Emilie Autumn is the pioneer of her own genre: victoriandustrial. She is not just a musician, but a performer who not only offers her art, but has lived it. Her new record ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is imminent and she’s turned the rulebook upside down by touring the album prior to its release and revels in seeing the response to her lack of convention. Prior to her Glasgow show, Emilie took some time out for a chat.
In casual clothes with her stage make-up in process she beams from the off, with a huge smile and a big hug. After a brief chat on shoes – of which hers are particularly badass – she sits down, smiles again and says, “Let’s have a romantic tea party chat!”
With the tour being a little unconventional in terms of what she is promoting, she is clearly excited to experiment with even the most fundamental of ideas in music. “It’s been amazing because it’s so different. The show’s very… Well, it’s more epic and even more dramatic and cinematic,” she explains. “It’s all those things that it was before, but more. It’s always been a very theatrical show but now it’s telling an actual story. It’s not a rock show and with the new record that’s coming out after this it’s really become a musical. That’s what this is meant to turn into, so what we’re doing onstage for these tours is showing bits of what this production is going to become in the next couple of years – a three hour production with an intermission and a cast of 40! Right now, we’re a cast of four that’s just preparing our minds for the way that this is going, what we’re becoming. We’re showing bits of that right now to take people on this journey and it’s been amazing because it’s happening.”
”Also, the idea of putting the record out just after we do the tour and not before is just a personal experiment for me to see what will happen when – for the first time – people don’t know all the words to everything,” she continues. “Is it going to be interesting for them? Is it going to be confusing? It was great because it was very much like when you go to a theatrical music-style production and you may go not knowing the words or not singing along with the words with everything, but you watch and you really take it in. If you like it, then you go and buy the soundtrack later. That’s the mindset I wanted people to go into this with; obviously the thing I didn’t take into consideration at the time was there’s this thing called Youtube. I swear, by the second show everyone knows the words to everything anyway!
“It’s still been amazing to take people on this journey of theatrical revolution: the girls break out of the asylum, they just decide they need to slaughter people in order to take the asylum back because we need to eradicate the enemy, so that’s what we do. I’m so glad you’ll get to stay and see what this is about. I hope you’ll like it. We’ll entertain if nothing else!”
“There have been a lot of tears in the best possible way because it’s so dramatic,” Emilie elaborates, referring to the reponse from her avid fanbase, the Plague Rats. “It’s been different with the Plague Rats who have read the book, obviously because we’re telling this real tale that is the story about this asylum for women. The connection with this book is that they do have a special appreciation or point of view or understanding of what’s going on onstage as it’s absolutely taken from this story. There are these references that they’ll get, but if not I hope it’s still something that people will like it and find it entertaining and really understand it in a different way. For those who have read the book and know exactly what is going on, it means a lot. I wouldn’t even say more because there’s something for everybody whether they get it or not, whether it’s their first time and they know nothing about this.
“I feel that we’re telling a story in a way that they will completely know what is up, but for those who have gone on this journey before and are able to actually see it and sense the story, this is their soundtrack to the story. It’s been a pretty powerful thing even for us on stage to be singing onstage and look out and see the response to this because it’s not just ‘Here’s a song. Do you identify with this? Let’s sing it together.’ This is an actual journey where you get to the end and have this realisation and these tear jerking moments and things that are just meant to be like ‘This is the movie!’.”
It’s at this point that Michael Jackson resounds from elsewhere in the venue, causing her to laugh. “This is so funny. Our sound engineer, he always warms up the system and sees how it all sounds with Michael Jackson. So this is a daily thing and it’s really distracting!”
Turning back to the idea of her album being the soundtrack to a story, does she feel the stage show acts as a true visual representation too? “Yes, absolutely,” she smiles. “The album – and the show too – is just these chapters, one section from this book that’s really epic. It goes on time-travelling in growth through the years, so this is just part of what the eventual production will be because right now we only have a couple of hours to tell this story in. Unlike previous records this – when I was writing the flat record – it was completely already planned that this is what the show was going to turn out, so this was planned as the soundtrack to a performance. The live show and record happened together, so it was very much the same journey with both. They’re both telling the story together of the scene called ‘The Tea Party Massacre’, which happens in the book.
“It’s just when the girls that have been locked up in this really violent asylum in 1841 – for years in this torturous place – through some pretty amazing circumstances find that they have – or maybe always had – the key to unlock the primary cell and let all of the girls out. So, they realise – okay, all the doctor’s are sleeping…. Really, once they’re out they’re standing at this open gate realising ‘Wow, there’s like a thousand of us’ and there’s maybe 50 doctors and attendants and all the rest – now that they’re on the other side of the bars – who’s scary now? They’re the majority and there’s power in numbers and numbers are on their side. And, of course, there’s obvious correlations to now.
“The book isn’t about a story of the past, or this fantasy tale – it’s about right now. It’s about a way to tell the story of you and me, as women, in this world. All of this is realising something that we often don’t – we’re 51% of the population of planet Earth, we’re not a minority – we’re the majority! There’s power in numbers and numbers are on our side. Just like the correlations to a modern world and to our lives now and the situations then, the struggles that we face and how we can band together in the sisterhood is very important to me. We need to move forward. It’s all about taking back control. Not ‘Oh, we need to control over men!’ but we need to demand to be in control of ourselves, of our bodies, of our own existences and of our own futures.
“So, telling this story, the two stories – this happening in 2012 and that happening in 1841 – is saying that very little has changed from then until now and that’s a huge problem. In these ways, this is telling the story of what happens when you realise you’re the majority and now we’re the scary ones. Now might be our time. They go on this rampage and they massacre and slaughter all of them and they basically eradicate the enemy. That’s what they do in an attempt to take back the asylum and make it their own and so they’re not brutalised anymore. They make their own society by taking back this place and making it what an asylum actually means, which is a sanctuary and a place to be safe. It never was that, even in my own experience in the mental health care system of today. It was not a sanctuary or a place to go and feel safe, it really was not. Saying we’re going to take it back and make things how they were always supposed to be is what this is about.
£In the record and in the show, it is for this night for us – you, me, the Plague Rats of this world, all of us together in this community we have built – to take back the asylum. This is where you go to not apologise for anything that you are and to be as unique and individual as you possibly can and take back control of yourself and control of your space. You can be free. The record represents the revolution in reclaiming yourself. We will win this fight tonight!”
Her record is titled after a phrase packed with negative connotations in the hope of bringing it new meaning. So, who better to ask the new definition of ‘Fight Like A Girl’ than the lady determined on rewriting it? “As you know – being a lady – that in certain cultures this is a negative thing from a very young age,” she explains. “Even here if you overhear it, it’s being used as an insult to boys and sometimes to ridicule girls and make us a joke. It’s to make them feel lesser because the ultimate insult is to be compared to a female as though that were something bad. If they’re fighting weakly, they’re not fighting like a girl – they’re fighting like them. Apparently, that’s how a boy who has never been taught how to fight fights, they fight like a boy. In any case, that’s the idea.
“What I’ve realised now is that a lot of what I do in general is to attempt to take something very negative and turn it into something very beautiful and positive. I just realise now that this is my goal and that sometime in this lifetime I hope to turn very ugly things into very beautiful things. That is something I saw as being a message of the asylum book and the journey that these girls go on. Using that phrase is firstly about that story and what happens when the girls take over and fight for their space and win. They ultimately feel what it is to actually fight like a girl and it is a pretty badass thing to do. It’s recognising something that we already know is that there is nothing wrong with fighting like a girl because you can do some serious business when needed. We do fight differently. We would not decide to just go and invade a country and needlessly shoot people up, that’s not what we would do and that – to me – is not a female drive. That’s not what would happen if 51% of the population had 51% of the control, which they should because that’s just appropriate.
“I feel – and I find – that we tend to fight more for each other, for the people that we love and to protect. That’s something that I think we could do more of, to realise that it’s okay to fight for ourselves too. I think that because I consider fighting like a girl and being a real woman with power is one of the most badass things that you could possibly do – in the kindest way – that boys could learn a lot from that. It’s really not a bad thing. That’s what it is: it’s about taking back a phrase that was initially meant to be something hurtful and turning it into something pretty fabulous. It’s definitely not something to be ashamed of.”
With fans being given a tantalising taste of what to expect from the record in the live performances, how – musically – does the entire record compare to her previous work? “Going back to the whole telling a story through this musical, I would say that this is the evolution, it’s the next chapter,” smiles Emilie. “There’s still a lot of harpsichord, there’s still elements that I always seem to have because I’m obsessed with them but it is the next step. It isn’t songs, it’s a soundtrack – that’s the main way that I can describe it. It’s bigger and more epic and more cinematic and more theatrical. From the first note, you go on a journey and it’s completely a musical story right until the end. It takes you from one place to another with no stop, it just keeps going. You go on this ride and so in that way, it’s clearly obvious to anybody that it is based on a real thing – it’s actually much bigger than this, which is what it’s turning into.
“That’s the real fun of this, it’s being able to show people on a smaller scale that this is what is happening. That’s what people are understanding immediately and I think that’s a really sweet side-effect, one I didn’t consider at the time… By releasing the album after the tour, the excitement surrounding what this is actually going to sound like on record is much greater than it would have been. It’s different from the view of ‘Of course you’re going to put out another record – when is that going to be?’ I’m now getting to see it backwards and in a different setting and it’s creating a very different perspective on how to experience this.
“You’re seeing it all live before you get to experience the soundtrack of it, which is what I always wanted. You go into a theatre to see something and you really like it then you go buy the soundtrack. You don’t know the word to every song when you’re in there and it’s very magical. You have to really listen and focus on it and I find that the emotional reaction to it all has been great because of the elements of surprise in this method. They don’t fully know what’s going to happen.”
With this chat already exceeding around twenty five minutes, we must sadly wrap it up. While there’s much, much more we could ask Emilie (mainly due to the fact we could talk to her all damn day), we turn to an overview of what to expect from 2012. “There’s the Devil’s Carnival film that is the thing that I just made with Darren Bousman and Terrance Zdunich who of course I know doing from Saw films and all of that. I believe that is coming out in April and we’ll be doing an actual roadshow tour of that where we’re independently taking that film and putting it in these theatres across the country. Mainly, this will be me for the next year and a half or so, where I compose what the whole Asylum is becoming. A lot of my working on that and in the meantime for Plague Rats to see what I look like after undergoing five hours of special effects make-up and prosthetics that we put on every day. It’s good being able to sing and dance to somebody’s stuff in a completely different character to some really amazing music because of course that is a musical as well. That’s why I was like ‘Okay, maybe I will give this a shot’. That should keep people busy between this record and the Broadway musical…”
Her parting message is for her faithful Plague Rats: “It’s really pretty simple and it just has to do with this work that we’re doing right now with this record and show. I hope that the Plague Rats are ready to fight because it’s time for revolution and with their help we can eradicate the enemy.”