Since wrangling free of her Roadrunner Records contract two years ago, former Dresden Dolls frontwoman Amanda Palmer has refashioned her career as a grand DIY experiment: announcing spontaneous concerts over Twitter, recording as conjoined-twin performance artist Evelyn Evelyn, marketing an album of ukulele Radiohead covers for 84 cents. When she decided to make her first independently released studio album, Theatre Is Evil, Palmer turned to her fans for help — and startled the music industry by raising $1.2 million dollars in one month via Kickstarter donations. The record, out this week, does not disappoint. Accompanied by a new band, the Grand Theft Orchestra, Palmer fleshes out her signature cabaret-rock songwriting with flourishes of dark eighties pop. We spoke to Palmer about leading the independent music revolution, how not to tweet at your significant other, and getting naked in her new video.
Theatre Is Evil has a different sound for you. How do you describe where this album has taken you musically, as opposed to where you’ve been before?
The funny thing is, everyone keeps saying the sound is new for me, but actually the sound for me is like getting into a warm bath. I basically recreated the sound that I grew up with. It’s a very eighties and nineties — I mean, I could pretty much point to any song and say, this is a direct combination of The Cars and Depeche Mode, or this is a direct combination of The Cure and My Bloody Valentine, or whatever. It’s a really derivative record, but I think in the best way, because I took my original songs and I put them into the overcoat of the sound of all of my influences. I wound up with an album that sounds like it would have fit right into my collection in the early nineties when I was the most obsessive about music.
You’ve described this album as your most personal, which surprised me, because the songs feel less emotionally raw than some of your previous stuff.
I’d say the songs are definitely a little less angsty.
Not the words I was going to use …
That really is kind of the best way of putting it. I think I worked through a whole variety of demons in my 20s using my songwriting, and it left a whole new level of songwriting to attack … But also, I’m married now, I’m not as strugglingly poor and desperate as I used to be, I’m definitely figuring out my life — I definitely don’t have it figured out — but I do live with this crippling fear that I will head down Boring Artist Road, as I have seen so many of my songwriting heroes do. I look at a lot of people’s careers and I wonder, What is it that made this person boring when they got into their 40s and 50s? And what is it that kept this other person totally vital and interesting? And there’s no blueprint; getting married doesn’t make you boring, having kids doesn’t make you boring, having money doesn’t necessarily have to make you boring. But what is it and how can I make sure I avoid it at all costs? [Laughs]
Let’s talk about nudity.
Funny you should say that. I’m sitting in a beer garden in Brooklyn right now, pretty much naked. [Laughs] Everyone seems to be enjoying it, though! Yeah, there’s applause. It’s all good.
The video for your lead single “Want It Back” features you prominently naked. And it seems like you have really been embracing nudity recently. Did you spring from the “Leeds United” debacle, or does it go hand-in-hand with feeling like you’re more free to put yourself out there?
Ohhh, it had nothing to do with the “Leeds United” debacle. I’ve always been very, very comfortable being naked. In my early 20s I was an artist’s model and a stripper and a run-around-naked kind of person. And I also just like it as a tool in my kit to draw and/or divert attention. As a woman, you’ve got all of these sort of things that can either cripple you, or you can grab the crutch and beat people over the head with it. And I really enjoy playing around with that.
I’m really fascinated with how much you’re able to accomplish over Twitter. It’s funny, New York just ran a Kim Kardashian cover story that talked about how Kim crowd-sources her lip-gloss choices over Twitter —
I’m sorry, she crowd-sources her what?
Ohhh, there’s so many more things you could do. I should tell Kim. [Laughs]
Now normally I wouldn’t compare you to Kim Kardashian, but you’ve both found ways to use this platform to literally mobilize thousands of people.
I really, really love what it’s made possible. And the thing about what you’re able to do, when you’re Kim Kardashian versus when you’re me — it’s funny. It actually comes straight back to that question of taking risks. If you’re willing to take risks, Twitter is a vast amusement park of interesting life possibilities. I mean, I have used Twitter for so many things, from places to stay, places to go, things to do, things I need, medical advice, you name it. Especially when I’m on tour, it really feels like I’m being taken care of by half a million people. It is like having a mom. [Laughs]
Your husband Neil Gaiman is also a big Twitter user, far moreso than most writers, and your entire romance has taken place in front of millions of strangers. Do you ever feel like there are two versions of you as a couple, like this one that people perceive online and then the real one, or is it all part of a continuum?
Oh, it’s definitely like any public-slash-private relationship, we have our things that we expose and share, and we have our things we hide away. Neil and I actually learned this the hard way by really hurting each other’s feelings one day and grumbling at each other passive-aggressively over Twitter, when we were supposed to meet for a lunch and he ditched me and I sent this really passive-aggressive tweet and it really hurt his feelings. And we sat down and talked about it, and said, you know, we have to be really careful about that. It is such a powerful tool to broadcast a message to a million people, and like everything else on the Internet, we’ve both really had to learn how to harness the power and use it for good. It is so easily abused and it’s so easily used for evil. And that can be difficult sometimes; when we hit bumpy spots in the road, it can be very tempting to go to your sympathetic crowd of a million people and say, “Wow, my husband was a real dick today.”