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Trying to describe Emilie’s live show is pretty difficult—it consists of burlesque dancing, insane violin playing, and maybe some fire. Oh, did I mention that her shows are about three hours long? Each show is an experience that you won’t soon forget. Check out the following interview in which she tells us about the benefits of going vegan, why rats are awesome, and why McDonald’s sucks.
Here she is in her own words:
We’re happy to hear that you follow a vegan diet! Tell us more about how you made the switch. Was it a book you read, a video you saw, a friend who inspired you?
It was surprisingly solitary, actually. I became vegetarian at age 11 to begin with, and this was entirely because I was looking at a hamburger one day and my budding logic kicked in. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how it was that I should eat a cow and yet not eat my horse or [eat] a chicken but not eat my dog, and my little mind just exploded a bit. I actually sat looking at that hamburger for a while, just trying to wrap my head around the concept of one species being OK to chew on while another wasn’t, and all of a sudden, putting this hamburger in my mouth seemed physically impossible, like it was the most unnatural thing on the planet. I couldn’t eat a cow—I couldn’t eat anything that had parents—and I told my mother this. None of my family was vegetarian, but my mother was sympathetic enough to let me have my way and leave me alone about it. I started to cook my own food so that it wouldn’t become an issue at dinnertime, and [I] turned into a really good cook!
Becoming vegan didn’t happen until much later, because when you are 11, that’s not really something you know much about. In my late teens, I began learning more about the conditions that even dairy animals are raised and kept in and about the artificial and damaging substances that they are pumped full of. So between the inhumane treatment and the chemicals that milk- and egg-producing animals are subjected to, I couldn’t imagine that ingesting anything that came out of them was going to be terribly healthy for my mind or my body.
Do you feel that following a vegan diet is easy while touring the country? What are some of your favorite stops for vegan food?
I personally find it quite easy to be vegan anywhere in the world, but this is primarily because I am so happy to go rustic and eat bushels of fruit and vegetables and grains and such. I’m pretty easy to please; I don’t always require the latest meat substitute or soy cheese, although those are in fact on my catering rider, and so we do have the bus well stocked most of the time. There are also some international cuisines that are exceptionally vegetarian/vegan friendly (all of the girls in my band are vegetarian)—such as Mexican, Indian, Mediterranean, and Asian, for example—so we all put out our veg-radars and locate these spots when we get to a new city. Of course, sometimes we’re lucky enough to find places that are made for people like us—spots like The Chicago Diner (a great place to take nonvegan friends and shock them with how ridiculously heavenly a vegan cake can actually taste; I’ve blown many minds here); Pick Me Up Café, also in Chicago (great for those late, after-show gatherings); Lula’s Sweet Apothecary or Blossom in New York; Electric Lotus in Los Feliz, California; and more places in Los Angeles than are even possible to mention. The adventure of searching out these lovely little culinary gems while on the road is actually one of the great joys of touring, almost on the level of finding a clean restroom in a concert venue.
Many of your songs touch on your personal thoughts or obstacles you’ve overcome in your life. Would you say that any of your songs touch on animal rights or welfare issues?
Well, I’ve never written anything quite as literal as Morrissey’s “Meat Is Murder,” but there is an overriding theme of the underdog fighting back in most of what I write, and I personally equate that premise to both feminism and animal rights. I know it may sound strange to connect the two, but I’m going to try and explain the way I see it. To start, I’m going to go ahead and be a total pompous ass and quote Gandhi for a second: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Now, a society’s treatment of animals is closely related to their treatment of women, and the fact that I don’t like the way that sounds doesn’t make it any less true. The way a society treats its animals has a direct and glaringly obvious connection to its treatment of women because inhumane is inhumane is inhumane, and the attitudes of the ruling class (or gender in this case) on one creature considered inferior are the attitudes it extends toward all things considered such.
And so is it any wonder that regarding women and animals, in our present “civilized” society, the greatest of evils are still enacted upon both? At least when a cow is slaughtered, it isn’t personal. When a woman is abused, it usually is, and this is something I write about constantly.
How do you feel about large corporations such as McDonald’s that currently purchase their chicken from suppliers that cut chickens’ beaks off with a hot blade, break their wings and legs, and scald them in defeathering tanks while the birds are still fully conscious—refusing to switch to suppliers who use a less cruel method of slaughter?
I remember some time ago when I first heard of the animal rights activists who—knowing that they did not stand the chance of stopping the killing of animals—found within themselves the unbelievable strength to do the only thing they realistically could in that moment and devised a less cruel way of killing them. It would be nice to think that corporations could at least meet us halfway, you know? Yes, we would like to stop the killing of chickens entirely, but there is no real kindness in fighting so hard for what is, at the very present at least, completely impossible and thus getting nothing done for these creatures at all. My god, the incredible humanity and love it takes to say, “I cannot save all of you today, but I will go against everything in my brain and my heart to invent something that will kill you with less pain.” I don’t know that I could do that. So for that to have been created as an option and for the corporations to not take this option is a double slap in the face to anyone who is trying to help.
I hear that you have a particularly soft spot for rats, and we do too! Where did this love for rats come from, and do you currently have any rodent companions?
Indeed I do, and to the most ridiculous extreme! I have always had a deep affinity for rats—partly because they are so badly misrepresented and maligned, and I suppose I relate well to this on a personal level—but mostly because rats are shockingly intelligent creatures, have personalities almost as big as their hearts, and are capable of more love than most people I know. They have better senses of humor as well.
In my stage show, the first character I inhabit (I’ve got several costume changes throughout our two-and-a-half-hour-long extravaganza) is that of the Rat Queen, and I’ve got ears, a very handsome jewel-encrusted tail, and all. In fact, the mascot for not only the show but also for this entire “Asylum” world that I exist within both on stage and off is the rat, but not just any rat! It is the Plague Rat, the greatest underdog of them all, because we (should) all now know that it was never the rats who spread the plague to begin with—it was the fleas! Kind of like, it wasn’t exactly women that caused the fall of man, but, whatever …. Anyway, our logo is the exquisite silhouette [of] one of my rat companions, Sir Edward, who is incidentally the Ambassador of the League of Asylum Plague Rats. Basil is his sidekick, and they are both sleeping on my shoulders as we speak. They’ve become quite famous, and I receive fan gifts of paintings, sculptures, and handmade stuffed animals in their likeness nearly every day!
Of all the major animal rights topics—animals used for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation—which one is closest to your heart and why?
That is difficult to answer, isn’t it? [It’s] like saying, “Would you rather watch a friend be kicked, burned, skinned, or just punched in the face?” I’m gonna have to go with all of the above.
If you could create your own campaign for peta2, what would it be?
I wouldÂ dearly like to educate as much of the world as I can on the true character, and characteristics, of rats—they mean that much to me. They are my best friends and primary cause, and I see myself in them. I know that sounds odd, and I really don’t care. In the last few years of touring the world with a heavily rat-themed musical production—as well as having just put out my book, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, in which rats are some of the leading characters (they talk)—so many fans of my work have learned about these animals and have saved them from becoming snake food. [They have] given them homes, lives, love, and respect, and honestly, I am more proud of this than almost anything else I’ve done.
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to rant on about the things that matter to me. Now I have to get ready for showtime, and my tail is waiting.
Emilie sure knows what she is talking about! If you are curious about going vegan, give it a try—and maybe one day you can play like Emilie!