Interview: Amanda Palmer

If you have yet to discover Amanda Palmer, prepare to be mesmerized. She’s got a critically acclaimed new album, Theatre is Evil, with an über-cool accompanying art book, The Grand Theft Art Companion. She’s got almost 900,000 Twitter followers. And she gives her music away for free.  |  |  twitter: @amandapalmer

Shelf Unbound: You describe your music as a cross between punk and cabaret. What drew you to this artistic amalgamation?

Amanda Palmer: Well, both punk and cabaret have similar themes, as far as I’m concerned. Art as culture therapy. But I thought “punk cabaret” was the perfect way to describe my songs and the dresden dolls back in the day, since we were very theatrical but very aggressive and LOUD and both grew up with DIY and punk bands as our aesthetic and emotional parents.

Shelf: You had me at 2010’s Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele. Last year you famously set a Kickstarter fundraising record for a music project with contributions totaling almost $1.2 million to produce and promote your new album Theatre is EvilRolling Stone called it “one of the year’s best rock records.” I’ve been listening to it over and over and agree with every accolade it has received. What does being fan-supported do for you as an artist?

Palmer: It means that I get to communicate directly with my audience without having to negotiate for permission. And having gone through the major label nightmare, and having done many projects where I felt my phones got tapped and my psychic artistic letters to my fans got censored by the prison warden, it’s all I ask in this life. Just a clean line and de-static’d connection straight from me to those who want to listen. My favorite shows to play are in living rooms, as much as I also love playing in huge public theaters and venues. I’m happiest when I’m actually WITH people. And since I know that my music will never be mainstream or commercial, I’m very happy to dig deeper and find my kindred spirits than I am to try to please the lowest common denominator. For that, I need a very clean signal. The internet has provided it. I feel hugely grateful.

Shelf: I love these lines from one of your recent blog posts: “i take the things around me, and i put them in a blender in my mind, and I connect the dots, and i layer, and….i write. sometimes songs, sometimes poems, sometimes emails.” In your songs, your blog, your twitter posts, your performances, and your life you are continuously putting yourself out there raw and seemingly unfiltered. Is revealing yourself to your audience the chicken or the egg of your art?

Palmer: Yes, I suppose it is. Making art is always a dance between your inner spark, the filter you send it through, and the final transmission that comes through your song, your voice, or your paintbrush. The choices we make at every one of those steps are the choices that make us unique artists. Some choose to be opaque. Sometime I choose to be opaque. But where I like to grow and water myself is the challenge of being authentic and spontaneous and dealing with the consequences of those actions. Sometimes you get explosive joy raining down electricity all over you and sometimes you get a pile of rotten dung on your head. But one thing is for sure: it’s never boring. If I had to play it safe and make considered choices for a focus group; or churn out safe, standard radio music and aim for the middle audience I’d rather….I don’t know…just sit in a cave and meditate. 

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