Interview: Dresden Dolls Leading Lady Amanda Palmer


Amanda Palmer plays late on New Years Eve at the Bowery Ballroom. 

2008 has been an up-and-down year for Dresden Dolls leading lady Amanda Palmer. Her first foray into solo work appeared this past September in the form of Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, a twelve song set of quirky piano rock. She’s currently collaborating with science-fiction author Neil Gaimon on a story-book companion, due sometime in 2009. But Palmer’s had a fraught relationship with her record label, Roadrunner Records. Roadrunner’s parent company, Warner Bros, recently pulled all of her videos from YouTube in a squabble with the online video behemoth. And in one of the oddest forms of spontaneous protest of this year, after a meeting with her A&R person went sour over Palmer’s exposed midriff, her fans snapped up pictures of their own stomachs: More than a few read “Fuck Roadrunner.”–Michael D. Ayers

How’ve the holidays been?

The holidays completely blew. I’ve had a really, really terrible Christmas, which has never happened to me before.

What happened?

[laughs] Oh, well…really dramatic relationship problems coupled with dramatic family problems coupled with total exhaustion from tour equals one really depressing Christmas.

No fun gifts or anything?

No, I got some good stuff. But the material excitement doesn’t overshadow the emotional agony [laughs].

This whole year seems to have been so drama filled for you. With the record label stuff, and now this, you can’t seem to escape it.

It has definitely been a heavy-duty year. When I was on tour, it felt like a week could not go by where something dramatic did not happen. I don’t know why that is. But a lot of people have told me that it’s been like that for a lot of people. I think it’s been a hard couple of months for everyone around.

What are your hopes for 2009?

I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m actually planning on starting from scratch after I get dropped from the label, which will hopefully happen in June. I’m planning on completely starting over with this record; I think it’s too good to just let it go. One of the most depressing things over the last month is watching myself pop up on all these year-end lists. But all of these year-end lists that I’m popping up on are “Most Overlooked Record of 2008.” And I’m like, “God, the record is so good and nobody knows about it.” I feel totally powerless. And I’m just thinking, “the music industry has totally changed, the way the game is played has totally changed. I’m just going to sit here and bide my time and just wait.” And come next year, I’m just going to start from scratch. And it feels rather liberating to give yourself permission to do that.

Looking back, why do you think your record wound up in the overlooked category?

The label did absolutely nothing to promote the record. They barely got it into the stores. They just did nothing. I’d hate to think I live in a world where I think things will magically happen. I know that it needs to be promoted. But it’s kind of cool now, the record is growing. It’s spreading and word of mouth is causing awesome things. But that’s a slow process. The record didn’t get sent to radio, there was no postering, and no campaigns.

I can only assume this would weigh on someone’s mind.

Well, the thing with the label, just to make it clear, because I don’t want to just bitch about how they didn’t promote the record–although I could bitch about that for hours. I sat down with them this year and I finally came to the crystal clear understanding that they want me to be a completely different artist. They were holding out hope that I would do something commercial. I sat down with them and said, “Listen guys, I don’t think we understand each other. If you’re expecting a commercial artist you’re blind. That’s not what Amanda Palmer does.” And I think that is the more fundamental point. They can decide to promote or record or not. That’s neither here nor there. It could have to do with money, schedules, or stuff. But if they are sitting there, hoping that at some point I’m going to wander over to my piano and write a huge commercial pop song, tapping their fingers waiting for that day, then that’s a flawed relationship. I’m just never going to sit down and write something intentionally to make money. I think they don’t get that or refuse to believe me or both [laughs]. That’s the more important thing to point out. It’s not something petty like they didn’t promote the record; it’s that they didn’t get the artist.

Sounds like this New Years show came together quickly?

Yes, it did.

Has it been hectic getting prepared?

[laughs]. No, no it’s been fun. I’m a professional party thrower. You could actually tell me today that I need to do a New Years party, and I could probably put together something decent. And the fans bring most of the energy anyways. It’s not like we are doing hours and hours of planning bizarre decorations. But we are going to do some interesting stuff. One of the things that I’m looking forward to, since we’re doing the late slot because Patti Smith has the actual midnight slot – we’re throwing a private party for 60 of the fans. And those tickets sold out in like 24 hours when we put them on sale. That’s in Brooklyn, at someone’s loft- and then we’re herding them in the subway and taking them over to the Bowery around 1am. And that is going to be really fun.

Are you playing at that party?

Yeah, I’m going to play, and we’re going to do a strange New Years ritual that I can’t talk about because it’s a secret.

People have such a love/hate relationship with this holiday. What’s been your take on it?

You know, I’ve never hated the holiday. New Years usually isn’t a fantastic night for me, but honestly the last seven years, I’ve had a gig. And I feel like I’m on the other side of being at work on New Years. But before that, I always felt that New Years, and Christmas too. God, what’s that word, when you shoot someone full of drugs? It’s just pumped full of bloated expectations. If you think of that word, insert it.

I’ll do that.

Everybody is so manically, desperately trying to have a good time that it’s almost impossible to feel like the time is authentic. And I think that goes on with Christmas- everybody has these great, nostalgic memories, and then you get together, and fake the aura. But I like it, because you look at these things, and it stirs you in the present moment, to actually think, “How do I negotiate my life in this moment?”

When I think about it, I’d rather spend New Years in a room with five people and bottles of wine, rather than a room with 5,000 people getting wasted. [starts laughing] I can sum up my entire holiday experience. On the morning of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, I got in my car–it was maybe noon–and I was driving to yoga from my house. In the next lane a guy in a truck opened his driver side door, and just projectile vomited while he was driving. All over the street. And it wasn’t a short moment; it lasted like 20 seconds. And he was able to keep his eyes on the road the whole time. And I was like “Wow,” that’s how I feel, except I’m not throwing up.

Vomit, huh?

I hope that didn’t depress you too much.