Who Killed Amanda Palmer? An Interview with the Queen of Punk Cabaret

by Lisa Lamb
amanda palmer - photo by Lenka Sindelarova

[Related: Amanda Palmer @ The Tivoli, 1 March 2009 : Photo Gallery]

Amanda Palmer embarked on a rock star journey from the age of four when her mother sat her on her lap and taught her to play piano by ear. With no formal musical training and a strong interest in drama, she explored dark cabaret, gothic burlesque and surreal musical theatre as the lead singer of The Dresden Dolls. Then embarked on a solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, which pays homage to David Lynch (Twin Peaks) from a girl who doesn’t watch TV. She is a walking contradiction, part truth, part fiction and always entertaining. Her shows are not so much gigs as an experience and once the audience have the “experience” they are happy to spread the word.
Lisa: Amanda, you originally started out busking, doing street theatre and performing as a live statue, how did you start busking and has this influenced your later work?

Amanda: I didn’t want a normal job and I saw a bunch of street performers and thought: I could do that, easy. So I busked through Boston, then Europe. I originally came to Australia to street perform at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2000.
Lisa: Was it successful?

Amanda: Not at all. I made no money, but I did meet some amazing people. Jason Webley, who introduced me to Neil Gaimen and an actress from Zen Zen Zo in Brisbane, who I asked to be my opening act when I toured with The Dolls in 2005. This led me to meeting Steven Mitchell Wright from The Danger Ensemble, the physical theatre troupe I now perform with.
Lisa: Is it true The Danger Ensemble perform with you for free?

Amanda: I can’t afford to pay them, so we have been touring for five months cutting costs wherever we can, staying with fans and handing out donation baskets after the show, sometimes the fans even bring food in. This system has been working well, if it didn’t they wouldn’t be here, so far they have been making more money from tips than their regular jobs.
Lisa: Your show looks very well rehearsed. Is there any room for improvisation?

Amanda: Yes, lots. The Danger Ensemble pieces are very well rehearsed, but we change the set list every night and I play different solo stuff to keep it fresh and stop myself from becoming bored. This tour also includes Zoe Keating from California, who is like a one woman orchestra, armed with a Cello and a laptop, she keeps things interesting .
Lisa: How was working with Ben Folds on your solo album?

Amanda: Well, Brian and I needed to take a break from The Dresden Dolls. My solo album was going to be a much smaller project until Ben got involved. He’d written a fan-mail to the Dolls website, just to reach out and say he was a fan. We got together to hang out a few weeks later in Australia, and we just hit it off like instant friends. He offered me use of his studio in Nashville whenever I wanted, and when I mentioned my little solo record, he asked if I wanted him to produce it? It was a great match, he is wonderful to work with, a total creative genius.
Lisa: You also worked with writer Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Good Omens ), how was that experience?

Amanda: Neil is an insanely generous artist, he loved my music and said yes he’d write the book to accompany the CD. Its a series of photos of me dead with Neil’s words. It’s a limited edition only 10,000 copies, I suspect Neil’s fans shall buy all of them.
Lisa: Who inspires you musically?

Amanda: Everybody and everything I am listening to. I am inspired by musicians who have no regard to how music should sound, who are just passionate about doing what they want. Do you know Opera Burlesque performer Ali McGregor? I saw her perform Creep by Radiohead on an autoharp at La Clique, it was so beautiful. I bought a very cheap ukulele and taught myself to play, just for that song.
Lisa: Do you intend doing more shows with the Dresden Dolls?

Amanda: Yes, not sure when and where. We are planning dates for 2010.
We miss playing with each other.

With special guests Zoe Keating (Aus only) & Lyndon Chester (Aus only excl SA)

Sunday 1 March The Tivoli, Brisbane 18+
Ticketek 132 849 or www.ticketek.com.au

[Related: Amanda Palmer @ The Tivoli, 1 March 2009 : Photo Gallery]