Malibu native Emilie Autumn was classically trained on violin from the tender age of four. Admitted to the University of Music in Bloomington, Indiana at only fifteen, Autumn found herself unable to simply blend with classmates, and left after just two years. She started her own label, Traitor Records in 2000, but halted work on her first full-length, Enchant to record a single benefiting 9/11 survivors. Reworking the album to incorporate her new “fantasy rock” direction, she released the fourteen track CD in 2003.
She was snapped up later that year by Courtney Love as her own "anarchy violinist” for Love’s 2004 solo effort, America’s Sweetheart. Autumn has also sessioned on albums by Otep and Billy Corgan (she also worked on costume design for his video, “Walking Shade) and was asked to guest on Dethklok’s infinite “Dethalbum” and even appeared on Adult Swim’s “Metalocalypse.” Autumn has also appeared on The Jay Leno and David Letterman shows and her songs were featured on the Saw III and Saw IV soundtracks. As musician she has introduced her own" Victoriandustrial" style, consisting of original pieces played on the electric violin, backed by the harpsichord, drum machines and synthesizers.
The U.S. debut of her album, Opheliac – The Deluxe Edition this past October 27, boasts five bonus tracks, live concert footage, video interviews, and recording outtakes. This latest effort, completely self-produced, touches upon Autumn’s personal struggles with mental health, which she has detailed even more in her autobiographical novel, "The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” (a must-read!)
Emilie’s shows are quite the spectacle: a sexually charged mix of Victorian and Gothic, Burlesque and Vaudeville, Metal and Electronica, backed by all-female backup singers “The Bloody Crumpets.” Autumn also runs her own clothing, accessory and perfume lines via the company that she co-owns with “Lee Queen of Tarts,” Lee Ann Helmer, WillowTech House.
The absolutely riveting Emilie was awesome enough to spare Glide a few moments backstage at her recent Williamsburg, Brooklyn Music Hall performance. The show did not disappoint. You’ve never seen anything like it, I promise, so make sure you do not miss her the next time she comes to your town (but don’t wear heeled boots, as I did, despite the fact that Emilie’s audience has a penchant for dressing up – they’re two and a half hours long!)
I got a sneak preview of your book.
You did? Awesome, I’m so glad!
Yes, I did, you have good publicity people – I’m excited! Tell the readers a little bit about what they’re going to be seeing.
It is The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls. It is my debut massive, large-scale novel, and in addition to being a novel, kind of a historical thriller, because it spans two hundred years (Victorian) it is also my autobiography. It is true, that no matter how crazy it seems, it is. It’s got so many arcs, like a story within a story within a story, but there’s an overall theme. You learn about Victorian insane asylums for girls and our modern day psych wards, and that not much has changed between the two, and that’s a problem. It’s a very extensive account of bi-polar disorder (for obvious reasons) and I think that it’s definitely rated R, but there’s something for everybody.
It’s also just a beautiful, almost coffee table type of book; we didn’t do black text on white paper. Everything is fully illustrated to try and tell the story in as complete a way as possible. Yes, it’s about me and my life, but more over, it’s about the world of the asylum, and that’s something that I’m only a miniscule part of – it’s so much bigger than me.
The main thing, I think, is that I need everybody to go out and buy like fifty to a hundred copies each. That way, we can get it to be a New York Times best seller, which is necessary, because, obviously, we have to make a movie out of it.
Is everybody listening?
Yeah, if you could just do that, it would be so great. If you want to see a movie, that’s what it’s going to take, because this is not a small budget. Thank you so much.
You know, I studied psychology twenty years ago and turned my back on the industry then due to the poor conditions in the asylums. I don’t know if I should be disheartened at this point, because nothing has changed still.
So you know this. Basically, you’re experimented on, you’re sexually fucked with and you can’t do a goddamned thing about it, because you’re the crazy girl and he’s the head psychiatrist – who are you going to believe? So, what is my ultimate revenge; lawsuits? Not gonna happen, because how can I fight somebody with a million dollar education? They’re not gonna go down without a fight, and everyone’s going to think I’m crazy anyway, because I’m bi-polar. It’s so easy to blame everything on that when, in reality, it’s not even responsible for most parts of my life. It’s definitely a part of everything that I do, but it doesn’t make me do anything.
What is my ultimate revenge? A lawsuit would be over in a day, but a song or a book is eternal. You can tell the truth in that and get everybody to sing along, and that’s revenge. That is the ultimate rule of “Don’t fuck with the songwriter.” Just don’t, it’s not going to end up well for you.
People take that risk sometimes – you just don’t know who anyone’s gonna turn out to be. That’s the best revenge for all of us artists: consider yourselves exposed!
You’ve always been your own person, even when you were little – a few words of encouragement, to maybe for some kids who are trying to make it as artists and are feeling squashed and discouraged?
You just have to want something so badly – as corny as that sounds – that you really can’t do anything else. Just say “Fuck you” to anybody that tries to change you; I wish somebody had advised me of this at the time. Just know that everybody – from the time you are born – is going to tell you that it’s too different and it’s not going to sell and you’re never going to make enough money to buy your mom a house and all of that. They’re going to say that you need to change and that you need them.
You could have a perfect record, and some big-shot producer from somewhere will come in and say “You really need to change this, because I could make it so much better,” yet there’s nothing wrong with what you did; it’s the “You need me” game. That especially happens to girls, because we’re so willing to be told what to do; it’s almost like genetically ingrained at this point, and we have to change that.
The last note is just work until you bleed. Don’t take any short-cuts, don’t expect people to support you. Don’t expect people to be nice or even like what you do, and don’t care if they don’t; believe that you know what’s right for you. You can’t compromise anything – you might have twenty years of absolute misery, but if you want it that badly, it’s going to be worth it. It was worth it to me, because I did.
You’ve certainly accomplished that!
Thank you very much. I talk to a lot of musicians who like to complain “Why haven’t I made it yet? Why aren’t I being recognized, why am I not signed?” It’s that sense of entitlement that I think is so backwards. I don’t feel entitled to anything! I don’t know that anybody knows who I am or will like me – it’s a great symptom of getting to do what you want to do; it’s lovely, but it’s not the point.
How many bands want to bitch about not getting what they want, and how many people are really honest-to-God fucking interesting? Not many that I can think of; it’s like that’s the one thing that they didn’t think of.
You can’t write a song and expect anybody to give a fuck, because there are too many songs in this world already. Be interesting!
Well, I think what happens is that (not to single anybody out) they look at someone like Josh Groban or Taylor Swift and think “Hey, that’s an ordinary person writing an ordinary song, why can’t I have that?”
Exactly, and that’s the thing: those people might not be terribly interesting, but they’ve got a great marketing team. They won’t be legends who last forever, and it doesn’t matter. If you’re on a huge label with huge management that throws millions of dollars into you, realize that there is the lowest common denominator of humankind. They’re always going to gravitate toward something simple and easy that feels good, but do you really want to be that? If you do, then by all means don’t be interesting, because that’s gonna ruin your career. I’m guessing that most of us would like something a little bit more dangerous, just because it’s so much more fun.
I like my art to challenge me. If I’m going to watch a movie or a performance, or look at a painting, I want to think.
To learn something! Yeah, I don’t want to go to feel better. I want it to fuck me up a little bit – even if something is so beautiful that it makes you cry. That’s perfect, that is the point. You can’t be afraid to do that, and if you do, you’re going to be unpopular some of the time. You just can’t care, and if you care, then you just don’t want it badly enough and you should be doing something else – and that’s great.
I don’t mean to sound like a complete ass, but I really believe that the world is divided into the people that should be onstage and the people that should be in the audience, and both are equally valuable. We both need each other; we can’t have one without the other, and both are part of the show. I think that so many people wouldn’t want the job that I or that people much bigger than me actually have – it’s not that glamorous.
I don’t think they realize that.
Nobody does, and that’s okay, because part of it is to keep the illusion alive. I most definitely don’t make six million dollars a year or live in an ivory tower. I do have a nice tour bus, and that kicks ass, but that’s the extent of the glamorous part. I did a photo shoot just a moment ago – with an awesome rock-n-roll famed photographer – literally in a dumpster, and I had the time of my life. It was the best thing I’ve ever done; it was full of garbage, and I hope that I don’t smell like it. You’re being very nice, which means I don’t smell like trash.
Well, we’re both wearing perfume – that could be it, too.
We’re fine, sexy, civilized ladies; we are so classy.
And you know what? We’re also dangerous.
Most fine, civilized ladies are. We’re getting crazy up in this place – I like it! Let’s keep going from here.
“Opheliac” is pretty dangerous. It’s also tracked in a very interesting way. I thought that having the white noise on “Swallow” in the middle of the record was a ridiculous idea – I’ve never seen anyone do something like that before. You don’t want to switch tracks, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I was actually on the train listening to it, and it was blending in with the train noise; I didn’t know if I was listening to the song or the train. It was this really cathartic experience; it was crazy! I was like “This is so original.” You self-produced; do you miss having somebody else bounce ideas off of?
I don’t, mainly because I’ve never had that, and it’s a sad thing, but it’s not. Maybe it’s my own bad luck, but any time I’ve had somebody with whom I could potentially be like “Help me on this” it’s always turned out to be somebody that just takes control of it, or wants to. I’m so stupidly, violently independent that I can’t. Obviously, I hate being told what to do. I don’t have a marketing person, even, that advises me, because I’ve only gotten this far because I did it myself. The thing about that is that it keeps the vision pure.
It isn’t that I’m the best at everything – I’m not the best singer or whatever, but I work fucking hard to be very good at it, and I’m determined to learn anything I don’t already know, and I’ll never, ever stop. It’s kind of ironic and funny – something that I laugh at a lot now – that people are starting to see this whole thing: me, the show, everything, as pretty damned marketable. I know that the only reason that it’s marketable is because I’ve never had a marketing person to get in the way and fuck it up and try to make it marketable.
That is a really interesting point, wow.
You brand automatically, without even trying, when you just keep it so raw and pure and don’t let anyone touch it. Something as weird and eccentric as this whole world, this alternate reality which I do (yet it’s completely real) it’s hard to categorize all of that. The fact that we appeal to literally, like, four years old to like, sixty-five – that’s who comes to all ages shows. The four year olds come and they sit on their dads shoulders and they know all the words to everything.
Is that trippy?
It’s really trippy! We’ve been in Europe for the last three years; this is our first North American tour – I didn’t know if anybody would even show up. It’s working out, but I think the most trippy thing is when we do other countries and, without exception, they know every word to every song. We just did Mexico, and it was the largest, most rabid crowd we’ve ever had. I had heard that that happens, from other artists who’ve played Mexico City, but I didn’t think it’d happen for me. I was like “How do you guys even know who I am?” That is the power of the internet though! That’s why I love it when the kids tape shows and post them on YouTube within ten minutes, because we need that. We shouldn’t be fighting against that.
In your case, the bootlegging is more beneficial than harmful.
See, that’s the “be interesting” thing again. If you produce unchallenging music, or if you yourself are not that magnetic, where people need to own it and hold it in their hands, then yeah, you’re going to get illegally downloaded. I know I’ll get illegally downloaded, too – all of us will – but I don’t feel terribly hurt by that, because any real fan (which are really the only kind that that I care about anyway) will buy the record. In fact, they buy two copies – one that they keep in shrink wrap and the other that they bring to shows to have signed. I see this all the time, and it’s crazy, but how is that for “Yeah, record sales suck?” Well, maybe they could be better; they suck for a lot of people, but I don’t see that, I see people buying doubles.
It’s simply because I care about the packaging; all of it matters, and you do have to work for it. You do have to give people more than just “Hey, here’s a CD.” You do have to draw pictures or put yourself into it somehow, and make every single detail equally important, just as it is in the show. As you know, it’s not just a rock show, it’s a Broadway musical, and we’ve got some new tricks. It’s going to get crazy; it’s gonna look a little dangerous, but don’t worry, because I’m not gonna fall.
I would totally fall.
Really? I’ve been working on my balance. These aren’t the best shoes to be climbing things in (indicates six inch pink stiletto-heeled boots) but it looks good, so I’ll do it.
Yeah, I’m a little girl who can’t walk in heels at all.
I never wore heels really; I was always in combat boots with platforms and stuff – because I’m short and I like to be taller – but I just saw these and I thought they were so ridiculously sugary and gorgeous, that I learned to walk in heels just for these, and to actually like, dance in them onstage. It’s worth it; I only fell twice.
You only broke your ankle fourteen times?
Yeah, and it’s like that thing, if you’re up there…say I’m in a photo shoot, and I’m trying to look cool, it’s going to be a disaster. The safest thing is to just be an idiot from the very beginning, because then nobody can call you that; you’ve already called yourself that. You can’t look uncool if you already started out that way.
You can’t take yourself too seriously.
That’s the whole thing; we don’t. I take my music, obviously, intensely seriously, but as far as the live performance, or just how I present myself, whether it’s in photos or whatever, it’s always supposed to be slightly sarcastic or over the top dramatic, or just stupid and ridiculous – me looking like an idiot, or being awesomely pretentious to where you can’t even take it seriously. My whole signature move, the “Ohh” (makes faint, high-pitched voice) it’s supposed to be ridiculous and over the top. I mean, I’m a weirdo who draws a heart on their face every day; how can I take that seriously? I know it’s crazy, but it makes me happy, and I love it, and old ladies smile at me on the street, as do four year olds, because they think I’m a Muppet.
Which is perfect, because you know what? My whole career goal was to be a guest star on The Muppet Show and it’s tragic that t
that’s over. I’m still hoping for “Sesame Street,” but we’ll see how that goes.
Anybody listening out there? Come on, somebody set that up!
Yeah, get me some Cookie Monster!
Explain the term “fantasy rock” – like, how did you come up with that idea?
It doesn’t so much apply now; it applied back in the day with the “Enchant” record, before the whole Asylum thing happened, before I was locked up. Obviously, once that happens, you’re never ever the same person again. From then on, when I got out, I looked different, I sounded different – a completely different voice – I thought differently, everything was different. You never, ever can go back to before once you’ve been in, you never really get out, and that’s why I have my cell number tattooed on my arm. Don’t even try to pretend it didn’t happen; don’t even try to run away from it, own it. Say “Yeah, if you’re gonna call me crazy, I’ll show you crazy, and I’ll make a career out of it, and I’ll make crazy pay for the gas on my fucking expensive tour bus.”
A kind of “Fuck you” to the stigma, because it is one.
It is, and that’s because nobody understands it. I know that I’m derailing, but it’s fun to talk about the whole bi-polar thing for a second.
Well, it’s part of what you’re doing right now, you should talk about it.
Yeah, that’s true. There again, it’s like: don’t try to pretend, because you realize that the moment that you’re on a psychiatric drug, you’re not really going to be taken seriously anymore, and the moment that you are locked up, it’s all over for you. So I could either try to live a normal life and be 9-5, whatever, and have background checks and psychiatric evaluations and have that matter, or I can take everything and make it my career. Now it’s like: how can you fuck with that; it’s what we’re making money off of, and that’s a beautiful thing. I’m honestly pretty proud of that, because I’m not ashamed of anything. I may not be happy about it, but I’m not ashamed of doing the things that I’ve done to myself – I’ve never hurt anybody else.
The thing is that bi-polar disorder/manic depression, to begin with, is so intensely misunderstood in a way that really affects people and really matters. It doesn’t help if you’ve got people in Hollywood – Britney shaving her head and showing her whatever-the-hell (I couldn’t think of a clever word to call that right now) we’ve all seen it a million times, and not just with her. Basically, a famous person behaves badly and the next day in the paper, they start calling her bi-polar. It’s like “Oh my God, she acted crazy, she must be bi-polar.” It’s almost like calling somebody a retard.
It’s passed into common vernacular and people don’t even really understand what they’re talking about.
Yeah, it’s like saying “That bitch is insane, she’s acting all bi-polar” and the thing is, no, they’re hopped up on drugs, that’s what. They might be miserable, and they might have good reason to be, but they’re not bi-polar – that’s something entirely different. This condition has made me try to kill myself, but it’s never made me get out of a cab without underwear or shave my head. It made me cut my hair, but that was different – I left a few inches on there.
It’s kinda like the post-partum depression that somehow turns into homicidal behavior – I’m not buying that, either.
Right. I see that and I think that I agree, but…wow, I was about to say never having been pregnant, but it happened. It was terminated, obviously, and that’s in the book, so I can’t even be quiet about that now as it’s all going to come out anyway.
That’s a stigma too now, thanks to the Conservative movement.
It is. I mean, I hesitate to say that I or this book are important enough to have any backlash, but I suspect that it will. We’re going to push it; I won’t stop until it is read, because it is everything to me – my whole life. It’s the most important thing that I have ever done, and likely ever will. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s massive, epic, huge and it’s everything. I have almost no more secrets now, and it’s pretty scary, but it’s also just a bit cathartic, because you don’t have to wonder anymore if people understand you or not. I’ve never felt entirely understood – and any complex person never will – but this gives me at least a better chance at that. You know that if people like you, they like you even knowing all of this, and I think that is a nice thing in some way.
It does talk about all of the things you’re not supposed to talk about.
I’m a big fan of that.
I can tell! In this world, we talk about depression now – not that it’s understood, because it’s not – but we do talk about it. We talk about rape and child abuse and all of those things, which we should (and those are in the book, too) but there are still some things that we really don’t talk about. We don’t talk about suicide and we don’t talk about cutting, and we don’t talk about a lot of diseases that people absolutely don’t understand. We don’t talk enough, or in the right ways, about abortion and all of those things.
No, we just try to squash it.
That’s the thing: we squash it or it’s just about taking sides, or it’s about Women’s Rights (and that’s good,) but there’s so much more to it: how it affects you forever, and how it feels to have one. I mean, people don’t realize, and it’s not meant, anyway.
They pass judgment before they understand the problem first.
And they don’t know what this is like. You don’t know what finding out that you’re pregnant when you’ve been continuously on the pill feels like – when you are that point one percent, and I was. Try to judge that; I didn’t go around being irresponsible. I can’t believe we’re talking about this – I have never, ever talked about this in an interview before. I realize now: it doesn’t matter anymore, because I can’t pretend to be more glamorous than I am; it’s all going to be there anyway, so I feel like “Why not?”
I have my own things that I hide too, and I’m listening to you and wondering why we do that. I remember having an anxiety attack at work and being terrified that they were going to find out, because you feel crazy. How do you explain to somebody that you think you’re having a heart attack when you’re not?
You’re viewed as naturally weak, and people will, they will! They will absolutely think “Wow, you’re a little bit unstable.” Even something even as simple as “mentally unstable,” especially when you’re not working exclusively for yourself, is something you don’t want.
It’s such a dismissive term.
Well, that’s why I felt the need – it’s not just about me and this bullshit, it’s about this other world, and most of the book is this world and what goes on in it; this alternate reality that I had to create in order to survive while not being allowed to have contact with the outside world. What I didn’t know at the time is that it would all become very, very real, and it’ll all make sense when (hopefully) you read it.
It’s necessary, because people are just so fucking cruel about it, and a lot of the book is just about that. Like, look at how we behave toward these people who need help and compassion and care. Like, it’s so true that so many people’s reactions to an attempted suicide are anger…
Scorn, disgust. Same with cutting yourself, same with even having to be on drugs in order to survive. There is so much absolute brutality and cruelty.
They call you weak.
And, almost the worst thing that’s happened to me with all of this – probably the most cruel, honestly, in spite of all the abuse and harassment – the most degrading thing is when your boyfriend does something shitty, and you have an actual problem with that, and they say “Have you taken your medication today? That’s the equivalent of asking “Is it your time of the month?” It’s no different, and there’s nothing worse than that. People feel that they have a right to do that, and that’s the point: it discredits everything you say, everything you do, and everything you will ever do.
It’s almost my only hope, in getting through this life with any semblance of happiness, to own it and to make my life entirely about it. Just the complete reverse psychology of it is that I am not ashamed. I maybe should be, but I’m not ashamed of that or anything that I’ve done. I think we need to talk about it – I need to talk about it – but the trick is that nobody likes to be preached to. You need to do it with humor, and the book is also very funny (or I would like to think so.) God, that sounded pompous, but anyway, I try.
The show really just highlights how to say this message in – as childish as it sounds –with massive doses of humor; using sexuality to do it, because I have no problem with that whatsoever. I think it’s a great, awesome, beautiful thing, using those tools in order to send the message that you want to send. Even if it’s as simple as letting people know that we’re all in this together and they’re not alone and we still get unequal pay as a reward. That hasn’t changed, and so much hasn’t changed, and it needs to.
I think that one of the most awesome things that’s ever, ever happened to me is when we were sound-checking for the concert recently in Mexico City. One of the crew guys who worked for the venue came up and said that he was a fan of the music, but what he really appreciated the most (and he was fully in that culture – a guy’s guy) was that, in our own way, we are educating men there to treat women. That machismo thing which is a huge part of their culture (they know that – it’s not derogatory, it’s the truth.) He was saying “This is how guys are – here, especially – and you’re helping to change that.
Now, I don’t think we’re really helping to change that, but it’s cool that he thought so, and that he, as a guy, thought “This is good.” Guys would be so much happier – and they don’t even know it – if this were all equal, and that’s all we’re asking for. You know what I’m saying?
Changing behavior is definitely what it’s about.
It is – it’s about changing thought process, behavior, reaction, all of that. Educating in whatever way I can, and even more than all of that, it’s just about creating an environment where even I can be accepted in that process. Creating it and letting other people share in it, because that’s the funny thing, is that now everybody wants to be an inmate. It’s hilarious, because the asylum is actually the last place on earth that you should want to be, but that’s the joke, and it’s a beautiful one. It makes me smile, which is a very, very long time coming type of thing. In the end, the whole show – and the fun that we have together onstage – is all about taking back the asylum and making it what always should have been.
A fucking asylum is a sanctuary; a place where you go to be safe. It’s not how it was, and not how it is now, but we can create it for ourselves, even if it’s just us, in this venue – us right now, together. That’s the point, because I need a place to live, and I’m not comfortable outside the asylum, because it’s not set up for me to be comfortable.
So, I will make my own reality and I will build my own house, and surround myself with people who will understand – even if it’s just my band. We are all best friends, and in the end, it’s like: fuck all the rest of this, and what I have to complain and write books about. How fucking lucky am I that I get to tour the planet with my four best girlfriends? In the end, I’ve realized that I have very little to complain about, and I’m grateful for all of this.
And that the suffering was necessary.
It was, and it still is. It continues, and it always will, but I am going to accept it and learn from it, and make it entertaining for everybody else. The truth is that people love to watch a crazy girl freak out, and I’m going to deliver, because I can. It’s honest, and fuck it, I don’t blame them – but I’m going to look good doing it.