Musician and performer Amanda Palmer has led an eventful life, but the artist says it comes with a price. To experience, to be known, to create, to receive adulation, praise and attention requires putting oneself into the world in vulnerable ways. Often an artist will show the recesses of their psyche, as if splaying ideas out on the laundry line for the neighbors and world to see. But Palmer is used to this. At six-years-old, she began singing in church. As a college student, she dressed as an eight-foot statue standing still in the middle of city blocks to earn rent money as onlookers at times berated. And she’s fronted several prominent music projects, including the wildly popular duo, The Dresden Dolls, which is set to release the never-before-seen 2017 live show film, The Dresden Dolls Return To Paradise, on October 31st to celebrate the band members’ first meeting on Halloween two decades ago.
“I think,” Palmer says, “there is absolutely no way to be an interesting band, be an interesting musician or live an interesting life without having to pay for it, energetically, at some point. But that’s the price of admission. If you want an interesting life and you want to explore the extremes of emotions and you want to try to shake people awake and make them feel and share your feelings with them, I have to come prepared to pay the tax.”
Whenever she presents herself in the world, Palmer always does so with strength, despite the challenges in front of her. She’s bold, tough, experienced, candid, ready to share with you any truth she’s heard along her journey. An activist and a feminist, she’s unafraid, as willing to knock on a stranger’s door and crash on a sofa as she is to play in front a thousand people or express an unpopular opinion. Palmer is also supported by some 15,000 patrons on her Patreon page. Her fans, backers and donors give her an audience and also challenge her to make new work. Palmer says she was the type of student to write a term paper at the eleventh hour. So, her patrons ensure the paper is handed in each month without fail.
“Even though it sounds crass,” Palmer says, “the fact I had a paycheck waiting on the other side of writing a song meant I had to sit down and finish the fucking thing. I can start songs really easily. But I have had near psychological collapses of anger and guilt and frustration toward myself because I can’t and won’t finish stuff.”
Last year, though, Palmer released a new 20-track, 78-minute solo record, There Will Be No Intermission. One song, “The Ride,” boasts some of her favorite lyricism, she says. So while the specter of procrastination may seem to loom over her, Palmer is certainly releasing plenty of material as if it isn’t. Often times when she writes, she will force herself to finish the song in one long sitting. Then she will book the recording sessions and make sure she gets it mixed and mastered. It’s a new way of working, but it’s been fruitful.
“I have an emotional urgency that I found got lost when I’d signed with a major label,” Palmer says. “I hated the idea that I would write a song but not have the chance to record it and share it with the public for months, if not years.”
These days, Palmer is close with her fans. She interacts with them almost daily, including via her new podcast, The Art Of Asking Everything, which explores any number of essential life topics, from health to sex, music, death and creativity. And this week, Palmer is focused on the release of the upcoming live show from The Dresden Dolls. The duo, which met at a Halloween party twenty years ago and formed a few days later, is a study in intensity. Seemingly having found musical soul mates in each other, the band toured extensively in the early 2000s after its first release and continued to do so for the next handful of years. They burnt out eventually, though, but never broke up. Now, they’re back with an intimate show recorded in Boston.
“We were lucky,” Palmer says. “That night we chose to film, we happened to be in peak form. There was something very special about playing to this teeny hometown crowd in a city where we could have played to five thousand but we played to a club of about six hundred.”
When the front woman talks about her band mate, Brian Viglione, she’s effusive. She compares their stage chemistry – and his skill and musical acumen – to a fast-paced tennis match. The Dresden Dolls is not Palmer-plus-a-drummer, she says. No, the two are equals on stage, both front people for the band. On top of that, Palmer says, the two have a unique cerebral and musical connection that she’s never shared with any other person.
“We loved the insanity of going full steam ahead,” she says. “And nobody stopped us. It’s worth mentioning – and not something I talk about a lot – but the six months leading up to me meeting Brian, I had experimented and jammed with a number of musicians – bass players, cellists, drummers – and felt frustrated. But when Brian sat down at the drums, he blew me away with his ability to speak my musical and lyrical language through his instrument.”
Palmer, who didn’t grow up in an especially musical household, did obsess over her mother’s record player and few albums (The Beatles, The Doors, The Beach Boys). She has led an extensive and creatively saturated life – with many decades left to grow and evolve (check out her Ted Talk, also on the art of asking). Music, says the artist, provides a constant portal to essential worlds she may need to access at any given moment. With it, she can time travel, communicate with people all over the globe, share her ups and downs, and she can earn a living doing so. As taxing as it might be, what could be better?
“I love that music can be used as a tool to make people feel less alone in a way that nothing else on this human earth can quite manage to do,” Palmer says. “I find that especially relevant given what is going on right now with this pandemic. If nothing else, I hope we come out the other side of this deeply reminded how important it is for people to make, listen to and experience music together.”