words by Dan Brian | photo by Beth Hommel
Posted by nathan • 3/10/09 • Categorized as features
Originally published in Verbicide issue #25
Amanda Palmer, the punk-cabaret queen who haunts all our hearts with
triumphant screams and grief stricken cries of melancholy, has taken
a brief side-step into the solo realm with her latest outing, Who Killed
Amanda Palmer? I recently sat down the Dresden Dolls’ front lady
to get a glimpse of the inner workings behind the raffish eyeliner.
How’s the release of the new album going?
Well, it leaked a couple days ago, which is not so bad because I can
finally see what everybody thinks of it officially. The reaction so
far from everybody has been just off the hook. It’s been really
Who leaked it?
We’ll never know. I mean, once there are promo copies out there,
that’s it. It’s over. I guess my question is that…if
the record leaks now, are less people actually going to buy it when
it comes out? I just don’t think it works that way anymore. I
don’t think it ever worked that way necessarily. I think if people
hear my record and are listening to it and it’s good — and
it is good — it can only help. I don’t think it can hurt.
The song “Runs In The Family” on your new album seems to
touch upon a consistent theme throughout your work: an aversion to medicine
that changes your personality. Or am I totally crazy?
I don’t think you’re crazy, but [that song] actually didn’t
have anything to do with medication or anything medical at all. It’s
really more [of a question]…what if someone made a grand hyperbolic
excuse that nothing is my fault because literally everything is genetic?
That’s sort of what that grew out of. I wrote that song right
around the time I wrote “Half Jack,” and they’re basically
exploring the same terrain in a different way.
The stuff that inspired “Half Jack” and that song was that
during my parents’ divorce I was still in the crib, so I was never
really close with my dad growing up. And I started noticing in my early
20s that I had some of his mannerisms… and I barely knew the guy.
And it really freaked me out because it left me with this sense of helplessness,
as if there really is some coding in there that I can’t break.
It’s a really interesting nature/nurture struggle we enter into
to define ourselves.
It’s kind of like that Bob Dylan song [in which] he’s singing
about how he’s not his father, but in the end he was.
That’s the thing, you can never really get that far. Where you
come from and what you’re made up of does not change. Even if
you redefine yourself and pick a new religion or dye your hair blonde
or whatever. It doesn’t matter.
Does that mentality come into play in your solo work? Are you trying
to redefine or reinvent yourself?
I’m definitely not trying to do that. That’s one thing that
I think is important to point out is that this solo record didn’t
grow out of some frustration with the Dresden Dolls. I actually had
a fair amount of freedom in the Dresden Dolls. It’s not like Brian
and I spent hours fighting over arrangements and concepts. I basically
took the lead and Brian is a really, really fantastic supportive band
mate. But there is something about doing everything together, and making
all the decisions together, being around another person all the time,
even if the creative decisions aren’t that hard. It’s a
totally different feeling sitting in a room making decisions by yourself.
One of the perfect analogies for it is [that] it’s like traveling.
You can travel to the same place as a couple or with a friend, and you
just have a completely experience of the place than if it’s just
you and a backpack and you’re deciding where to turn right and
where to turn left and when to wake up and what to do and what to eat
and what people to talk to. When you travel as a pair, your experience
of the place is actually the experience of the other person. When you
travel as a duo or do a project with another person, a huge amount of
what you’re experiencing is through them, a lot more than the
art and a lot more than the process.
What the history of the record is is that I had this collection of
ballads that never were going to end up on a Dresden Dolls record because
they had no drums. Plus, the band needed to take a break. We said, “Okay,
we’ve put out a second record, I’m going to go off and record
this little solo record and put it out for the fans and then lets reassess
and see where we’re at,” and right around that time, Ben
Folds approached me and offered to produce it. Then one thing led to
another and what was going to be just a simple $10,000 budget turned
into a giant, year-long, epic cluster-fuck [laughter]. But a cluster-fuck
of beauty! I’m really, really proud of the record. I think it’s
I hear you have a future theater project. What’s going on with
Yeah, there is this director from my old high school, this genius writer
and director, who sort of shaped me a lot. He directed the musicals
and the spring plays and taught all the drama classes. He also encouraged
all the kids to write and direct their own material. I go back to my
high school to see the productions and it’s usually the best theater
I see all year, and I sit there and I shake my head saying, “God,
why isn’t this guy in New York?” He’d be killing it.
We’ve been talking about doing a project for years and we finally
set a time this spring, where me and five or six professional actors
are going to workshop an original play with the kids and put it on as
the spring play and then shop it to New York.
What kind of play is it going to be?
It’s going to be a fucked up, surreal, probably very music based,
but probably not musical theater. We did a little mini-workshop this
summer with all the professionals about what the show would be about,
and we were using In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
as source material for the improv.
Are you worried that the parents are going to be a little on edge?
No. I’m not worried about that because they’ve already had
15 years of Steven Bogart and every time I go back to see a show there’s
rape and incest in it. I’m always looking around at all the parents
thinking that they’ve just gotten used to it. [laughter]
You’ve been viewed as a really strong front woman for several
years now. How do you react to that, and more importantly, how do you
feel about that in relation to your female contemporaries?
My insecure side looks at other ladies in rock and I feel really inadequate,
because at a certain level I feel so unhip and unplugged from the indie
rock scene that I wonder if hipsters just look at my Vans and think
we’re just really dorky. I stand in awe of people like Bjork and
Feist and people who do things that get the coolest collaborators and
stylists flocking to them, and they seem to be in this untouchable bubble
of cool. The funny thing is, I think I felt more like that a few years
ago before I realized that all of these things that are happening, that
seem so magic in these other women’s lives, are actually very
I’ve been reading your blog now on a regular basis and you disclose
everything. You certainly don’t seem insecure.
That’s kind of the paradox. I don’t think I’m all
that insecure, but I certainly grew up fucking insecure and it’s
worn off, a lot. Especially since I’ve grown as a performer and
I’ve met so many people and I’ve learned so much. But those
feelings, they never really go away, but I recognize them and I don’t
take them very seriously. When you start peeling away the layers of
the onion and you look at women — especially [those] who are touted
as the next “in” thing — there’s always something
that seems a little off, because too much of that stuff seems unreal
and fabricated, and you’re looking at some sort persona that the
press is creating. You have to wonder how this is translating in real