DATE OF INTERVIEW:
10th March 2012
With ever escalating popularity, vaudevillist, musical iconoclast and virtuosic violinist Emilie Autumn has returned to the fore in 2012 with a brand new touring stage show billed as 'Fight Like A Girl', or 'F.L.A.G.' as it's been more simply labelled under a rather apposite acronym. A progression from her 'Opheliac' themed production in story, aesthetic and philanthropic connotations, it remains as subversive as ever, perhaps more so this time around, once again eschewing just about every rock show idiom in favour of theatrical flamboyance and unadulterated carnivalesque fun. But underlying all of the glitter, satirical burlesque and sporadic comedic elements, and at the very core of the production is a very serious message as alluded to by the 'Fight Like A Girl' title. Emilie explains all in a half hour interview conducted a few hours before her return to Rock City's stage in Nottingham near the beginning of the tour...
METAL DISCOVERY: You remember me then?
EMILIE: It’s so nice to see you again.
(Emilie Autumn on plans for transforming her show into a Broadway style musical)
"The record is, and was always meant to be, a soundtrack to the show. The record is part of the soundtrack to the musical that this is becoming which is gonna be a three hour full-on thing with a cast of forty people…"
Emilie Autumn backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 10th March 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
EMILIE: Of course I do, you’re a very special gentleman.
MD: I’ll take that as a compliment!
EMILIE: It’s meant as a compliment! I’ve made you some tea.
MD: Thank you very much.
EMILIE: This is my Emporium tea.
MD: Ah, what kind of tea is this?
MD: I do like herbal teas so…
EMILIE: This is not herbal, but this is very…oh, herbal over here…I remember that I saw some TV show years ago and it was somebody British saying: “There’s an H, why are they not saying so?”! I’m determined to change it!
MD: The last time we met was almost two years ago to the day.
EMILIE: I like it. If it’s a leap year or something that means it’s actually the same day.
MD: Actually, it is a leap year.
EMILIE: Either way, I feel really good about it. My god, we have come so far since we last talked. Do you get to stay and see the show tonight?
MD: Absolutely, yeah.
EMILIE: Oh, I’m so happy that you get to and you can see what we’ve been working on.
MD: So this has been billed as the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ tour and I’ve heard that the story and themes that bind this new show together are more literal than symbolic this time, and it’s kind of all-out war…in a metaphorical sense?
EMILIE: Right…in a real sense! What it is, the main difference in the ‘Opheliac’ era and…that was all very purposeful and leading up to this, sort of setting the stage for what is now able to happen which is to tell what this is all about. Here’s what’s happening, I’ll lay it out for you…what is happening is that the book is being made, by me of course, into a proper Broadway style musical. That means that what the show is now and the new album that comes out right after this tour, ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is taking what is literal from the book and taking a segment of that…
[Emilie notices me briefly glance across at her rat mask which is just to my right]
EMILIE: …I can move that thing…is that freaking you out?! [laughs]
MD: No, not at all, I’m just making sure I’m not sitting on it! It didn’t feel like I was but wanted to make sure I wasn’t!
EMILIE: If you can pass it over because I want to feel its presence. It’s been through so many wars and it’s the same one that I’ve always had and armouring it more to make it sturdier.
MD: But it’s the original mask?
EMILIE: Yeah, it’s the original one, I can’t even believe it. So the point is the record is not a rock album at all; the show’s not a rock show at all, even more so than it wasn’t already, and it’s a full-on theatrical production. The record is, and was always meant to be, a soundtrack to the show. The record is part of the soundtrack to the musical that this is becoming which is gonna be a three hour full-on thing with a cast of forty people…
MD: Oh wow…
EMILIE: …yeah, I’ve got a lot of work to do! So over the next year that is what I’m building and this is sort of the preview to that where we’re taking people through a certain segment of the book where they start when the girls get through the horriblest circumstances, realise that they had and that they always had the power to escape from behind these bars. They do and they stand at the precipice of this staircase and the clock strikes four and they realise, “holy fuck, there’s like a thousand of us” and there’s maybe fifty of these doctors and attendants that have been running the place and torturing them for years, and they have that moment of realising, “wow, we’re the majority, who’s scary now?”
And so they just go on this murderous rampage called ‘The Tea Party Massacre’ and they just slaughter everyone in the attempt, which for a time works, to take back the asylum and make it what it always should have been which is their sanctuary. That is the fight that we’re fighting on stage; that is what the record is about, is that story about starting with the inmates at that moment realising, “oh my god, we’re free, and now let’s take this place back”. And then, of course, by the third song it’s taking you on a flashback of how this even started; how did this whole fucking mess start? How did both the modern, my own reality, and this parallel universe that happened at the time…
MD: …in the Victorian times, yeah.
EMILIE: Yeah, and so going back to there saying how did this start; how did we get into this mess; how did we even get in here in the first place? Then it takes you back to the end where you’re at that fight and then we have the fight and then, by the end of the show, the end of the record, the ultimate question which is: where do we go from here? Just because you survived doesn’t mean that you’re okay. Just because you live doesn’t mean that you’re alive. How do you go on with all these things in your head?
And that’s the ultimate question that I live with and we probably all live with to some degree whether it’s just a really fucking bad day, or breakup, or an actual abusive mental health care system; it’s all just part of this. Everything just spans this spectrum and everybody falls somewhere along that, that I think can understand and just say “how do I go?” with the question and that brings you to the answer which I finally figured out which is that there is no answer. It is simply you just put one foot in front of the other foot in front of the one foot in front of the other foot…and you just keep marching forward into the future of this thing.
MD: Exactly, yeah, there’s never any closure in life. Unless you watch Disney films where the world is all nice and always has perfect closure!
EMILIE: Yeah, which are great for that moment.
MD: Exactly, for the moment but not as any kind of philosophical world view.
EMILIE: Exactly, right, you’re never gonna be okay, and things aren’t ever gonna really go away, and you never really forget, and still learning in my own life, in a lot of ways, just to realise that, basically, if you’re going to die then fucking die, if you’re going to live then fight and that’s what we do.
MD: I’ve read the lyrics to the title track when you posted them on your blog…
EMILIE: I did, I was too excited!
MD: There’s mention of revenge on “at least forty-nine per cent” of the world but I gather it’s not exclusively a gender-based battle?
EMILIE: It’s not; it actually isn’t at all. What that is about is, firstly, it’s about the story. I know not everybody’s going to realise, the people that have read it coming to the show knowing, this is not…I think everybody gets this, this is not about creating a divide between the genders which actually, as it happens, fifty per cent of our audience of the show, of who buys the records, according to what we can tell, is male and that is an amazing thing that I never expected. I didn’t expect anything; I didn’t know whatever was going to happen but the fact that is the case what…firstly, going back to the book, which is what this is all about, is it’s simply we’re just telling a story that is true. It’s not an attempt to say men are bad, women are good because we all know that is not entirely the case. But, in this story, as was reality, you’ve got these asylums, they are for girls. Who are the doctors? Obviously they’re guys because men want to be doctors so it comes down to that.
Yes, the world entirely, and in some sections more than others, but entirely is absolutely a patriarchy still. And the whole realisation about forty nine per cent is that, of course, you’ve got women like me, a lot of them, who have been fucked with in some way – yeah, who are you mad at? It’s an extreme, it’s an extreme generalisation, but the fact is, yes, that’s the story but then, of course, this is about the social arc of taking it into the real world as well because they are alternate or parallel realities that happen at the same time.
So in the modern world, and let’s just take my own life for example, when I am afraid to walk down a certain street anywhere in the world at a particular hour, what am I afraid of? When somebody tells me, like my male crew gentleman friend, anyone says, “don’t go out by yourself, let me go with you”, what are they afraid of? Are they afraid that I’m gonna get teased or are they afraid somebody’s gonna take my purse? No, they’re afraid I’m gonna get raped. Who’s that gonna be by? I have to live my life, and we all do, to the point where we don’t even think about it anymore, that we constantly, to varying degrees on the spectrum, we live in fear. We just do. As long as women live in fear, any of us, there is no equality. That is just a simple fact. So that’s not good for anybody. That’s not good for you, that’s not good for me. This is about realising that, for women first, realising that we are not a minority; we’re the majority. It’s time to kind of figure that out and, very seriously, we are fifty one fucking per cent of the population of planet Earth. So realising we actually need to have an appropriate place of equality, and there’s things that everybody already knows, I’m not saying anything really new, but the fact is it’s still an interesting way to say this based on a particular story and it’s really about I have this beautiful, luxurious opportunity to sing about it and talk about it to you, this audience. And the point is actually to empower the women but also to help the men to realise that, in fact, we are all on the same side because this is better for everybody.
MD: I think part of the problem with the world is that so many people have a binary mindset embedded in their psyche so they can only think in terms of men and women but men and women is just about biological sex, and if you talk in terms of gender…
EMILIE: …and even that is a spectrum of things…
MD: …a big, wide, spectrum…
EMILIE: …that we don’t even really talk about except on, obviously, documentaries of like it is not always so clear cut as that. And what’s really going on inside us, you know, inside our heads, versus what we think; what rules we’re supposed to take on personality-wise, socially, in any number of societies, is…I know, I’m taking a long time on this one…
MD: …that’s cool…
EMILIE: …it’s important that in all of this, and it’s maybe unexpected, the primary thing that I’m proud of in all of this more than anything else is the Asylum gentlemen because they’re there, they’re singing ‘Fight Like A Girl’ and everything else, and they absolutely, without me really saying anything, they absolutely get it. They absolutely get the joke which is, to start with, why fight like a girl? Obviously because, one, that’s what they do in the asylum and they take over and win so, in theory, fighting like a girl is not a bad thing; it’s kind of a good example. It’s all about taking words and phrases that many of us in parts of the world grew up with and it’s so normal and accepted that nobody even raises an eyebrow but the fact that that’s a particular phrase that stands out in my mind of being incredibly insulting. It’s something that is used to insult boys and ridicule girls, and that is how we’re raised and we’re a fucking joke still. So it’s about taking back something that is extremely negative and hurtful to both genders and turning it into something wonderful that’s a source of power and strength, and saying this is something very, very good that both sexes could learn a lot from, and maybe is actually a pretty good way to go about fighting if you have to.
So it’s about getting everybody to realise, really, this is best for all of us; we are all on the same side and real, real men and real gentlemen absolutely get this, and they are fighting and singing and marching hand-in-hand with everybody. I knew they were going to make me proud but I didn’t know how much. I thought at some point I might have to explain something but not at all, and that has given me, personally, incredible faith and hope and completely renewed love for…it sounds really dramatic and extreme, but for gentlemen in general. They totally get it and the girls are not supposed to come away from this with a feeling of, “fuck you”…that’s not what it’s about, it’s very silly. So I can’t wait for you to see the show and to see how this happens, and to see how they blow my mind every fucking night.
MD: As I think I’ve said to you before, you are a philanthropist!
MD: It’s a very healthy goal.
EMILIE: Yes, I try!