Emilie Autumn has deemed herself the "innkeeper of the asylum," becoming a de facto real-life poster child for Emily the Strange enthusiasts. A conversation with the goth/glam singer-songwriter and violinist is a strangely happy, if heavy, whirlwind of monologue. She calls over an hour and a half late for our interview, apologizing profusely, but cheerfully, for her long-winded nature.
After a few minutes, it's clear that Autumn's name seems too small to contain her personality: a crashing amalgamation of all the seasons in her world, which is occupied by images of Victorian corsets, pink flamingo hair, and a fiddle almost permanently attached to the 30-year-old's hands. Classically trained, Autumn's been playing professionally for well over a decade, releasing albums, breaking contracts, fighting record labels, and playing with big names like Courtney Love and Billy Corgan. But it was the 2006 release of her rock-cabaret-electronica-glam-goth album, Opheliac, released by her own label, Traitor Records, that earned Autumn acclaim and a large European following.
Now, Autumn and her back-up group, the Bloody Crumpets, are enjoying their first North American headlining tour, playing to sold-out crowds in almost every city, courting controversy at every turn.
"We were told, 'Don't expect too much, and then our fans really pulled through for us," Autumn says. "It's been amazing."
Autumn's relationship with her fans is intense. Her songs are confessional and dark, detailing everything from her stay in a psych ward ("Thank God I'm Pretty") to songs about suicide ("The Art of Suicide") and cutting ("Liar"). She's unapologetic about the subject matter, and with the arrival of her first novel (she wrote and illustrated the whole thing), The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, she's ripping open plenty of old wounds in the hopes that her fans will learn something from her experiences.
"There's so much about the book that's fun and beautiful, but a lot of it's from my diary entries from when I was locked up or during suicide attempts, during bipolar episodes or cutting myself, during those hardcore episodes that nobody really wants to talk about," Autumn admits.
The fan devotion is definitely a response to Autumn's overwhelmingly confessional-style writing, and her unwavering commitment to what she earnestly refers to as her "brand." Autumn has her own clothing label and design house, makes her own business decisions, and writes the music she wants to hear. Her earlier music industry experiences could have soured her indefinitely, but she's opted to learn from those mistakes.
"Working with Courtney Love, for example, now I can deal with anything," Autumn says. "I went from being a terrified little girl to being able to handle anything, so, like, thank you. And, working with Corgan, to see how long somebody's been around, how they've grown up in the industry, and yet to see how they can still be dictated to by their labels. I swear that's never going to be me. I had to learn that very quickly in order to survive those people. I will live on the streets and be a busker and make music for nobody. I will never let that happen. I will never care that much that anybody listens to me or that I'm popular. I don't give a fuck ... that was something to really, really learn. No matter how long you've been around or how many records you've sold, there's that desperation among some very, very famous people to keep repeating it, to not get old, to worry when you lose your hair."