Interview: Amanda Palmer

Page 20 – Amanda Palmer, header imageThis Amanda Palmer interview was originally published in Issue 8 of DrunkenWerewolf Magazine, July 2013.

“I have no fucking idea. Maybe I'll move to Bristol. I hear the weather is fantastic.”

She’s one half of punk-cabaret’s The Dresden Dolls. She released her album Theatre is Evil with other band The Grand Theft Orchestra near the end of last year, which made Top Ten in her native US. She is soon to be heading out on an extensive tour and is stopping by Glastonbury. She is annoyed, she is irrepressible and she talks Twitter, touring, jeeps, kissing Conor Oberst, as well as that controversial poem, all to Drunken Werewolf. She is Amanda Fucking Palmer.

"This shit is nothing compared to what The Dresden Dolls used to do," states Palmer when contemplating the lengthy tour ahead of her. "We practically killed ourselves touring. We wound up killing the band instead of ourselves, thankfully. Maybe we'll come back from the dead one day. But honestly... touring is a state of mind. You just get up every day and be Zen, and fight the road, and fight the colds, and hug the people, and watch the blurring scenery.”

Palmer delayed much of last year’s tour due to a personal crisis: “We toured for about three months after the record came out and these dates are re-scheduled from the spring. My best friend got cancer. I wanted to stay home.”

“I have a love/hate relationship with touring,” Palmer goes on to say. “Just [like] the way I now have a love/hate relationship with domestic life. I toured for so long that I'm allergic to living in one place. And the band [The Grand Theft Orchestra] is coming with me - they're all fabulous fucking human beings, and stellar stage musicians. We become a touring family on the road, you have to love the people you're with or you wither."

In regards to her other beloved band, The Dresden Dolls, Palmer assures us they are actually alive and well: "Brian and I just played together at The Bowery Ballroom the other night. We'll never stop playing with each other, we're too connected."

When recollecting their angst ex-lover ode "Jeep Song" Palmer says she still sees “that same black fucking truck, but not as often as I used to. People trade their jeeps in over the years."

When discussing how she feels the music scene has changed since her and Brian Viglione came onto it several years ago, Palmer reveals, “I don't have a lot of friends in younger bands anymore. I tend to hang with the set that's already been at it for 10 years, so I lose my perspective. But from the bands [that] I do follow and hang out with, it looks like there's a lot of hopelessness and confusion. I find myself wishing I could help. That was one of the reasons I gave my TED talk. I saw so many bands taking to Kickstarter and being so loudly ashamed of using it. It was coming across in their videos. I wanted to give them permission to, you know, just ask without all the extra shame and bullshit.”

Palmer’s Theatre is Evil was released in 2012 and funded by Kickstarter which raised $1.2 million. It was the most anyone had ever raised at the time through that avenue. When relating her own personal experience of the music industry she simply remarks, “It's changed me mostly by haunting me.”

“Albums will be collections. Album format is definitely dying. But it'll take a while,” predicts Palmer, who’s own album made Number #10 on the Billboard 200. Palmer’s music is free to download on her website for those who are “broke” (a direct quote from her mission statement) and this includes Theatre is Evil.

Fans will have no doubt noticed a shift in Palmer’s music when comparing 2008’s solo debut Who Killed Amanda Palmer, which was produced by Ben Folds, and Theatre is Evil which was produced by John Congleton. She concedes, “I just take dictation from the songs I write. This set of songs spilled out of me over the course of a few years and when I heard them as a collection, it seemed obvious that I was drawing hard from my 80s roots. So instead of fighting it, I just tried to make the songs sound as authentic as possible. I didn't want them to sound like anything other than what they were, which was retro. I didn't want to try to weird them out too much - I've got a bad habit of doing that. I tried not to break it. Back to Basics. Synthesizers. Simple beats. Simple chords. Strong lyrics. Bam.”

On the album’s theme, she offers, “it's a broad spectrum. I'd say it's for the lonely and bereft who need a reason to get up in the morning.” Incidentally, Folds gave Theatre is Evil an enthusiastic thumbs-up on his Facebook page shortly before it was released.

There is indeed more “beat” and less acoustic on Theatre is Evil, but Palmer says: “[I still play] piano live on a lot of the album songs, and I don't mind playing it. But being able to dance around and play front-person at the shows is really liberating. I've been channeling my inner Jagger. It's a blast. Plus, I love to crowdsurf. You can crowdsurf with a guitar, but not a piano. Not really. Unless you want to hurt people.”

Palmer reveals an unlikely inspiration when sharing more on the creative process of Theatre is Evil: “I gathered up all the songs I'd written between 2008 and 2011 and scraped a few from the distant past - "Berlin" was written over 10 years ago - and I took the demos to the genius producer John Congleton and to the band, in rehearsal spaces. We worked out arrangements organically, we played the songs live, we tweaked. The month we worked on the record in Australia was the best. We rehearsed during the day then broke apart at night and I'd take songs where I was 95% happy with the lyrics off to a cafe, get a glass of wine, or two, or three, and bang my head against a wall until I'd found the perfect solution. Sometimes I'd turn to twitter looking for a turn of phrase to fit into a lyric. It was wonderful.”

Palmer adds, “I write what comes into my head and I don't judge. I never know what's going to come out and I like it that way. But I can definitely tell when my environmental influences are creeping in. If I listen to a song too much, I usually wind up trying to write it, by accident. I try really, really hard not to think about this, or I'll ruin it.”

The lushness of “Trout Heart Replica” seemingly shows no traces of the mediocrity of social networking, but when it comes to Palmer it’s probably wise not to bet on much. “That [song] was Jherek Bischoff [from The Grand Theft Orchestra], the best living arranger in the world. His star is rising as well right now, I'm so happy he's doing so well. His new album Composed is along on tour with us and he'll be opening for me every night. His brain with strings and arrangements is absolutely heavenly. I just let him have at it and I knew I'd love what he did. And I did.”

Earlier this year, perhaps surprisingly and not to mention controversially, Palmer dedicated “A Poem for Dzhokhar” to its namesake Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev is the main suspect for the Boston Bombings of earlier this year. The negative reactions to the poem published on her website came in hoards of comments. Palmer was “annoyed”.  Palmer offers a resolute, because we’re all in pain” by way of explanation.

“We all impact each other. If we don't realize that, we sink. Trying to measure impact is impossible.” Palmer laughs at the idea of making the poem into a song, “Rush Limbaugh would love that! Maybe I could play it Steven Colbert. And get shot! Live. On TV! That'd be awesome.”

Palmer will be playing this year’s Glastonbury Festival, but she hasn’t forgotten her modesty. “I've been playing people's houses lately, and I think it trumps everything. Nothing better than no microphones and a couch. But it's hard to scale. Smaller venues are definitely more fun, though. I like seeing faces, not masses.”

Still, Palmer fondly recounts her 2005 memories of Glastonbury when she played in The Dresden Dolls: “Oh god, it was wonderful and terrible. We were both having nervous breakdowns. Brian climbed a hill, committing to never to return to humanity, and I got wasted and walked on stage naked during Conor Oberst's set and tried to make out with him  - and succeeded, but I think he may have been wasted, too! They were dark times.”

Perhaps this year’s Glastonbury will be lighter for Palmer: “I'm going to spin around like mad and try to see as much as possible....and I'm not going to plan until I'm there! My only absolute to-dos are to see Robyn Hitchcock, Billy Bragg and to drink heavily with Caitlin Moran, the author. She promised.” Or perhaps not.

A song Palmer loves to cover live is “Hallelujah", as overplayed as it is. It creates a collective experience like no other I've ever seen, watching a bunch of godless people get music-holy.” She adds, “I love playing whatever I've just written. And I love playing what makes the people around me happy. It always changes.” Palmer’s least enjoyable aspect of touring, however, is “feeling numb”.

In contemplating her next move after the big tour, Palmer jokes (possibly), “…figure out where I'm going to live next year. I have no fucking idea. Maybe I'll move to Bristol. I hear the weather is fantastic.”

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