Amanda Fucking Palmer

Former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer returns to Edinburgh this month with her solo punk cabaret. Before she does, <b>Nine</b> bends her ear on matters of the art

Feature by Nine | 31 Jul 2009
  • Amanda Palmer

"I’m pretty fond of Neil Gaiman at the moment," offers Amanda Palmer when I ask if there are any topics she’s particularly keen to discuss. You got the memo, right?

Amanda Fucking Palmer, formerly of the Dresden Dolls, is going out with the much-celebrated creator of The Sandman. With their prolific careers and respective cult followings, that’s a pretty big deal. "I’m just madly in love with the guy and I’m really excited," she says. "We first spent a chunk of time together last August [collaborating on the book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?]. But we were both sort of seeing people at the time, and then my relationship fell apart over the fall when I was on tour. And Neil stayed in touch with me and we really hit it off. We just kept finding we had more and more in common, and then by January, it seemed like I woke up to the inevitable one day: 'Maybe I should be dating this guy!' And so we did what jetsetting travelling people do, which is we started going on dates in different cities. He would show up in LA when I had a show and we would go on a date, and then I would show up at his place in Wisconsin and we would go on a date… and when we finally had a collection of dates and it was really obvious that we were falling in love, we just made the dates longer. And I’ve never been in a relationship with someone that I just felt so incredibly comfortable with - he understands me and my life upside down and inside out."

While her personal life is overwhelmingly positive, professionally there’s a thorn in her side: Palmer says her relationship with Roadrunner Records "had already gone to shit" before her live performance of Please Drop Me appeared on YouTube. 'I don’t fit on your roster,' she explained, to the tune of Moon River. 'I’m tired of all this pointless shit.' The song concluded with a list of their other artists: Slipknot, Annihilator, Machine Head, illustrating how out of place she is on the label.

"I was just continually sending them explosive cheesecakes in the mail, saying 'I'm really serious, and if you don't let me go, I can make myself a royal pain in the ass, and I definitely will.' And I have the entire internet behind me, so that's awkward!" Palmer adds, referring to her loyal online fan base. "It's such a powerful tool, and I just don't think the major labels understand how to reconcile commerce and art, and that was my main problem with them. They actually did a wonderful job promoting the Dresden Dolls through commercial radio and traditional old-school press. But when I was making angry phone calls because they needed to pay my internet marketing team back in 2003 and 2004, and support and feed our online presence, they didn't understand. It was, 'oh, that internet thing, maybe there's something to that.' And I was tearing my hair out, saying, 'Oh, you don't get it, this is it, this is everything.'"

This is everything. Thousands of fans are poised to have "a giant party on the internet" once she's free from the label. Through her blog and Twitter feed, she engages with fans directly and frequently, giving them a connection that many other celebrities avoid. This fits the 1,000 True Fans model put forward by Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine: Palmer may not be making any money through Roadrunner, but all she needs is a thousand people who are dedicated enough to travel to see her, to pick up any and all merchandise available, to attend impromptu events, to follow her online – and that's enough for her to make a living.

Certainly, her creative personalised marketing takes unexpected directions. Recently, at home on a Friday night, she posted a flippant comment on Twitter: "i hereby call THE LOSERS OF FRIDAY NIGHT ON THEIR COMPUTERS to ORDER, motherfucker." The subsequent throng was described as a "virtual flash mob" by cellist Zoe Keating, and within a few days, Palmer had grossed over $11,000 selling commemorative t-shirts.

Contrast this with the anti-climax of Oasis, a track which she says Roadrunner never really promoted as a single. An upbeat, two-minute tale of rape and abortion against a backdrop of high-school gossip and teenage fandom, its accompanying video is both delightfully kitsch and darkly hilarious. It was promptly banned by every radio station and TV channel in the UK. "But," Palmer says, "it started a really great discussion online about art and censorship and where lines are crossed. That’s the sort of thing that turns me on more than selling records or getting my video played. It’s been a fantastic discussion with people about the nature of writing and art and how much of a creative filter the artist should have – offhand, I would argue none. It evolved into a really interesting discussion between women who had been raped and hadn’t been raped and how they felt about it, and how they thought that it could be depicted and portrayed in art. And it’s kind of like what happened with the Leeds United video [Roadrunner wanted to cut some scenes because they thought she looked too fat]: because of something obnoxious happening, I’ve actually grown as an artist because I’ve been forced to take a stance, define myself, and really explain myself. I appreciated the opportunity to stop and take the time to do that in my life, because otherwise you’re clawing blindly, half-assuming you know what you’re doing, but sometimes it takes something like that for you to stop and centre yourself and say, 'No, really I mean that, and really I believe this.'"

With Gaiman appearing at the Book Festival and Palmer playing the Picture House, the couple plan to spend ten days at the Fringe. "My guess is that I’ll wind up performing a lot spontaneously and you’ll have to be following me on Twitter to find out what bar I’ll wind up playing in that night. I can drop a hint at ten o’clock that I’m gonna wind up somewhere by midnight and people can come over if they want."

Amanda Palmer plays The Picture House, Edinburgh as part of The Edge Festival on 22 Aug.

http://www.amandapalmer.net