Amanda Palmer: Dresden Doll & Corpse Model
Amanda Palmer, half of cabaret punk showstoppers The Dresden Dolls, is quite possibly one of the few piano-banging divas capable of upstaging Tori Amos. And this was blatant Friday night at Webster Hall, where she left the piano bench, parted the audience, and made her way to the top of the bar for the evening’s final song — an acoustic, bittersweet rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” that also had her strumming a ukulele. Despite her epic talents, Palmer remains pleasantly humble and relatable. In fact, she’s someone you’d want to clink glasses of Merlot with and call your BFF. But even if we never exchanged friendship bracelets, I did manage to get to the self-referential heart of her solo debut, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, before she took the stage. Palmer straddled the line between gallows humor and poignant introspection, dishing about the driving habits of the Irish, her potentially backstabbing record label, and why nothing could top working with Jesus — although collaborating with Ben Folds and Neil Gaiman comes awfully close.
So I know you’re currently in the middle of your tour. How’s the response been? It’s been overwhelming … it’s been fucking fantastic. We’ve been on tour for six or seven weeks now. We just came back from Europe. [We’ve toured] everywhere — Belgium, Italy, the UK, Ireland, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Austria. We played in New Haven the night before last, but the club was all fucked up, and we got cut off early, and there was a terrible dance party. That was like a showus interruptus — like no one really felt like they got off.
What’s the largest difference between touring solo and touring as part of the Dresden Dolls? Well, one thing that’s very different at the solo shows from the Doll shows is that I can really stop and talk to the audience depending on the night, depending on what’s going on, depending on how I’m feeling. I do a lot more direct conversation with the audience, which in the context of the Dresden Dolls, isn’t really fair. Then it just turns into an Amanda-fest — it doesn’t take Brian into account. Brian always looks to keep the show going, and if I were ever to start musing or talking, he would start to lose energy, start to get cold and become sweaty. Sometimes I’ll just kick up my heels and go on a ten-minute tangent though. There’s no one there to shut me up.
Well, what’s currently on your mind? It’s been difficult to be on tour without the record being promoted properly — that’s been an uphill battle and a struggle. We’re doing what we can do. I’m trying to do a little press. I’m relying on the old school [method]. Like the way the Dresden Dolls were built. We didn’t have any label support back in the day. We just relied on people to tell other people. I’m just coming to the understanding that this project means starting from scratch.
Tell me a little about where and how you write your music. I’ve written 99% of my songs at home. Home is wherever I live. Right now it’s Boston. It’s really important that there just be time and space.
So does that mean you work in complete silence? Yeah. Nobody knocking at the door. No phones on. No errands to run. But ironically, often songs will pop out when you don’t have the time you pretend you really want to get the idea. I wish I knew the answer to that question. I think the day I figure it out, I might destroy some magical mystery, so I try not to think about it too much.
So, Who Killed Amanda Palmer — that’s the name of the album. Are you musing on any specific figurative or literal answers? I know it’s a David Lynch callback — but it’s also been taking on additional meanings for you. It depends on the day. That’s the great thing about the title, and it’s why I really like the title. I like the idea of Amanda killing other versions of Amanda.
I think we all kind of go through that. We do that every day.
So speaking of death and injury, what happened to your foot? Why is it in a cast? A car ran over it in Ireland [while I was] crossing the street — I had to look right. They drive the wrong way there.
I know that Ben Folds was involved in the production of this record. And I know you and Neil Gaiman are collaborating on a project. What’s that process like? Even though in one respect you split off from the Dresden Dolls to explore your own interests, you still have to give other people certain leeway, right? In the context of being solo, it’s much more exciting to give up control. The nice thing about collaborating with Ben and Neil is that they’re one-offs. It’s not like we are embarking on a lifetime journey of bandom which is how [fellow Dresden Doll] Brian and I always feel. Every decision is very heavy, and there’s always a lot of baggage and a lot of power struggle. Ben and I didn’t have any power struggle. Our roles were very defined: he was my producer, this was the record we were making, this was his job, this was my job, and into the studio we went. There were no arguments.
So no tension, then? There’s been a little bit of tension in the good sense. Ben and I had a little bit of tension in the studio about this decision or that decision, but it never came to an argument. Neil and I have never had any tension at all because that’s the nature of the project. The project is let’s do this because it’s fun.
Tell me more about the project you and Neil are working on. It’s a beautiful coffee table book of photographs of my corpse in different places all around the world. It’s called The Big Book of Amanda Palmer.
Who would you choose — one person living or dead — to collaborate with musically? You know someone asked me this the other day, and I couldn’t think of a good answer, but then I thought of a good answer the other day. Jesus. He can play anything.
What would you make him play? It would be awesome to give him a flying V — a really crazy electric guitar and see what he does with it. Would he really be better than Hendrix?
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