May 30, 2009
Badass musician Amanda Palmer
The fact that Amanda Palmer is fucking awesome has long since been firmly
established. She is perhaps most noted for being half of the Dresden Dolls,
but since the band decided to take a break a couple years ago she has
been carving out a solo career on her own... with the help of a mind-bogglingly
dedicated fan base that has helped her weather storm after storm. Most
intriguing was the incident in which her label wanted to cut clips featuring
her bare belly from the video of her first single because they "thought
I looked fat", as she said on her blog in a post that sparked a ReBellyon:
legions of her fans took photos of their own bellies, sent them to her
record label, and even started a website. Any artist with fans like that
has got to be of at least some interest, and Amanda Palmer, with her theatrical
leanings, does not disappoint.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m at home.
Where do you live?
I live in Boston.
Oh, cool! I know you’re coming down to NYC next week for the
Liner Notes event, which you’re co-headlining with Neil Gaiman.
How did you meet him? I know you two have collaborated.
We were first introduced by Jason Webley, who is a good friend of mine,
and Neil found out about him online; one of Jason’s videos got
sent to Neil, and he really loved it. We were introduced through email
and we found that we really get along.
I know he’s done the text from your book Who Killed Amanda Palmer?,
Yeah, he wrote stories to go with the photos in the book.
How exactly did that project develop? Was it directly correlated to
Yeah, it came about in a funny way. Um… I had this small collection
of dead photographs of myself, and I was going to use them in the album
artwork but then I was told I didn’t have a packaging budget.
[laughs] Which ended up being really lucky, because that’s what
inspired me to do the book instead.
Well, your label has a bit of a history at this point of being less
than kind to you. [laughs]
Yeah, they really suck. So I had learned at that point that it was pointless
to argue with them and that it probably wouldn’t get anywhere.
So instead of arguing, I said, “Fine, we can have a four-panel
thing with that booklet, but I’m going to go and make a book and
sell it on my own.”
Well, clearly in this scenario it turned out for the best. You took
lemons and made lemonade.
Yeah, I’m trying to do that in general. [laughs] So that’s
what originally got me thinking about doing the book, and Neil had really
loved the record so I asked him if he would write the stories and he
really surprised me by saying yes. So one thing led to another and it
turned into this whole thing.
Obviously you had the photos and that’s how you decided to make
the book, but how did you decide what form the content would take, what
with the stories?
You know, I never did, actually. [laughter] I actually never did. I
just took the photos that I had and started taking new ones and decided
that, you know, the book would shape itself. And Neil would help shape
it, and the photographers I invited to work on it would help shape it,
and it would just be what it was going to be.
And now, again, you’re co-headlining the Liner Notes event with
him. How’d you get involved with that?
Well, they asked. And we said yes. [laughs] It’s pretty simple.
But, I mean, was it just a coincidence that the two of you ended up
co-headlining after he worked on your book?
Um… well, we’ve been trying to spend as much time together
as we can, and that has meant kind of following each other around in
different cities. We did a similar event in Dublin several months ago
where we just went to a bookstore and showed people teaser photographs
from the book and Neil read some stories. And I had a show in New York
to do this week and Neil had some stuff to do, so we just decided that
we were both going to be in New York and we would want to do something
together. Then the Liner Notes thing popped up as a possibility and
we grabbed it.
Tell me a little bit about what the event actually is.
It’s a benefit for Housing Works, so all the money raised from
the tickets is going to go to Housing Works.
Yes, Housing Works is a really great organization. I’m excited
to check out the bookstore because I’ve never been.
Yeah, it’s wonderful, and actually Neil and I were just watching
footage of Augusten Burroughs doing an event a couple months ago or
something. It just seems really great. I’m looking forward to
it, and I think Neil and I both feel more at home in a bookstore than
at a rock show. [laughs]
Would you say that you’ve sort of always had literary influences
on your music?
Well… yeah, I’d say for as long as I’ve been reading
books they’ve probably been influencing me—for as long as
I can remember. [laughs]
Well, I know your album was released in September 2008 but considering
it’s your most recent I was wondering if you would discuss how
your sound developed as you took a break from the Dresden Dolls to do
Well, the break from the Dresden Dolls was a necessity because we were
making each other really unhappy, and it had gone on for too long with
neither of us being happy enough, so we decided that taking a break
was essential. But I never want to stop creating, so it just made sense
to me to keep moving forward with a solo record—but at the time
my solo record was just going to be a dinky little project of solo piano
and voice, and that’s what I was working on when Ben Folds got
in touch and offered to produce it, so that sort of upped the ante.
And what was supposed to be an acoustic record turned into a full-on
And thanks to numerous controversies, the hype inevitably grew.
…Yeah, the hype wasn’t my fault. [laughter] But it didn’t
hurt. And, you know, it was interesting: I had a really wonderful and
difficult year with the record. I was terribly broke because of the
situation with the label, because I basically spent my life savings
and then also went into debt making the record. Then I also chose to
tour with a lot of people, so even though we were not touring luxuriously
there were a lot of people to get around and pay for. And my fans really
stepped up and were incredible and donated money to pay the actors every
night, and… it was a really… fucking… beautiful DIY/punk-rock
thing. You know, after having done expensive tours with the Dresden
Dolls, it was just totally back to basics: eight people to a room and
The thing is, you might not be on par with, like, Christina Aguilera
in terms of name recognition but you have something most other musicians
don’t in the level of dedication from your fans. It’s astounding.
Well, I think huge stars like that don’t realize it’s an
actual relationship. I really try not to look at my fans as fans so
much as a giant collection of friends who are helping me out and whom
I’m helping out in my own weird bizarre way. But it’s a
really committed relationship, and you can’t go on grabbing things
and taking things from it without expecting to give things back, which
I think is what a lot of celebrities expect. I think a lot of them expect
people to continue worshipping them and taking care of them because
they’re awesome. [laughs] And it doesn’t really work that
I think another side of that, though, is that even among the stars
with good intentions it must be hard to keep up with so many people.
Yeah, but it’s doable. There are definitely bigger bands out there
that manage to keep up with their fans, and it’s easier than ever
nowadays because you can get direct contact with them. And if you know
how to organize and prioritize, I really think you can do so much more
than you used to be able to do, and it’s essential now because
all the musicians and artists in general—if funding dries up,
we’re all going to be going directly to our fans for dear life.
They’re going to be paying our rent. [laughs] The money’s
not going to be coming from anywhere else.
Well, given the state of the music industry—I mean, the record
industry’s just in a shambles these days.
Yeah, but something beautiful is growing out of the ashes. Things are
just getting reorganized.
Yeah—well, sometimes things have to get really bad before they
can get really good again.
Well, given the fact that we’ve entered into an economic hellhole,
on top of the fact that it’s done what it has done to the music
industry—but that’s kind of beautiful. That sort of thing
can herald a real golden age. And it weeds out the musicians and even
the fans who aren’t really committed, because it just won’t
leave any room for them. So I think it’ll only be those who are
really dedicated to wanting it and to loving their fans and loving the
process even when it’s really hard and being willing to make a
living wage as a musician, instead of assuming that if you play the
right cards you’ll finally get that stretch limousine and be snorting
coke off a hooker’s ass. The sooner that image disappears the
better off we’ll be. [laughs] People need to realize that it’s
just like a job—if you want to be a hard working musician people
will love you and take care of you, but it really is work. It’s
not like if you work hard enough you get to not have to work; it’s
that if you work hard enough you get to keep working! [laughs]
The reward isn’t getting to slack off later; it’s to be
able to make a living doing—well, work, but work that you really
Yeah, exactly. You know, I think that’s going to change. I mean,
I think what it means to be a musician, what it means to be a rock star,
what it means to be a successful musician and artist… I think
it’s gonna change completely. I think it’s going to become
much more realistic. I think it kind of turned into a cartoon for a
while, and now it’ll hopefully back down. And I think that’ll
be great for the art and for everybody.
I think there’s a chance we might see a second coming of the
punk/DIY aesthetic—which has never really fully gone away, but
I think we might see it coming back in a bigger way now because that’s
what has to happen if you want the community to keep going.
Another artist known for having a good relationship with her fans is
Margaret Cho, whom I know you’re friends with. Didn’t you
tour together recently?
Yeah, we’ve done a bunch of different things together. We did
the True Colors tour together, and she was on the last Dresden Dolls
DVD, and we just stopped by SXSW together because we both share the
same publicist now. We have a lot in common, is what we keep finding.
[laughs] And, you know, that’s one of the things I’ve been
loving about my life recently: finding and capturing and nurturing these
relationships with people you’d never thought you’d find.
You move through this lifestyle thinking that it’s only you, and
how could anyone else possibly understand the weird, complex, strange
problems of your life? And then you meet people like Neil and Margaret.
[laughs] And I praise, uh, I praise Jesus that I’ve finally begun
to find my own freaky little family. They’re people all invariably
like each other, too, which is really fun. There’s something wonderful
about that, especially when they aren’t musicians. Neil and Margaret
and I, if we had anything in common it would really be that we love
our fans and we love nurturing them and that can be a real bonding experience.
That and the fact that you all have similarly off-color aesthetics.
Yeah, we’re all weirdos. [laughter]
Exactly. That’s probably the easiest way to bond with someone.
Yeah. Yeah, there’s definitely been a sense of “weirdos
unite”, and strangely a lot of that’s been happening over
Twitter, which is really awesome because not everybody knows about it
yet, and I think it’s just reaching that critical point where
it might tip and fall over.
It feels like it came out of nowhere and completely changed the internet.
Well, it still kind of has the feeling of being like a clubhouse. You
know, not everyone is on it yet. And I’ve just had so much fun
fucking around and seeing what’s possible, you know? I had an
entire party spontaneously two Friday nights ago where I was supposed
to be packing because I was going away, and I made one joke about calling
all the people on their computers on Friday night to order, and after
two hours I had gotten no work done and I had not cleaned my apartment
and I had gotten thousands of people following the party on the internet
and I made these cool T-shirts! As I pointed out to a journalist earlier
today, I made more on the sale of those T-shirts than I have all year
in record sales! [laughs]