Interview: Neo-Victorian Violinist, Singer Emilie Autumn

In the US, Emilie Autumn has long been well-known for her violin skills. She has played with Courtney Love and Billy Corgan and her violin "shredding" can even be heard on Metalocalypse. But, for years now, she has been releasing solo records and touring across Europe with her band, The Bloody Crumpets. After a three year wait, Autumn's career-defining album, Opheliac, will finally be available Stateside through label The End. The album precedes the December release of her book, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, which combines a detailed account of Autumn's battle with bipolar disorder with historical details of Victorian asylums.

With a neo-Victorian style evident both in her music and her self-made costumes, Autumn has gained a large and devoted fan base in the US, known alternately as Muffins and Plague Rats, even without domestic distribution. For her current tour, she offered VIP packages that include a post-show reading/meet-and-greet along with a signed poster and a signed copy of her forthcoming book. The VIP passes sold out almost immediately.

This Sunday, Autumn will be playing at the Sunset Strip's Key Club. We caught up with her by phone as she ran tour-related errands in Texas to discuss her fan forum diaries, interest in Victorian times and Ophelia.

How did the idea for the VIP packages come about?

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I think that the idea was, one thing was being able to talk to people. I'm not a big fan of charging people for a signature or a picture or whatever, but realized that what we used to do in the last three years of touring Europe almost constantly was stay for up to two hours after the show to sign and talk to people. It got to the point of being almost dangerous. We had to be whisked away sometimes because of things getting out of hand. It seemed more dangerous to the fans, actually, because we're behind a table doing signings and they're pushing each other, people are passing out and things that I am in no way famous enough to justify. Seriously, it's ridiculous, but that's what happens when a lot of people are in a room together apparently and they convince themselves that this is something to be excited about.

This is because I'm not able to do that this time. It's about wanting to see people, but also about getting them the book, which is the most important thing in my life right now. It's very surprising to me that almost all of the VIPs sold out in every city, even in places where I didn't know that anybody cared. It's a very encouraging start to the adventure of "Now you're in America." We've never done anything here, it's always been out of the country.

How did you end up bringing your music to the US?

I was initially signed to a German label a few years ago. I've made six things since, singles that sort of thing, but the main album, Opheliac came out in its first edition then in a sort of European release. Because they were based in Germany, everything revolved around that and spread out to the rest of Europe. That seems to be the thing that happens to a lot of hard-to-classify, more eccentric artists. Europe is a bit more embracing at first and then America catches on.

Very recently, I broke away from basically my entire staff-- scandal, drama, music industry. Nobody gets away from it, it seems.

So, I broke away with that label, signed to The End in New York, new management, new booking, new everything. My manager is still in Germany, new manager, but being that the label and everything is based in the US, I get to actually make this record here, where I'm actually from and get that done. This is a personal first, so I can't move on to chapter two until basically everybody gets to hear chapter one. It wouldn't even make sense because, it's a concept album, so it's like the movie continues, so I can't move on until America gets this record, and basically every other country I haven't hit yet.

You've been working on your book too, so wouldn't that be taking a lot of your time right now?

It did, but it wasn't done incredibly recently. It's always perfected and tweaked with the more time I have, but it's been ready to come out for a bit over two years now. Things kept getting in the way. There were some slight dramatic issues because it is an autobiography and it seems as if things that are actually true run the risk of being ever-so-slightly dangerous, not to sound self-important, especially when you're talking about hospitals, things that people know about and you're saying some scary things, you have to be prepared for the backlash. There was an issue with people not wanting the book to come out and so I dealt with that and I ended up in the position where I didn't have to change anything, so it's fine and it's coming out and that's part of the VIP tickets.

 

A lot of your work draws from a Victorian aesthetic, when did you come to embrace that?

I'm a big stupid history nerd. I've been completely fascinated with history because it tells everything about what's going to happen next because it's cyclical, everything repeats in general.

It used to be Elizabethan, learning about those times and being obsessed with that. Since the Opheliac thing started, it's a lot of different things, but the Ophelia character in particular, which by adding a c at the end of the word, I've made in my own gibberish into a disease, even though Ophelia in Hamlet is from Elizabethan times, in Victorian times, there was a resurgence to near obsession with that character. There were many female suicides. It became very glamorous. My song "Art of Suicide" is a very sarcastic take on the literal art of suicide, these paintings and poems. In the 1800s, there were so many paintings of Ophelia drowning and it was this obsession with death, female suicide. I mean, Ophelia is the original Suicide Girl. Initially, I identified with the Ophelia character because my life experience around the Opheliac record time mirrored hers to a frightening degree of accuracy. So, I started to look into the history of that character. What that led me to was when I was locked up in the insane asylum of our own modern times and I was diagnosed with manic-depression, aka bipolar disorder, my way of viewing those things was the history of insane asylums. I found that the Victorian era in general was when so many of the things we have today started. There was some type of psychological doctor shit going on, this was when we had our first lobotomies and when electroshock started. I actually just found an antique, legitimate Victorian electroshock machine. It's terrifying.

It carries over into the music. It wasn't meant to be cutesy, but the fact that I'm categorized largely in industrial mainly because of yelling a lot and the kind of drum programming I do, that is the industrial revolution. I intentionally try to use things that sound like locomotives or old machinery and things that's representative of that time. So, it's sort of a steampunk thing, which I didn't know about at the time but think is pretty awesome. Just the mix of things that don't go together is how you create things throughout history. That's how we come out with this music that's hard to categorize as "Victoriandustrial." If I have to categorize it anything, I call it glam rock because there's a lot of glitter on the stage.

Why keep a journal in your fan forums?

I love to write and to get to know the people who are listening. That's the fascinating thing, because I never expected to do anything that people would listen to, especially the Opheliac record. I did it because it was the documentation of a completely life-changing and life-ending experience and I did it not knowing what category it was in or whether anyone would care. It didn't even matter. It doesn't even matter now, I would be doing what I'm doing now on stage in my living room. I would be making the same music if nobody were listening and honestly, I don't give a damn about what people think about it or whether they like it. It's nice if they do, but it really doesn't matter to me.

Not having that assumption that people would care about you at all, it's always fascinating to get slightly into that world of who are these people and to talk to them. Now I'm such a literary freak that it's just a chance to write and because I'm crazy opinionated and can't be quiet. I just like to talk a lot. I like words.

For more on artists like Emilie Autumn, follow @lizohanesian on Twitter.

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