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Amanda Palmer finds success in random decisions

Jim Abbott

SOUNDBOARD

December 11, 2009

Amanda Palmer, a few minutes late for our appointed telephone interview, explains that a meeting with the Boston Pops ran long.

An icon for creating dark "Brechtian punk cabaret" with The Dresden Dolls, Palmer will be headlining with the orchestra on New Year's Eve. For the Pops, Palmer is the kind of cutting-edge act that elevates the ensemble's cool factor among younger audiences. For her part, Palmer reports that there's something for her in the collaboration, too.

"They're also lending to my cred," says Palmer, whose solo tour will stop Sunday at the Social. "I was expecting them to be stodgy and conservative, but they are the raddest people, fun to work with, and they don't mind that I swear all the time. I like it."

It will be a return engagement for Palmer, who performed with the Pops a couple of summers ago. Right now, she doesn't have much of an idea about what she'll be doing, but that's not unusual.

"It's really overwhelming when they say, 'It's the Boston Pops and you can go do anything you want.' I get constant brain cramps. What I end up doing, is what I end up doing with most of my life, just stop worrying, make random decisions and just do it.

"I make a lot of random decisions and just stick with it."

The comment is followed by one of the full-throated chuckles that punctuates much of Palmer's conversation. To listen to her is to realize that she is an idea-machine powered by the sheer joy of tapping into her imagination.

Her latest project, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, evolved in the singer's typical organic fashion from a mere solo debut album into a three-pronged beast that encompasses a CD, DVD and coffeetable book. The latter, Who Killed Amanda Palmer: A Collection of Photographic Evidence, features more than 100 photographs of "dead" Amanda Palmers, accompanied by tales written by her boyfriend, Neil Gaiman.

The project also has spawned a line of a dozen fragrances concocted by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and boasting such odd names as "Unfortunate Shopping Cart Incident," "Blackberry Jam & Scones" and "Cupcake Spatter Pattern Analysis."

How did Palmer's initial notion of a stripped-down solo album turn into all this?

"My life seems to go that way in general," she says. "It always starts with some very simple idea and my brain will get going and other people will get involved. A little snowball turns into a car-sized snowball and then it's rolling downhill and crushing a village."

The first collaborator on the latest killer snowball was singer-songwriter Ben Folds, who expressed interest in Palmer's music and ended up producing and playing on the album.

"We had a blast making the record and I got to make a really cool new friend," Palmer says. "I forget how educational it's going to be every time I go into the studio and work with somebody new. You see their own kind of mad way of working and it gives you new perspective on yourself and your musical choices."

In a way, working with her boyfriend, Gaiman, is just a natural extension of Palmer's creative philosophy. He will be along in Orlando to contribute to Palmer's show.

"As stupid and simple as it seems, I love working with people that I love. If you don't love or much less like the people you work with, your quality of life plummets pretty much instantly."

So is Palmer's love-powered marketing assault paving the way for world domination?

"Nothing's ever a marketing triumph for me," she says, with another happy laugh. "The empire isn't even capitalism. It's more an empire of connecting with amazing people and drinking great wine when possible."