An Interview with Amanda Palmer - August 19th, 2010
By Mike Bax
Amanda Palmer is not a slacker.
Since the Dresden Dolls exploded upon the music scene a few years ago, Palmer has released albums under the Dresden Dolls moniker; recorded solo albums; recorded and performed as Evelyn Evelyn (with Jason Webley), released books, and made available hand painted / hand crafted instruments for her fans via a very successful internet marketing technique. Oh yes, and Palmer is about to take to the stage for a 43 performance run in a stage production of Cabaret.
Amanda Palmer is a strikingly attractive person in a purely physical sense, but her magnetic stage presence seems to be the real reason guys and gals can’t seem to get enough of her. She manages to win over more fans with every stage she struts upon. Palmer’s willingness to leave everything on the floor at her live performances is truly something to behold. It would be hard to find another artist to compare her to – she manages to combine the looks of Gina Gershon with the stage presence of Liza Minnelli – but she still brings something original that’s all Amanda Palmer to every project she tackles.
With some really interesting projects on the table in 2010, it was not hard to draft questions for Amanda to answer. Do read on.
Mike - Can you talk about how Evelyn Evelyn came together as a project? When did you start working with Jason Webley? At what point did you know Evelyn Evelyn was going to be a multi-faceted project encompassing music, theatrics, a graphic novel and an immersive tour?
Amanda - I met Jason waaaaaaaaaay back in the day, in 2000 at the Adelaide fringe in Australia. He and I became comrades and have been off and on touring partners ever since. Evelyn Evelyn started as a party joke and then became a band, then a 7", then a full record, then a tour, and soon a graphic novel. Don’t ask me who these things snowball. I think, with me and Jason, the better question is how can things NOT happen. We're both ridiculous workaholics with more stupid ideas than we can possibly handle.
Mike - I've seen a lot of concerts, including Dresden Dolls, and one of your solo shows. I can safely say that seeing Evelyn Evelyn was unlike anything I have ever seen as a music concert goer. It felt more like an evening of theatre than a music concert. In the hands of the wrong people, that performance could have been an epic fail. Yourself, Jason and Sxip Shirey did a wonderful job of engaging an audience over the evening's multiple 'scenes'. Will Evelyn Evelyn tour again? Will it be the same talent every time, or will you entertain different musicians / actors in the future? Overall, how was Evelyn Evelyn received, Amanda? Were you happy with your reviews? Did reviewers get what you were trying to do night by night?
Amanda - The reviews of the show were stellar, which was a relief after all the skepticism about the album that we encountered early on. But we held fast to the assumption that once people HEARD the music and SAW the show and actually grasped what the concept was, they'd get it and love it. And they did. I often had that same challenge with the Dresden Dolls. I would try to explain to people why my band was a great live band, and every description I'd try would just sound stupid, or too self-aggrandizing. So I'd give up and just plead for people to take the risk and come see up live. And I'd usually wind up with a convert.
Mike - One of my favourite things about the Toronto Evelyn Evelyn performance, was you pulling a girl out of the audience and having her on stage with you shrieking as you performed. It felt pretty honest and spur-of-the-moment. It made me wonder what sort of other impromptu things happened on other dates on the tour. Is there anything you can share?
Amanda - Oh God, I've done all sorts of things. I love touring so much, but it also gets monotonous unless you do crazy shit every night, or stay open to the possibilities. Otherwise, your life becomes a monotonous hellhole. One of my favorite things to do lately is to TRY to play cover songs that I have NO idea how to play ((or sometimes my OWN songs that I've forgotten)) by having people hold scrolling iPhone lyrics in front of me so I can follow along. I've also enjoyed crowdsurfing in unlikely situations. I also like creating small performances in venue bathrooms, for audiences of one. Things like that FEED me.
Mike - The December Evelyn Evelyn double hardcover coming up from Dark Horse (I have just pre-ordered mine) looks awesome. Can you share any details on it? Who drew it? Who wrote it? How long it took to put together? Will there be different versions of it available (limited versions, or autographed versions available on your website)?
Amanda - The art is by a fantastic artist named Cynthia von Buhler, whom I know from my old Boston days. She and I go waaaay back...when I was a wee little up-and-coming songwriter, she was a scene queen in Boston in a band called Women of Sodom, and then she started a record label and managed the band Splashdown. She's a real jack-of-all-trades like me. Her work in the book is just stunning, I think people are going to freak out when they see the intricacy of the illustrations. They're just killer. The text is all me and Jason, but Jason did the lion's share of the anal-editing work and gave Cynthia a ton more input than I did - this one was really his baby more than mine. Neil (Gaiman) wrote us a wonderful intro...I'm sure there will be multiple incarnations and signed copies; just stay tuned.
Mike - I can't fairly say that I 'know' your personality particularly well, as I have only seen you on stage as a performer. But based on what I have seen of you on stage, I would guess that you are a somewhat fearless personality. You certainly come off that way when you perform. Do you get nervous before your shows? Do you have any rituals / routines you like to do before you perform?
Amanda - Putting on my stage make-up usually puts me into performing mode, just out of habit. When I'm being very very good, I warm my voice up and take quiet space to stretch out. When I'm being terrible, I drink a beer and check my twitter feed. I'm a glutton for punishment like everybody else, and about as disciplined as a 3 year-old.
Mike - Cabaret seems like something you were born to do. Can you talk a bit about your upcoming residency / involvement with the Cabaret stage performance coming up in Cambridge, MA?
Amanda - Sure. The show opens for 43 performances on August 31st and runs through Halloween. I could talk about it for hours, but suffice to say that it's a dream production. I'm working with some of my very favorite artists in the world, including Steven Bogart, my high school drama teacher, and Steven Mitchell Wright, a long-time collaborator, who's doing the movement direction. I feel so very at home making theater. I miss it. I think this production is going to blow people's dicks off. It's amazing.
Mike - Your online release around the Radiohead Magical Ukulele covers was pretty amazing - it was a well received online venture from the sounds of things, and you offered your fans some pretty awesome material online. Have you fulfilled those purchases yet (the personal phone calls and hand painted musical instruments)? Will this be something you try to do with future releases - smaller, more personalized options for fans willing to pay for them?
Amanda - Absoutely. I think special packaging is the way to go now that digital content is pretty much all up for grabs and free. It's a perfect way to stay fun and artistic and connected with your fans, the people who really want ways to support you.
Mike - I'm a Neil Gaiman fan (though, likely not in the same way that YOU are a fan – I’ve been reading his stuff for the past twenty five years though). I was thrilled to purchase a copy of Who Killed Amanda Palmer at your recent Toronto performance. Can you talk a bit about that book? How Gaiman got involved with the project? And the music you crafted around the project.
Amanda - Well, the book was crafted around the album, not the other way around. That book was basically a piece of glorified album artwork, and it was the way I met Neil. We'd been introduced over email (by Jason, of all people) but hadn't had any occasion to actually hang out. I asked him to write some captions or text for the book and that was how we first collided. And I'm a huge fan of Neil - in a very special way. I love his nose hair, like nobody else does.
Mike - Is Dresden Dolls a done deal? Would you ever work with Brian again?
Amanda - Yes, and possibly very soon. More I shall not say.
Mike - I feel guilty asking this, as you have so much on the go at the moment‚ but could you share any of your plans for the time coming up after Cabaret? Do you have an idea of what the rest of 2010 and the first half of 2011 are going to look like for Amanda Palmer?
Amanda - I'm doing some touring in the States this fall when Cabaret closes and then I'm heading to my favorite country, Australia, for the winter to take some time off and then release a special-edition Australian/New-Zelanad themed record. You should come! It's paradise down there.