject of your book, then?
EA] It is the primary theme, yes. It’s an autobiography, definitely, but it includes the departure into the realm of the alternate reality that I was essentially forced to create in order to survive a really mad, horrible situation, and the things you do when there is nothing else. Those things became so real to me that, even now, I cannot tell you whether it is a concrete reality or not, or whether I live there or whether I live here. I dream in that world and I talk to those people all the time and it’s become — I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s the absolute truth — it is more real to me than the world that we all live in. So, that’s what the book is about, and the story of how that happened. You will learn what the Asylum is, who is in it, how we came to live there, what happens to us, and it’s a historical novel as much as it is an autobiography. The overriding theme is a social criticism of mental healthcare then and now, and to show the similarities, pointing out to anyone who cares to listen just how much of a problem this is, and how it affects so many people. It is a huge part of my life, and also of the lives of lot of fans that come to our shows, which is something that I’d otherwise never know. We take as much time as possible to talk to as many people after the shows, at signings and such, and I’ve learnt so much about what is going on in their lives and what drew them to us, and that made me take this much more seriously. Very often a kid shows up at my show — boys and girls — and they come up to me and show me their scars and they’ll say, ‘Your music helped me to stop doing this,’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, my music helped me to stop doing that too.’ I can’t take anything I do terribly seriously — I’m not saving the world, I’m not feeding people in Africa, it’s just what it is, but I have to take these people seriously, and so, really, it was an absolutely hellish, torturous process to re-live everything in my life since the age of four in order to write this massive story, but I owe it to these people who give up their time and money to come and see me to show them that they’re not alone in this.
I think that’s the whole Victorian underbelly that we were talking about earlier — my fascination is that is it’s the truth. Telling the truth starts out being scary, but, once I started, and this has happened to me, I developed a sort of compulsive truth-telling. It’s confirmed to me, ever so slightly, that you get so used to saying what the truth is about yourself, about the world, about history, about other people, that you become de-sensitised to it all. It’s like when I walk down the street and I forget that I have bright red hair or that I have a heart painted on my cheek — I absolutely forget it because it’s been that way for so long, and I think ‘Why are people staring at me?’ Then I walk by a shop window and I see my reflection and realise why. The same has begun to happen with the book, or what happens on stage or in interviews; things that are absolutely not shocking to me in any way are getting flack from certain areas for being such, and it’s hard to know if people are just being conservative, or not understanding, or if I’ve actually over-stepped a boundary. I don’t want to be affected by anything from the outside, so I choose not to listen, and as long as I’m not harming anybody in any way I’ll continue to do exactly what I’m true to. And so far, so good.
S] You started playing violin at a very early age. How did that come about?
EA] Yes, I started when I was four and it was something I asked to do. Of course, it has everything to do with all that’s happened in my life since then. It happens overnight — one day you’re not making music and then suddenly you are, and that’s been my life since that time. It just gradually developed into what it is now; because I was into so many other things, and I did love other kinds of music, the influences of all these other genres crept in. I never wanted to be restricted to making only one kind of music. I’ll always make classical records because that’s honestly still my favourite thing, and, quite frankly, it’s also the best. Nothing I ever create will ever be as good as Bach or Elgar because nothing can beat what they wrote — there’s no silly pop or rock song that will ever stand up to that — it just can’t. Composition-wise, it’s on a completely different level. That’s where my heart’s at musically, and yet I also need to express myself and write — I’ve always written — and to be able to do both, having the ridiculous luxury of putting out a double album — one disc that’s Baroque classical with violins and harpsichords and then having the metal disc to go along with it. It’s just the beginning, but it’s also the culmination of the proving to myself that I can do this, and that, by adding other elements, I’m not losing anything and I’m not compromising anything either. I still haven’t added badly programmed electronic drumbeats behind Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’ so, as long as I don’t do that, it’s all good. For that I’d deserve to be shot in the face. It’s not necessary. You don’t need to do that in order to make that music rock.
S] You’ve recently done some work with Otep. What did you get up to there?
EA] It’s amazing how that happened. It initially came about for indirect reasons — the producer/engineer on the Otep record is Ulrich Wilde, and I knew him from when I was recording violins for ‘Metalocalypse‘ — the Adult Swim show. So, I had already worked with Ulrich, layering fifty string parts for an episode — my job was to recreate the London Philharmonic and, in the show, the orchestra gets sliced in half by lasers. Then, Ulrich contacted me recently to see if I would consider coming up to Los Angeles to record a song with Otep. It’s funny because, especially lately, I really don’t work with anybody — I can collaborate but I usually prefer not to — but Otep was a very special case. She’s a very kindred spirit in the whole badass, feministic rock chick way, and the world doesn’t have nearly enough of those at the moment, so I just thought, ‘Yes, for her I will absolutely do it.’ So I went out there, and it ended up being more fabulous that I’d ever imagined — we’ve become friends, and it’s such a lucky thing that we met. The record is out now, and I can’t wait for people to hear it — I’m so proud of the song (‘You’re A Woman Now‘); it’s heartbreakingly beautiful, and I did the whole London Philharmonic thing again. It’s all violin parts that I wrote on the plane on the way over, and they just let me do my bit. I’m glad that I actually stepped out of my comfort zone to work with somebody when I’m usually such a hermit in my own cell. Everything’s usually in my world, and it’s so untainted, but it’s nice to know that I can go out and make new friends, and it’s really okay — it won’t take anything away from me.
S] You have a very strong and loyal fan-base, and you have a lot of interaction on your website forum, Myspace and now Twitter…
EA] You know what? I didn’t even know what Twitter was for the longest time. I never, ever went on these things. I basically wrote my blog and it would get pasted on all these different sites to reach out to all the different crowds, but the main thing is my forum (www.forum.emilieautumn.com), which I do go on and post myself. So, I got on Twitter for the first time and realised that I had a lot of ‘followers’ — I didn’t even know what that meant, but they were already there. I was in the studio with Otep and she’s Twittering and doing all this stuff, and I was like, ‘One, how do you find time in your life to do all that stuff, and, two, what is the point?’ I really had no idea what the point of Twittering was. And then she had her webcam recording live while I’m in the studio all day and I’m realising that she really has her finger on all this communication in such a wise, clever way, and she’s talking about things she believes people need to know about. So, she told me what Twitter was, and what the point was, and so I thought, ‘If it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.’ So I got online and did my first Twitter or Tweet or whatever the fuck. Now, it’s become something entirely different for me. I was talking to Naughty Veronica [Bloody Crumpet] and we were having this conversation about how she was having a really difficult day recently, and her deal is manifesting good energy from people that follow her around the globe, people that believe in her and want the best for her, and she said that, on that day, she went on Twitter and put out a message saying, ‘I’m here, I’m working hard and doing wonderful things, so send me your great energy and know that I’m thinking of you all too.’ Then, all of a sudden, she started getting these wonderful, positive, messages back, and she explained to me that the sheer fact that so many people around the world are tuned into you and sending you these thoughts at that one moment is a very powerful, unseen thing, and I’d never thought about it that way. With forum postings and blogging you get a delayed reaction, but with Twitter it’s instantaneous, so, if you put out a beep — I’m just going to call it a beep — somebody’s reading it right away on their cell phones or whatnot, and your thoughts are in the same place at the same time. On the one hand, it’s pretty fucking scary, but, on the other hand, if you can harness that power and not be afraid of it, it can be some pretty powerful shit. Thinking about it this way, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to use Twitter for something completely different — it’s going to be a unifying force that connects all sorts of people at one precise moment in an effort to harness a certain kind of energy and manifest miracles — that’s my Twitter domination plan!’ – Thanks to Otep and Veronica.
S] What do you get out of all these different ways to connect to your fans?
EA] There are so many aspects of it, and it can be very difficult sometimes, because the more communication that you have with a following of any kind, the more you open yourself up to frightening things or dangerous things. That has happened to my girls and I, and very bad, scary things have occurred and they will continue to — that’s just the way it is. You can’t send it away by closing off and not communicating with these people who are giving you all their time and attention and love. There was a time not so long ago where I really shut down. I didn’t really communicate with anybody for a long time, and that had a lot to do with the stalking and a negative energy that was going on when I first started to be on anybody’s radar, because the more people that know about you, the more harmful people will know about you — that’s just the way it is, and the world is full of it. And yet, I recently thought, ‘No, I’m not going to let the fuckers ruin my connection with the really beautiful people out there. Get strong, get brave, and just be there — talk to them and don’t hide from all of this.’ If people are going to get freaky, then they will. It’s just a minute percentage and I try to remember that. In life, the bad things that happen always seem so much more powerful than the good. If somebody says something mean to you, you will remember it for the rest of your life. If somebody compliments you, it’s forgotten. So, if you have somebody being freaky, and they’re a fan, they seem to represent that entire group, and it becomes frightening. But then you realise that it is only one person out of a hundred people, and that most people are just there because they appreciate what you do. I’m trying to remind myself of that because I don’t want to get robbed of this really privileged experience of getting to communicate and unite people who basically want something very good and very healthy. That is the purpose here. It may seem like we’re glorifying this scary, dramatic, bloody stuff but, in reality, it’s all for a real purpose: to be strong and brave, especially among women. We’re still not where we’re supposed to be in equality, but at least we’re trying. It’s become a big part of the live shows — uniting boys and girls — and that excites me more than anything else because I don’t want us to have to hate each other. I don’t want to be scared all the time, and I don’t want to always have this innate distain for mankind. Just to see these girls and boys together, who don’t know each other, and they’re all dancing and singing to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’…that gives me hope. These boys come to the show and they dress up like pirates for Captain Maggot and they wear hearts on their cheeks for me– they’re being brave. There’s a lot of cowardice that’s behind the unwillingness to allow female power to have at least 50% of the game, and all of that in general, so, for a boy of any age to do something so small as to show up at a concert and not care what people are going to say about them for dressing a certain way, for listening to a certain kind of music, for anything, is exactly what I want, and I think, in it’s own small way, it’s a start, at least for that one person.
S] Do you believe in Fairies?
EA] I do! I used to be one, in fact. I hope to be able to get my wings back someday.
S] You’re probably asked this all the time, but, for us girls, can you tell me how you get your makeup so perfect?
EA] Oh my god, I never get asked that. I get asked how it’s done or what brand it is, but I always have to avoid those photos of me live, especially the ones fans take on their camera-phones. I try to be a performer and not care about what I look like, but then I see them and I think “Holy shit, I look absolutely awful!” In one aspect, I like the make-up streaming down my face, but it’s definitely not pretty — it’s garish and horrific, and I don’t think it’s perfect at all. Usually the girls and I are backstage and rushing about, all of us diving into the same makeup case and fighting over the red glitter and shouting, ‘Who stole my mascara?’ in the sweetest way of course. It’s funny that, with five of us, there are never enough mirrors, never enough lights, never enough space on the table, and never enough time. In eighty-seven shows, never has it happened that we’ve been ready early or that we’ve not been racing to put on lipstick and get on stage. Make-up is so important — it’s about creating your character. It’s the armour you put on, and it’s that final commitment to your role that I love so much — I love everything theatre-related, obviously. At a photo shoot, things are a lot calmer. I was spending time with a couple of really good friends of mine recently, a couple of twelve-year-old identical twins — they’re already inmates and they fight for the Asylum Army — and we were doing a photo shoot together. I dressed them up in our Asylum stage costumes, and they are at that stage where they were just starting to learn about lip-gloss, and I realised that this is the danger moment — do you work on your appearance out of insecurity, to cover up your supposed, perceived flaws, which usually don’t even exist, because that’s the age when, for whatever reason, we all start to hate ourselves? Do you use it to go in that direction, or do you use clothes and make-up and all of these beautiful things in life to go out and celebrate everything that you’ve got and have fun with it? So we had this lovely make-up session, and I made them up and gave them hearts on their cheeks, and then they started to copy my tattoo — I didn’t even ask them to — they were writing ‘W14‘ on their arms in frosting because the idea for the shoot was us decorating cupcakes in the forest, and that was the most flattering thing that’s ever happened to me. We had this long discussion about these things and how to do crazy stage make-up and such, because every little girl loves the glitter. But I were also telling them that you don’t need this — you do it because it’s about the time that you spend with yourself — this is a beautiful meditative process, and it’s about glorifying and celebrating. And don’t listen to what anyone says about your freckles, because they’re gorgeous!
S] If you could pick a favourite song of your own and of another artists, what would they be and why?
EA] The song of mine that actually scares me is ‘The Art Of Suicide.’ The reason why it scares me is that it pretty much says it all. Basically, everything I ever needed to say is in that song in some small way. It actually is fucking terrifying to me because it’s almost like there’s nothing left. There is this illusion that a lot of people buy into, asking themselves, ‘How can I top that?’ — not in the sense of commercial success, but as in, How do I tell more of the truth than that?’, and this is something I’m going to have to sit down with myself and get over because there’s always more truth to tell. I could easily say, ‘well, that’s it then.’ I could easily retire after writing that song. I actually contemplate that sometimes, and it sounds ridiculous, but maybe it’s time for me to go and be a muffin baker and just leave it as clean and as clear as possible. The whole ‘Opheliac‘ record in general is pretty much very concise in that this is what I have to say and what I meant to say. The end. Goodbye. Of course, there will be a follow-up record, and it will be a continuation of the story. It’s going to happen not so long from now, and it’s going to make sense, and it is necessary — if you read the book, you’ll see that it goes on for at least fifty more chapters. All I have to do is continue to tell that story and it’ll be okay.
Now, I’m always so hesitant to think about other artists — it’s like that desert island question… But let’s play the game. Umm, you know what it is? It’s Morrissey and The Smiths ‘I Know It’s Over’. Definitely. I knew it’d be something of Morrissey‘s, but I think that song is just so well written and done so miraculously, as he always tends to do. In such few words, he implies everything. It’s amazing, and it relates a lot to some of my subject matter. That’s how I see the song — very suicidal but in that beautiful way, like in ‘The Art Of Suicide‘. It’s the prettiest song that everyone wants to sing and dance to, but it’s also intensely sick, and that’s the whole point of it. It’s like ‘Every Breath You Take’ — not to compare myself to someone like Sting because he’s a legend — everybody knows now that the whole joke about that song is that everybody plays it at their wedding because it’s pretty, and yet it’s about stalking. It’s kind of obvious when you really listen to it, though at first you think, ‘Oh, that’s so romantic.’ Then, as it goes on, you realise what’s up, and it’s a little too close to home for most ladies. It’s that same idea — that inward smirk of achievement — and one of my favourite moments on stage is when everybody starts to sway to ‘…Suicide‘, and the kids are throwing rose petals onstage, and that is when I have those thoughts of, ‘This is as good as it gets, isn’t it?’ The other is when one of my rats sleeps on my shoulder and stays there for hours, and I just think it’s impossible for it to get any better than this. And through all the manic, horrific, bullshit moments in my life, I think, ‘How is it possible for me to complain? How dare I?’ So, I do smile occasionally.
Emilie Autumn’s book is available for pre-sale from the official website.
*Photos: One: TBC / Two: TBC / Three: TBC / Four: Casey Mitchell / Stylist fLee