Those of you that follow us regularly know, mxdwn has been covering Amanda Palmer and her many facets, accomplishments and projects for some time now. Palmer has made headlines recently for her wildly successful Kickstarter for her excellent new album, Theatre is Evil, as well as a brief series of complaints from pundits in the press about string and horn players on her recent tour not being paid for their services. The latter complaint Palmer and her management team quickly responded to, agreeing to pay not only all future string/horn contributors on her current run, but also to retroactively pay those that volunteered earlier in the tour. We sat down with Palmer earlier this summer just after the first of two shows in Los Angeles. We met with her in a pop-up art gallery where a cavalcade of art inspired by and for the new album was on display. Tucked into a relatively quiet alcove in the back of the gallery, Palmer was never at a loss for words regarding her path to wildfire success, her thoughts on the correct use of social media technology and how this new album has mostly been ready since 2009. In this special piece, we present it to you in both transcribed text and video. Read the interview, watch Amanda Palmer’s responses, or both.
All video editing and post production by Nathalie Sejean
All photos by Raymond Flotat
Effectively you sold 24,833 copies of your album through the Kickstarter. Compared to your other experiences being on labels, economically how does that compare? Is it more profit to you at the end of the day?
When I put out Who Killed Amanda Palmer? I think we pre-sold about four or five thousand copies of the CD and signed them all in a day. And I had to buy those copies from the label for I think ten dollars. Which is more than the CD was even worth to the fans. So, probably about broke even selling those five thousand CDs back to the fans through my web site. But I was like, “It’s great. You know, record sales! I’ll be recouped some day” I’m still not recouped. So the amount of money I have made on that record is zero.
It’s a great record.
It is a great record.
You should go download it, for no money!
You’re such a troublemaker.
Just give me some money in another way.
Are there any particular tiers you’re surprised sold out so quickly and you’re surprised did not?
Ehh.. no. There were a few where I was like I don’t know what’s going to happen. Like Kyle and Neil’s book, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it sold twenty copies—it’s a 1,000 dollars—I wouldn’t have been surprised if it sold four hundred. Things like that, it was just like, let’s price it, and let’s see how it goes. And then we also adjusted, I think at the end of the day it sold seventy copies. Neil and Kyle went to that and were like, “Okay, we get to make a limited edition book.” It’s going to be this big and made of glass. [motions with her hands]
When are you going to do that? You haven’t done that yet right?
It’s in production now and almost finished. So these people will get it hopefully in the fall not long after the album comes out.
They’re going to be stoked for the rest of their lives.
They will be stoked and I think they will have bragging rights the likes of which they did not anticipate when they bought the book, which is exciting. And always sets us up nicely for next time, shiesty us.
I like to think of you as something of an early adopter. You’re one of the people out there who as far as forward thinking technologies and ways to connect with people in business and music, you’re willing to try a lot of things. Granted, you may not sign up for every new social network, you’re not that person. But, as far as trying to bond yourself to something, put it out there, to try to move forward to the future, you’re one of a dozen people who I think waves the flag pretty proudly. Granted there’s plenty people who have or have dabbled, or would use TopSpin’s email widget to give away a free song. Why is it for you that it seems so easy? Why are you so committed to it? You make it look like you just rolled out of bed and thought, “This must happen.”
Well, I think a big part of that is just my personality is like that. I also… and this is a source of great frustration to my management and whatever team I happen to be working with. I get very excited about ways I can connect. I get very excited about ways I can excite other people, and means by which I can do that. I tend to go through bursts of enthusiasm, and then, I do a lot of “We’ll figure it out later. We’ll figure it out later. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be awesome.” And there is an extreme thrill and joy as well as frustration that comes along with working with an Amanda Palmer-type artist. Because I’m all ideas, but the execution I tend to… I do this thing that my filmmaker friend who has made many films with me Michael Pope calls the fifteen-minute problem. “We should do it. We should do it.” “Amanda, we can’t do it.” “No, no, no. It’ll take fifteen minutes. Let’s just do it.” And then Pope goes, “Amanda, it’s not going to take 15 minutes. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” “No, no, no. We’ll just make it really simple. Just 15 minutes. 15 minutes.” This is the constant argument.
But as far as tools like Twitter, and dah da dah dah ah, I have also had a really smart team. Sean Francis on my Internet team, is the plugged-in geek in the background who’s always paying attention to other people and things. He was usually the one to poke me and say, “You should be checking out Twitter. I think this is going to be huge for you.” Often in these areas, my team or him will get some resistance from me. “I don’t get it. Why do people care where I am all the time? I don’t really understand the application.” But I’ll usually trust them, if there’s something to be learned here, I’ll try it out. I Twittered for two weeks off my Blackberry, this was back in, whatever 2008, before I realized I could look at my @ mentions. I thought it was a one-way broadcasting system. It’s kinda cool, but it’s a little boring. And then someone showed me on my phone, “No, no, no, you can see whoever’s mentioning you.” And I was like, “Ohhhhh! Whoaaaaaa…. That’s exciting.” Then it was over. They’re talking about me? Me? Me? And more me? Me? Tap. Tap. Tap.
In that regard is there anything that you’ve tried that failed?
Ahhhh… yeah. Nothing huge and nothing I’ve put a lot of energy into. That’s the thing about all these gazillion Internet tools is; you don’t have to be faithful to any one thing. You can send energy over here and tell your fans, “Hey we’re trying this.” And if you’re fans go, “Eh” then you go, “Let’s not try that. Let’s do this.” Sometimes you need a critical mass of fans to make it cool. I am always of the opinion you can make anything happen as long as you just, if the platform is just function but it needs content to work, you can always make content to get something like that to work. One of the things that happened to me a lot a few years ago, and doesn’t happen quite as much anymore. When I got to be known as the Internet artist and the social media queen and stuff. I would just get piles of emails of, “We’re starting this new company! We’re going to do this rad new thing.” It was mind numbing the amount of people and start-ups who needed a “me” to go out and show my fan base this cool new technology. At a certain point I was like, “I really don’t need that much.” I need to communicate with my fan base. I need to get them music and I need to get them to my shows. Give us a way to talk and give us a way to be together. And other than that, I don’t need my fans playing video games of avatars that look like me and my band. I don’t need it. It’s not helpful to me. Pass.
I want to talk about the new album, Theatre is Evil. You’ve been busy, that goes without saying for you. Between the Evelyn Evelyn project, 8in8, the stuff you did with your husband Neil [Gaiman], the ukulele album covering Radiohead and all the other things you’ve been doing. What I find myself wondering is: when did you find time to write the album in this midst of all that other creativity? Is this something you’ve been percolating for years quietly?
Yeah, I wrote most of this record in 2009. The thing is… it’s kind of embarrassing. Songs don’t take that long to write.
Really not for me. Most of the songs on the record took a couple of hours to write. Or less. So, I had to be in the right headspace to write them. Most of them I wrote in 2009, some are a little older, some are a little newer. I’d say the collective writing [of] the record–and that doesn’t include arranging it or recording it or like adding bleeps and blips to it–probably took two days.
So has it been that ready since 2009?
It’s been pretty ready.
Why the hold-up then?
Ohh… because… I had to get my shit together. I knew I had to get my shit together. I had a nightmare getting the right team together. It took me for fucking ever to find the right personnel. I finally did it. I had to find the right band. That took a little bit of time.
Great band by the way. Great chemistry.
Awesome band. And I not only had to find the right team and personnel, I had to pick a release system and know it was going to work. So, my Radiohead EP and my Australian album, they were fun, “Hey, I’m free,” side projects, but they were also a little more strategic than that. And I used those projects to test staff, personnel and release systems, and also learn things about my fan base, and figure out what are going to do about boring shit like international shipping? Are we going to include it or not going to include it? How many people really want vinyl? How many people really, actually want CDs? And learning all of this and putting it all together, because I knew, this album was really good, and I didn’t want to fuck it up. But it’s funny, if you talk to people who were working for me two or three years ago, I was having this conversation with them saying, “Listen, I have a record. It’s in my brain. It’s really good. It’s not going to come out for a while. We’re going to be broke. But trust me. It’s going to be worth it,” and it was.
I have to tell you, when the Kickstarter hit, I was like, “Son of a bitch. This is what she’s been building to for four years.” I think I turned to my girlfriend and I said exactly that.
And that enthusiasm is also partly what drove the Kickstarter. Waves and waves of Amanda Palmer fans going like, “High five girl! You’ve fucking been waiting for this one for a long time.” Like, “Your pay day’s finally here. All your hard work, all your years and years and years and years of touring and couch surfing and dealing with your fucked label. Congratulations. You deserve it.”
Is the full band The Grand Theft Orchestra just the next phase of your artistic development or will you return to just performing solo with a piano afterwards?
I don’t know. It’s kind of nice to be an instrumentalist as opposed to just a vocalist, because I know whatever happens if the whole world falls apart and everything sucks and everyone dies or everyone quits or whatever. I can still go on the road with a piano and a ukulele and entertain a crowd. My career will never fall apart to the point that I can’t do that, unless someone cuts my hands off. And if someone cuts my hands off, I would make a killing going on tour as the prosthetic handed piano player.
Or, with your toes.
Very, very, very, atonal rhythmic.
But there is a comfort in that. That being said I toured as a solo piano player for a while and it was lonely. It was literally lonely. I didn’t like being back stage with just me and the hummus. I wanted the people too. To share the hummus with.
So now the next what 6, 7 months….
If you’d seen the dressing room last night, there were fucking 22 people in a room this size going at the hummus. And I was like, “Oh God.”
“Where’s my hummus!”
“We’re out of hummus!”
Yeah. I think it’s going to be cyclical. And when I get tired of being in a dressing room with 23 people, I’ll go off and do some solo stuff. Actually, I think I tend to follow the music. I didn’t put together a New Wave/synth band with bass, drums and guitar because I wanted that. I put it together because I wrote a bunch of songs that needed that. I’ll see what happens once I get off the road and I start writing music again. That’ll probably tell me what’s going to happen, and I’ll go, “Who knew… funk band!”
Yeah, all vacuum cleaners. Vacuum cleaners through distortion pedals.
If we do an all vacuum cleaner band it’ll be great if my hands were chopped off. I’ll just hit the little button with my head or my elbows.
You know reportedly that’s how KMFDM started actually.
Vacuum cleaner band?
Vacuum cleaner band. Quite literally. Distortion pedals and vacuum cleaners.
That’s very Neubauten of them.
Yeah right, I mean, it makes sense.
I wonder how Neubauten feels about KMFDM.
Well they worked together a little bit. F.M. Einheit would do some stuff with them occasionally.
So they got the Neubauten seal of approval.
Then again, if you really listen to what Neubauten does and then you see what KMFDM does. Neubauten would probably never trouble themselves with something that middle of the road. And I love KMFDM, but that’s the truth, Neubauten is there own world of noise and sound architecture.
We are artists. We are artists who make sounds. We are different. You don’t understand. That’s my Blixa impression.
Everyone keeps asking me this. Whenever we’re reporting on The Dresden Dolls, at some point are you going to do anything more with The Dresden Dolls? I know you had the little reunion tour the other year.
Uh, yeah. I mean we’ve continued to tour and we probably still will, because we love playing with each other. Whether we’ll make more recordings… is… it’s possible. It would be complicated. We still have complications with our label that we would have to sort out. But you know, I’ve enjoyed the perspective of playing with other people and returning to Brian and going like ,”Oh. The Dresden Dolls is a specific thing. It’s like this. It’s like this over here and like this over here.” There’s no denying that what Brian and I do, is, there’s just nothing else like it, at all.
All photos by Raymond Flotat
All video editing and post production by Nathalie Sejean