This was written for the Groove Guide in anticipation of Amanda’s Tour this Month. Unfortunately it’s been posponed until September Now.
“It was terrifying,” remembers singer, songwriter, ringleader Amanda Palmer (aka AFP) about one fateful day in February 2011. On the phone from New Orleans, she notes: “I was at the Napier airport, which is about the size of an outside toilet, with all the other passengers huddled around this big tv. Out on the tarmac the plane from Christchurch had just landed and the passengers were arriving in the terminal (oblivious) to the news a massive earthquake that had just rocked their home town. It was heartbreaking.” I’ve just reminded her of that moment because I’d found her ‘bookmarked’ tweet when researching for this interview. At the time of those quakes I was following Palmer’s last local solo tour adventures via facebook and at the precise moment her comments were coming through my office was erupting with the news from down south. “You heard it here first, huh? I was actually tweeting in a car going away from the airport. My first reaction was to get on a plane, fly down and do some fundrasing shows. But everyone was like ‘No, don’t do that’, there’s no infrastructure or anything.’ I couldn’t play if I’d wanted to – not then. Had my flight had been an hour before I could have landed into ….well.” Armageddon? “Yes. You know the internet is so fast. It really isn’t just this big static thing. It’s the new town crier!” “I did go back to Christchurch with the (Dresden) Dolls (the ‘Brechtian punk cabaret’ duo she founded with Brian Viglione) this January and I sorta expected everything to just be there, like the quake didn’t bring it all down. I was amazed at all damage and rubble. Al’s Bar where I was supposed to play (in 2011) is still off limits (in the Red Zone)”.
There’s a couple of things you should know about Palmer. One is that she loves her very loyal fans, is totally interactive with them and relies on them almost for her very existence. The other, is that she loves being Downunder. Palmer views her relationship with her audience as completely 360 degrees. This has always been the case, even from the early Dresden Dolls shows in Boston. Audience members came as much to participate as to watch. They often wore dramatic make-up and clothing that pushed their cabaret/theater aesthetic. Coordinated by the band’s The Dirty Business Brigade fans joined them on stage as stilt walkers, living statues, fire breathers, performing artists of all kinds – they were an integral part of the shows.
As Palmer ventured out solo she used crowd sourcing even more extensively. Her latest album, Theatre is Evil, recorded with the Grand Theft Orchestra, was funded through a Kickstarter.com project, raising over one $1Milliion dollars. Mind you, the return on investment was also generous, with pledgees value-eligible options like for decorated turntables, crafty gifts, personal portrait sketches, art books and even a personal appearance at their next fundraiser, as well as the final recorded product!
The new album was recorded in Melbourne with Michael Mcuilken, Chad Raines, and Jherek Bischoff, a brilliant band of “reconnaissance hacks… with musical super powers.” and producer/engineer John Congleton (“who’s worked with a zillion amazing people including St. Vincent, Modest Mouse, and Xiu Xiu”). “I decided on Melbourne for two reasons. I wanted to get away from the normal and I’ve recorded in a log cabin before, it’s isolated and there are no distractions but I still wanted coffee down the street and nightlife and Melbourne has that. Also Kiwis and Aussies allow me to be me: this crazy chick who breaks rules. It’s a more tolerant society. I don’t feel like my system isn’t under fire.” Palmer’s referring to a recent online attack of her call for local musicians to join her band on stage, promising to pay in ‘beer money’. The furore was started by a fan claimed she was exploiting talent for free, an odd comment given most AFP fans, at least in this part of the world, would amputate their necessaries to stand on stage with her. “You see that’s what I love about Kiwis, their much more broad minded. It’s a more relaxed thing. Just enjoy the opportunity!” Perfect sentiment I ask, referring to one of stand out album tracks “Do it with a Rock Star”. “Ha. Yes that’s a collision between the f**ker and the f**kee! The general stereotype of a rocker is a pastiche cliché’, partying till dawn, but in the unromantic reality we just head to the hotel room, check emails, drink cocoa in our jammies. Mundane stuff.” Really, Amanda. You will never be mundane.