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Cover Girl: Amanda Palmer (Part 1)
with Melissa A. Bartell

Our January Cover Girl, Amanda Palmer is probably best known as the singer/songwriter of the Dresden Dolls, but she’s more than just a fantastic singer. If the function of art is to hold a mirror up to nature, then as an artist, musician, and all-around amazing woman, Ms. Palmer’s function is to give us a funhouse looking glass view of the world, and provoke real thought in the process. In Part One of our interview, we talk about her beginnings.

Amanda, please tell us a bit about yourself: where are you originally from and what made you the woman you are today?

I was born on Manhattan island but mostly grew up in the deep suburbs of Boston, feeling lonely.

Regarding what made what I am…if you have a few weeks, I could try to answer that. I think the shortcut is to just thank Cyndi Lauper, my mother, the Beatles and God. Right?

Were you interested in music from a young age, or is it something you embraced later in life?

I’ve actually lost my connection with music more and more as the years wear on, but now my time gets more taken up by people, and I like people better than music. Earlier, when I was a kid and a teenager, I lived and breathed music 24/7. I went record shopping weekly and devoured. Now, I eat friends.

Your bio says that you spent a lot of time, as a child, “… drawing flyers for events that never existed…” Do you still make time for visual art? Do you think in music, or images, or a combination of the two?

I think about everything as it hits me.

I was in a museum the other day and was looking at an exhibit about President Lincoln’s assassination. The color saturation in the drawings depicting the event obsessed me and I thought about them for days, and started mentally plotting a new aesthetic theme for the year. A few weeks before that I had my brain stuck in planning a fan video for a Tegan and Sara song that hit me while I was jogging one morning.

I try to plan my life with enough flexibility to be able to follow my own random artistic whims. It’s a weird way to operate but in the long run, it works out. It does drive the people that work for me crazy, however. I’m always trying to keep them in the loop, but it’s difficult when the loop is invisible.

Most of us first came to know you as the voice of The Dresden Dolls. Please tell our readers about how that partnership came to be.

I was looking for a drummer; Brian was looking for a band. We met each other at a Halloween party I was throwing and playing piano at, and we jammed a few days later and knew instantly we were meant to play together. The rest is on YouTube.

Do you enjoy collaborating, or do you prefer to work alone? What are some of the challenges of being part of a performing group or team? How about particular difficulties?

Well, I consider almost everything a collaboration. Even when I’m recording my own shit in my bedroom or doing a lonely little webcast, I feel like I’m collaborating with my audience.

As far as making more complicated recording or projects, I have a simple rule. I won’t work with anyone I don’t also want to hang out and eat with and get to know. That helps make my choices easier.

Are there ever going to be more CDs or performances from The Dresden Dolls, or are you strictly a solo act now?

I dunno. I hope we play together again. We’re so good.

Your solo debut, at least in the public eye, was when you released Who Killed Amanda Palmer? last year. Tell us a bit about that project - how was it inspired, etc?

Well, it began as a much smaller idea. I was going to just release some simple solo songs and self-release it, but then Ben got involved and things changed; the label wanted to pick it up. Then they screwed me and didn’t promote or distribute it properly. It was a tough year, on that front.

The book, which started out as a small little addendum to the album artwork, got out of hand when this writer dude Neil Gaiman got involved. Everything always all over the place, man. I just try to blog it all, and pray.

Can you share a bit about the filming of the videos for each song on the CD? Do you have a favorite piece?

Filming the videos was a dream because I love working with Michael Pope.

We just worked within our non-existent budget and had. A. Blast. My favorite changes from day to day. “Point of it All” was my favorite for a while, but I’m starting to think I should’ve left the strings off and done a raw-er version of it. I’m really proud of the way guitar hero came out.

As part of the publicity for Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, you worked with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab on a line of perfumes. How much of “you” is in those scents? What was the process like?

It was a simple process… Beth sent several scents (to match a photo) that she devised from scratch, and I picked what I liked. It was a fun project since it didn’t have to hit one scent squarely on the head… They were more an experiment of nose-candy.

That was also the project that led to your introduction to Neil Gaiman, wasn’t it? Speaking of your relationship with Neil, how do two such public people balance the public and personal parts of their lives? In particular, we’re curious about your twittering, since at times you seem to tweet each other, apparently without caring about the thousands of followers glimpsing those conversations. Do you feel at all like your relationship is in a fishbowl, or are you able to draw a virtual curtain between yourselves and your fans?

I think everybody has to answer this question for themselves, and everybody has a very different take on it.

One of the lucky things about my relationship with Neil is that we totally understand each other’s limits and how the other one views connection with fans and with others. There’s not a whole lot of misunderstanding and when there is it’s quickly fixed. Neil and I are cut from the same cloth. It’s very rare one of us turns to the other and says, “I have no idea why you did that.”

In addition to twitter, you also have an extensive website, and a blog, and you’ve been referred to as “media savvy” more than once. Have you always been in touch with your inner geek, or is this a fairly recent side of you?

I’ve always been a communication-holic.

I threw weird parties and events constantly when I was a teenager (my poor parents, every time they went out of town, something broke). I had weird pen-pals up the ass. I made mix-tapes constantly.

I was never very interested in computers. My mom was a programmer (she knows COBOL!) and my step-father was in the automatic speech recognition world, so there were always machines around. The computer side of things, for me, just facilitates what was already there. I’ve never been interested in how they work, just how they can connect me. Much like musical gear. I couldn’t give a shit how amps work, I just want them to be loud.

You often refer to yourself, at least online, as “Amanda Fucking Palmer.” Where did that come from? Is it a phrase you purposely embraced?

That one was Ben Folds’ fault. He nicknamed me that in the studio and it stuck. Long story, for another day.

Be sure to check back in February for Part 2 of our interview with Amanda. Meanwhile, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter: @AmandaPalmer.