Pulled from the wreckage of her shattered-to-bits favourite teacup, Emilie Autumn quickly proves she’s more than just a pretty face with a sarcastic wink. Delightfully off-the-wall and refreshingly candid, the self-styled Victoriandustrial vocalist / songwriter / performer is an interview that demands you bring your “A” game and a genuine interest in what she does. She picks your brain as you pick hers, goes off on tangents that offer valuable insight on her artistic drive, and has no problem taking the piss out of anyone, herself included. Within the first few minutes of discussion it becomes clear that Emilie Autumn’s image – the hair, clothes, make-up, barbed online prose, stage show; everything right down to the pasties – is the real deal. There’s no striving for Alice Cooper / Marilyn Manson shock value, no calculated controversial remarks nor turn of bare thigh to keep the goth community entranced just a little longer. What you see is most certainly what you get.
“There’s not a damn thing contrived about me,” Emilie says of her image, which most fans and naysayers quite logically assume gets shoved into the closet when the curtain comes down. “I often times wish that it was and that I had a much more normal life, but I don’t. I can’t lie to you, I tone it down for the stage (laughs).”
Emilie has been wearing her personality on her proverbial sleeve since the beginning of her professional career, which began with Courtney Love’s 2003 solo album America’s Sweetheart as Mrs. Cobain’s “anarchy violinist.” Her own career as a solo artist kicked off in 2000, but it wasn’t until her association with Love and the 2006 release of Opheliac in Europe that the world began to take serious notice of her work. With the attention, however, came a sort of mindless worship from certain corners usually reserved for better established artists.
“I’ll tell you a funny story,” she offers. “I don’t allow myself to go on Wikipedia and read that stuff anymore. A couple of years ago I went on it because I was surprised that I even had an entry. Now I realize it’s not that big of an achievement, because I didn’t know initially that you could put up your own page (laughs). I also didn’t realize that people could alter your information and add their own things. So, the one and only time I went on Wikipedia, all the information about me was wrong in every way. It was written by someone who clearly didn’t know anything about me, and I was really indignant about it because I felt that I couldn’t have all this false information about me out there. I basically fixed all the information and took out everything that was blatantly wrong, and within five minutes of my doing that it was changed back and there were comments to the effect of ‘This is bullshit, that is totally not true…’ to the stuff I’d posted. At that point I said ‘Okay fuckers, I’m signing off.’”
Three years after Opheliac’s European release the album is finally available in North America. Not that securing the album from Europe in this day and age has proven to be a problem for anyone desperate to have it; Emilie’s legion of YouTube followers is staggering proof of her international appeal. Still, there has to be a certain amount of frustration in having to plug the album all over again, particularly in her American homeland.
“It’s not frustrating because things have gone much better and so much smoother than I would have ever thought,” she counters. “I don’t take any of this for granted and I don’t assume that anybody is going to hear about me and what I do, so it’s always a bit of a surprise no matter what. What was frustrating was not being here at home and not even having the choice. What really got to me was, to put it kindly, the level of aggression from US fans. And there are a lot of them that have been around for years without having heard me play a single note live. There was a point where they started getting violently angry that I was ‘ignoring’ the US that they threatened online to beat my now ex-manager’s head in. They felt he was responsible for my lack of playing in the US.”
“Of course, what nobody understands is… let me go down a list for you. Our economy sucks so naturally we’re going to get paid less. We’re going to get paid a lot less because we’re established in Europe and can demand a much higher price. Artists are treated unquestionably much better in Europe than they are here, so at home I’m not expecting anything until I prove myself. I don’t deserve anything until I prove myself, and that’s actually okay. People want to know why over the past three years I’ve basically played all over the world except North America, and it’s because we couldn’t. It was absolutely cost prohibitive.”
“It’s not very rock ‘n’ roll to tell people that,” she adds without missing a beat, “but I feel like it’s time because what’s happening now that we’re doing the North American tour – and it’s become a very interesting psychology experiment – is the European fans are getting angry because we’re not going over there. I’ve done back to back tours over there; they should be sick of me by now (laughs). I mean, does it not make sense to you that I should go home and tour there once in a while?”
As it turns out, the opportunity to do so came in a way Emilie never could have anticipated. She explains:
“I’m going to be perfectly honest and jaded about this, but the simple fact is that when it became known during my last European tour that I was replacing everybody working with and for me as part of my staff – record labels, booking agents, everything – it was utterly shocking to receive several offers from people who I thought were much too big in the business to work with. All of a sudden I had these options, and I had them in America. So I’ve been saying ‘Thank God’ for all the crap I went through to bring me to that point. I never would have discovered any of this otherwise. It really is wonderful, and that’s why I’m too grateful for the opportunity right now to be frustrated by it.”
Emilie has been a cult favourite in Europe since before the 2006 release of Opheliac, but the album cemented her place in certain circles as the artist to watch. Goth culture magazines turned her into a monthly staple if they could swing it, gothic rock and metal fans locked into her Depeche Mode goes Trent Reznor with Tori Amos sound even though it stuck out like a sore thumb in their CD collections.
“Everybody in the industry that I’d worked with me told me to go to Europe, because they would accept me because I was eccentric and my music was hard to categorize,” says Emilie. “It wasn’t in my plans to go there first, it was because the record label I had at the time – which I’m no longer involved with, thank God – was German. They brought me over to Europe and lo and behold, it was true.”
Three years on and Emilie is more popular than ever in Europe even though language barriers guarantee that most European fans won’t and don’t get all the nuances of her songs. A shame considering the amount of work and thought put into most of the lyrics.
“That’s actually a really big issue for me, and it’s funny that nobody else has ever picked up on that. It is significant, definitely, and it’s very satisfying when people understand the intricacies of the lyrics. In Europe, I don’t know how much the fans get out of the lyrics, but I do know that some of them have gone to an incredible amount of trouble to really understand what I’m saying because it matters enough to them. They definitely have to work for it. Other times I get the sense that… when we’re performing, for example, I don’t know if everyone gets the joke. That’s okay though, because it’s all in how you say it and they laugh in all the right places. The problem is that when I do interviews, for example, they don’t always see the sarcasm or when I’m joking, and that’s very difficult. So many of my songs are full of sarcasm and that’s not always perceived, so the European fans have a tendency to take me much more seriously than I take myself.”
Prior to the North American release of Opheliac, Emilie released a cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. A bold and potentially suicidal move commercially according to some people, to which she responded ‘This track is going to reach out, grab you by your hot buttered short ones and make you its bitch.’ Judging by the response from fans and people outside her usual circle, it did just that.
“I understand the new listener mentality of going into it thinking ‘I’m not going to like you…’ and that’s okay. I can deal with the ‘Prove yourself, bitch’ mentality because I know I can do it. I’m delusional enough to think I can (laughs). There’s every chance that I can convince you to listen to something that you don’t normally listen to.”
“It was just a personal challenge, really,” Emilie says of covering the Queen classic, which works in spite of not being a huge epic like the original. “I liked the idea of taking one of the most famous songs of all time and putting my spin on it. And just being able to do that song vocally. The thing is, I didn’t know if I could do it so I went into the studio thinking ‘Okay, I’ve listened to this thing through headphones a million times, I’ve written out all of the vocal parts, let’s see if I get it right.’ I wanted to take a couple songs (the other being Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’) that were so anti-goth and redo them, so it was the endeavour to do something silly yet musically serious. I’m not just in on the joke, I made the joke but I also take the music very seriously, so I wanted to see if I could do it.”
“As far as putting it out, the thought that everybody would roll their eyes and say ‘How dare this girl cover that song?’ was too delicious. It was enough to know that people would not like the idea that I had. Once it was recorded I had the confidence to say that I did it right, I hit that high B-flat (laughs), so screw you if you don’t like it.”
Emilie’s focus now is, as mentioned, to take Opheliac out on a long overdue North American tour. Finishing touches on the stage set were underway at press time, and following a description of the stage set it’s safe to say the fans are in for a spectacle. This is a part of who Emilie Autumn is, so nobody who has followed her this far should be surprised. But, is there ever the fear that show will one day overpower the music?
“No,” says Emilie, “absolutely not, and that’s because – I’m going to start sounding really arrogant here – I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this (performing) since I was four years old, I’ve been a professional musician since I was 10, so I dare anybody to make this not about the music. All I can say is come and see the show because it is about the music. The show is about the story the music is telling you and that’s why it’s there. It doesn’t have to be there. I could go on stage and just sing songs and I’d be fine, but I want to tell a story. When you go to see Les Miserables or Phantom Of The Opera you come away singing those songs and buying the soundtrack. It was the best show of your life, with the best score and the best effects and the most fabulous costumes, and that’s what I’m trying for. It couldn’t exist without the music and I couldn’t exist without the music. I’m doing this for the music.”
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