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Amanda Palmer
Interview with Fawn Neun

Amanda (Fucking) Palmer is one of the smartest and savviest voices in music today. Palmer is a performer, composer, musician and political activist best known as frontwoman and keyboardist for the Dresden Dolls. Palmer is especially reknowned for her "Burlesque Punk" aesthetic (a fun combination of sex and the circus), her dramatic onstage style, and her frank and intelligent lyrics.

There's an inclusive factor to Amanda's performances and public life; she blogs, she twitters, she still takes requests onstage (even if it's for a song she's never played before). Devoted fans wait patiently in line for hours before her shows, passing the time by playing ukeleles and giving out cupcakes, checking their cell phones for her latest twitter message from back stage. It seems to be the hallmark of truly legendary artists in the 21st century and has earned her the love of music fans of all ages.

2006 saw the publication of "The Dresden Dolls Companion", a song book with lyrics, commentary and autobiographical notes written by Amanda; followed by "The Virginia Companion" in 2007.

In September 2008, Amanda released a solo album named "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" and a companion series of videos were produced and launched on YouTube. June 2009 will see the publication of 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer" the book; a photo essay book containing shots of our erstwhile heroine at the scene of her demise (mostly due to violent cause), with accompanying short stories penned by none other than Neil Gaiman.

Amanda recently wrapped up a yearlong tour of sold-out performances in Europe, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.

I sat with her backstage at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida during her "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" tour for a quick interview. Strongly beautiful and beautifully intense, she was warm and friendly. I had a list of questions that I never got to, because she knew what she wanted to talk about and most of it was far more interesting than what I'd come up with.

We briefly discussed her online exploits.

TBS: I notice you've been twittering a lot. Do you like it? Do you ever feel over exposed?

AFP: Oh yes--it's terrible--it's great. You have to remember who you're talking to, I'm the queen of exposure. I'm the queen of over-exposure. Twitter is like the ultimate and instant connection tool. It's wonderful and also very dangerous for a person like me, because I'm so totally enthralled by the connection with my fans.

TBS: That was something I wanted to ask you about, because publishing is headed in the same direction. More authors are self-publishing and building up interaction with fans.

AFP: Neil (Gaiman)

TBS: Neil. (laughs) The way the economy is going, a lot of people that would normally hope to be published by the big houses aren't going to be able to do that. There's no money and there's no money for promotion. I've noticed a lot of bands are doing the same thing. I noticed something on your blog that you were going to write a treatise on where you think the music industry is going. What do you have to say about the whole DIY movement?

AFP: It's going to be a long treatise. First of all, I realize that there's two things that need to be addressed. The first of them was inspired by an email that circulated before there were blogs and the web was as huge as it is now. I remember that Courtney Love circulated an email in the late 90's and it was just an exposure of how the major label model works and how it was possible that she was this huge rock star but completely broke. And she just broke it all down. She exposed her bank account, she exposed the money, talked about all the exact tour expenses. She said, "You guys need to understand this." People assume that if you're a rock star and you're touring you're rich. It doesn't work that way. Also people need to understand that when you buy a record at a store, that money isn't coming to me. And even that email, which I think was written 10 years ago, is now horribly outdated. I mean the basic, fucked-up-ness is more or less the same. But every band's situation is also different.

What I think what I'd really like to do is explain to the fans, in detail, how my life works--so they know. This is how the major label thing works, this is how touring works, this is how expenses work, this is where my profit actually comes from. This is what happens when you buy my record in a store; this is what happens when you buy my record online.
AFP: People are constantly asking me how they should spend their money. Because they actually want to support me, but they're afraid they're going to misplace their generosity. So they don't want to go to a big chain store and buy 20 copies of my record for people for Christmas if they don't think I'm going to get the money. That's one thing.

The second thing is how we're going to approach a new model of artist to fan interaction, with or without the help of labels, publishers, corporations; the industry. And I have some interesting thoughts about that, because I think that a lot of it certainly comes down to the artist's attitude towards their work and their life and how they measure success. But it also comes down to how the fans--the audience--gives and receives with the artist, because that paradigm is also going to have to change. I think there are certain preconceived notions that are just going to have to be deconstructed; about money, about exchange, about patronage, about support. I'm a street performer, by nature, so I've never had any shamefulness about saying, "Hey, if you like it, definitely give me some money."

I think a lot of artists feel that that's really taboo. And they'd rather have a third party sort of, with some smoke and mirror structure, say "Oh, the artist doesn't concern themselves with that. We take your money."

But actually, if the artist is only seeing a tiny little part of that profit, the artist should suck it up and deal with the fact that you should be able to approach your fans and put your hand out and say, "If you want to support me, then just do it".

TBS: Yes, I suppose performing on a street corner makes that easier; it's just a bigger venue, bigger audience.

AFP: Yes, and I try not to take it for granted. But I think as far as everything is concerned, that would be good for all of the arts, and the public's perception of how we take care of artists could fundamentally change. And that's not just musicians, but visual artists, and writers, and actors. Especially with the economy tanking and things really changing. I was talking about this with Ben Folds the other day on the phone, and we were vigorously nodding, heads in each other's direction, saying pretty much we're looking at turning back into a travelling minstrel show.

TBS: Do you think that the kind of mind that creates art, or desires to create art, can sell it? Or do you think that's a problem for people who are great writers or great musicians but simply have to keep that barrier or they get exhausted? Obviously you're not one of them.

AFP: Oh no, I do get exhausted and I sometimes fear to tread into the conjecture about what I would be doing with my time if I didn't spend the majority of it promoting my tour, my record, myself, my website, my book. But, I've come up with, for myself personally (and obviously every artist is going to be different), I've come up with a kind of system of forgiveness for myself. Instead of assuming that everything should be taken care of because I'm the artist, I think that I just accept the fact that in order to be an artist right now, I need to do those things.

TBS: That's very intelligent.

AFP: But I felt very, very guilty. It used to be so harrowing in the early days of the band (Dresden Dolls) when Brian and I would be rehearsing or at practice and I would be leaving to take phone calls or shooting out mailers for the show the next night. And it was really frustrating for him. It was one of those things where, "No, no, no - this isn't going to last forever. As soon as we have help, all of that's going to go away. Everything will be magically taken care of as soon as we have managers and agents and lawyers and labels". And nothing could be further from the truth. No one is ever going be able to care about these things as much as I do. And I have a lot of help--and I do have managers and agents and booking agents and publicists and lawyers--but they just help. They don't do it all.

TBS: That's very bright -- you have to be real.

AFP: But its depressing. Sometimes I think there's this alternate reality where I don't care as much about all the business and promotion and I actually spend my brainpower on creating things.
Photo by Martyn Foster


TBS: If you don't mind if we change tracks--one of the reasons I wanted to interview you was because you came highly recommended by a friend of mine who's a huge fans of yours. I went to your Myspace page where you state that one of your favorite books is "The Hotel New Hampshire". I've never in my life met anyone who loves that book as much as I do.

AFP: I love that book!

TBS: What are some of your literary influences?

AFP: They're vast--I've gone through all different phases in my life. When I was a teenager I was very into Ann Rynd and Herman Hesse and Heinrich Bowl and all this super heavy stuff. And Kundera--who I actually still love. He's managed to hang on. I never go back and read Heinrich Bowl or Ann Rynd. But, I go back and read Kundera's books and you can read those books every ten years and reach a whole new level of understanding about those relationships and those dynamics.

TBS: There seem to be certain stages where you have to be at to deal with certain books.

AFP: Yeah.

TBS: What about "The Hotel New Hampshire"--what do you love about that? This is just curiosity on my part.

AFP: I really love his (John Irving) books in general--but that book--something about the--I think I loved it mostly because they were my fantasy family. And that world, that particular brand of weirdness was something that felt close enough to something I could understand but didn't have. It was set in New England. It was very close to home. I sort of felt like I was Franny in a parallel life. And I think it's one of the few books in existence that actually had justice done in the film version--which is so rare. And the film was so brilliant--and fucking Jodi Foster--nailed it.
TBS: One of the other reasons I wanted to talk to you was because I think you're a brilliant lyricist and if anyone wants to question me about that, I'll just say "Ampersand". It's simply stunning. Are there any poets that influenced your work or that you really love?

AFP: You know I never really got into reading poetry. But, I definitely have a collection of poems that have floated my way and resonated. But I've never staked my claim to a favorite poet. I see teenagers coming up to me clutching their favorite book of poetry--I never had that book. But I remember when a book came my way, I'd circle one poem because I connected with it. I find poems hard to read because I'm such a song person. Poems always read to me like unhinged lyrics.

But the poems that I love are often lynchpins in my life, and I find them returning again and again, and I find myself coming back to them. And there's a handful of them; "Ode on a Grecian Urn", one is "Todesfugue" by Paul Celan. I have to say there's some poets out there that I think are probably considered really corny, but that I love, like, there are poems by Robert Frost that just kill me. But I'm also, like, a huge fan of Norman Rockwell, so... (laughs)
Photo by Beth Hommel
TBS: Speaking of books--how did you end up working with Neil Gaiman?

AFP: Neil was originally introduced to me by Jason Webley, who is a good, good friend of mine, who I've done a lot of touring with. Neil found out about Jason through a recommendation, someone linking him to a video Jason did on YouTube. So, they kicked up an email friendship and then Jason put us in touch because he knew we knew of each other but didn't know each other.

TBS: About the book "Who Killed Amanda Palmer", you've already finished all the photo work for that and Neil's writing the text?

AFP: It's finished and it's being printed as we speak. Today.

TBS: Any idea when it's going to be released?

AFP: It's going to be available for preorder in two weeks and it's going to come out in June.

TBS: So, it's just a short run?

AFP: Oh, I think we'll probably reprint it, I think we'll see how it goes. We're doing 10,000 copies and if they all disappear, we'll look immediately into doing a second edition.

TBS: So, do we get to find out who kills Amanda Palmer?

AFP: No, the book leaves the question pretty open.

TBS: You've threatened to write a book yourself back in January.

AFP: I will keep threatening. I think it's going to be a really long process and I'm just starting to put together vague ideas in my head about what the shape of the book will be like. But I did a long twitter Q&A today and I said it is semi-auto biographical book about performance; and that means performance on the street, performance on the stage--performing your life for other people. Certainly I'll be tied into that and my own work will be tied into that. But I think I want to ask much larger questions that go beyond Amanda Palmer--about why we perform ourselves and how we're received and how we are so conscious of how we perform for other people.

TBS: That'll be very interesting, I'm looking forward to seeing that.

AFP: You'll have to wait awhile. (laughs) I think if I've been preoccupied with anything, or if I'm an expert in anything, it would be the many, many layers of the performance onion.

TBS: About the process of writing lyrics--do you write the words first or music first?

AFP: Usually words--but words that come with music. The words that come with music stay.

TBS: Do you look to find something that you want to write about or do you catch on a few words.

AFP: I catch on a few words
TBS: What do you think is the real lesson of "Oasis " (The video for the song "Oasis" was banned in the UK.)

AFP: (Laughs) I think the real lesson is... well there's several. One is that I think the media vastly underestimates the intelligence of its audience and two, I think that the whole thing with Oasis is a very important reminder that you cannot, you must not, put boundaries on artistic expression. At all. You just can't. Because the minute you start trying to put a ceiling there, or a little cap there to keep things safe, you've ruined the idea of what art is supposed to be--which is an expression of anything. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that, because I've never come up against it. Having come up against it a little bit, it reminds me that we need art desperately to be anything you are able to imagine. No one has to listen to it and no one has to like it. And no one needs to air it or perpetuate it. But you've got to be in a safe enough space to be able to, within the context of artistic expression, really DO anything.

TBS: And since you need to wrap up, I was asked to ask you a question from
that friend of mine who is a big fan of yours; she wants to know what is the point
of it all.?

AFP: (Laughs) She already knows. If she's asking the question--she
already knows.


Since this interview, the book "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" official release date has been officially set to July 7, 2009. You can preorder the book and watch the whole series of music videos at http://whokilledamandapalmer.com/

Amanda Palmer is online at http://amandapalmer.net/index.html
Myspace: http://blog.amandapalmer.net/
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/amandapalmer
Twitter here: http://twitter.com/amandapalmer