Amanda Palmer on Theater Is Evil, Twitter and assless pants
From releasing her latest album to high praise and facing unexpected kerfuffles, Amanda Palmer has been quite hot topic this fall. The alt-rock, punk cabaret singer burst onto the scene in the early 2000s as one half of the Dresden Dolls and has spent the last decade building a steadfast following through her subsequent projects and solo albums. Palmer's newest album, Theater Is Evil, has been the result of years of work combined with her fans' passion for Palmer's vision and style both onstage and off.
We chatted with Palmer about her album, Twitter, and Prince ahead of her show at First Avenue on Wednesday.
Recording Theater is Evil has been a four-year process. In that time, a lot has changed for you from having been in the Dresden Dolls, to solo albums, to getting married and more. Did this transformation make a difference for you in terms of the individual tracks or overall sound of the album?
Every album always ends up feeling like a diary from the slice of time that it was produced in. That was true of all the Dresden Dolls albums and my first solo album... and this one just as much. The songs, with a couple of exceptions, were just kicked around and had been on my desk for years. Everything on this album was pretty much written in 2008 and 2009, and then there were a few new ones. "The Killing Type" was written just before I put the album out. I never really know what I'm doing until I'm done. Every time I make an album, I select the songs together, bang it out and go look into the whole thing, putting the pieces together. It's only then that I can pick up on the themes and the dot-songs that connect my life. An this album was no different. I think the farther away from the album I get, the more I can look at it as a whole, see how it really reflects what I was going through for those couple years.
You funded Theater is Evil through a ridiculously successful Kickstarter campaign. Did you find that the fans had any direct impact on this album more than others you've made in the past?
Absolutely. There were a few lyric obstacles that I hit when I was fine-tuning the songs, and I found myself turning to Twitter. When a thesaurus just wasn't good enough to come up with the four-syllable word with a stress on the second syllable for an endangered animal or something... The response from the fan base is always incredible. In a more indirect way, their support and encouragement of my strange, independent style of working has actually been the greatest influence in me, because it's given me a very safe place in which to work. When I was 16 and writing songs all alone in my bedroom, I had no idea if anyone was going to hear them. I had no idea what anyone was going to make of them. I had no idea where they were going to wind up. Now I know I have an enthusiastic audience who's going to listen to this material. Regardless of whether they like it or not, I know that my material is going to find an audience. It's a much more inspiring way to work, because that one giant mountain that you have to get over, i.e. finding an audience, that part... I feel like I've found my audience. The audience grows, but my fundamental core fans, are some of the most wonderful, critical, funny, smart people in the world, and I feel blessed to have found them. That's very different from working in a vacuum.
Does instant gratification influence how you work now that you're so connected to your fans via Twitter and your blog?
Yes, and I almost feel it's kind of dangerous sometimes, because the instant gratification of the blog or Twitter, versus the discipline of sitting down and writing the song in isolation, can be a very dangerous rope you walk on as an artist. I'm sure it's the same for writers or poets. An inspiring image or idea comes to mind, and you can either sit down and write something in private or you can blast your idea out to the universe and start an instant dialogue and find applause. That decision that we make in the moment as the artist is sort of our cross to bear.
I saw you tweeted about your New Year's Eve show earlier: all Purple Rain, all night?
Speaking of the Purple One, can Minneapolis expect to hear any Prince when you roll through First Avenue?
We are absolutely going to start working up to our Purple Rain evening. We would be highly remiss if we didn't road test some of our Prince covers at First Avenue. It is a must. I don't know if he'll have the assless pants ready, I think he'll have to have the assless pants revealed on New Year's Eve... but maybe we can ask Peter. Michael probably won't complain.
Your husband [writer Neil Gaiman] has a home near Minneapolis, do you have a favorite spot in town?
Well, our favorite spot to hang out is at his house. We've got a favorite sushi restaurant that hopefully we will hit, and I think he will be at the gig at least looking on, if not allowing himself to be represented on stage in some way, shape or form. Definitely not wearing assless pants though. That is not Neil Gaiman's style.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra are playing at First Avenue on Wednesday, October 3 with special guests Jherek Bischoff and Ronald Reagan. 7:30 p.m. $25. 18+.