Q&A With Amanda Palmer, Performing at Culture Room
You know her as lead singer and all-around knockout for "Brechtian punk cabaret act" The Dresden Dolls. But now you're gonna to get to know her even better. See, she's got a new record out, her own, a new producer twiddling the nobs, and a nifty tie-in with one of the craftiest storytellers alive.
But to know that Who Killed Amanda Palmer? is produced by Ben Folds and will soon boast an evidentiary tie-in from no less a mind than Neil Gaiman is only to know that she keeps good company. No, to truly know this dynamite dame you have to get with the sound of her vision, which is kind of akin to hearing a kaleidoscope sing. Yes, she sees things others can't even pretend to see, and then let's you listen in to the melodious cacophony.
Her name, of course, is Amanda Palmer. And I had the great, good fortune to speak with her. Here's what the wondrous woman had to say.
New Times: Did the single "Oasis" really get banned by British TV? What gives?
Well, it didn't officially get banned; it just kinda got blacklisted. It got released to radio and video and nobody would play it because they thought that it was gonna be too offensive. I mentioned it on my blog and that got a little but of attention. But the upshot is people still didn't play it.
I think people are just too afraid that conservatives or whatever would take it the wrong way and not understand the irony, which I think is a pity 'cause it doesn't give their audience any credit for having intelligent senses of humor. But it was what it was.
This whole album for me has been a real uphill struggle from problems with my label to the economy to this thing with the latest single, but the beautiful thing is that my fan base is so supportive that none of the problems feel too fundamentally scary. I know the album is great, the shows are always great, and one little speed bump is not gonna soften it. It's not like it's devastating.
Speaking of your label, is it true that Roadrunner really insist on editing the "Leeds United" clip because they were concerned about your body weight?
That is true. True and ridiculous, but true.
But they're also The Dresden Dolls' label and they have been since 2004. One would think that after all this time you'd have a pretty good relationship.
The relationship with the label has been strained at best for the majority of the time that we've been signed to them. It really came to a head with the solo record because they basically decided right out of the gate that the record wasn't commercial enough to actually put any work into, so they actually never even gave it a chance, which I think is another real pity. It was really, really well-received critically, and everyone I know really sort of thinks it's fantastic, and it's just one of those things...
You know, the whole structure of the business is changing, and so I don't take anything for granted. And I never did with Dolls either. I always just figured any extra help I get is fantastic. But mostly my job is to make a record, put into in my suitcase, take it around the world and try and hawk copies. It worked for The Dresden Dolls and it's been working with the solo record. All that means is it's gonna take a lot more time than having my face plastered up on billboards and my stuff pumped out from mainstream radio.
So I take it that you wouldn't be unhappy if Roadrunner dropped you guys right now?
Oh, I would do you a naked dance in the street! I think it's eventually bound to happen. The contract is up for option in June and we're really optimistic.
Why did you decide to do a solo record in the first place?
Oh, way back in the beginning it was because I had a little collection of songs that were around and Brian and I were long overdue for a break. I figured that would be what I'd work on during the break.
The thing really snowballed and got bigger when Ben Folds got involved as a producer. As soon as Ben got involved it turned into a much bigger deal with a bigger budget and a bigger studio and a lot more orchestration, and this, that and the other thing. And I don't regret that at all. I mean, I'm really, really, insanely proud of the end result. I think Ben is a genius. He really infected it with Ben Folds magic, every single song.
Actually I was going to ask how you got involved with Ben Folds...
He got in touch with me because he was a fan of The Dresden Dolls. And I mentioned to him at the time that I was working on this solo record and he just sort of volunteered out of the blue to produce it. I was totally flattered and I thought about it for maybe five minutes and then said Yes!
Well there's certainly subject similarity between his "Brick" and your "Oasis."
Yeah, every possible perspective on abortion you could ever want brought to you by Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer. (Laughs)
Speaking of others; songs, you've covered Rodgers & Hammerstein's "What's the Use of Wond'rin,'" Death Cab for Cutie's "I Will Follow You into the Dark," REM's "Everybody Hurts," etc. What do you look for in a song before you cover it?
You know it's always totally different. I mean, as simplistic as it sounds, I really just want to enjoy playing it. So that really depends on my mood. I mean, there are some songs that will just really resonate with me and what I'm going through on a certain day, and I'll feel like an appropriate vessel for the message in that song at a certain moment.
And some songs I do just because they're fun. I decided to cover "Creep" by Radiohead one day just because in a surreal moment I thought 'wouldn't it be funny of I walked down the street and bought a ukulele and learned how to play it and covered "Creep" tonight at this benefit we're doing?' So I did it.
That's the beautiful thing about cover songs, they're totally spontaneous and disposable. Since it's not your song you can out it on and take it off like a really loud coat you don't have to wear every day.
In addition to Ben Folds, you've also got Annie Clark, East Bay Ray and Zoe Keating on your LP -- are any of them joining you on tour?
Not this leg of the tour. Zoe Keating has been with me since September but she had to hop off to go work on her own record. And I'm going to be doing pure solo piano on this leg, which is really fun in itself because it usually turns into a completely spontaneous, all-regrets karaoke party by the end of the night. (Laughs)
Solo shows are really fun because I hit the stage without a set list and basically just wing it.
Will you be performing any Dresden Dolls' tracks when you hit Culture Room?
Oh, absolutely. I play pretty much an even combination of solo stuff and Dolls' stuff and covers. There's also the exciting part of the evening when I take questions from the audience. (Laughs)
And I always hang out after every gig and meet everybody and sign stuff, so anyone who wants to bring anything, they should.
Amanda Palmer performs at March 28 at Culture Room, 3045 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale. Doors open @ 8pm. Tickets are $14.99. For more information call 954.564.1074 or log on to www.amandapalmer.net.
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