Emilie Autumn: The Fighter
Emilie Autumn is not your ordinary pop songstress. In fact, she laments the fact that there aren’t more women making a name for themselves in the rock scene à la Patti Smith and Annie Lennox. A classically trained violinist, Autumn has crafted a fusion of styles to create what’s been dubbed as “Victoriandustrial” – glam rock industrial with a Victorian-era twist. Her theatrical cabaret performances are a feast for the eyes as Autumn and her female backing ensemble The Bloody Crumpets hold nothing back when adorning themselves in an ostentatious display of glittery pink corsets and lace lingerie, all of which have been designed by Autumn herself. Bringing her all-out performance to our shores for the Harvest Festival, BLUNT had the chance to pick Emilie Autumn’s brains to find out a little more about her autobiographical novel, The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls, her upcoming album, Fight Like A Girl, and the effects of spending time in a psychiatric ward.
It’s refreshing to be chatting to a female in the rock scene as it seems like a hard area to crack into for women. Did you ever have any hesitation about getting into this scene?
Oh yeah, absolutely, because it was never my intention at all to have the life that I’m having now. I always knew that I would be performing in some way or another, but I always thought that it would be on a classical stage and then the kind of madness that it’s turned into now, I’m not even gonna lie, the industry is terrible. It’s a hideous business to be in. I think that’s kind of why I’m so completely on the fringe of any of it. I’ve pretty much fired anybody that had to do with the actual business that I’ve worked with in the past, whether it’s been managers or record labels, or anything that’s been any sort of a hindrance or represented the rock music business. I think it’s been a several-year-long challenge of coming to a place where I can just sort of run this little empire and make music on my own and really release it on my own if need be and be able to perform and work with only a small group of people that are actually not perverted thieves; people that actually want to work together and do a great job making art happen. That’s a really rare thing and also largely why, this is probably bad to say, I know very little of what is actually going on in the world of modern rock or pop. I mean, I know the big acts that are in the social consciousness, but I turn on the radio or MTV and have no idea who most of these people are and I think that’s probably a good thing.
I think I’m in the same boat.
Once in a while I would just love to be completely blown away by something that’s very, very different or God forbid, if I met a female musician or singer that didn’t have to be a pop star or in a girl group or anything that there’s already been a million billion of. It’s so odd thinking that there’s been a Joan Jett, there’s been a Patti Smith, there’s been a fucking Pat Benatar, all these kinds of people that have been like that rocker at that time and then we seem to forget that and have a drought of ten years of Britneys or somebody, all of which are fine if they bring enjoyment to people, but to actual adults who want to listen to something interesting, there’s not a lot to choose from. I don’t even know where to go for that. It seems like such a rare thing.
There are some acts, but they’re really few and far between.
It seems to be people who have been around for a long time, like Annie Lennox (who’s still a hero of mine) but who from the last five years is going to stand the test of time? Hopefully they’re out there and I’ve just not found them yet, or maybe not, and maybe we just need more women to just do this and it’s not about wanting to go out and be a rock star, because God knows it’s not really worth doing and it’s definitely not nearly as glamourous as it looks. I think it just comes down to having the guts to express your ideas or opinions or music or feelings or anything at all.
You’re actually somewhat of an advocate for women’s rights, would you consider yourself a role model for young girls nowadays?
It’s such a funny thing; I never ever wanted to be that as it’s such an incredible amount of pressure. I’m going to do stupid things, I’m going to do things that maybe aren’t stupid, but aren’t seen as the most brilliant thing for young children to be watching. I’m going to do things on stage that are questionable unless you completely understand the context, which is, if I take an artificial razor to my wrist, it doesn’t mean something really scary, it means that that’s the story I’m telling in that song, which is a chapter in that book, which is a year of my life, you know there’s a lot more to it than being shocking and weird for the sake of being shocking and weird, which is actually something I’m totally not a fan of. If I really think about the whole role model situation, I think that with all maturity, I have to realise that whether I want that position or not, anybody who is privileged enough to have an audience, especially when it includes a fair amount of young people, has to at least realise that there is some sort of responsibility and I think that that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as you do have a solid purpose and a mission and a message and fortunately, those are things that I definitely do have and fortunately, those are things that are all for the benefit of people and for the benefit of my audience and it is always, in whatever form it takes, the message is always primarily about empowerment. It’s such a simple message and yet, we will need people to drive it home because it’s so hard to achieve, especially at certain ages. You need to have confidence in who you are and all the things that make you flawed and crazy in other people’s eyes because it is a potential source of strength to realise that it’s okay to defend yourself mentally, physically – in any way that you have to – and there’s nothing that is to be celebrated more than your absolute pure individuality.
It’s funny to think that, even in the twenty-first century, women are still marginalised
There is a massive part of that that is about girls and women sort of shutting off the programming that is constant to the point where we don’t even realise that it’s there. In no part of the world can anyone say that we are even approaching equality. We’re absolutely not. And just because we can vote now doesn’t mean that anything is really that much better because it isn’t and as long as at least one out of four women – this is an honest-to-God U.S. statistic – is a rape victim, and as long as I have to worry about what time it is and how much daylight there is when I go outside, as long as women are kept in fear, there is no equality. It’s not possible and that is the way that it is everywhere, still. And it becomes very much about finding your own source of power, finding strength in the sisterhood that we all have and taking words and phrases like ‘fighting like a girl’ and taking it back. It’s kind of like the same thing that we did with Opheliac or with this book [The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls], it’s all been about saying, ‘Alright, if I’m crazy, then I’m going to make that an amazing thing to be because I’m not going to accept that that means I’m a bad person and something’s wrong with me and I’m not going to accept that because I don’t have a penis, I shouldn’t be allowed to do certain things or that I should be in fear for my physical self at all times or that things that I naturally do are a joke in comparison.’ It’s about taking back all of those things that just program you every day of your life since day one to think that you are somehow inferior or you are weaker because you are a female and it’s such that people say, ‘You fight like a girl’, people say ‘Ladies’ when they walk into a room full of men that they wanna kind of shape up and make tougher. How many movies have we seen where a coach says that to their team? Every time I cringe because I realise that every single time that something like that is said, it’s just one more nail in the coffin that says we will always think of ourselves that way; that we can’t possibly compare. If you said, ‘You fight like a black man’, or, ‘You throw a ball like a black person’, would that be okay? No, there would be a fucking riot as well there should be, but if you say something and it’s about a girl and the word ‘girl’ is used as the insult, that’s totally fine. And so, with the new record, Fight Like a Girl, it isn’t meant to say, ‘No, that’s not fine’ it’s meant to say, ‘Fine, well fighting like a girl is going to be the bad-ass way to fight’ in which case, yeah, let’s continue to fight like girls and let’s take our power back.
I think it’s something that’s ingrained in the social consciousness, but we really do need to shake it.
It’s so disturbing because it’s something that is so, as you say, ingrained in our culture and our language that most women that I know don’t even think twice when they hear something like that because it is so accepted. Again, I think it would be kind of a mistake just to go about things and say, ‘I’m a girl and I’m angry. I want you to stop saying that about me’ because that is never going to work. The only thing that’s ever going to work is by simply taking back your power yourself and maybe, God forbid, even getting a little bit scary. I’ve been thinking about it and that is what this record is entirely about. Any sort of advancements that have been made historically through oppressed parties haven’t been made because you made someone – through civilised conversation – realise that they were wrong and they ought to treat you better and fairly, it’s because you demanded it, most often through violence unfortunately, and you’ve taken it back. You’ve at least made yourself scary enough that the people in power have been made to realise that there is some consequence and right now, to this day, there is no consequence for basically insulting an entire gender, which by the way, is not the minority, we are 51% and maybe it’s time for a majority rules, I don’t know, or maybe it’s just time to take our place because God knows equality is better for everyone. It is not an ‘us vs. them’ thing and it never has to be. I think my message is not to misunderstand that it isn’t that we want to control or have control over men, we just want to have control over ourselves and that’s a very different thing. I don’t need to control you, but I do need you not to control me.
Is that what you’re essentially tackling in your music?
Definitely. It happens in the chapter of my book and that is what all of this is about. It’s what the music is about, it’s what the show is about, and it’s the tea party massacre, that typical scene in the book towards the end where the inmates – the girls in the insane asylum – finally find themselves on the other side of the prison bars and with gorgeous, beautiful vengeance, proceed to completely murder the doctors and attendants who have been torturing them and treating them unjustly for years upon years. It’s all the story of what happens when the person that you’re shitting on gets on the other side of those bars. When the beaten dog finally snaps, it’s not going to be pretty and yet the justice of it is going to make it beautiful and that’s what this record is.
You’ve had to go through a lot more than your average performer, I mean, you have bipolar disorder; you’ve suffered from abuse… These experiences have obviously affected you. Do you think that that’s what’s sort of given you this desire for empowerment?
Oh absolutely. I think it’s always been a desire for that, but it’s kind of like, you’re never really pushed to make a change until you absolutely are forced to and in my case, it doesn’t necessarily make you fight back or do anything about it mostly because you’re programmed to believe that you can’t or you shouldn’t or that it’s shameful for you to admit, but once I was legitimately locked up and in an insane asylum, that became the turning point. The day after, I didn’t look the same, walk the same, talk the same; I definitely had a different voice and I didn’t write the same. I had the same soul, but that’s it. Everything else had this mission which was simply, ‘You have nothing left to lose, why not be absolutely, brutally honest? If you’re going to die, then die, if you’re going to live, then fight.’ And that’s what it came down to. We’ll all be afraid of something forever, but it was really trying to just come to a place with a lack of fear and a lot of that fear was being able to share that with other people who may need a little bit of help or may feel that they are somehow alone in this, whether it’s ‘Are you different? Are you a little too much of an individual for some? Are you considered crazy by a certain part of the population?’ well, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad person, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are flawed, in a lot of cases, those can be incredible sources of strength and they can also be made into beautiful things and they can also be made into great art and they can also be made to help somebody else. Without being forced to, none of this would be happening.
In regards to your art, your live performances are very akin to a theatrical burlesque show…
They very much are meant to be in that ultimately, this has all become much bigger than just a song or just a violin or just music or even just me, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than a girl that sings songs. Clearly it’s coming to the point where it is meant to be on Broadway because it needs to become a complete full-scale musical, it just simply does. That’s what it’s going towards and it gets bigger every time and crazier every time and more dramatic. I’m listening to parts of this new record [Fight Like A Girl] every day and going, ‘Oh my God…’ To even think that some of this could ever be on the radio… Absolutely not, never, and the good thing is that I completely don’t mind and it’s something that I don’t necessarily want. It’s absolute drama and I think it’s time for that and I think I wouldn’t have it any other way because there’s no sort of career model that I’m trying to fit into, I’m not trying to be this rock singer that has this career, or has this hit record, I don’t care about any of that, I just care about telling a story and making theatre, and so in that way, making pure entertainment is absolutely as important as anything else.
If you haven’t already, you can catch Emilie at the Harvest Festival.
Harvest Festival Tour Dates
Saturday November 12th – Melbourne, Werribee Park
Sunday November 13th – Sydney, Parramatta Park
Saturday November 19th – Brisbane, Botanical Gardens