In the surreal, Victoriana-inspired world of vocalist-violinist Emilie Autumn, there is only one constant: honesty.
Simply asking her how she’s doing will result in a disarming dissertation, such as this response last week: “Here’s how I am,” she says. “I just attempted to pour a cup of tea, and the only vessel I had was a Styrofoam cup. But there was a hole in the cup, so now I’ve scalded myself with boiling tea water and I’ll have third-degree burns on my violin-holding hand for the show tonight.”
Suddenly, she brightens. “So it’ll be like method acting! I’ll incorporate it into my show somehow!”
Such straightforwardness has earned the flame-haired siren — who plays The City tonight — a legion of devoted fans.
Her upcoming concept album, “Fight Like a Girl,” is an operatic feminist treatise set inside an insane asylum, wherein the female inmates gradually realize their own strength in numbers.
“It’s about taking all these things that make women the underdogs and using them to your advantage,” she says. “We’ve all heard of mothers who can lift cars when their child is trapped underneath — this is what women can do. So ‘fighting like a girl’ means fighting like the biggest badass possible.”
The album picks up where Autumn’s most brutally frank work — her 2010 semi-autobiography, “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” — left off.
Afflicted with bipolar disorder since childhood — when she would mentally bow Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” to muffle her nightly auditory hallucinations — the violin prodigy began channeling the darkness into records, poetry books, even a self-designed steampunk stage wardrobe.
But a suicide attempt landed her in a Los Angeles psychiatric ward, an experience she documented in daily journal entries, red-crayoned across the pages of Andrew Scull’s historical book “Madhouse.”
“I was able to bribe a nurse into giving me that book,” says Autumn, 32, who translated said diary into “The Asylum.”
Her affliction’s upside: “That access to a particular portal of creative awesomeness,” she says. “When you’re writing on the ceiling because you can’t find enough paper to contain your thoughts.” Countered, unfortunately, by long periods of bleak depression. “So it isn’t a good tradeoff — no high is worth that kind of suicidal low,” she says.
Autumn isn’t fiddling around with her condition. “Medication is a necessity,” admits the auteur, who stars as The Painted Doll in Darren Lynn Bousman’s upcoming film, “The Devil’s Carnival.”
“But the beauty has been building a career around it,” she says, “making the most of the darkness by turning it into something beautiful. Because you need to see the cosmic joke in all this, just to survive.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today
Contact: (415) 522-0333, www.slimstickets.com