Interview: Amanda Palmer on Art, Music And Communication

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Amanda Palmer is a singer, songwriter, filmmaker, playwright, and all-round artist who has had a career ranging from a street statue to a punk-rock cabaret band and everything in between. 

Ahead of her tour to the UK this autumn, SCAN caught up with Amanda Palmer about her new album There Will Be No Intermission. The record is raw and personal, covering a wide range of topical issues on a haunting solo piano.

First of all, how are you? 

Thank you for asking, it’s always such a nice question to hear. I’m really, really tired! Neil [Gaiman] has sleep apnea, and sometimes when you combine a husband with a three-year-old child, they will keep you up all night. So I am a tired motherfucker. 

Then thank you so much for taking the time to do this! 

Would you mind telling us a little bit about your new album, for those who don’t know?

Have you listened to it yet? What did you think? 

I liked it, though it feels very different from some of your previous work. It’s very-time appropriate. 

Yes, it is. I am incredibly proud of this record, I feel like it is the most honest and vulnerable, most direct record I’ve ever put out. 

That’s definitely something that comes through in the songs. Are there any tracks that stick out for you? 

If I had to go back in time and erase every song except one, it would probably be Voicemail for Jill. I’ve talked about how difficult it was to write that song, and how it took me 25 years to find the way to write about abortion that didn’t feel too preachy or too sentimental. Only after being in Dublin for the appeal, I wrapped my head around a voice for the song. Figuring out how to write that song felt like my white whale, it was a song that I’ve been trying to write since I was 17 years old. 

That must have felt incredible to write. 

Yes, it did. As a songwriter you wait for those moments, hoping they’ll happen at least once a decade, so you have at least four or five great songs in your career. 

I wanted to ask about the book that comes with the album because that’s something quite unusual.

It’s not so unusual for me because I’ve released a book with nearly every album. I love creating visual art to go along with the music, and there’s always more to say. I don’t think anyone would ever define me as a woman who lets her music speaks for herself. I do a lot of talking and communicating about the songs. I write daily on my blog, not to mention a TED talk. The book gives an album a kind of textual landscape to live in makes listening to the album more satisfying. Once you know where the songs came from and the ingredients that went into them, it gives you that deeper, more personal understanding. 

Like having a recipe to how the song was made. 

Exactly. 

Is that something you think artists should have more of, that narrative that goes along with their work? 

I have come way too far in my evolution as an artist ever to claim the opinion that I know what would be good for another artist. I think every artist is so completely unique in terms of their language, their level of direct or indirect communication, their attire. 

It becomes more and more evident to me that any artist prescribing a path to another artist is automatically an asshole. It’s not why we’re artists! We’re artists because we’re called by unseen forces, we don’t take prescriptions or at least good artists don’t. I don’t listen to what other artists tell me to do and, God willing, they don’t listen to me. 

That’s interesting because I wanted to quickly talk about your collaborations with other artists like Jasmine Power and ‘Mr Weinstein Will See You Now’. 

I would love to talk about it. There is real incredible pleasure and satisfaction in producing high quality, topical art, and releasing it immediately. Using platforms like Patreon has given me financial and artistic freedom to create tracks without having to work with a major label. They are put together in the space of weeks and months instead of months or years. 

As your songs are so topical, do you ever worry that your songs will become less relevant over time? 

It’s not something that bothers me. I write songs that have current references in them, and I write songs that could have been written in 1940 or 2040. I don’t think it’s so wise for artists to be concerned about their legacy. 

I like responding to the moment. I released a song about gun violence two weeks ago, and the time between me writing the song and releasing it was 72 hours. That was always possible on the internet, but it was impossible to get paid. Patreon was a game-changer, it’s a brilliant new phenomenon. It allows me to be totally independent. 

Has having Pateron changed how you produce music?

Knowing that I’ve got 15,000 patrons who unconditionally support my work, no matter what I have to say or what media I choose, is deeply liberating. Making art with those supporters gives you a voice that you do not have when you’re an artist who knows you’ll have to take your final product into the market place and hawk it. Patreon affords me the luxury to write authentically, with a braver voice, because I know that whatever I write it is coming out. There is no way my art can fail because it’s paid for. It might not have millions of views on YouTube, but that’s not my measure of success any more. 

And what is your measure of success? 

It’s whether or not I’m working. 

So what about when you’re not working?

I’m wise enough to know that if you work all the time, your work will be bad. I spend plenty of time not actively making art and making oatmeal for my son and reading him books and supporting my friends. I have to find pleasure in life because if I don’t, I will have nothing worthwhile to say as an artist. 

It’s a tough tightrope to walk. Once you’re being crowdfunded, you can start to feel very guilty when you take any time off, but that’s insane. The 15,000 people who support me do not want me to suffer, they want me to enjoy my life and create art. Walking that gauntlet is difficult, even for me who has been doing that for 10 years. 

As we’re nearly out of time, I’ll ask one more question. In your song ‘Drowning in the Sound’, you say ‘the media is fake, it’s just very inconvenient’. How do you find this process press interaction? Is it something you look forward to?

Yes, I like doing interviews because I like talking to people. That lyric is an arrow particularly aimed at the President of the United States, and less based on my experiences. I love human beings, and the media is made up of human beings, so I could never say I hate them. I feel terrible for the press right now, I think the internet has created and destroyed a lot of things, and the media is trying to right itself on a tilting ship. I appreciate all the work and research that goes into it, so thank you.

Amanda’s tour is from October – November this year, including Manchester on 4th November. For more information, head to her website.

Ruth-Anne Walbank

My name is Ruth, and I'm the Editor of SCAN for 2019-20. I have been the Arts and Culture Editor in 2018-19, and the Deputy Arts and Culture Editor before that. I've written over 80 articles for SCAN across a variety of sections.
If you have any questions about the newspaper, feel free to message me!

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