Fireworks

Fireworks Magazine Online 60 - Interview with Amanda Palmer

AMANDA PALMER

Interview by Andy Brailsford


Amanda Palmer is, a woman of her time. A talented singer/songwriter/keyboard player/actor/performer, and business woman. Her last album was financed by fans on Kickstarter, and surpassed the amount she was seeking considerably, actually raising $1.2 million, which allowed her free rein on creating her latest work. Having postponed her previously booked tour to stay at home and care for her friend who had cancer, shows that this woman has many sides to her character. I had chance of a short chat when she played her re-scheduled date at Manchester Ritz in July.

This tour is sort of a new venture for you but then again it’s not because you played with Brian on the drums and it was sort of not a band situation but now you’re in a band situation and I was really looking forward to hearing the album before it came out simply because you’re now in a band and I imagine that gives you a lot more scope.

It does but probably not as much as you might imagine because Brian and I never really felt a band lacking and no one else ever did either. No one ever came up to me after a Dresden Dolls show and said, “Man, if you only had a guitarist”

Well that was the thing, yeah.

And so this specific set of songs that I wrote, especially the obvious ones like ‘Want It Back’ and ‘Lost’ and ‘Killing Type’ were so obviously constructed and written to be full band songs. I could hear the guitar and I could hear the synthesizer and they would have been perfectly good Dresden Dolls songs too and the thing about simple song writing is you can write a song and do anything with it. But I really heard the full eighties band, you know, guitar, bass, drums, synth so we went ahead and did it. We put it together.

I imagine with the way that the sounds are utilised, you left to the actual players themselves, because some of the errr. I can’t remember which song it is with the bass sound. It sounds really, really powerful. It’s really good.

Well, Jherek Bischoff is a really powerful bassist, period. I lucked out finding him. I lucked out finding all these musicians. That’s the other thing, a lot of the album is very possibly much more the function of the personality of the band members than people might think. And Jherek really created bass parts that I would not have thought of. And Chad (Raines) was involved with all of the synthesizers with all the sounds that you hear mostly. And those are very Chad. He knows what general environment that I want things to live in but I sent him off into the studio saying, “I want a big fat synth sound. Go.” So it really was a tightly collaborative effect, making this record.

How far with the writing process for the songs had you gone before you brought them to the band.

About 95 percent. The songs were finished, written but not arranged. Actually that’s not true. When we went into the studio, we pretty much had everything arranged. The only exception is Grown Man Cry. Grown Man Cry we had never played live unlike every other song or maybe Smile. We hadn’t played live either. I told them in the rehearsal studio one day, in Melbourne, the week before we made the record, “I think there’s a song I want to try to squeeze on the album that I think is gonna sound really good with this band so before I play it for you, I’m going to play you all these Depeche Mode songs” and they totally got it. They totally understood what I was going for. That was the only song that I had no idea where we were going to go. I knew what the chords were. It was a simple piano ballad and where we took it wound up being a complete surprise but it was so good.

For me ‘Grown Man Cry’ is this albums ‘Have To Drive.’

It’s the big long mid tempo effort.

I really liked that one last time. You always come out with something like that that’s quite moving as well. It’s quite deep. There’s obviously two sides of your character where you’ve got that kind of side, you’ve got your whimsical side, you’ve got your angry side. You’ve got every side in there.

I’m a versatile song writer. You know, I just write what I feel like. I really try not to censor myself so when a silly song comes I take it on and when a frustrated, angry song comes I take it on.

You’re sounding just like a guy I was talking to about 2 or 3 weeks ago at Download, Devin Townsend. He works exactly the same.

I think most song writers do. Most good song writers know that a good song is a good song and you don’t turn away a good song. One thing I learnt about myself heading in to my thirties was how much I was judging my own process and not writing certain songs because i was too afraid thinking they wouldn’t sound like Amanda Palmer. How stupid is that? I mean, a song like Bottom Feeders is a good example. I thought that didn’t quite sound like an Amanda Palmer song so I was very suspicious of it.

But then again, as you’re working on a broader canvas with a band I would expect that when you went into the process to start with, you would have thought maybe a lot of these will end up not sounding like Amanda Palmer.

I don’t know. I think the most important thing I can do is not think about it and let you guys think about it. (she laughs at this)

Yeah. I’ve got to ask you a question now, now you’ve said that. Do you hate this part of your job?

No. I like it. I hate it when people are stupid. I don’t like talking to journalists who are dispassionate and uninterested and just doing their jobs for someone else. It’s incredibly hard to do, to sit and talk to someone who doesn’t really want to talk to you. But talking to someone who actually cares about music and is interested in the questions and the process and what it means to make art, I could have that conversation all day. I find it fascinating too. I like talking to people period. I don’t care if they are journalists or fans.

You’ve had a bit of an up and down in the last few months or year or whatever with your friend. You cancelled your first arranged tour. I read all the blogs and the tweets and things where you apologised. No need to apologise, well you got that didn’t you. Everybody said you were doing the right thing. How is he? Is he getting better?

He’s okay. He’s dealing with cancer so you never really know what’s going to happen a month from now or six months but right now he’s stable. He’s a psycho-therapist and he’s gone back to working one day a week. He’s actually totally alive, joking with me on the phone every day.

I’ve noticed also, young lady,that you’re getting a little bit more adventurous with your videos.

Yeah.

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How far is that going to go? And I ask that in a professional wa,y and a very interested way.

We just had fun with these videos. To me this was such a fun record and we had the budget from the Kickstarter which we blew through like nobody’s business making those videos and I’m really, incredibly happy with the way they turned out especially the ‘Bed Song.’ I think the ‘Bed Song’ and ‘Want It Back’ are my favourites. Making videos is fun. I never go in with a plan. I usually go in saying, “Who do we know?, what are they good at?, what can we do?, how should the song feel?.” Sometimes I hand it over to the director like with Tim Pope, and he said, “I’ve got this idea. It’s going to be white and bloody.” And I said, “Great. Where and when do we show up?” so every process is different. I really enjoy making videos. I have the feeling that an era really is ending. Looking back, I’m not really, quite sure we should have spent as much as we did on…. Did we make 5 or 4 major deals? There was ‘Bed Song,’ ‘Killing Type,’ two for ‘Rockstar.’ So we made four pretty high budget videos. That’s a lot. It’s great and helps with the fans but without the old school realm of MTV, even with YouTube, even a video getting three million hits doesn’t necessarily pay for itself. So, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. It’s hard to say.

It’s always puzzled me though when people make videos, because some of them ….. like you say the one with the white and the blood, that was really arrrr ……. I love that sort of thing. But a lot of artists make these videos to promote their albums. That’s what it’s for but you don’t see them later and I’ve often wondered why.

What do you mean you don’t see them?

I’m probably wrong there because some bands do this. So if you issued the album again but had like a deluxe version with the videos with it because the fans would like to have the videos…….
,
Yeah, we may do that. We’re coming near the end of this packaging cycle for the album. I love owning the record. Because I can do anything. I can repackage it, I can add songs, I can put in alternate tracks, I can change the cover on it. I think I might do all those things just because I can. It’s so fun. Now the album is out, we have infinite things we can add. We have forty pieces of artwork and all of these photographs and images from the air and we have live recordings and videos and anything.

Did it surprise you how well the Kickstart thing went?

Not as much as you think. I planned it very, very, very carefully to be as big as possible. It wasn’t a mistake.

I read on your blog that someone had wrote in and complained that people were giving you money and not getting anything back or didn’t know what they were getting back and you said,” That’s the whole point. You fund the album before it’s made and then you get the album.” People just didn’t get it.

People will evolve.

That’s happening a lot isn’t it? But there have been a few recently that haven’t come off.

Not everything logically works and thank God. There’s really needs to be a desire and a collective desire to support an artist’s project or record or film. But there’s a really interesting conflict happening all the time out there right now and I’m often finding myself caught in the middle of it where people are really scrutinising art and commerce and how they connect. You know, how artist’s connect with and utilise their fan base. I got involved in a shit storm last night. A small shit storm. Like a … not even a tempest in a teacup. Like a rain puddle in a teaspoon because Nico Case, whose an all indie female artist held a contest with Creative Alice who I’ve worked with and done the same contest where fans can submit a design for a poster and the winner won a thousand dollars. Seems harmless, right? And someone called her out on Twitter for not paying the artists who were submitting their work on spec and she cancelled the contest. One of the evils of the internet is that the critics can seem very loud and people can get very confused but I’ve been doing things like that since the dawn of my band thirteen years ago and no-one’s ever complained until recently. So there’s something going on out there and I think it has to do with the combination of artists being scared in general, the economy tanking, freely available art on the internet frightening everyone as we try to reassign value to things. But I still stand by, if I had to pick one huge manifesto to state my case about things, like this is the things that I got shit for, is that you have to let the artists decide for themselves where their time and energy is well spent. It’s not your job to f**king tell any artist where and how and when they should and shouldn’t work.

Like record companies used to tell you.

It makes me really angry when I see people bossing artists around in particular because I think what they don’t realise is they believe they are protecting them but what they are actually doing is disempowering them. As an artist who’s done thousands of things for free but you’re always very careful as an artist to measure up when your energy is well spent and when it’s not. You don’t want anyone else telling you what is or isn’t of value and who to help or not help and what’s fun and what’s not. That really scares me to see the vigilantism out there.

I don’t think anyone really listens to them though do they?

Oh, they do. I mean, at the end of the day, as long as artists keep making art, hopefully, the noise and the critics and the cynics and the voices of these people, especially the voices of the people who aren’t making any art at all, will fade as the artists continue to do their thing. But it is like the Wild West out there. Everyone’s concerned about where the funding is going to come from. Are they able to pay their rent? And while that’s nothing new as an artist, it’s particularly scary right now. It’s crap.

You played Glastonbury. What was that like for you?

I’ve played it before. I found myself wishing I had had a slot more like my last Glastonbury because I didn’t like being on a gigantic stage. I missed the intimacy of being in the John Peel tent with the Dresden Dolls. It’s like, being in the John Peel tent with the Dolls, and I think we had a similar slot around three or four in the afternoon, but my kind of show necessitates that everyone gather together. We’re not an arena rock band who can project to seven thousand miles away. So it was good but I wished we’d been on a stage where we could gather the energy a little bit more because although we were played to thousands of people it felt very loose and unintimate. I don’t like being sixty five feet from my crowd. I really don’t. It’s too far away. And I had to do that and I never like it. I don’t even like it if there’s ten thousand people out there because being that far away, I feel lonely. That’s not why I’m on stage. I’m on stage because I want to be with those people. Not separate. Having said that, I had a good time. I found a great marching band called Perhaps Contraption when I was down in greener pastures, one of the areas in Glastonbury and they’re going to look out for me tomorrow, in London and the best thing about festivals is that shit. You wander around and see some freaks and find friends.

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