Secrets From The Asylum: A Chat With Emilie Autumn
by Jay Rowland
Our writer, Jay Rowland recently discovered himself lost and wandering among the catacombs of the Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls. After some time he was discovered by the amazing violinist, Emilie Autumn. Before helping him find his way out they sat down and had a little chat over tea and crumpets. During their chat they were able to discuss Emilie’s music, her current tour, and her new book.
Jay Rowland: There are some people that don’t know about you, so let’s start off by talking a little about you and how you got started with the violin.
Emilie Autumn: Ok, I’ll give you a brief rundown. You can cut me off, because you will find that I am long winded and I like words. So, I keep tree branching, but I’ll do my best to get back to the trunk of the tree. You get to stop me if I don’t.
Hey, Plague Rats! And if you’re not Plague Rats now, you will be in ten minutes ‘cause that’s how this happens. I’m Emilie Autumn and I am here to spread the plague to you and your country. We’re kinda like David Haselhoff; where we’re big in Germany, but no body else cares. Actually that’s not true. That is changing quickly. I’m talking to Jay here in what is the ending of our very first North American tour ever. It’s going very well. Soon we will be spreading the plague every where. In the time being I will tell you that I have been playing music a long time; a stupidly long time. I started playing the violin when I was four years old, which you kinda have to do I figured out. It’s not special; it’s that the violin is the hardest instrument on the planet. It’s so small and intricate movements of fingers and being able to listen to that degree of things that it’s just like a circus trick. You need to train for that level of muscle memory to even be able to make it sound good at all ever, at all, and do it on a world class level. So that’s that. Uhm, went crazy, ended up making a record about it. The funny thing is; that is probably the only reason that WE are even talking to each other right now is that people love to see a girl go crazy. I don’t blame them, because it is pretty fucking entertaining. So, that’s what we’re doing and we are owning it. And I made a show about it, and a record, and a book, and a life with every thing else. We are owning the crazy and that is what you are here to see tonight.
Jay: You can ramble as much you want.
Emilie: Thank you!
Jay: So, I was reading on Wikipedia…
Emilie: Uh oh…
Jay: Yah, so who knows what’s true and what’s not.
Emilie: Exactly. You heard about my whole Wikipedia campaign?
Jay: No, I didn’t.
Emilie: Ooo! That’s great! I’ll tell you about it. Do you wanna hear about it?
Emilie: Ok. This is so frickin’ hilarious to me. A few years back, somebody had referred to my Wikipedia page. At the time I had no idea that I had a Wikipedia page. I had never assumed that any body knows who I am at all. Which is much safer, because then when you find out that they do it’s a nice Christmas miracle surprise. And I was also sort of living in a cave at the time and I didn’t realize that Wikipedia was essentially just a bunch of facts that people could just add on to and add on to and they need not, necessarily have any basis in reality what so ever and they can always be changed at any point anonymously. So, at the time I just had one of these naive days of “oh I should go check this and make sure that it’s correct because how horrible if some thing online was wrong about me.” And then I go onto it and I read the page and I am stunned, because I see that pretty much everything is madly incorrect and just ridiculous amounts of misinformation. Clearly was by some body that was not me and did not know me. At the time, being an entirely different person I thought, “oh no! I must repair this situation. God knows every one believes every thing they read on the Internet!” So I went in and changed it to what was an accurate life story. Then with in MINUTES after I had done this, it was changed back and there was a comment saying, “Who ever just changed this is a fucking idiot who clearly has no idea about anything and that is all wrong and that is a lie and that is a lie….” At that point I just recoiled and thought, “Shut down the computer! Oh my God, I am never going on here again. Clearly the Internet is not a place for me. It is a place for every body else to learn about me and other things, but it is not a place for me to go to look at anything about myself ‘cause now I am terrified.” So then I just forgot about it and I realized Wikipedia is not about me or my life or my past and let it go. Then just before this tour started, every interview I had, I kept getting these questions that were clearly not based on any kind of reality and they were the same ones over and over. It was just some really bizarre stuff. Finally I was like, “What the hell? How did you learn that?” and I would be told they learned it on the Internet. Finally, I put it together and realized it must be a Wikipedia thing, because unfortunately when you put in anything into Google the first thing to come up on anything is Wikipedia. So that looks to any journalist that it should be a reliable source because it’s an encyclopedia. Finally, I was in Germany doing a book reading and some body even there was asking me the same thing. I finally realized it had to be Wikipedia. I needed to do something about it. Clearly, Wikipedia serves no actual purpose because you can’t trust the information so what is the point. During the book reading there we had hundreds of kids just listening and waiting to be directed on a mission of the Asylum Army which they were all a part of. So, I told them that their first mission was that every body there needed to promise me that as soon as the reading was over that they would go online and get on Wikipedia and start changing the information to things that were just ridiculously wrong. I mean crass, horrible things like, “Emilie Autumn eats babies and hides their carcasses in her violin case.” Or what ever, I don’t even care. The only way that I believe to really combat wrong information is with more wrong information. Because trying to make things right is just an impossible task that any body famous – and I’ m not famous – knows that you can not beat that system that way. You just have to fuck it up worse. So their challenge was to out fuck up each other on Wikipedia. So, if one person writes some thing, the next one goes and makes it even worse. Just make it morbidly; hideously wrong, like, “Veronica is my babies’ daddy.” So they did. And I didn’t see it, but I know that they did, because the next day it was on my forum that my Wikipedia page had been locked because Wikipedia thought there was just so much abuse that they shut the whole thing down. Unfortunately they locked it back to what it was before. So, I still haven’t seen it. It’s still probably wrong. That was the whole point though; knowing that they were going to lock it, they won’t let it stay that way. But it was an exercise for the Plague Rats to know that they can actually fuck some shit up if they want to – if it’s what I tell them to do. And for journalist to know, don’t take Wikipedia as a reliable source of information, because if it can be fucked up that bad you can’t trust anything. Back to which, let’s talk about what you found on Wikipedia! Let’s go now!
Jay: I don’t know now. It wasn’t really bad or crazy. It sounded realistic, so let’s see if it was.
Emilie: That’s the thing most of it didn’t sound that crazy. It just was wrong facts.
Jay: I don’t trust Wikipedia anyways.
Emilie: Oh, thank goodness. Ask me any question in the world that you want to anyways, because it doesn’t matter.
Jay: The main thing was how it referred to your crazy, early school years. It said you had gone to a prestigious music school and were kicked out because of your clothes, hair, and musical style.
Emilie: That was an area they got wrong. Which school, for how long, and what happened there. Growing up that’s what I did. I quit normal person school at nine so that I could have time to practice for nine hours a day in a practice room every day with out fail. It was good, because I wanted to do that. I absolutely wanted to be a world class violinist. I was going to make it happen and I did. Then I went to music Conservatory College basically when I was fourteen. It wasn’t anyplace in particular. I did go to Indiana University for that and music school. And just traveling the world; just working with every possible teacher possible because that’s what you have to do to get from there to there.
Jay: It said you had gone to a prestigious music school and were kicked out because of your clothes, hair, and musical style.
Emilie: Right. And that didn’t happen. There was a lot of struggle and strife; just little things. I never got kicked out of anywhere. I quit. I am very good at quitting things and running away from when they go wrong. I quit University in Bloomington, Indiana after two years and it was for those reasons. The things that I had to leave for were actually how I looked and how I behaved. What is so funny is that it wasn’t even for the craziness that people associate me with now. It was so much milder. This is what’s so important about it. That’s all you had to do to be given a really, really hard time there. You had to be semi cute, have a pony tale, and wear a red dress with no sleeves. They would say, “Oh my God! You’re going to go on stage like that? This is supposed to be about the music. You’re distracting people from listening.” I’m thinking that it was insulting to the audience to think that they can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. My goal always was, and is, and has always been to represent the music, especially classic music. It is the best! I’m sorry, it is the best. That’s still my favorite and to represent that in its ultimate true form is not to sit back there and hide your individuality in the shadows. What I was always told, literally word for word, a million times was growing up in my life – this just tortured me every day – was, “You are not what is important. You are literally a vessel for the music of some a person has been dead for some hundred of years. You are meant to keep your individuality out if, because it’s not about you.” I’m just too wildly independent and selfish for that. Fuck yah it’s about me, because you’re dead and I’m not and I’m the reason why any body’s getting to hear your fucking music. And guess who would have agreed absolutely? They guy who wrote it. They would have never had a problem with that. It wasn’t always like that at all. This was the sexiest thing to do. This was the sexiest thing to play. Mozart is not going to have a problem if some girl is not wearing sleeves. He’s not going to have a problem with that. This was only in the past hundred years or less that any body even started getting freaked out about that and thought, “We’re compromising the music and the seriousness of this thing.” So why do you think that it’s the lowest selling music genre of all? Lower than jazz, which is pretty fucking low. Why do you think no body cares about this any more? Because you have made it so fucking boring and not allowed people to just represent this music in their own individual way and even have the hair color they want to have. You can’t even do that and be taken seriously. This is why at one point I just left school and never took another lesson and never did another thing again. I just worked and played. And I decided to go back to Hollywood and do just start working and making records. And I decided to do it for a living. I’ve been making classical records, rock records, and metal shred violin records, because all I want to do is use what I know how to do, make music that I love, make old music, make new music, make what ever the fuck in between and I don’t care if it’s taken seriously by the classical orchestra. I hope it’s not, because I really don’t want any part of it. I just want to play the music and I don’t even care if people know what it’s called. It’s just it and it’s beautiful because we sell it along side my rock records. So, people who buy it don’t even know. They like my stuff and buy everything I have. Then they realize it’s pretty bad ass and like it too. That’s the trauma of having to grow up in a really fucking strict environment.
Jay: There’s only one other thing I pulled off Wikipedia and that was you being inspired by Nigel Kennedy…
Emilie: What did they say? And this is important. Did they say that I studied with him?
Emilie: Good. That’s something that keeps getting asked and I’m like, “He’s not a teacher.” He’s a pal, because years ago he got a hold of my first classical record and he had been, literally, my only violin hero in that he’s crazy, shreds, plays Hendrix on fiddle, does the electric thing as well, and is also the best , world class, classical violinist. I just got a phone call one day which pretty much blew my fucking, little mind. I think I was sixteen and he left me a voice mail saying how much he liked my record. Then we met up and became pals.
Jay: And you had been listening to him before that?
Emilie: Oh yes, that’s the thing. He was like the only person that I really studied his videos. He was who I listened to every fucking day. He was that sole inspiration. He was the only person in the industry who was actually doing something new and saying, “Fuck you.” To any one that didn’t like it; meanwhile selling more records than any body else at the same time. So you had this thing that the industry was saying, “Ok, he’s this bad boy, British, psycho, foot ball fan thing. We need him because he’s bringing audiences to this industry and he’s really good, but we hate him because he’s really popular and is crazy and can’t be told what to do.” In the end it didn’t even matter because you can’t knock the guys actual technique and skill talent and in the end people actually enjoy listening to it.
Jay: Wikipedia pretty much just said that you lived and breathed Nigel Kennedy his music.
Emilie: Yah, he was pretty much the only inspiration growing up as far as that. I had to listen to every body. You have to study every single recording of every single version. He was the only person I would actually put on and fall asleep to in headphones, because I loved his playing that much. And my dream always was even if it was just my violin, because I didn’t sing at the time at all – I wrote music, but no body knew about it- but I like a voice I wanted to get that instrument to get it to a point that if you just heard it on the radio you would know it was me. He is one of the very few players that if you hear him play just a bit of the Four Seasons of what ever you absolutely know it is Nigel Kennedy. Most every body else sounds like every body else and he doesn’t. And I don’t and that’s what I’ve worked twenty years to do.
Jay: What’s your biggest accomplishment; and why?
Emilie: It’s a good question; especially when you are talking to some one who doesn’t have that big of an ego. It’s good for me to think about. Let me think. And I have to do it right. I have to not lie to you and say what I some body else would think it would be. Ok. My greatest accomplishment and it’s ongoing. I’ve taken everything in the last three years that was supposed to kill me; as far as massive amounts of abuse, torture, insane asylum, incarceration, suicide attempts, bi-polar, insanity, and all those other things that are me and decided instead of running away from it and pretending it didn’t happen and isn’t happening to make it into something beautiful. Not only to make it into my career and what is represented on stage in fun, glittery, bad ass, fashion; also to make it my ultimate revenge. You can sue some body, but that’s over in a day. If you write a song about it, or God forbid, a book; that lasts forever. People are going to sing that song and its going to be immortal. My ultimate revenge, is taking all of these things that should have taken any body down and make it pay my fucking rent. That’s pretty much it.
Jay: What are some other musical influences?
Emilie: Growing up I was massively into Jimmy Hendrix. That got me into playing the electric violin. It might not be obvious in the music, because when I’m inspired by some one it doesn’t make me go and sound like them it just makes me really warm and fuzzy inside and have this world inside my head that I can go to and it makes me happy. That ultimate favorite voice, favorite band, favorite singer of all time is Morrissey from The Smiths. So, that’s my ultimate favorite. As far as things that happen on stage is glam rock; like David Bowie and Queen. No body can deny their musical brilliance. It is not a sham or a pretty costume. It’s just that level of musical bad assery and then being able to combine it all and make brilliant records and brilliant songs and just be so good at your craft, then be able to put on a show. That is what I most respect, being a good entertainer. That’s why being able to do Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as an encore every single fucking night is my favorite part of the show, because it isn’t my music and getting to have that piece of something so great and getting to honor it feeling he totally approves because I’m tuned in he’s ok with this. That’s a really sweet moment.
Jay: You’re about to finish up the American part of your tour. How’s it gone?
Emilie: It’s been a shock in a way, especially in America. I never had any idea if any one would show up. I knew that we had a fan base. But there’s a fan base and then in an economy like this will people actually show up. I had all my business staff thinking very conservative. Thinking this may not go well. Maybe you should just stay in Europe, because we know you will sell out there. But here it was a question mark. From day one the people came and knew every word to every song, and in every single state we’ve been in, including fucking Mexico City; which was the biggest audience we’ve ever had. They were the most rabid, insane fans we’ve ever had. It blew my damn mind that they even knew who I was, let alone basically being a fucking celebrity in Mexico, which we didn’t know we were. We couldn’t go through the airport with out the security guys stopping us and asking us for our autographs. In general the beautiful thing has been to find the Plague Rats are pretty much the same as our European fans and Mexican fans. They all have that magical thing. They all want to be a part of that world. They don’t just listen; they want to live here with us. And for tonight, they do. That’s what we’re so grateful for. Just to realize they’re here and fuck any body that says they weren’t because they were and it took us a long time to get to them.
Jay: The tour has sold out even in America hasn’t it?
Emilie: A lot of them have. Some have not in little areas like Little Rock, Arkansas. We had minimal press on this tour. The vast majority of people who came to the shows from day one just knew because they have been waiting for five years for us to come. That’s been pretty interesting to see that. Now, imagine what we have if we actually had more people like you to talk to. It’s nice to know that the fans truly were there to begin with.
Jay: You have a new book coming out…
Emilie: Yes, the book is the “The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls”. It is my autobiography. It is a very large book. It’s very, very heavy. It looks like a gorgeous coffee table book filled with art and photos and paintings and all these other things that I do. It is in fact my autobiographical novel. It’s epic. It spans two hundred years of insane asylums. It shows comparing the ones from Victorian times with the ones from today which I know so well inside and out. Showing that almost nothing has changed and that’s not ok. For all the things we’ve progressed in our society to be able to talk about that’s not one of them because people don’t know. They don’t know what bi-polar disorder is. They don’t know what a lot of these diseases are. We barely got our minds around depression. People don’t know what manic depression is. There are a lot of stupid things that are said about it that are completely inaccurate. People don’t know what is done to you in a modern day psych ward. They have no kind of idea of what kind of abuse goes on. When you are put in there you are put in against your will. You are not allowed to get out until they say you are allowed to get out and they don’t ever have to say you can go. If something happens in there who are they going to believe, you or the doctor? You’re the crazy girl and he’s the doctor with the million dollar education. They can do anything they want and they do. The book is about me. It’s true, it’s terrifying, it’s beautiful, and it’s funny. It has to be funny in order – I think that’s a recent greatest accomplishment; being able to make a joke out of all of this, because if you can’t you’re going to die. So, I do and that’s how the show has become what it is. It’s stupid, ridiculous, and funny. That’s what it is. It’s taking the reader completely inside of this world and showing them that I am just a minuscule part of this world. They are going to go inside and they are gonna meet my legion of talking, plague rats.
Jay: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to say to your fans?
Emilie: I’d like to say two things. One: It’d be great if you could all buy like fifty to a hundred copies of the book. I know it’s an expensive book, but it would be lovely, because then you would be helping me to get this to the top of the New York Times best seller list. That needs to happen if we are going to get the book made into a movie which is kind of the whole point. And Two: Carry on and spread the plague. Thank you.