Wednesday, May 20th 2009
Interviews: Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer writes her own story. As part of an ever-growing populace of major-label artists left to fend for themselves in an indie climate, she’s become the living embodiment of diverging philosophies behind record labels and musicians, fiercely defending her art- and her ability to do things her own, unique way.
This sometime Dresden Doll has spent the majority of her career bucking the industry’s standard operating methods, relying on her fanbase and her philosophical legacy to carry her forward. It’s worked so far- she’s rapidly gaining recognition as a highly vocal sore thumb on the Roadrunner Records roster. Not that she wasn’t in the first place- with label mates Cradle of Filth, Nickelback and Megadeth, it’s a wonder what the hell she’s doing on the label at all.
After months of trying we finally tracked down Amanda for an email Q&A, fresh off her recent stint as mentor for a student-produced play at her old high school and just before a week-long yoga retreat. We’ll sidestep the clear fact that Twitter culture has apparently made shorthand communication the norm, even for some of the most eloquent thinkers in the game, and bring this shit to you (almost) live & direct. Enjoy.
Antiquiet: By all accounts, you rocked the balls right off of Coachella last month. Care to write a haiku about your experience?
Amanda Palmer: Sublime crowdsurfing / Renders me me invincible / Fuck that was my arm.
Antiquiet: A quote you’ve quoted: “Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness later.” -Seth Godin, Tribes. How does that apply to your approach to your craft, on both the creative and business ends?
Amanda Palmer: On tour we have this motto: “Do it ’til you get caught.” It’s the same philosophy. You have to break rules and make shit up as you go along or nothing interesting will ever happen.
Antiquiet: A long time ago Ani DiFranco spoke about touring the way musicians used to, traveling by train, relying on the kindness of their fans for support, etc. Not everyone knows the pass-the-hat stories of the Danger Ensemble, or your touring ethic. Can you break down your philosophy on avoiding the hotel/airport/gig rotation and connecting with your fans?
Amanda Palmer: Life can become very unreal on tour. it can also be very fucking expensive. I killed two birds with one stone this last tour and decided to call out to our fans for crashspace and food, and they accomodated us with flying honors. I wouldn’t have traded it for all the 5-star hotels in the world. A whole family of Honduran immigrants in miami gave up their BEDS and slept OUTSIDE so that my crew could sleep comfily. it was the most humbling experience of my life.
Antiquiet: Speaking of the Danger Ensemble… That tour must’ve changed you. At least made your heart three or four shades brighter. For those that missed feeling the energy, can you describe it?
Amanda Palmer: Life and art work when you surround yourself with good people. That’s all. The Danger Ensemble and I had the same intentions, to create love with each other and on stage. It worked. Every night.
Antiquiet: Was it a once in a lifetime run? Or is there a future for the Danger Ensemble?
Amanda Palmer: I’ll be seeing them this summer in Edinburgh. Hopefully we’ll get into some mischief…
Antiquiet: Were you surprised by the success and support of your Please Drop Me song?
Amanda Palmer: Nope. People love shit like that.
Antiquiet: Where do you stand now with those swine bastards?
Amanda Palmer: I stand in their office’s lobby, wearing a hat and coat and jangling my fucking keys, ready to get the fuck out of there.
Antiquiet: This brings me to the industry’s measure of success and your own. According to your comments, most everybody told you the D.E. tour would be a failure, unsustainable, etc. You proved them wrong by doing it your way and believing in the reality you’ve built around you. Can you break down the quick “how” for our readers?
Amanda Palmer: It’s not rocket science. I had no money to pay the Danger Ensmble (four actors, basically, backing me up on stage making wonderful theatrical moments) so we passed the hat every night. They ended up making about a hundred dollars each per night, just from the donations of the fans. It was so inspiring. I come from a street theater background, though, and doing shit like that just makes sense to me. We heaped love and gratitude on those who helped. Everybody won.
Antiquiet: Using your Lefsetz letter as a jumping off point, what is your definition of success in today’s climate?
Amanda Palmer: Success as a musician? If you’re happy doing what you’re doing. That’s it. Could apply to any job, really. Fame, money… bullshit. Are you happy with what you’re doing and making- this is the question.
Antiquiet: What role does yoga play in your life?
Amanda Palmer: It is the practice that makes everything possible and I would not be nearly the person I am if I didn’t practice. it yokes me to myself.
Antiquiet: Replace the word “yoga” with Margaret Cho.
Amanda Palmer: She is my psychic and fisting advisor.
Antiquiet: Twitter seems to me to be a great way to streamline communication between artist and fan. Naturally major labels are slow on the uptake, because things like Twitter mean the quick dismemberment of the middleman and put power back in the hands of the artist themselves- as well as the fans, come to think of it. Direct interaction and even commerce can take place outside the old trickle-down avenues. Thoughts?
Amanda Palmer: You are correct, sir.
Antiquiet: How do you feel about this as a model for the future of music commerce? A concept where you pay for internet access, plus something like a $5/mo surcharge, that gets distributed to rights owners just like listening to the radio.
Amanda Palmer: I think that could totally work. I am banking on a fan-supported future with very little middleman.
Antiquiet: Tell everyone a little bit about the Who Killed Amada Palmer book…
Amanda Palmer: A little bit? I can tell you a little bit. It’s awesome. Is that enough? I can tell you more. It has stories by Neil Gaiman and photos by 20+ incredible people. And I’m dead and naked in them. It’s just awesome.
Antiquiet: What does Amanda Palmer do when she’s having the shittiest of days?
Amanda Palmer: She Twitters.
Antiquiet:Echo And The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode (circa 1985 or so) and The Smiths (same) are playing together at Carnegie. Brian Setzer is the master of ceremonies. You’re invited to open with a three-song set. What’s your setlist?
Amanda Palmer: Astronaut. Coin-Operated Boy. Half Jack.
Antiquiet: …aaaand if the bands asked you to join them onstage for one song each, which ones would you choose?
Amanda Palmer: Echo: Bring On The Dancing Horses. Depeche: Somebody. Smiths: Bigmouth Strikes Again.
Margaret Cho / AFP Photo by Burns!