DATE OF INTERVIEW:
24th August 2013
As 2014 draws ever closer, the year that will finally see Emilie Autumn's irrepressible ambition of a Broadway style musical reified within the heart of London's Theatreland, her current touring stage show has evolved one step closer towards that ultimate destination. Flavoured with a greater theatrical essence than ever before, it is but a mere glimpse into a wider narrative for what promises to be the biggest iconoclastic kick up the musical genre's arse since a certain Richard O'Brien unleashed his own subversive and philanthropically anti-repressive production upon the West End forty years ago. Just as her diverse and progressively sonic palette defies generic categorisation, her show is also like no other. Compelling through its stylistic subversions and cognitively provocative in both its debunking of stagnant ideologies and satirically-charged expositions, it's an experience that stirs the psyche in the most positive of ways. A few hours before showtime in Nottingham's Rock City, the second date of her 2013 European tour, I meet with Emilie backstage at said venue in a rather brightly lit dressing room. A perennially optimistic lady, she's bursting with her usual infectious enthusiasm and unfaltering determination, as we discuss the recently released 'F.L.A.G.' video, the forthcoming musical and other relative digressions...
METAL DISCOVERY: Good to see you.
EMILIE: Good to see you again.
(Emilie Autumn on the 'F.L.A.G.' video vs. the forthcoming musical)
"It is very reminiscent of what a musical would look like but the musical is much darker and isn’t really so much about girls going on stage and doing this thing..."
Emilie Autumn backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 24th August 2013
Photograph copyright © 2013 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
EMILIE: Can we try to make some mood lighting in here?
[Emilie turns off the main light, plunging the room into darkness]
MD: It doesn’t get more moody than pitch black!
[She turns the light back on]
EMILIE: Okay… this seems shocking! It’s good to see you again.
MD: Yeah, you too.
EMILIE: Let’s hold hands; let’s hold everything! Let’s fantasise that this room is…
MD: …as it was a year ago when it was much more accessorised!
EMILIE: Exactly, right, because it was my room at the time but now I’m in that room. And, now, all that this room reminds me of is coming back after the soundcheck with half of my face bleeding.
MD: Oh yeah, last time you had a bit of an accident.
EMILIE: I know, yeah. Let’s see what happens this time!
MD: Have you had soundcheck yet?
EMILIE: No… so it’s destined, like last time, that we do this before!
MD: Since the last time we talked, the album’s been released which is a bit of an epic musical journey…
EMILIE: Thank you.
MD: …in terms of the gamut of emotions it rides. So was it a very cathartic experience capturing all those emotions in your art?
EMILIE: It wasn’t as cathartic because it was taken directly from the book so I kind of had that out the first time with the book. So it was more a challenge to see how any musical would be created; how to make this story into a reality and a different form and, at the same time, not make it completely laughable. I obviously love musicals and I love anything in the Broadway format and all that stuff - obviously, that’s always been a big part of my life and inspiration - however, I don’t love all musicals. I love musicals in theory but I think I like less of them than I dislike. It’s maybe because there’s always that sense of embarrassment you get when people first come on stage and start singing. And, honestly, even the good ones, when the first person comes out, there’s that thing before you let yourself go into that world and that reality where you’re seeing someone onstage and they’re singing in front of you, there’s always that shocking sense of, “oh my god, this is happening, oh my god…” Then you get into it.
MD: Yeah, no matter how innovative or subversive a musical is, there’s always that cheesy element attached to it.
MD: Even if the music itself isn’t cheesy.
EMILIE: Yeah, I think it’s always there to some degree and I think that’s where people get a whiff of that cheese and, all of a sudden, they’re like, “I hate musicals or everything like this!” So that was the biggest challenge. And this isn’t even the complete musical; this is about a third of the actual musical that is being developed.
MD: In terms of the other two thirds – will that be narrative stuff or more music?
EMILIE: That will be mostly more music because, if you go by the book, this is about a third of the story in there. So there’s so much that we don’t even touch on because, in an hour, that would just be ridiculous.
MD: I was going to say as well, you’ve always had a talent for marrying music with lyrics so one always reflects the other in your songs, and that seems to be more emphatic on the new album. So was it more important for you to try and achieve that this time around considering it is, effectively, the soundtrack for the musical?
EMILIE: It’s just a thing where, even more now, you just write it at the same time and, really, when I was trying to decide the approach to it, it was really just think exactly how the moments should come together at once. And if there is a part that should only be music, don’t even try and put words on top of it… that’s why there’s two or three tracks on the album with no lyrics at all because they’re just musical interludes that take you from that song to that song. Most of the record doesn’t stop and that, I think, was the thing to put the words only where they’re really, really appropriate because every musical has interludes and all of these sections that tie things together that isn’t somebody talking all the time. And then I thought, perhaps that is one of the secrets of storytelling; it’s like, you just shut up and let part of it speak for itself, and that was the thing that I had an initial - for half a second - fear of, like, can I get away with just not singing on this one? And then I thought, well, that’s it, that’s the crossover from a rock album or something into a completely different genre; is breaking that primary rule of “don’t sing on your singing album” and now you can say it’s something else.
MD: I think in the world of musicals, that’s also a strategic thing to leave time for costume changes and so forth.
EMILIE: Exactly, yeah. I think that’s also thinking of it as this was definitely meant for the stage; it wasn’t meant for a recorded format. From the time you get the record, even before you see the show, there is an understanding or, at least, a subconscious understanding of I like to think that you’ve got the soundtrack. And so the whole thing was written for the ultimate version where that’s just normal. So, I guess, in my mind it’s like, this is when the stage goes blank, this is where the characters leave… there’s no people on stage, well, nobody’s going to be singing; in which case, there’s no singing right there. So, I think you’re right in that that is when you would have a costume change because that is what just wouldn’t be there and, so, why would I sing on that if I’m not going to sing on the real thing because that is the real thing.
MD: Indeed, definitely.
EMILIE: Good thinking!
MD: So how are plans for the actual musical coming along? Last time we spoke, and I’ve read on numerous occasions, that you’ll have a theatre residency in the West End in 2014… is that still on track?
EMILIE: That is still happening, yeah.
EMILIE: That is the project of my life. Basically, that is what I’m working on the whole time.
MD: Your life’s ambition.
EMILIE: Yeah, until the next one! I’ll never know what my life’s ambition is if I don’t get this life’s ambition out of the way. So this is it for the moment.
MD: The ‘F.L.A.G.’ video came out earlier this year which is pretty amazing stuff.
EMILIE: Thank you so much, I’m so pleased with that.
MD: It shows this great, subversively colourful world so is it effectively a first glimpse into the aesthetic that will materialise more fully in the actual musical?
EMILIE: ...what was the question? I was actually just kind of in your eyes at that point; I got distracted!
MD: The aesthetic within that video, is that what the musical will look like?
EMILIE: It’s funny because there were some things in the video, it wasn’t intended and I think some Plague Rats didn’t understand that initially because they loved it and were looking at it again and were thinking: “Wait, there’s something that wouldn’t have been there in 1845. And this character isn’t in the book, and that guy isn’t how that guy is described as. And why did this guy kiss her with the key in her mouth because that wasn’t in the book?”… and all of that. And, the thing is, that was never said to have been part of the literal story, part of the book. That song is probably the one song that isn’t on the musical because it represents more of an idea, and an approach, and a mindset, and a world philosophy and almost, like, social critique. So that is the thing that on the album, that’s why it’s the first song, is that just sets you up and now you go on this fight. But, for the video, that’s why that would stand alone as this is its own world.
It is very reminiscent of what a musical would look like but the musical is much darker and isn’t really so much about girls going on stage and doing this thing because that really isn’t… I mean, perhaps in a fantasy sequence that would happen but that was more of what we would like to have happen. It’s more, like in the video, it’s the whole question – which is why I’m back and right down at the end – did any of this really happen? Is this just our fantasy breakout thing in our minds that we do in order to survive the situation?... which is, obviously, by the first twenty seconds before the music starts, pretty bad! [laughs] Maggots actually got a mild concussion on the first day which is when we filmed the people getting beaten up by the orderly situation. At the beginning, the first thing you see is Nathan Grubbs throwing her down the stairs. Of course, we filmed that over six hours and I think she got the worst of it. Veronica got slammed into the door and then got beaten up pretty bad. By the end of it, my knees were completely shredded and I had this kind of swollen… basically, the whole side of round here was so bruised that it looked like massive haemorrhaging. And I thought that this is great! This means we’re really doing it!
MD: That’s proper old school filmmaking!
EMILIE: I thought so. And everybody’s freaked out, like “there’s glass in my knee” and, like, “what we gonna do?!”
MD: I think one of the most impressive things as well, in the video, is that it seems to encapsulate a lot of the book’s key themes in just seven minutes. Was that quite a challenge to get everything in there that you wanted to?
EMILIE: Well, there were a lot of things that we didn’t get. Darren and I both wrote an initial outline of how we would like this whole thing to go and then we blended both of them. I had written and he’d written as well because we think very much alike… we go for the ultimate fantasy and don’t think, “well, this is not really possible with this amount of money” but we just wrote it down anyway and thought, “well, somehow, we’ll do it.” Which is mostly how we do everything and usually it works. We had to fit the filming of all of this into two days with a particular budget that all comes directly out of me and still went over that. And, so, we had our initial draft and so many things that there was no time for this. And it ended up being thank goodness there was no time for this because that would’ve been so unnecessary.
It was all these things about what the rats would do; the interactions, like, this one’s on my shoulder and this one’s doing this thing, and all these other symbolic things, and this mirror gets smashed. And, in the end, it’s so good that none of those thing happened because, as it is, there’s a lot going on… which is perfect because that leads you to watch it several times in a row and that increases my play count on YouTube which looks really good! So, that’s part of it but, yeah, there was a lot more than that so I think it was like, this was what was easily able to fit in there. The rats were still quite a challenge because I’ve always had rats – I know their behaviour and there’s a lot of things you can teach them to do but you can’t really say, “rat, stand over there… on action, run over in this direction and stop.” They don’t really do that…
MD: You have to draw the line at trying to be Doctor Doolittle sort of thing!
EMILIE: Yeah, it’s a lot harder, they’re not like dogs. And particularly when you just get them from the pet stores to save them from being snake food five minutes before. They were brought in as we were putting the scene together and, all of a sudden, I hear, “Emilie, your rats are here”; and then Darren saying, “okay, this rat walks right over here and then goes in that direction…” And I just say, “darling, this will never happen.”
MD: Very intelligent animals but even rats have limits!
EMILIE: So, really, we got so lucky because that beginning rat, the first shot where you just see it sitting on the sink, that was it doing its own thing… that what pure improv. So if you want improv, get a rat!
MD: Reliable on film.
EMILIE: Reliable, yes.
MD: Don’t work with animals or children, apart from rats!
EMILIE: Apart from rats!
MD: As the saying should now be!