MAPPING IT OUT Amanda Palmer

A “brutal, stupid, insane”
schedule aside, the uke-wielding Dresden
Dolls frontwoman takes time out from her solo tour to chat.

 

BY NICK
A. ZAINO III

 

In
December, Amanda Palmer told The Boston
Globe
that 2011 would be “the first year of my life since 2001 that I’m
actually going to take a legitimate break. Really. Off. Home. CLEANING.”

 

Yet the
ball had barely dropped in Times Square before she had a new video out for her
song “Map Of Tasmania” and a new album, Amanda
Palmer Goes Down Under
, to support her new tour of Australia and New Zealand. She also married her
longtime significant other, author Neil Gaiman, in a spontaneous ceremony in a
friend’s living room in California.

 

Palmer
does plan on taking a break once she’s back home in Boston, however. “I think it’s really
important,” she says, speaking by phone from the tour. “I’ve been listening to
myself talk to journalist for the last five years, pretty much, about breaks
that I didn’t take. Something always popped up. This time I’m pretty convinced
that if I don’t do it, I’m in danger of an actual brain burnout.”

 

It has
been about ten years since Palmer has taken any significant time off, due to a
schedule she calls “brutal,” “stupid,” and “insane.”  That’s partly a function of being a workaholic
with a fun job, and partly because Palmer’s career is a DIY operation. She
sells her albums mostly through the Bandcamp.com Web site. And she creates a
lot of interesting opportunities for herself. She played the role of Emcee in a
production of Cabaret in Boston last year and put
together a series of Amanda Fucking Palmer’s Late Night Cabaret shows at a
local club.

 

That begs
the question for Palmer, and for any emerging artist using new technology to
bypass a traditional system: Can you ever
take a break from self-promotion? Even if you forge a deep connection with a
fanbase, what happens when you have to disappear for a little while for your
own sanity?

 

“That’s a
really difficult question,” says Palmer.

 

“When you
are able to promote yourself at any given moment, you find yourself trying to
push things. As a musician, the line between self-promotion and simply having
fun and living is permanently blurred, and that’s one of the hardest things for
an artist to cope with nowadays.” 

 

The
flipside of that is that Palmer is able to choose her audience in the same way
her audience chose her. He two-person band the Dresden Dolls were an immediate
hit in Australia and New Zealand.
She is comfortable with the people there, and their level of directness, and finds
it relaxing. She may even consider moving there someday (if she can convince
Gaiman to come along). So she was able to make an album specifically for that
area and then play it for them on tour. And that is a definite luxury. 

 

“I want
to tour and to cater to the audiences that understands me and enjoys me,” she
says. “It’s sort of a lot like the way you pick your friends and how you slowly
but surely choose who you’re going to have coffee with; who you’re going to sit
with, who you’re going to have dinner with. You very deliberately choose things
you’re going to do, and who you’re going to sleep with and how. Especially as
you grow older, you gravitate towards people who you respect and who you can
really talk to.”

 

Goes Down Under is a mix of demos, live music,
and studio recordings put together with the tour in mind. In “Australia,”
Palmer muses about making a permanent move down under. There are plenty of
references to vegemite, an acquired taste if ever there was one. There are also
covers of regional icons Nick Cave (“The Ship Song) and Peter Jeffries (“On An
Unknown Beach”), plus-for left-field territory-classic U.S. comedian/actor Eddie
Cantor (“Makin’ Whoopee”). Physical albums are only available on the tour, but
fans can download it stateside through Palmer’s page on Bandcamp.com.    

 

The
definition of an album is a bit more fluid in the digital age, when problems
like shipping, album lengths, and the trappings of physical product have been
diminished, if not disposed of altogether. That can make more intimate and
specific projects like Goes Down Under possible.

 

“You
know, things used to be very simple and album-oriented,” says Palmer. “I grew
up clutching tapes and vinyl. But I wonder now if a simple stream of content,
as it appears, will be the future. It’s hard to say. Singles used to rule the
market – albums are a relatively new concept anyway. But I’m attached to the
idea that you’ll commit your time to an artist for an hour instead of just four
minutes. It’s like getting into a relationship instead of just making out in a
bathroom at a party.”

 

First
single “Map of Tasmania” and its provocative video are a comic take on personal
hygiene, an offbeat topic for most, but not for Palmer, who is unusually adept
at writing both humorous and dramatic songs. It’s a combination that has always
appealed to her, a nod to her eclectic collection of influences.

 

“I always
wrote a weird combination of dark humor songs and serious songs,” she says. “I
was more shy about my humorous side, I think, until I actually felt like I’d
gained more credibility as an artist. But that first Dresden Dolls album has
some funny shit on it. ‘The Jeep Song?’ Come on. But that’s where I see the
strange collision of all my influences, which ranged from The Cure to Tom Lehrer
and from Swans to Weird Al. That’s bound to produce a strange
songwriter. “

 

More
specifically, the video for “Map of Tasmania” features a series of “merkins,”
the slang term for pubic wigs (it’s easier for you to just watch the video than
for us to explain it). For the record, Palmer’s favorite merkins from the video
where one decorated with Hot Wheels cars, which had to be digitally altered to
avoid showing too much of the male model, and one with pink hair rollers.  

 

“The
whole song is kind of a joke that went too far,” says Palmer.

 

It’s a
bit of a stylistic departure for Palmer, more of a dance song, a genre she
admits she knew almost nothing about. She brought the song, originally a
ukulele ditty dashed off backstage at a show on a dare, to The Young Punx and
asked, “I have this silly in-joke Australian ukulele song and I want to do a
fake, well, not really fake, dance track. I’ve never done anything like this
before. Would you hold my hand and be my guide?”

 

“The
Young Punx made ‘Map of Tasmania,'” she adds. “I was only half-serious about
finding a DJ to make a mix out of this crazy song I’d written in a shitty bar
dressing room, but I met Hal of the Young Punx at the perfect time, when my
whole life was up in the air and I was actually following all of my weirdest
impulses. We bonded immediately and I knew he’d make something incredible.”

 

The tour
ends in March, and Palmer will finally get her rest then. Oh, and don’t expect
news of some flashy honeymoon. Palmer and Gaiman have a different perspective
on that. “Neil and I had decided that all of our days off together will be
honeymoon time,” she says. “And we plan on doing that regularly.” 

 

[Photo
Credit: Kyle Cassidy]

 

Amanda
Palmer Online:

http://amandapalmer.net/

 

Read our 2008 interview with Palmer: Out of the Dollhouse

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