We chat to Emilie Autumn, undoubtedly, one of the most striking and original musical artists of our generation
A native of Malibu, California, Emilie is a singer-songwriter, poet and violin prodigy. Her music incorporates hugely contrasting elements like classical music, glam rock, cabaret and electronica and she frequently uses burlesque, steam punk and Victorian themes in her music and stage shows. We were really pleased that she could spend some time talking to us in the run up to her American tour with The Birthday Massacre. Her first studio album, Enchant, was released in 2003 to great success. Emilie's style then was very different to how it is now – she describes it herself as “having become more detailed, more intricate, fewer primary colours, more muted but more variety” and is proud of her evolution of style, which is an important part of finding yourself. On stage Emilie produces fantastic costumes and sets but even in her private life she is a compulsive crafter who nearly always makes her own clothes; "if I purchase something, it’s specifically so that I can screenprint some design on it, or something I think might be fun to shred.”
"I’ve still found the best revenge to be a good song"
Over the last ten years she has developed a devout and committed fanbase nicknamed The Plague Rats, who have been there for her through thick and thin; occasionally these fans are promoted to the prestigious role of Bloody Crumpet, a title for the female dancers and performers that provide her live back-up. What is a Bloody Crumpet, you might ask, and how does one become one? "They are usually the ones sitting alone in the corner of the café with a nervous tic and a noticeable problem fitting into the ordinary world,” Emilie jibes. “Like attracts like." Over the years she has had eleven Crumpets and her current line-up consists of Veronica Varlow who has been part of the act since 2007, and newcomer Amalthea aka Moth who joined the show in October of 2013 when Captain Maggot announced she would be taking a break to pursue her own music.
An important part of Emilie's art lies in her mental health issues which have troubled her throughout her entire life, and it has been interesting to see the evolution of her music in this respect. In her early career she seemed much angrier and cited revenge as her motivation, but has now clarified that “the real message is about justice…the righting of wrongs...and, for the record, I’ve still found the best revenge to be a good song.” Emilie struggled with her problems for a long time before realising “I AM special and individual and unique, but I am NOT alone. No one is alone.” She now aims to be the person that reminds others of this fact, turning her negative experiences into something positive for everyone else.
Another important aspect of her personal and emotional progress is her crafty nature. “I do believe that creativity is absolutely necessary to live a healthy, happy life, despite whatever you’re dealing with, mentally" she comments, reinforcing everything we believe about the positive effects of crafting. “You don’t have to write books and albums and design an entire stage show around it, but you’ve got to do something to use what is going on and transform it.” She is well known for making elaborate costumes for her stage shows, both for herself and her Bloody Crumpets who all have distinctive styles and characters - “I simply base every element around the character that the costume is supposed to represent...If the costume is good, you know what the character stands for before the wearer even moves or speaks." This is most obvious in the case of Captain Maggot, one of her longest-serving Crumpets, whose pirate costume has represented the start of the show for years. When I asked for her favourite creation she could only answer that it's difficult because “all costumes represent characters that I am so deeply in love with” - from the original Pyrate Captain Vecona to resident cannibal Blessed Contessa, all her girls have had distinct personalities and skills.
Inspiration for her shows come from her own life as well as the work of literary geniuses like Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare; "Oscar Wilde’s humor and wit has been a significant influence on me, which I think has actually programmed my mind to deal with difficult situations, such as turning a psyche ward incarceration into a joyful career,” she noted. “It’s all about finding the joke. And there is almost always a joke." She also has an interest in Daphne du Maurier, an English author and playwright who should be best known for writing The Birds (which the Hitchcock film was based on), a person whom Emilie admires as “she's very dark and detailed and descriptive.” Quite possibly her darkest album, the title of the 2006 Opheliac was inspired by the Shakespearean character who was driven mad by controlling men and committed suicide, and contains the song Shalott, based on The Lady of Shalott by Lord Tennyson. She even hinted in our chat about at a future project in which she will create an audiobook series of Edgar Allan Poe's entire works, which she is sure which infect her mind in a significant way.
"Oscar Wilde’s humor and wit has been a significant influence on me, which I think has actually programmed my mind to deal with difficult situations, such as turning a psyche ward incarceration into a joyful career”
Although the Poe series is some way off, her fans will be pleased to hear that there is something much bigger in the works: an Asylum musical! The subject of her semi-autobiographical book The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls, which deals heavily with her time in an institution, has been expanded into her most recent album Fight Like A Girl and in 2014 Emilie aims to release a musical version of the story. She will be working with Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed her F.L.A.G video, and is now in the process of composing original pieces of music for the show and casting roles other than hers, and the Bloody Crumpets' – the announcement at a gig in London about the musical was met with cheers from audiences and fans worldwide.
In her alter-ego as The Admiral, Emilie is part of the Platonic Friends duo with the actor, dancer, singer and producer Marc Senter, known in the Friends context as SharC. Marc also starred in the Fight Like A Girl music video and in the short musical horror film The Devil's Carnival with appearances from Emilie Autumn, Captain Maggot and The Blessed Contessa. "The beauty of it is that Marc is a well known indie actor with a lot of integrity, and I've got the same reputation in music, but Platonic Friends is all about selling out.” Sounds intriguing! “We also have breakdancing as an actual instrument." Merchandise is expected to come before music, and apparently following @platonicfriendz on Twitter will provide you with educational Shark Facts from SharC on a daily basis, for those with an interest in undersea life.
What else is on the table for the Queen of Rats? “The Asylum Emporium is in testing stages for my new Signature Blend tea, which is a rich black tea flavoured with almonds, cocoa, and rose petals,” she dished. Currently the website stocks a blend of tea called Basil's Brew, a Chinese Silver Needle tea with peony, peppermint and chrysanthemum flowers, but she hopes that her new blend will become a High Tea favourite. The “Laboratory” section of the Emporium which has remained blank for a year now is rumoured to be a return to selling perfume; she once released a perfume called Mistress which was co-created by Queen fLee, and released the song “O, Mistress Mine” for free with the product, which came with rose petals.
Whether she's Emily-with-a-y, the Asylum inmate responsible for the Asylum letters, dressed as the Rat in grey rags or glammed up for her role as The Admiral, Emilie aims to inject creativity into everything that she does, and expresses herself through costume, expressive dance and performance. The last decade of her career has seen her progress from the fairy of Enchant, to the fury-filled Opheliac, and finally to a beautiful woman who is proud of herself, her mind and her body at last. “Every woman should experience this feeling. I’m becoming myself. That will never stop.”