I was originally scheduled to interview Amanda Palmer a few weeks back, right as she was in the middle of the mass media tornado surrounding her most recent album, Theatre is Evil and more importantly it seemed, the Grand Theft Orchestra. However, an hour before the interview was to go ahead, a Tweet from Palmer would notify the Australian journalists set to talk with her that the singer songwriter had cancelled all committments in favour of attending a Garbage concert. Fast forward to now and I finally have Palmer on the phone to talk about the album, the state of music today and how much of a rock goddess Shirley Manson actually is.
Thanks for your time Amanda – how have you been?
I’m good, how are you?
Good thanks! It’s great to talk with you finally, have you been busy today?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been a weird brand of pre-tour busy, which is a different kind of busy! But yeah, busy trying to enjoy my time at home before I leave for a month.
I have to ask, how was Garbage?
Garbage! Oh Garbage was amazing, it was actually medicinal because I was actually having a really rough time and that the fact that that all happened coincidentally via Twitter…You know, literally, within 15 minutes I was sitting down to have dinner alone and trying to get my head together, then 15 minutes later, I’m standing in front of Shirley Manson watching the band play. Sometimes it can be really lonely to be a rock star on the road, going through whatever personal hell you’re going through and sometimes there’s no better antidote than encountering somebody else up there onstage, loudly speaking their truth.
Honestly, getting to talk to Shirley downstairs…she’d been following what’s been happening to me and she grabbed me down there and was like, "Listen! Let me fucking tell you something! We think it’s shit!" and it was like, "Oh right! I’m not alone, there are all these people who think like me and work like me and accept me". Your fans are one thing, but when Shirley Manson pulls you aside and shakes you and tells you you’re doing just fine and everyone else is full of shit, it’s really affirming. [Laughs]
Definitely. I remember seeing the tweet from you saying you were going to see Garbage when the Australian interviews were scheduled to go down and thinking, "You know, what if I was going to be stood up for anyone, I think Shirley Manson would be one of the only people I’d be alright with."!
[Laughs] You know what, I figured that whatever journalists I was cancelling on would understand.
Yep, I’m planning on seeing them when they come out here next year – it’s one of the shows I’m more excited about for 2013!
Yeah, she is a fucking class act, that woman.
Totally. Now, congratulations on the Theatre is Evil - I’ve managed to have a few listens to it now and it’s such an album to get your head around, but it’s an awesome trip too.
You seem to be involved in so many different projects – how did you manage to sit down and commit the time to making the Theatre of Evil?
Well that’s the big challenge of being a hyper-connected artist; you still need to have the discipline to turn everything off and write. You still need to have the discipline to turn everything off and create and record. The challenge doesn’t go away and the balance just gets harder and the urge to connect gets stronger, which precipitates an urge to create, which precipitates an urge to connect and all of a sudden you wonder what the fuck you’re supposed to be doing with your time. You know, these songs didn’t all come flooding in one giant pre-packaged pile; I wrote them over the course of years and each one of them signifies a moment in time where I had the discipline to turn everything off and sit down at the piano and bang something out.
You’ve always been a very global performer – I would guess that having so many contacts in different parts of the world helped massively, not just in the creation of this album, but in most of your career?
I suppose, if anything’s to come out of the entire furore of late, it’s that people will be going to research and perhaps check Theatre of Evil out!
Yeah, I’ve definitely been on a wild ride for the last couple of months! I’m so used to being in the confines of my own beautiful, accepting, little art circus; coming out of it and having to deal with all these factors has been really challenging. It’s been fascinating, and when I get really zen about it and sit back, it’s no problem, but when I get caught up in it, it’s frustrating.
I definitely hit a real raw nerve that I had no idea I would hit because I’ve been functioning this way for years. Everyone has always been so ecstatic, me and my fans, and it’s unsettling when somebody who doesn’t understand your community comes in and passes judgement on you.
I read your letter posted in response to the original that kicked this whole debate off and I agree with many points – especially when it comes to sacrificing a lot of money to play for with some of your idols and how a lot of your work would go unpaid. I drew parallels between those formative years of your career and my own as a music journalist. I don’t get paid for most of the work I do, but the people you meet and the connections you establish through work you love is just part of the trade, right?
I couldn’t agree with you more. [Laughs]
The strong and fiercely loyal fan base that you’ve cultivated over the years have just been so unwavering in their support of you through it all, it seems.
Actually no, I don’t think I’d want the kind of fan base who would just unequivocally accept what I did. I think I’d be more frightened of them if they didn’t seem to have brains and critical thinking capacities; part of what I love about my fan base is that they’re really smart and they’re really critical and really sharp. You know, they’re really open to what I do, but they’re also very quick to tell me their opinions. I’d much rather have a handful of my fans criticise me or give me honest feedback about what they like and what they don’t like, than just have them blinding embracing every step I take because then I wouldn’t feel creative. Then I would feel like I could just take a shit and put it in a box and send it to them and they’d be happy – I don’t want to work that way! [Laughs] I want to be challenged and I want to make art that people are actively responding to. I don’t want to be manufacturing a product and sending it out to robots, you know?
My opinion exactly. I was thinking about this the other day, actually; I was reading about pop artists these days churning out album after album, like Rihanna, who’s about to release her, I think it’s, seventh album in eight years. It seems like that part of the industry is turning more and more into, like you say, a big machine.
Yeah, I know what you mean!
After seeing a few of your shows over the years, you can really pick up on the connection between the artist and the audience that can sometimes escape other artists’ approach to performance.
Yeah, well I mean, pop music…there’s always been the kinds of fans who have been into the fair-weather pop music and the kinds of fans who are into folk music and kinds of fans who are into classical music and they all have their own ways of creating their own connections and creating their own communities. My fan base is really hard to understand if you don’t know them, because they aren’t easy to pin down, they aren’t a stereotype and that makes it really confusing for everybody, but I think it’s also why it’s beautiful and why it works.
Living in Adelaide, the Amanda Palmer experience reminds me of going to a Fringe show, almost.
Yeah, exactly! I think that’s the thing, part of going to an Amanda Palmer show is that, even if your life is on the average side, you’ve made a pact with all the other show-goers that this night is not going to be fucking average. You’re not going to look average, you’re not going to feel average – you’re going to participate and you’re going to enter magic land! [Laughs] That’s how people feel about Fringe, you want to create a hyper-experience that doesn’t resemble the real world.
You’re making your way back out to Australia soon – it doesn’t feel that long since you’ve been away! What has it been about Australia and Australians that you’ve connected with the most over the past few years?
I think the thing I’m most connected to in Australia is the people. I really genuinely love the attitude of the Australians. I’ve travelled all over the world and there’s no place where I feel more socially at home than in Australia. [Laughs].
Do you think you’ll be incorporating some more ninja gigs in again when you’re back here?
If time permits, but we’re on a pretty crazy schedule! It’s not like my last Australian tour where I was totally solo; I’ve got a gigantic crew with me this time. Last time I had a crew of one, this time I have a crew of nine, so we’re moving through the country pretty fast. Where I have opportunities to ninja, I shall ninja.
Excellent stuff. Thanks so much for your time Amanda, the excitement for your next tour is buzzing!
We’re really excited.
It’s good to hear that you’re doing a bit better now!
[Laughs] Yeah well it’s definitely been an amazing journey, this particular record. One of the other things I’m really excited about coming back to Australia is just to be able to bring the album back to the place that we made it. We tracked this record in Melbourne and it’s sort of like we’re finally giving birth to this thing that we’ve worked on in the place that we made it and that feels incredibly special.
Amazing. Well have a great day or night, wherever you happen to be, and we’ll catch you soon.
Thank you so much.