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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Interview with Amanda Palmer

Photo credits (top-bottom): Gregory Nomoora, Cardboard is Yummy, Martyn Foster

Amanda Palmer - that's Amanda Fucking Palmer to you - is best known as the singer/pianist of the Brechtian punk cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls. She's currently touring in support of her solo debut Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, an album produced by Ben Folds, a huge fan of the Dolls.

Many of the songs on WKAP are poignant ballads that display the vulnerability and anxiety that typify Palmer's best writing ("Just cause they call themselves friends doesn't mean they'll call," she sings in "The Point of it All"), while others reveal a more humorous side. "That's insanely important," Palmer says. "If you can't have a sense of humor about your work, you're screwed."

Palmer will be performing at Mr. Small's in Pittsburgh on Saturday. We called her before a recent concert to ask about working with Ben Folds and Annie Clark, her former job as a living statue, and her fantasy hip hop pseudonym.

Hi Amanda, it's great to talk to you. You're just a couple weeks into your first U.S. solo tour. How has it been going?
It's going tremendously well, really great. Actually, I couldn't ask for things to be going any better. I'm sort of beside myself.

Who are the folks you're touring with, and what is their role in the show?
I've got seven people, a small string section and four actors from Australia who are in a physical theater group called the Danger Ensemble. It's a fully realized theatrical show. There's a lot of stuff going on, there's a lot of surprises, a lot of things happening offstage as well as on. It's kind of hard to describe.

With the Dresden Dolls, your live show was described as theatrical, but this sounds like it's taking that to another level.
Yeah, I think the Dresden Dolls were described as theatrical but everything was very suggested, and here it's actually manifested.

I'd like to ask you about your solo album. First off I imagine it was a blast working with Ben Folds.
It was really fun. He's a fantastic guy, a total genius, and really easy to work with.

What did you learn from him?
I definitely picked up a lot of Ben Folds wisdom. One thing that's really nice about working with someone who's a touring veteran is you learn a lot of things about how to grapple with the lifestyle, not just how to make a record.

"Oasis" is one of our favorites on the record. It's not everyday that you hear a song about being raped with doo-wop harmonies on it. Where did the idea for that song come from?
(Laughs). That song wrote itself when I was in my mid-20s. I don't even remember writing it. Ben really loved it, and I think that song's a perfect example of where Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer colliding gives you that certain je ne sais quoi. I think that song is just a perfect example of how we really worked well together and complemented each other.

Video: Amanda Palmer - Oasis

Annie Clark of St. Vincent sings on one of the tracks ("What's the Use of Wond'rin?") Was that song specifically chosen for the two of you to sing, or was it already going to be on the record before she came onboard?
No, that was chosen specifically with Annie in mind because of her beautiful, laid-back, lilting soprano.

What was recording with her like?
It was... like butter (laughs). She's a really smart girl, and lots of fun. We only worked together that one day. That was sort of an afternoon project. I had no intention of putting it on the record, but I really liked it, and it slid right in to the order so I decided to put it on.

"Runs in the Family" is a song that was written around the same time as "Girl Anachronism" but had been cast aside until now. What made you decide to include it here?
Well, I brought it in a huge collection of songs I brought to Ben, and he responded to it really positively. That surprised me because I thought the song was really amateur, just in terms of the lyrics - I thought it was a little too teenage angst-y. But Ben twisted my arm and convinced me it was perfect for the record, and I'm glad he convinced me.

You've made a bunch of videos for the new album. How many have you done, and will you be making any more?
I don't know if I'm gonna be making any more. I've made 9 so far for the record. I love making videos. Sometimes I think I write music as an excuse to make videos. And working with Michael Pope is always a real pleasure, he's such an incredible director.

Do you have a favorite of the videos for this record?
Probably "Strength Through Music." I think Pope and I managed to capture something really magic with that video.

Video: Amanda Palmer - Strength Through Music

You used to work as a living statue, which is something I'm really fascinated by. Did anything about that help prepare you for playing music on stage?
Without a doubt. I think that street performance is the best education for a stage performer you can possibly get. It gives you nerves of steel (laughs). When you're street performing, you've got no safety net. You've got an audience of the entire world, and you have to be really focused and really engaged in what you're doing. And you have to let everything fly right off your back.

That's something that you can develop on stage, but the street is sort of like the school of hard knocks in that department. After working in the street, being onstage feels so safe, because people have actually bought a ticket to come see you, whereas in the street you're dealing with complete strangers.

You were part of the True Colors tour last year. What's your reaction to prop 8 passing in California?
I think it's really sad. It's really disappointing. Considering who we voted in as president, it's a bummer to see us taking a step back in that direction.

Let me close with a silly question: If you were a rapper, what would your rap name be?
It's funny, I actually thought of one - Ghetto Bruschetta. Just because it sounds awesome.

Amanda Palmer & the Danger Ensemble perform at Mr. Small's Theatre on Saturday, November 29. Find her online at www.amandapalmer.net or www.myspace.com/whokilledamandapalmer.


Joshi said...

Amazing! I'll always love Amanda. She's fucking fantastic.

"And you thought you could change the world by opening your legs. Well it isn't very hard, try kicking them instead."

Scott said...

That's a good lyric. Delilah is one of my favorite songs.

Len Tower Jr. said...

great questions!

thanks for sharing

benefit scum mum said...

Love the interview. :)

Thankyou. :D

smittener.com said...

Nice interview. Thanks for posting! Now maybe the brigade will come to the next shows as the Ghetto Bruschetta posse! :)