interview with Amanda Palmer

In September, Amanda Palmer released her first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, after several years of recording and intense touring as one half of the Boston-based duo the Dresden Dolls. Produced by Ben Folds, it was easily one of the strongest records of the year, the kind of music that grabs you by the throat with its intensity and emotional candor. What she originally intended to be “a really simple, stripped-down, record-it-in-my-underwear-in-my-apartment-in-boston kinda thing” became a major undertaking over months of recording the piano-driven tracks as full-band arrangements including drums, horns and majestic strings, which resulted in the epic, pounding piano of “Astronaut,” the stomping “Guitar Hero” and the whiskey-fueled show-stopper “Leeds United.” Despite this accomplishment, Palmer’s current record label, Roadrunner Records, complained the record was not “commercial,” that it wouldn’t sell and attempted to halt the release of the “Leeds United” video to make her appearance “more flattering,” at which point Palmer says she asked to be dropped from the label. They reportedly refused, but that has not stopped her from taking the promotion of the record into her own hands, maintaining a consistent online presence and keeping a rigorous touring schedule. box of boom caught up with Amanda as she’s on the road in Europe.

box of boom: With this being your first solo record, how did the writing and recording process for Who Killed Amanda Palmer differ from the previous records you’ve done with the Dresden Dolls? Did you feel an increased amount of pressure with the focus completely on you?

AMANDA: Well, if the pressure was on because it was my solo debut, it was balanced out by the fact that I’ve made enough records that I don’t feel the need to worry too much about any one thing making or breaking my career. And the writing process wasn’t specific to the record … a lot of these songs, like “Astronaut” and “Guitar Hero,” would have wound up as Dresden Dolls songs if they hadn’t happened to be on the table at the time of the solo recording.

VIDEO: Amanda Palmer- “Astronaut” (Live From Sxip’s Hour of Charm):

box of boom: I’ve read some recent interviews and blog posts where you mentioned the difficulties you’ve had with your label in promoting this record and your hopes that you will be dropped. With all of the different creative ways you’ve promoted this record on your own, do you think there are any disadvantages at this point to working independently?

AMANDA: No. The only disadvantage of working independently lately is just having to be more in charge and keep track of more things and territories, but I’m not going to mind doing that. I’m ready.

box of boom: I noticed on the Who Killed Amanda Palmer website that you originally had listed close to 40 songs in various forms of completion in the email you wrote to Ben Folds early in the production process. Do you have specific plans for any of the songs that didn’t make the album? From what you wrote about the time in the studio, it sounded like at least a few of those tracks were recorded in some form.

AMANDA: A lot of those songs just weren’t strong enough to make the cut, but a lot of those demos actually did get released to a small number of fans who pre-ordered the record. They might get released later on, but they what they are, they’re very rough demos.

box of boom: You’ve released videos for almost all of the tracks on Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Do you see that as an essential part of promoting a record? What are some of your favorite music videos from other artists?

AMANDA: Every track, actually! I have a DVD coming out in June with the videos for all twelve songs plus some extra interviews. I’m in love with Feist’s latest videos. No matter how much flack she gets for being commercial, I think those videos are brilliant.

box of boom: It seems like you make huge efforts to reach out to fans both online and at shows. With the internet, it’s such a direct, immediate connection in some ways. Is that relationship ever difficult to maintain?

AMANDA: It’s only difficult insofar as it’s challenging to stay engaged and honest ALL THE TIME. I feel like it’s a real relationship, it needs the same degree of care, trust and feeding that you would give to a friend or a lover. You can’t just disappear with no explanation.

box of boom: I think it’s safe to say female artists are compared and pitted against each other more often than male artists; I still always remember the interview Q Magazine did in 90s with Tori, Bjork and PJ Harvey together where it seemed like kind of a rare occasion for three artists to come together as peers rather than competitors. Do you ever feel that tension?

AMANDA: Yes, but that’s just because there are relatively few of us, especially outside the mainstream pop world. You won’t see anyone comparing me to Shania Twain.

box of boom: Are there other musical artists that you identify with or admire in terms of the type of career you’d like to have?

AMANDA: I would love to follow the trajectory of David Bowie. He did it right.

box of boom: 2008 was obviously an extremely busy year for you – what are you most excited about in terms of your plans for 2009?

AMANDA: I’ve got lots of great things coming up…I’m writing music for an original play at my old high school this spring, a big workshop piece based on “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel. I’ve got the video collection coming out, and of course I’ve got the WHO KILLED AMANDA PALMER book with Neil Gaiman coming out this May – that’s really exciting. Other than that, I’ll be touring to promote the record and hopefully getting off the label and seeing where the wind blows me.

Amanda heads to Australia later this month after finishing her tour in Europe. Check out her official website to purchase Who Killed Amanda Palmer, get information on tour dates and ticket information, read her blog, and much more.