Musical maverick Amanda Palmer opens up about Scientology, stripping, and going solo
Amanda Palmer is so impossibly busy that the week I meet her, she has a show every night and a photoshoot almost every day. Her iCal is Beyoncé-level packed, but that’s just the way she likes it. After a nasty split from Roadrunner Records in 2010, the 36-year-old singer/songwriter/pianist is now putting out her own music and loving her newfound creative freedom. “I’m buckets happier,” she says. “I deeply despise being told what to do. That is the visceral, driving engine of Amanda Palmer.”
Back in the early aughts, as half of the punk-cabaret act the Dresden Dolls, the Massachusetts native carved out a reputation as a firebrand raconteur with an untrained, bang-on-the-piano style that would have given Chopin a heart attack. In 2008, she released her first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer (yes, the title is a Twin Peaks reference), and since then has worked on theater, book, and art projects, as well as on the “huge, ongoing collaboration” that is her marriage to beloved fantasy writer Neil Gaiman.
These days, however, Palmer is just as famous for her business acumen as she is for her creative pursuits. Before embarking on her latest solo effort, Theatre Is Evil, she resolved the issue of not having a record label by calling upon her legions of fans to help finance her new album through Kickstarter. In an unprecedented show of support, she raised over a million dollars—the most any musician has ever raked in from the site—and was heralded in the pages of Time magazine and The New York Times as the harbinger of a new business model for music.
Theatre Is Evil (released in September) is a raucous, rock-tinged set of jams that finds her pushing herself far beyond her piano roots. And her unpredictable live shows (which have featured living statues and burlesque performers) are as exciting as ever, with artwork inspired by the album on display and her friends joining her on stage under the moniker the Grand Theft Orchestra. Never afraid of confessional lyrics, she delivers new tracks that cover everything from sex with rock stars to her former life as a stripper, and she was equally candid when we finally sat down to chat.
What made you decide to use Kickstarter to fund the new album?
Well, I needed money. I still face a lot of the same hurdles that I did with the label, like whether we should put black bars over my tits and crotch or just pixelate them for the video. But now I feel like they’re discussions, not mandates. With the label, I never felt like I had the final say. I felt like I got frequently bullied.
When did you get so comfortable with nudity?
I was a stripper! I have no problem being naked, but stripping was strange. Mostly it was draining, because it was a very emotionally hollow place to be. There are bouncers who come to your aid if things get out of control, but there was constant shit happening under the table. Listen to the song “Berlin” [on Theatre Is Evil]. The lyrics will tell you everything you need to know. Next time, I’ll tell you about being a dominatrix.
Have you seen the online chatter about the possibility that your Kickstarter fund was a front for Scientology because members of your husband’s family are Scientologists?
Yeah, but it’s not. That is an unfortunate side effect of marrying into the Gaiman family. I try to stay out of it, but occasionally I joke about it and do a gag response. I almost find it flattering that anyone would think I’m secretly a Scientologist, because I would have to be such a good liar.
You’ve worked with your husband on several projects in the past. How much are you involved in each other’s creative processes now?
I think [working together] probably helped our relationship, but I wouldn’t expect a Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer opera anytime soon. I think we would both rather get shot in the head than commit to something like that. We collaborate in the background. He’s been reading his new book to me in bed at night, and I’ve been showing him rough cuts of videos. It feels wonderful to have someone who’s in your corner and gets your aesthetic who can also give you honest feedback.
Do you enjoy the rootless lifestyle that comes with being a touring musician?
I like performing, I like being with people, and I like seeing the world, but constantly traveling is a pain in the ass. When I do it, it’s because I’ve chosen to do it, so I do it with an exhausted smile on my face. I need a teleporter. That would be fantastic. Then I could just beam all of my fans to my house every night. It might get crowded!