Emilie Autumn is one of the most unique artists of our times. She is an American singer, author, poet, and violinist combined. Emilie performs with an all-female backing band called “The Bloody Crumpets” and labels her style of music “Victoriandustrial”. Her influence is taken from plays, novels, and history, particularly the Victorian era.
Emilie incorporates elements of classical music, cabaret, electronica, and glam rock with theatrics and burlesque.
Emilie kindly agreed to be interviewed by Fiddlerman, who will be giving away one of Emilie’s new releases to a lucky winner.
I really enjoy watching you perform and for me it is obvious that you are passionate towards what you do.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your age, where you grew up and where you live?
EA: Thank you for taking the time to have tea with me today! It’s my absolute pleasure, of course. To begin with…well, this is always the hard part…truthfully, like anybody who’s not fatally egotistical, I’m not very comfortable talking about myself, and would much rather be asking you questions, but, let’s see…alright! I was born at a very young age in the year 1979, Sept. 22nd, 2:22 A.M., which makes me a Virgo, moon in Sagittarius, which explains quite a lot. I grew up in Southern California, Malibu and Los Angeles specifically. The seawater is in my blood… Now, I live in the Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, which is really where ever I am.
Who was your favorite violin teacher and what made that person special?
EA: Now that I am a safe distance away from all of them, I can truly say that there was only one teacher whom I never had any strife with, but who did me the simple honor of teaching me how to play the violin, and for that pure and precious start, I am privileged and grateful. He was my very first teacher of all, and, had he not been so calm, kind, and patient with this painfully shy but overly ambitious four-year-old who wanted to learn the pieces in Suzuki book 5 when she was only supposed to be looking at book 2, I would, no doubt, not have hung in with the fiddle long enough to go on to all of the other teachers I would grow to like significantly less than my first.
Can you tell us about your time at the Indiana University?
EA: My time in Indiana University’s Music Conservatoire was quite dissatisfactory, but I’m sure you’ve already heard all this. I showed up in my early teens, tested the highest in the entire incoming student body, and so was set up to be taken rather seriously, but none of this really matters once your esteemed professors decide that your appearance is distracting, and you have a little too much personality (apparently, if you’ve been a violin professor locked inside the comfortably repressive cage of a conservatoire for long enough, you lose the ability to operate more than one of your senses at a time – it’s a known phenomenon – and, thus, seeing and hearing is simply too overwhelming, and to attempt this causes some sort of mild heart attack). I stayed for two years, then said, “Fuck this…” and went back to Hollywood where I belonged. From that day forward, I never took another violin lesson. I had the very important realization that I had been taught all the technique I would need to do anything I ever wanted to with the instrument, and that my development from then on would be completely artistic, an area which is not taught by a professor, but by one’s own ears, by one’s own desires, and by actually living life. That’s where my real journey began – everything prior to that was just warm-up…just the scales and arpeggios. Now I wanted to actually make music. And I did. And I will never stop.
I understand that you began playing the violin at the age of four. Who wanted you to learn and did they have to push you?
EA: This is what I understand to be a rare case of no one pushing the four-year-old into becoming a classical violinist. I saw a fiddle in a shop window and thought it was pretty, and that’s the end (or beginning) of that.
Your flamboyant outfits are always exciting, do you come up with your own designs or does someone do it for you? There is a rumor that you make them all with your very own hands.
EA: For once, the rumors are true! I do design and build all of my costumes and those of my Bloody Crumpets, the girls who join me on stage, although I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that they do a brilliant job at customizing their costumes with their own signature touches, most importantly, the thousands of crystals that they glue to everything save the soles of their shoes. And if I had extra sparklies, I’m sure they’d try that too…
You are the only artist that I know who plays the violin, acts, sings, writes poetry, composes music and has written a book. Do you have a preference or do you like to do it all equally as much?
EA: Aw, thanks for noticing! I also do knife tricks and am working on a cookbook, but that’s another interview… Playing my violin, pure and simple, and primarily classical, has always been my first and true love, and the place I feel my heart beat the fastest. But I will say that my vision of myself has altered dramatically over the years. When I first started out on this whole journey, I wanted more than anything in the world to become a great violinist. Then, later, I wanted to become a great writer, and then a great singer. But now, in this past year, I’ve realized that all of these things are only valuable to me in that they enable me to become what is now my ultimate purpose, and that is to become a great storyteller. All of these skills, and the many more I hope to develop and master in my lifetime, are nothing more than colors in my paint box, tools I can use to tell a story.
How do you find enough time to do all these things plus everything else you do? Do you even have time to sleep?
EA: At this moment I have not slept in 48 hours, and I have a massive Album Release Tea Party to host in a day, so there’s your answer I suppose… Really though, doing all of this, and far, far more, is not impossible, not so incredibly special, I don’t think at least. It simply comes down to priorities, and how you choose to shape your lifestyle. Let’s be real for a second and say that, no, you can’t expect to do extraordinary things if you live an ordinary life. I definitely live no ordinary life, and while it certainly wouldn’t be for everybody, I think normality is extremely over-rated.
Your shows are filled with colorful art and movement. Are all the ideas your own or do you just have a great choreographer?
EA: That’s very flattering that you would even suspect I had any outside help! Hooray! But no, it has always been just me from the very beginning, and then my girls, Captain Maggots, The Blessed Contessa, and Naughty Veronica, all three of whom are brilliant dancers and performers, and so, between all of us, we have a pretty sizable arsenal of skills with which to put on a damn good show.
Besides the violin, have you studied dance, had singing lessons, or is that just natural talent?
EA: Nope, I haven’t studied either dance or singing. Or piano, now that I think of it.
Can you tell us a little about your violin studies, teachers, idols?
EA: Nigel Kennedy, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons video. Changed my little violin world overnight. Done. Oh, and Stephane Grappelli of course, who I am listening to right now!
What inspires you to write your own arrangements? Can you be creative at any time or do you have to be in a special mood?
EA: There is such a variety of styles and moods that I compose in that I’d have to break it down a bit and say that, to write something really tragic, I have to be a little bit past it, a bit past the “I’m gutted and can’t pull myself off the floor” point, that I can write the saddest things when I’m happy, that my best absolutely vengeful and brutally angry work is best done when I’m madly in love, that there is honestly 100% truth to the cliché that you have to be tormented to create good art (although there are varying degrees of torment as well as causes of it, so it’s not always as dire as it sounds, thank heavens), but that, once the emotional groundwork is done, I can create arrangements, orchestrate, etc., absolutely any time, any where, especially since I compose everything in my head and then just take it to pencil and staff paper.
You mix styles a lot, what is your favorite genre to play?
You wrote an autobiography called “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” about your experience in a psychiatric ward. How many copies have been sold and please tell us why we should go out and get a copy of it?
EA: As of this moment, I am aware of approximately 20,000 copies having been sold, and that’s self-published and being sold only online, and only on my shop website at www.AsylumEmporium.com. Should everybody go out and buy a copy? Absolutely not. It’s rated R, and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s also a beautiful and healing story about the miracles that can happen when people (in this case girls, but applies to boys as well) come together in the face of a common enemy. It’s magical, it’s fantasy, it’s time-travel, it’s suspenseful psychological thriller, murder-mystery, and, while it’s also true, that almost doesn’t even matter anymore…it’s grown to be so much bigger than myself, to be about something so much greater than me. At the end of it all, it’s just a good story, and it can be absorbed on many levels, much in the same way as my music and live show can be.
Were you able to be creative in the asylum? Did you even have your violin with you?
EA: Ha! No, no violin. Nor clothes, nor books, nor pens, nor phone, no belongings of any sort, nor dignity, nor privacy, nor safety. We’re talking maximum security, no frills, scary fucking prison, not some retreat that films like “Girl Interrupted” make it out to look like. That was a goddamned spa in comparison to where I was. That being said, yes, I was able to be creative in that this is entirely where I wrote the book.
Fiddlerman.com’s members are always interested in great etudes and studies and look at artists like you for inspiration. What do you recommend to the members who want follow in your footsteps?
EA: There’s certainly no shortcut. I would recommend that you practice all of those repetitive and tedious exercises, scales, etudes, Paganini Caprices (not something I’d ever endure listening to if I had the option not to, but useful to learn), all of it, until your fingers bleed, because you really do need to learn the rules before you can break them. I couldn’t do anything I’m doing, not a single element of it, had I not put in the work, developed my technique from the ground up, developed a work ethic that is basically the answer to your above question about how I find time to do all of these things at once, and paid my dues to the extreme. You can’t just decide to be a rebel and skip the training and think it’s going to amount to anything important just because the standards of rock music are so much lower – it’s still important to do the work. Think about violists, and electric violinists, and definitely violinists in rock…a very high percentage of all of these three groups are failed classical violinists, which gives an unnecessarily bad name to all. There is nothing wrong with the viola at all. The viola is just lovely. But it’s something of a joke because so many players are just violinists that weren’t good enough to be violinists. Electric violin is infinitely easier than acoustic. You can hide so much with distortion and volume, and the subtleties just don’t exist in the same way, which means that your technique doesn’t have to be as subtle, i.e. pristine. But it still counts, and it definitely still shows. If I were a failed classical violinist, I wouldn’t be a successful non-classical one. I chose to do what I’m doing. I didn’t have to. Do the work.
You have some pretty cool designs on your fiddles. Who designed or designs the artwork and how many fiddles do you have and use?
EA: You’re going to get bored of me saying this, but I did it. My violin is a ZETA (it’s the same one I’ve had since I was 14 and which I keep painting over and over), which is a bit of a problem since they’ve shut down.
We fiddlers are always looking for effects that suit our instrument. What equipment and effects do you use for your electric violin?
EA: I love and still use the Line6 Pod, not only for live shows but even for recording. It’s a beautiful, versatile little unit that just works for the fiddle.
Are there any projects that you can tell us about that you have lined up for us all to enjoy in the future?
EA: The most important work I’m doing is, of course, the Broadway musical version of my book. This is going to occupy the majority of my next two years, but will, I hope, be the most important thing I’ve ever done. The musical will be directed by Darren Lynn Bousman who also directed “The Devil’s Carnival,” a musical film series I star and sing in, so I feel that this project is destined to be something extremely special…
Thank you for sharing with us.
EA: And thank you for your excellent and very interesting (a must appreciated rarity) questions! Looking forward to our next chat, and love to you and all of your dear readers, from my Asylum to yours.
If you want to learn more about Emilie Autumn, please visit http://www.asylumemporium.com where you will also find information on buying her book, recording, tickets and more.