By Carl Begai
If Tim Burton were to direct a stage production of Cats it would end up being an Emilie Autumn show.
The bottom line is that until you’ve seen her perform you can’t truly understand or appreciate the hype that Emilie’s beloved Plague Rat followers dish out on a daily basis. And perform she does. With the help of four of her closest f(r)iends – affectionately known as The Bloody Crumpets – and a diehard fanbase that hangs on every note, word, raised eyebrow, spilled teacup and adjusted-just-so body part, Emilie brings her music to kicking and screaming life with often stunning results. The show is a first class stage production with the potential to appeal to theatre-goers from all walks of life, yet it takes place more often than not in venues that normally host unwashed metal bands and their beer swilling supporters. From a personal perspective I was reminded of Evil Dead: The Musical, an independent Toronto-born theatre production launched in the back room of a seedy club in 2003 that has since exploded, receiving worldwide acclaim. While her music and show are a world apart from the Evil Dead, Emilie Autumn likewise has the audience wrapped around her finger from the moment the curtain goes up.
No question, she’s come a long, long way from her days as a mere stage prop for Courtney Love.
Ironically, for all the talk of performing this interview took place only days after Emilie was forced to cancel four shows on her European tour due to illness. A bitter pill to swallow for someone who lives on stage.
“It was the first time I’d ever had to cancel anything,” she says. “I’ve gone on stage deathly ill before but never had to try and do that with absolutely no voice whatsoever, so that was pretty tragic because it ruined my perfect track record. That sucked.”
Having to perform stripped down shows – no pun intended – at some of the stops on the European tour due to the size of the venues proved to be headache as well. Rather than sitting back and offering up half-measures, however, Emilie and her Crumpets pushed things as far as they could.
“We got really lucky with playing the full show on the tour, but so many places we don’t get to do the aerial or the fire so we just make the best of it. On a day where there’s not going to be fire there’s going to be more blood. We’ve got to make up for it somehow (laughs). On the American tour we had a bigger stage production compared to Europe because flying everything over to Europe is insanely expensive. We were operating on half, but the clearer stage made us realize that we are the show and not the props. We just have to be more sparkly or something to make up for it. Every slight disadvantage is something that makes you come up with something else, and that’s not an accident, it’s an opportunity (laughs).”
First timers to an Emilie Autumn show will invariably be surprised by the amount of narrative and interaction that goes on between the stage and audience. Additionally, the performance rarely comes off as rehearsed, as Emilie and her cohorts often seem as amused as the fans by what they’re able to get away with.
“Yeah, and it’s funny because we don’t think of it as being anything out of the ordinary anymore,” Emilie admits. “We forget that the format of the show is completely unexpected for some people. The show is pretty much an extension of what our real lives are like backstage (laughs). It’s highly improvised every night and that’s the fun of it. There are rules in improv, like never leaving the premise or suggestion of the piece, so we know how things are going to go, but there’s also the usual comedic stuff where if a joke goes over really well one night we tend to repeat it and see what happens. We hold on to bits that mean something to us and go on to the next thing when it arises. It’s so strange how I don’t think about it anymore unless I’m talking to somebody who actually brings it up.”
“It’s the kind of fun thing with theater where we really strive to go one way or another. It’s like, if it’s good it’s amazing. If it’s even slightly less than good the audience gets that feeling you get when you’re embarrassed for someone. That anxious feeling you get when something is really, really bad. What goes on on stage, it’s either embarrassing or it’s fucking mindblowing. There’s no middle ground. It’s almost like the rule in life where you plan for the future knowing that it’s going to come out completely than you thought because everything that’s changed for me getting to this point have all been madly unexpected life changes. Like the whole getting locked up thing; that changed everything and I certainly didn’t see that coming.”
The deeper one gets into the show – and it’s impossible for anyone with an open mind not to be drawn in – there’s a sense that the songs were written to compliment the stage production rather than the other way around. If that’s how it’s perceived, says Emilie, she’s accomplished what she set out to do when she decided to take on the world as a solo artist.
“I’ve learned with the show and the music in general to almost let it go knowing that it’s going to end up more strange and unexpected than anything I could possibly plan. You’re completely right in seeing that it’s not entirely about the music when it’s the show. When you have the album in the privacy of your own home it’s about the music. The show is about attempting the complete theatrical entertainment where the music is most important, but it doesn’t exist alone. The thing I really didn’t want, as you know, is to be a singer that goes out and just sing songs that are on the record because that’s not interesting to me.”
The rather obvious next step for Emilie’s travelling circus would be to plant some roots in a major city and hold an extended engagement. Asked if she’d be willing to give up the life of a touring musician for that of a theatre performer, she’s all for it.
“Yeah, absolutely. We joke about it all the time whenever we get to a venue that’s just fucking amazing. It’s like, ‘Can we just stay here?’ (laughs). We were in Luxembourg and it was a beautiful show. The lighting guy at the venue – because we don’t travel with our own at this point – was amazing. The lights were insane and you can’t buy that shit. It was Broadway quality and this guy took a personal interest in making it amazing. It’s almost a fantasy, but why wouldn’t we do it?”
“The real attraction of staying in the same place would be knowing that we’re in the most bad-ass environment every night and really being able to build a structure inside it,” she adds. “It’s what we would do and it would be completely unrecognizable to what we put on every night right now. Keeping the show somewhere would be great provided it was in the right place, at the right venue, and there is an audience that wants to come and see us.”
At which point Emilie drops a hint of what’s to come somewhere down the road.
“I’m going to tell you something, and you’re the first person I’ve told what our new plan is,” Emilie offers. “Usually our show borders on the three hour mark and it’s almost a joke, as in ‘How long can they keep going?’, so we’ve decided to do a show that is 40 hours straight. Seriously. What we would do is keep repeating the same two-and-a-half hour show that many times. We wouldn’t sleep, we’d just keep going and keep going. All at one venue, just this constant turnover of audiences where fans that want to hang out the whole time could buy a special pass or something. We want to get it into the Guinness Book Of World Records for the Longest Show Ever or something like that. It could be for charity, we would get sponsors, and have a public viewing area backstage where people could see us powering up on tea and chocolate. That’s our plan. We’re seriously going to start making it happen, little by little.”
I shudder to think what kind of affect sleep deprivation could have on a fully loaded Emilie Autumn show…
“Exactly (laughs). It would probably be better. What would happen is my voice would be amazing for 10 hours – ‘Amazing! Pristine!’ – and then it would just go to hell and be all the more entertaining.”
With the Opheliac record getting on in years – originally released in 2006 and having been pimped and updated a few times since – the push is on for a new album. Emilie says it’s “absolutely” in the works.
“I don’t have a release date because I’m making sure… it’s got to be as important to me as Opheliac is, which is still completely relevant as when I recorded it. I wouldn’t change a note. It has to be that important. I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t feel as life changing as that. I’m working on it, it has a title – I can’t tell you what it is but it’s going to be good – and it’s basically the next chapter.”
Asked to compare the new music to Opheliac, she hints at a darker and even violent direction. As expected, the word “compromise” is a dirty one and won’t come anywhere near the new record.
“It’s like when the beaten dog snaps and bites your face off or when the girls get out from behind the asylum bars to the other side. Shit’s going to go down when that happens because it’s going to be bloody. And beautiful. It’s going to be creepier, scarier, more metal, more violent, not for any reason other than that’s what happens in the story. If you read the book (The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls), that’s the next chapter. The next chapter, the show, the record, all of that will be about what you do when you realize what the situation is. How are you going to get yourself out of this or how are you going to make it work for you? Or, what’s the best revenge you could possibly have? And that’s taking down the doctors that fucked you over with their own tools.”
“When the new record finally comes out, the change in that, it’s basically Chapter 2. It’s the rule: once you’re in the asylum you never really get out, so that’s not going away. There’s not going to be a departure that I can see like there was from my older music to this era. That was a huge life change, the whole asylum thing, that I don’t foresee changing my life again to the point where I’m a completely different person. The show is something where the world will transform and you may see a different facet of it, and that’s the next part of the story, but it will always take place in the asylum. That’s not something that we’re going to get out of any time soon. It’ll just be different.”
— live photos by Carl Begai. All rights reserved.
— Rats poster by Carl Begai. With apologies to anyone that may be offended by tongue-in-cheek silliness.
My previous interview with the always awesome EA can be found here. It’s a good one, if I do say so myself… 😉