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30th January 2010
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(Emilie Autumn on career ambitions)
"I have no interest in rock shows. I want a fucking Broadway musical!"
Emilie Autumn in her dressing room, backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 30th January 2010
Photographs copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview and Photography by Mark Holmes
Classically trained violin virtuoso Emilie Autumn is a true musical iconoclast. That is, not only of her instrument but also through her genre-transcending approach to writing music and uniquely innovative two and a half hour live show that eschews tired rock gig clichés, combining carnivalesque performance art and a multifarious sonic assault with an arsenal of emotionally powerful songs and neo-classical metal violin. With an impressive CV that includes collaborations with Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, Otep, and Dethklok, not to mention the inclusion of tracks on the Metalocalypse and Saw III & IV soundtracks, Emilie started rising to prominence as a solo artist with her 2006 'Opheliac' Victoriandustrial opus, the first album in her body of work to be made more widely available (on German label Trisol and, more recently, reissued with even wider distribution on The End Records). Inimitable in every respect, Emilie is perhaps the epitome of a visionary, progressive musician and, on the threshold of a new decade, with ever growing media interest, looks set to become huge which, rather admirably, would be entirely on her own terms.

In the UK for three dates at the start of what's been billed as 'The Asylum Tour: The Key' before departing for mainland Europe (and then returning to the UK again in March), I scheduled some time with Emilie during a bitterly cold January afternoon in Nottingham before her show later that evening in Rock City. Hooking up with tour manager Melissa outside the venue, I'm led to Emilie's dressing room and introduced to the lady herself who is clad in pyjamas. With a warm personality and laidback persona, Emilie oozes charismatic charm, answering my questions at length with an infectious enthusiasm and genuine sincerity...
METAL DISCOVERY: This is a very posh dressing room for Rock City!
EMILIE AUTUMN: Isn’t it! A spotless dressing room; this is quite unusual.
MD: I think they decorated it recently.
EA: Really? There’s no obscene writing or body parts on the walls; this is absolutely unheard of!
MD: The last time I was in this actual dressing room was about a year ago and it didn’t look this good, so they must’ve redecorated it.
EA: Maybe they did it for us bunch of fine ladies! Well, I’d like to think that!
MD: You’re right near the start of the European tour - how have the two UK dates been so far?
EA: Amazing. I think the most incredible part for me, personally, is just that now the book is released, and available for sale at the shows, the crowd has not only been able to see The Asylum show, but also to get the book that accompanies it, so now they’ll really know what’s going on….finally. It was entertaining before, and they thought they knew what was going on, but they had no idea; they just didn’t know it yet. So, now, they’ll know the complete story about everything, so it’s been important for me just to be able to finally take this book and give it to these people, and that represents a lifetime of just waiting to be understood in that way. So that’s great, but as far as just the shows go we’ve been so lucky to have the sweetest audiences which is great but, obviously, I like to think every band had this, but the first show in Bristol it was that rule of first show of the tour - everything that can go wrong, will. I mean, usually, people have a hard time making me keep my clothes on during the show but, in this case, everything was getting knotted; I couldn’t get them off! And so I was standing there…at one point I do this crazy strip show standing on my wheelchair and, when I do that, I’m trying to look all sexy and cool combined with the music, and choreography, and the rest of it, and I’m supposed to rip off this rat tail and everything that I have, and it just got knotted and it’s not coming off! That’s when I just realised, like, you’re a clown, you can’t take this act seriously…go with the joke. If you’re the first to laugh at yourself, well then nobody else can really laugh at you, and you just join the fun. We all do that; we’re not a Goth band. We completely are the first to say we’re ridiculous. I mean, I have pink hair and paint a heart on my face every day! So, I think, that’s been the saviour of all of it and then, at some point, I’m just like “hey guys, everything’s gonna go wrong but we’re gonna do this together”.
MD: It can only get better if it goes wrong at the start!
EA: Exactly! And the beauty of it is like…“yes, but you get to see the special show when everything is different because it’s all messed up!” So, technical difficulties, but it’s tightening up and, tonight, I think we’re ready!
MD: Cool!
EA: Oh yeah!
MD: Obviously classical music is a major influence in what you do - do you think classical music is still predominantly regarded as an elitist genre?
EA: In some parts of Europe much less so than America - not because there’s anything wrong with Americans in that they couldn’t appreciate it, but just because it’s not our history and it’s not American music. We don’t have a really old school connection to that. So it is, but I think the problem even more so than the elitist aspect is the boring aspect! People immersed entirely in that side of things…the teachers…everybody that controls that literally says this is not about you; your individual personality. You know, and we all know that thing about you being a vessel for dead composers and, the thing is, I love dead composers more than anything. That’s still the best music. No three minute rock/pop song is ever gonna be as good musically as that. It could mean a lot to people but, I’m sorry, that shit’s just way better. A Beethoven concerto can kick the ass of any of this shit that I’m singing. You know, no five minute song that I do is gonna compete with that. So, that’s still my absolute favourite music but, I think the thing is, everybody is quite literally prevented from being interesting in any fucking way. And, then, they sit back and wonder why classical record sales are the absolute lowest…lower than jazz, which is pretty fucking low…and then they like to sit back and say “well, it’s because it’s not taught in schools…because everyone is just so bourgeois that they just can’t…” And that is how they let themselves off the hook is by taking no responsibility for that and just blaming the public but, really, you’re giving them nothing worth listening to; worth looking at; and mainly worth looking at with connecting at is that’s not enough, and it was never enough and, back in the day, we had people like Paganini and others who, hundreds of years ago, were allowed to be interesting, and that was the point. They were a real performer, you know, they were Freddie Mercury; they were David Bowie; they were what I was trying to be…tonight, and it was not, when these composers were writing this music, they did not want just a boring ass vessel for what they were writing. Mozart didn’t want that, you know. Mozart would’ve been fine with a hot corseted chick playing this stuff in her own way.
MD: He would’ve had a cool time at one of your gigs!
EA: Exactly! I love the thought that I think he would, and that we’d be friends…weird pals! So, I think it is elitist, but it’s mainly…well, it’s not elitist, but it’s felt to be elitist mainly because it’s just so completely disconnected. It would be very easy to bring it back into connection with the people. I mean, that used to be the pop music of the day. That was rock ‘n’ roll; that’s where it was, because we didn’t have the rest of this. Now it does have a lot to compete with, but that and rock are not mutually exclusive by any means and, so, I think it’s just performers…and I’m trying to do this anyway…performers just realising it’s much more important that if you really love that music, and if you really love your instrument and you really wanna speak with that thing, it’s much more important to just fuck everybody else - pay attention to the audience; they’re the ones that matter and respect them enough to give them something worth showing up for, because classical concerts are usually fucking expensive.
MD: That’s partly answered my next question but, for those who do regard classical music as an elitist art form, do you hope to go some way towards changing their minds through what you do?
EA: I do and, the thing is, there’s this thought that I’m personally not fond of it, that when classical performers think…“let’s shake this up…let’s make it into jazz; let’s make it into whatever”, and that’s actually fine that they branch out and do another kind of music as I did, but it still should be enough to do just straight Vivaldi. You don’t need to add a fucking bad electronic drum beat behind it. You know, you deserve to be shot in the fucking face if you do that to that music, and when you do it so poorly. That shouldn’t be necessary to make that music interesting; to make that music sexy. All of those things are already in there. We’re ignoring it and then blaming the people for not giving a fuck and that’s just insulting. And so, I still, despite all reasons to the contrary, I still have enough faith in audiences worldwide to think they want what’s real; they want what’s interesting; they want what’s fun, and scary and beautiful, and emotionally intense, and that music has all of it.
MD: Definitely. Apart from obviously having fun and enjoying themselves at one of your gigs, what do you hope people take away from one of your shows because it seems to be a big anti-repression statement?
EA: You’re absolutely right, yeah. I think that the show is…there’s lots of symbolism; there’s also metaphor, and lots of meaning and all of that but, you know, I realise that you’re not going to get all of that. I think that now people have the book they will get that but, before, it’s really about just making it a theatre piece; making it a real theatre production, and that’s why I always say I don’t want a rock show. I have no interest in rock shows. I want a fucking Broadway musical! That’s what I want, and that’s what I work towards every day. You know, we’re just getting there. I think what I hope people take away is a sense of…it’s funny that a show about a crazy girl is actually about making people healthier, so that’s the irony of it but, in a sense, very appropriate is it’s about, for one night, letting people be accepted and taking all your differences…you don’t have to be a suicidal bipolar girl to relate to this in some way. You could’ve had a fucking bad day; you could’ve been depressed; you could just be a Goth kid that people will point and stare at. You know, it doesn’t matter, there’s something…or you could just come and want to see girls in corsets make out with each other, and that’s fine too, I’m totally fine with that…but it’s about taking all of the things that you ever felt aren’t quite right about yourself and, for one night only, don’t apologise. This is where you do not say you’re sorry. I feel that it is…this sounds a bit arrogant, but I feel that it is empowering in that what we show onstage is absolute freedom. If you wanna yell, and get revenge, and get pissed, you do that…that’s funny because I know pissed here means drunk! But you can do that too!
MD: Or pissed…and pissed in the American sense!
EA: Exactly! That’s the thing - the show is a mad tea party and so the question we’re often asked is what is actually in the teapot because, that’s the thing, it’s really dinner theatre. People come to be fed and watered because if you’re able to get in the front rows, you’re gonna get some crumpets, and scones and cup cakes, and all the rest of it thrown in your face! You’re gonna get some tea poured on your head, and that’s just what we do!
MD: Not during the first three songs when I’m in the photopit, I hope!
EA: Let me think…no, you’re safe for those! In the first song I’m gonna throw some cup cakes but I usually throw them pretty far…just to demonstrate that I can. So you’re gonna be fine!
MD: I’ll duck! So it’s a big anti-repression statement then.
EA: It is and it’s against so many things. It’s very particular to women because the world is still patriarchal and not really set up for us to be healthy. But, I think, every time…the whole theme is “fight like a girl” because realising fighting like a girl means you can do anything; there’s no code of honour; there’s no…you know, you can kick below the belt if you want to because it’s all self-defence, right? So, when you fight like a girl, you’re fighting to the death…and that’s where, in the show, at one part where we’re having Asylum Army training, because they take this Asylum Army very seriously, so they’re all soldiers for the Asylum and when I ask them “are you ready to fight…but are you ready to fight like a girl?”, every boy in the crowd screams “fucking yes!” and, to me, honestly, that represents absolute success. That’s all I want, is to have us all in on the same joke; all in on the same meaning, and to basically take something that’s so fucking wrong and such an insult, and make it into the ultimate badass statement because, honestly, that is how we fight. It doesn’t matter if it’s claws, or teeth, or whatever, we’ll rip your eyes out if that’s all we’ve got. And, so, that’s the thing, is to take things to change them around to empower yourself, and take all the shit you’ve been told in your life and make it work for you, and that’s the ultimate revenge.
MD: So it’s a very healthy experience then, your show.
EA: Yes, in fact. I think as crazy as it looks, I think it’s necessary and healthy. For me, personally, it’s what keeps me alive, is getting to do this. So, on a serious note, it’s very important.
MD: Yeah, because repression is very unhealthy, so…
EA: Very much so, and for everyone. Everyone’s got something.