Interview :: Amanda Palmer

January 7th 2014


When I was fifteen or sixteen I sent an email to Amanda Palmer. It was a painting of her and her then band-member Brian Viglione, acrylic on newspaper with all the dribbly bits, very rough, very tortured sixteen-year-old ‘your music speaks to my soul’. A few days later, I had a response, and that “Thank you so much, this is beautiful” solidified my admiration for this woman. Not because she liked my scribble, but because the last thing a manic fan expects is a human response. They’re a rockstar. But Amanda is constantly putting the person back in to the performer. Even if punk cabaret isn’t to your taste, no one can ignore the fact her albums are beautifully produced works of art accompanied by songbooks, fans’ contributions littering the sleeves; Nothing is ever half-arsed, there’s always a little bit extra.

Her performances are intimate and in your face, utilising the talent of not only friends but creatives she’s met along the way.

Seeing her live brings all the satire, playful sexuality and political underpinnings of cabaret to a modern stage, packing full-on punch. And it feels right at home.

She blogs, tweets, responds to your Facebook messages. She genuinely gives a shit about your feedback and that crappy little drawing you sent her.

This of course has led to loads of projects, collaborations, stuff. From humble beginnings in street theatre, to The Dresden Dolls, solo work, Evelyn Evelyn, the list goes on. And now, off the back of touring Theatre is Evil with her new band The Grand Theft Orchestra, she’s playing 10 shows in the Spiegeltent for SydFest this year, which she promises will all be different. Whether you make it to five or sample one, her art, musical and otherwise, is worth getting an education in.



Madeleine (The Flog) :: You’ve just finished a huge tour with the Grand Theft Orchestra. The music of the Dresden Dolls was always very raw and stripped back- what made you want to mix up that recipe and form a full rock band?

Amanda :: Actually nothing if that makes sense, because I never go into any recording project or band situation for that matter with a specific song I could suggest, I just write songs as I go along and then figure out what they need. So when I was in the Dresden Dolls I would write a bunch of songs, I would take them to Brian, we would figure out what they needed… We really liked the constriction of the drums and piano, we tried to add things here and there, you know at the beginning of the Dresden Dolls we actually had a bassist and a guitarist but we let them go because we actually found that what we were able to do with just the drums and piano was more fun. But when I went solo I approached things differently because I could pretty much expand and contract as maximally or as minimally as I wanted, so some songs remained absolutely solo piano, like ‘The Bed Song’ just didn’t need anything. And then songs like ‘Want it Back’ and ‘Lost’ to me so obviously sounded like full bands songs that needed synth that I put the band together around what the songs were asking for.

Has the arranging of it all been a harder process, having to negotiate different ideas and more people?

For this project in particular it worked out pretty magically. The band started with just Michael McQuilkin on the drums and Chad on the guitar. We did lean demos of 5 or 6 of the songs and we’d fill. Michael would come up with the drum part and I would like it but move it a little bit to the left… I would come up with a synth sound and I would ask him to make it just a little bit fatter or a little bit thinner. We worked together incredibly well, and then the next ingredient to come in was Jherek on the bass and he did everything spot on perfectly and added his own fairy dust in the string arranging department. And the final ingredient was the world’s perfect producer John Congleton came in and recorded it all beautifully and wrapped it up as well.

Since your TED talk, your name has been popping up all over the place. Is it kind of weird, as a musician being thrust into a realm of debate about your ideas with people who may never have heard your music?

I don’t think I have any control over that necessarily. I don’t think it’s my place to be bothered by it if you know what I mean. As far as I’m concerned if anyone can take anything from me, whether it’s a song or a blog or a tweet or a book or an idea professed in an interview or during a talk, and that thing becomes remotely helpful to them, I’m happy. I don’t really care about the format.


Do you think it’s brought your music to people who may not have otherwise stumbled across its niche?

I think that may be the case. Even it’s only one in every thousand people who sees and likes the TED talk and decides to look at the actual content of the songs and the songwriting, that’s still a couple of thousand people who probably would have never found the music. So, I’ll take it.

The online backlash against your request for musicians after the first Kickstarter must have been an extremely hard thing to grapple with, what’s your attitude to online criticism now?

I get very creative at making lemonade. For every whip of criticism that people brought against me I wound up finding myself in a better place. In the case of the musicians, that paved the way for my TED talk because I wanted to explain to people very carefully why I said what I did, and that TED talk led me to a book contract where it can bring the ideas down even more specifically. And I think, I kind of wake up every day wondering how it can be helpful, especially for others. Now I think I sort of have a split job, one is to take part, and one is to share with my friends and other musicians my survival techniques, and that’s everything from connecting with my fans and making a living to the very active dealing with haters and trolls on the internet. It’s all part of it.

You have always been very open and courageous in speaking your mind on issues outside of your own music. Miley Cyrus was one of them. You spoke in your letter to Sinéad O’Connor about women in the music industry needing to support each other and work to change the system. Do you think that message is being heard or will it always be a battle?

Of course it will always be a bit of battle. But it is inspiring nowadays to see even in the wake of giant screaming radical feminists attacking one another and female artists for doing this that or the other thing imperfectly, it is also nice to see a little bit of a backlash of compassion, which is what I think is desperately needed, especially on the Internet. There’s a real danger in the overwhelming, judgmental nasty, critical voice that is waiting for any female artist the minute she releases any kind of content especially if it’s trying to be risky or brave or satirical. If the assumption of any female artist is that she’s just basically click-bait and everyone’s waiting for her to release her next song or video so they can shred it to pieces, it’s a pretty terrible environment for art. It really ought to be the opposite. Whether they’re mainstream pop artists or not it doesn’t fucking matter, they should be granted that the largest freedom possible to express their ideas and emotions and problems and complications. That’s what art’s fucking for. And everything does need to be allowed, from the sexually explicit to the sugarcoated mainstream to the absolutely esoteric avant-garde…

You’ve recently wrapped up your Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer tour. Your life seems to be an intense balance game of making your own music, being constantly wired to social media, as well as being married. How the hell do you manage?

Ahh I dunno! That’s like asking anyone how they manage their life. It’s a daily improvisation from the moment I get up to when I go to sleep. The funny thing is that I feel less busy now than I did 5 or 6 years ago. Probably just because I’ve gotten really used to the improvisation that I can react more quickly and relax more quickly and get what I need to deal with the work at hand whatever that may be. And you know I don’t know if I have any concrete answers for you apart from the fact I never watch television and I never go to the movies… it’s a little sad because I miss a lot of fantastic art but I’m able to focus on the art that’s happening in the community where I happen to be hanging out and I listen to my friends’ records instead of to the new whatever… I watch my friends’ and my fans’ YouTube clips instead of going out and seeing the Hunger Games. I’m conversing in a culture that’s much closer to my community… I DID watch the Rebecca black video when it came out.

Guilty pleasure?

No not guilty at all I’m not even just a little bit guilty about how much I love Rebecca Black! I love Rebecca Black.

Do you prefer Friday or Saturday?

Oh Friday. Hands down, no question. Not even a little bit of a contest but you know whatever, I give her props for being as brave as she’s been. Talk about dealing with the Internet. If there’s some kind of Olympic gold medal she gets one of those!

You’ll have to set up an honorary one…

Maybe I need to start a project, with all my free time. Manufacturing internet hatred gold medals for the people that deserve it… I could send one to Zach Braff… Charlie Sheen… Miley Cyrus would get one, maybe a couple.

So what’s on the cards for Sydney Festival?

I’m very excited for it. The show is only an hour so I’m going to try to make a semi—theatrical experience with some typically controlled Amanda Palmer chaos. But I want it to be a very special, unrepeatable kind of show so I’m getting some special guest artists and performance artists to come and join me to do very exciting, surprising things. I love the venue so much it’s hard not to get excited about.




WHO :: Amanda Fucking Palmer

WHAT :: Sydney Festival

WHEN :: 9-19th January, 7.30pm

WHERE ::The Spiegeltent, Festival Village, Hyde Park

HOW MUCH :: $55/ $50 tickets here



Madeleine Clarke | Amanda Palmer



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