Music Musings :
Emilie Autumn’s Personal Asylum: Part Two
December 1, 2009 , 2:35 am | By Bryan Reesman
One of the most original musical artists to emerge in the ’00s, vocalist/violinist/ performance artist Emilie Autumn is a force to be reckoned with. Over the last three years she’s become a hit in the Goth scene of Germany with her catchy and confrontational music, and now she is building up a cult following in America, where she is currently wrapping up an extensive cross-country tour. Her highly acclaimed third album Opheliac came out in 2006 and was just reissued in the States, and she has also released EPs with new songs, live tracks and remixes; a double album of classic violin pieces (Laced/Unlaced); and a book (the forthcoming The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls) about her personal experiences grappling with bipolar disorder.
Here is Part Two of ADD’s in-depth interview with the enigmatic Emilie Autumn. (Read Part One here.)
Have you ever seen the film King Of Hearts starring Alan Bates? He plays a Scottish soldier in World War I who goes into a deserted French town to disarm a German bomb. He finds that the local asylum inmates have escaped and are running things, but they’re more sane than the people who are waging the war.
That’s the point. Two things. The question of who’s actually crazy here. Let’s focus on the Victorian asylums for a minute — it’s the whole underbelly of that time. We’re not here glamorizing it. It’s very, very sarcastic in that we’re showing the underbelly of it — what really went on and how it’s revolting and disgusting. Again, very little has in fact changed, not only the mental health care system but in every other way that women are thought of and treated in any of it. And not only that. There’s a new plague now, isn’t there? It’s cyclical. It never really changes. These are my stupid opinions, but all we can really hope for is to make it slightly different this time around, so it’s at least interesting. So that at least we learn something small, at least we have a slightly different creative experience, but the fact is it will come around again. It always will, it always has. So we’re going to have the same wars and the same issues, and I believe that is the way of the world. It’s not even me; history kind of proves that. It’s not like I came up with this brilliant idea. We’re trying to show the dark side of things, and essentially just telling the truth. That’s all it is, and that’s all the book is. What changed between three years and now in my own personal way of living is simply that I stop being scared of what anybody else thought, and this [taps on CD case] was the first exercise in that.
This came out of ultimate tragedy, and that basically became my tool to say fuck you to anything and not give a fuck what a fan thought, what anybody in the audience thinks, what anybody thinks of that, because if I do compromise a note of it then it won’t be a real, and ultimately they won’t appreciate it because a fan doesn’t want to be catered to. We think they do, so we do it, and we try to give them what they want, but that’s not our job. Our job as theater people or real musicians or any pompous thing we want to say we are is about giving something new and saying, “I’m changing things,” or, “I’m doing something different”. If nobody comes to the shows, if nobody buys the record, I’m going to do the exact same thing in my living room. I’m going to make the exact same music. I think why I have any fans at all is because they’re well aware of that, and I think they also relate to it more because if you try to pander to somebody you’re going to get a percentage of people that are into that. But if you do something really real — the fact is that none of us are that special or different — if I’m saying this and it’s honestly true, there are going to be a lot of people that that’s also honestly true to. That happens with anything that we say about us that is real. In a funny way, it’s the same as if a band writes a song that’s about a girl’s name — a song about Helen, [for] all the Helens of the world, that’s going to be their song. So all suicidal, bipolar people of the world, this is the place for you. This is a home for you. There’s something for everybody. And there’s something for people who like to be entertained and watch girls do burlesque acts and hang from the ceiling or sing a nice song. We don’t discriminate.
Over the last two decades we’ve had more female artists deal with serious issues like sexual abuse or sexual assault, including yourself, Fiona Apple, Amanda Palmer, Kristeen Young and Tori Amos. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t have had so many people addressing these issues. At least there is that change.
And it’s sad because there are a lot of things that are taboo even now, but the thing is rape is kind of old and sexual abuse of a child is kind of old. There are a lot of issues honestly to do with mental health that are completely un-talked about because they’re completely not understood at all and nobody wants to talk about them. Nobody wants to talk about cutting yourself. Nobody wants to talk about suicide. Sexual abuse is somewhat acceptable because a lot of people do it. At least one of four women is raped. Those are the ones that report about it, that we know about, and I would know. That’s reality. So we’re all like, “Oh God, we need to deal with this thing.” And we do, but nobody wants to talk about what goes inside these places and nobody wants to talk about what it is actually like inside your head because it’s terrifying. (continued below)
Clearly I’ve got all of these things I want to tell people, but I’m not into preaching. I think that’s the most ineffective way possible. The most effective way to get your thing out there is through entertainment and comedy and sarcasm and subliminal all of that. If you have a good message, that’s the way to do it. Telling people, “Let’s deal with sexual abuse!” That’s bullshit. The way to actually reach the most people is when they don’t even know what hit ‘em, and they can laugh at it. We laugh at it and make it ridiculous and make it a show and make it entertainment. And making it something fabulous and making something that’s supposed to kill me, making that the thing that’s keeping me alive, is just sweet irony. And what’s better than that, honestly?
You’re embracing the madness.
Exactly. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t exist. If you’re going to call me crazy, I’m going to make crazy awesome. That’s what’s going to happen. I will own it. “Yeah, I’m fucking nuts. Come to my show and watch it and enjoy. And guess what? There’s a place for you because we’re all fucking nuts, whether we have a bottle that says so or not.” That’s why it’s for everybody. Everybody understands something that goes on here if they open up enough to really listen to it.
What is the most personal song for you and the most emotionally draining?
The song I can die after writing, the song that makes me think should I even write anything anymore — not because it’s the best song in the world but because it says everything I ever need to say about anything — is “The Art Of Suicide”. That’s it, done, I’m out.
No pun intended.
Pun intended. No, everything is about me jumping off a bridge. But making it hilarious. The most emotionally draining song is “Gothic Lolita,” so much so that we’ve never performed it.
If one listens to that song without really paying attention to the lyrics, it doesn’t sound too dark.
Which is the point. It’s supposed to be a thing that you can listen to when you’re driving in your car. It isn’t out to attack people, but for the people who have that place within them, I hope it will resonate in some deeper way. But all I want to do is make good music. I choose if it’s going to be about this or that, but as a musician the first goal is just to write good music and play good music and be a musician — me having my ways to tell the truth about things, about myself essentially. This is a way to do it. This is a way to say everything that you’re afraid to say in real life.
If you were grappling with bipolar during the time you were a classical musician, how did the strong discipline required in that world conflict with your emotional state of mind?
The discipline has never been a problem because even when I’m in a manic state…it’s a sad thing and is the reason why a lot of bipolar people have been asked, “Would you become normal if you could?” Even though their lives are absolutely miserable by this thing, a lot of them say no because they’re afraid to give up the manic side, which is the first thing to get treated. You’ll never be entirely not depressed, but you will not have extreme highs where you are just uncontrollable. The problem, and for me as well, is that I need to be medicated otherwise I couldn’t do my job and I would be dead, but a lot of my music is written or has been written in a manic state. I now need to find a different way to write that doesn’t come immediately from either an insanely depressed state or a manic state. That’s just a lifelong adventure to try to find that place, and it’s fine. We all have our something. I’m not any worse off than anybody else. Everybody’s got something to deal with. It’s just that I’m louder because I have a microphone. That’s all.
It’s funny because there are some people who think all artists are tweaked to some degree to be able to do what they do. I have “strange” habits, often time work late at night and keep unusual hours, but that’s the way I’m the most creative.
The thing about working in a creative field where essentially you are your own boss — which I am at this point — is that most people don’t want this job. It’s much easier — and I respect it and envy it sometimes — being told what to do and having a 9-to-5 [job] that is structured. You go home at 5 and have weekends. I don’t go home. I don’t stop working at five o’clock. I don’t start working at nine o’clock. I don’t get weekends off. And that’s a great thing, but I figure we’re all built for what we’re doing, if we’re lucky enough to find it. I don’t think most people would want to be doing what I’m doing. Thank God because we need the people on stage and we need the people to be in the audience. One is not better than the other, but it takes both of us to make a show happen.
It’s great that you can be so forthright about it.
I’m just over faking it. It became too exhausting and it’s a waste of time, so either I tell the truth about everything, which is what the book is… Everybody thinks they know, but as MTV says, “You have no idea.” We joke about that all the time. They think they know how crazy or how dark or whatever, but the real story is very different and nobody’s prepared for it. I’ll probably get shot for saying it — which probably sounds very self-important — but we don’t like to talk about abortion, we don’t like to talk about self harm, and it’s all in there. And honestly, I just don’t give a damn anymore. If it ends badly I don’t care, it had to be done anyway. So it’s worth it to just not be afraid anymore. The only thing I’m afraid of anymore is myself, so at least we’ve narrowed it down. Because that’s the only thing that can really hurt me now.