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Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer
March 15, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips. Photos www.pixievision.com

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In the context of contemporary rock music the Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione are important.  The duo’s significance lies in the fact that while the business they are in speaks in terms of packages and units and looks to charts and graphs for measures of success, the band’s focus is always their art.  Sure, they’d like to make a buck out of what they do, but money is never the motivating force, it’s the creative process. They are the anti-venom to the corporate sterility that pervades much of the entertainment business. They push the boundaries, they explore their creative whims, they encourage artistic expression, follow their dreams and they do it very much in conjunction with their fans. At last glance their myspace site had almost three and a half million visits and had attracted an amazing 52,000 friends, most of them as creatively adventurous as the band. It’s not so much a fan base but a global art community.

Part of Brian and Amanda’s quest for artistic growth is their need to explore projects outside of the Dresden Dolls  moniker. While Brian was at home playing with a variety of other acts, Amanda was enjoying an Australian summer, playing solo (with assistance from local theatre troupe The Danger Ensemble) and road testing tracks off her yet to be released solo album ‘Who Killed Amanda Palmer’. She also rekindled her love affair with the Famous Spiegeltent, which is exactly where Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips knew he’d find her.

GP:You performed here at the Spiegeltent last night. You looked at home. Tell me about the relationship you have with this
tent …
AP:
I fell in love with this tent right here. Bob (local Roadrunner Records promotions manager) brought me here three or four years ago on the band’s first trip to Australia. We just walked in and it was obvious love at first sight. I tried to hook up with the tent in different places then I did a run there this past summer which was my first real run in Edinburgh. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen it but it’s magic. Everything about it, playing in it, the people. The thing that I love about it most, especially in Edinburgh but a little bit here too, is that it really is a whole artistic community. All of the bands and acts on the bills … you hang out here and you see and talk to all of these artists. That’s one thing I don’t like about being on the road, is that you don’t hang out with a lot of artists. All you see all day are club people and fans but you don’t get a lot of this. You don’t get a lot of sitting around and talking about art, and my main fantasy is to be able to do that.

You’re always pushing the boundaries creatively, exploring ideas, and so are the fans. What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve seen at one of your shows?
I’ve seen some tattoos that have really impressed me but also freaked me out a little bit. When you see a girl with a big tattoo of my face on her arm, that’s like ‘holy shit’… that’s there for life!

You played a Radiohead song on ukelele last night. I believe you’re producing ukeleles as part of the project called Post War Trade, in which you encourage your fans create their own Dresden Dolls merchandise…
We’re trying to produce all kinds of weird items. We’re trying to leave it up to the imagination of the fans to come up with weird ideas for merchandise but we’re also coming up with ideas ourselves. The ukelele was my idea. We’ve found an artist who is going to design them. So the whole project is weird and great. It’s taking a  long time to put together but once we launch it, it will be fantastic.  I would see little things happening on-line where someone would make, like a Dresden Dolls duct tape pocket book or something. I would see someone else asking if they could make them one too. They are basically bartering their own goods. So I just thought the band should get involved and make it bigger.

Your band has more hits on its Myspace site than anyone else
I know people look up to you. What sort of obligations does that place on you?
It’s an interesting relationship. The way I look at it, it’s almost like … there are a  lot of parallels with my relationship with the fans and my relationship with any other friends. It needs to be an ongoing conversation for anything to be maintained. I think we do have expectations of each other, but those expectations haven’t grown out of nowhere. It’s like a friend you have come to rely on. If you’ve come to rely on them, it’s because you have built up a certain level of trust, and the relationship has grown to that point for a reason. If I go a couple of months without blogging, I feel like I’m actually ditching out on the relationship, because I expect them to come to my shows. I expect them to respond when I call out. So I feel it’s a fire that constantly needs to be stoked. It’s not just about the fans’ needs and being there when I want them to be. I’m sharing my life with them, but I am doing it because I enjoy it. I think If I ever begin to feel obligated, you know ‘oh I should blog because the fans want me to’, I don’t think I would do it. I think I would quit.

There’s a huge global arts community out there, of which many are fans of your band. Do you think people are more creatively expressive now or have always been and the internet has just brought them out of the dark?
There’s definitely something to be said for the fact that if you take a photo, you don’t just show it to your friends, you can show it to thousands of people on the internet. Whether that means people are becoming more creative, its hard to say. Maybe their exhibitionist tendencies are being fed a little more.

It’s the vehicle they’ve been waiting for?
Yeah but it’s also very dangerous.You can scatter a lot of energy that way. Things can become a little impersonal If you’re sharing too much with too many people. One thing I really worry about myself sometimes is that it’s great that I have this kind of open relationship with thousands of people, but it’s certainly not a replacement for having very real, boundaried relationships which are also really essential in life I think. To have that privacy. So I need to find that balance for myself. I haven’t been in a relationship for five years, totally single and just wandering around enjoying all of this general love, but that other kind of intimacy I miss. I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked at the cosmic balance and if I pulled back in one place, the other would follow. You only have so many hours in a day to feed a relationship

You’ve just recorded a solo album ‘Who Killed Amanda Palmer’ with Ben Folds producing. Did you approach the album differently than you would have a Dresden Dolls’ album?
Yes, but not incredibly. Basically I’ve approached every album the same. I have a bunch of songs. These are the highlights. The rest I am just going to fiddle around with and see what fits. I self produced the first record a lot more. Brian and I didn’t really hand over as many decisions willingly to the engineer who worked on our first record, but for this record, and ‘Yes, Virginia’, I put a lot of trust in the producer, and in this case it was Ben. I just said here’s 30 songs, what do you want to do? Let’s figure it out. And god he went nuts. It was a beautiful thing to watch Ben Folds have his way with my music.

Reports are that you have added strings and a whole bunch of other stuff that you normally wouldn’t have?
Obviously with the Dresden Dolls it’s drum and piano and that’s that. That’s the band. With this, it was literally anything goes. There’s a lot of strings. Ben played a lot of percussion, synthesiser, it’s fun. Ben put some really great production onto some of the songs that I would never have thought of. The record is beautiful and it’s loud and it’s got  production all over it. Before Ben got hold of it, I thought it was going to be a solo piano record.

Let’s talk about one of the songs on the new album that you played last night. The one that wasn’t going to make it to the album but Ben insisted, the one about the shootings …
‘Strength Through Music’ it’s called.

Yeah. The guy in the song picks his soundtrack for the day, puts his headphones on and goes out and shoots people. As well as being pretty messed up, there’s this attraction of fame that has a lot to do with it. How do we begin to go about changing that culture, the craving for fame? As an artist on the TV and in magazines yourself, do you feel a song like that could make a difference or do you feel helpless?
I don’t feel helpless. I think fame is … and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It’s a lot like power and money. It does not make you happy in itself at all and I think a lot of people live under the delusion that fame and that kind of attention is an answer. I like to think that if I can do anything to contribute to the betterment of this entire mess that were living in, it’s by just personally not buying into that. Certainly by not buying into the idea that I am special or better than anyone, or ‘chosen’. I feel very humble actually in the face of getting all of this attention from people… incredibly lucky. It’s also part of the reason I like meeting with the fans every night. I try never to take for granted the fact that they, literally, every and each one of them are creating an environment from which I can make a living. I don’t take that for granted at all and I think that’s the really important thing. I think the biggest danger you can fall into as a celebrity or known artist is that think you are entitled to that attention and that’s just bullshit. Nobody is entitled to that. If you work hard and you appreciate and respect the people that are bringing the opportunities to you, that’s really the way to reverse the curse. The problem is that the general public is just as willing to play into the fame game as the celebrities and that’s when you get the nasty vicious cycle because you get the public also believing that these people are entitled to the attention, then it feeds itself in a really evil way. So basically in a nut shell, I fight that simply by trying to stay human, and stay publicly human. It’s the only thing you can really do.

Since the interview, Amanda has undergone surgery to remove vocals nodes. She is recovering well and has begun singing again. ‘Who Killed Amanda Palmer’ is due for release in September, 2008. www.myspace.com/postwartrade
www.myspace.com/whokilledamandapalmer

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