Interview: Emilie Autumn

Emilie Autumn has been tearing up the alternative scene for well over a decade now, fusing harsh industrial atmospheres with neoclassical violin shredding, as well as rich symphonic elements and dark, introspective lyrics. Her 2012 album, Fight Like a Girl, based off her autobiographical novel The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls is an elaborate “rock” opera rooted in similar style, but with a rich theatrical bombast that carries with it all the grandeur of a broadway musical.

Emilie Autumn is currently embarking on her 2013 North American Tour, and she’ll be stopping by the Nile Theater on January 29th with her ensemble of fellow mad girls Veronica Varlow and Captain Maggot. In the meantime, she’s answered a few questions here for Take a look below.–Zander Buel

How have you adapted your live show to the departure of Contessa?

It was not as great of a hurtle as one might think. Contessa has many amazing things that she does on her own, as do the other crumpets, and that’s something I always support. She’s working on some of her own projects now, and I would not want her to sacrifice that. I feel like the three girls on stage—Veronica, Captain Maggot, and myself—do a great job of portraying armies of girls. One show was enough to find out that we are absolutely not missing anything. Contessa’s presence would make the show even more amazing, but Veronica and Captain Maggot do such a great job. As a trio we portray four characters each with costume changes in-between. The feedback has been extremely positive, and I haven’t heard anything opposite. All it tells me is that we debuted a theatrical musical during this tour. It’s going to be ridiculous.

How does the stage concept for this tour differ from past concepts?

Almost instantly this was never meant to be a rock show. It wasn’t an ordinary thing belonging in a rock venue. It crossed between a rock show and a musical, with us running around and screaming and headbanging, but not because we’re in a genre of music, but because that’s what those characters in that song are doing. The stage setup it seemingly small, but it takes up a lot of space. The metal asylum gates onstage form an entrance we come in and out of, escape from, and tell a story through the prison cells that we also have up. The stage setup is the skeleton of the house as in my book. We’ve transformed this show into a world. This is the sanctuary for us once the show starts. It’s back-to-back goodness of this album and things from the past.

Darren Lynn Bousman recently directed a music video for the single off your latest album. Can we get a confirmation on the release date?

I can give a little bit. Darren Lynn Bousman will deliver to me on a hard drive the entire finished product. I’ve seen it already, but there was still more work to be done to finish it. It is officially the best thing I have ever seen on the planet. I’m in shock and awe, basically. I’ll be getting the full copy on the 30th, I believe. After that, we’re gearing up for a debut release on a particularly awesome website that I cannot say the name of right now.

“Face the Wall” has been a staple in your shows for years. Is there going to be a violin solo piece to replace it in the upcoming shows?

I may as well be honest. It was a huge struggle trying to fit it into the show. There was no electric violin at all on Fight Like a Girl. That’s a problem because it’s kind of my thing. It’s a bad career move not to do something you’re known for on what’s going to be my biggest album. I had to just really remind myself that this is not showing off mad skill. This is telling a story. Everything represents a specific character, emotion, and scene. I wanted to tell a real story from beginning to end with no pause. I did it, and it felt amazing just to tell the story—to just say the words with the music that was meant to go with it.

But now I have this thing sitting next to me on the bus. This is just a waste! During the live show, I thought I should fit in it somehow. People are expecting it. I asked myself how I could put it in—I’m interrupting this performance for metal shredding for your pleasure. That’s not what I’d do on a Broadway show. But I am planning on incorporating it somehow, maybe by the time I see you.

The lyrical themes spanning your albums all deal with different stages in your life. The music in particular contrasts starkly on each release. What’s been the inspiration behind these huge shifts in style?

Me personally, I don’t see a massive stylistic change between the most important things that have defined me as an artist—the Opheliac record and the Fight Like a girl record, two defining moments for me thus far. To me the style of writing is similar. The orchestration is very similar—glitch industrial beats, lush symphonic backdrops. The landscape is an old sound with new sounds. That all to me sounds quite the same. I think for me personally what’s different is simply the concept of the songs themselves, being that everything I’ve done up until Fight Like a Girl, the album for most people are me singing songs separate from others. They’re particular things like relationships, views on the world, things I don’t like, and things I’m pissed off at. Fight Like a Girl is a is a departure from those events. Me, Emilie Autumn, EA, this is not about me anymore. I am part of this, but I am accepting that I am one small part. This story is much greater than I am. It’s like making a film or a musical, which is what it is. It’s telling a story that establishes characters, such as the scavenger. The scavenger is a murderer/graverobber. It takes fully believe in that to sing that badass, but I’m not that person or character, nor the rats who communicate with the girls, or the doctors who sing “We Want them Young.” That’s been the most beautiful part of this. It’s a challenge that embodies everything,

The Victorian attire for the stage show has gradually evolved over the years to fit the theme. Is there a different aesthetic you want to convey with each change, or is it just enthusiasm for trying new outfits within the realm to carry on the Victorian atmosphere?

It’s definitely developed as I’ve turned it from myself and how I want to dress to telling a story, and becoming more of a storyteller and an exhibitionist. Being an exhibitionist is a journey to exposing yourself in an extreme way. I had to start with that and then reign it in a little bit: Maybe that hair doesn’t have to be that many colors of pink. Just a few years ago it become more of a story, like watching a movie. It’s not watching bands play songs; it’s a total interactive part. We’re playing a real look that is our individuality as characters. What’s changed this time in addition to this sort of asylum fight club, which is great, is that now we have different outfits, bits and armor pieces, and mohawks. We go from wearing silky nightgowns and stockings, to being victims, to being victorious at the end with battle gear. It’s madness backstage, holding a flashlight in the dark to change to help each other change corsets and take off shoes, but that’s what it takes to put on a show with three people.

Many fans, young and old, have emphasized that your music and message have helped them cope with their own everyday demons. What is it like knowing that the art you’ve created has had such a profound effect not just on one but on hundreds of thousands of people across the globe?

It’s completely surreal to the point of where I don’t even accept it’s about me. My brain can’t function with the idea that I’m responsible for anything that marvelous. I wish I did have that big of an ego to process that, but I don’t. I’ve met plague rats who have scars up and down their arms, some which are severe, and say they no longer cut themselves because of this song or my book, knowing that they’re not alone in this. I can accept that, but I feel like it’s not about me—and it shouldn’t be. Sometimes it just takes a small catalyst for someone to realize their own strength. If I’ve been able to do anything that really helped anyone, I think it’s because of a message that they’re not alone, that we need to take care of not only each other but also ourselves. When they’re going through a very intense, scary, difficult time, I tell them I won’t take care of myself unless they take care of themselves. If you hurt yourself, or get sick, or are in a bad place, now I’m part of it. We owe each other this. I’ve found that when you give people a job like that, they can take care of themselves better. It’s a large reason why I first began taking care of rats. I always identified with them in lots of crazy ways. It was the thought that I might be able to live another day to see these beautiful creatures. That’s how I’ve come to feel around the audience. Now I owe it to them to take care of myself, which in turn helps other people take care of themselves. That’s what I want them to do, and that’s what I’ve seen happening.

Catch Emilie Autumn at the Nile Theater on January 29th. Order tickets here.