Last week a phone call came out of the blue: Would I like to do a phone interview with Amanda Palmer? Leaving all available analogies of how much I would like to do that aside, I leaped to my feet and declared that I would thank you, very much. After a couple of hits and misses, I ended up on Skype with Amanda Palmer herself, with whom I then had an incredibly nice, honest, open and down-to-earth chat, which I enjoyed hugely.
Amanda’s latest album There Will Be No Intermission came out earlier this year and she will be touring Germany with it in September (dates at end of article).
indieBerlin: Amanda Palmer, nice to speak to you. So are you…at home right now? Wherever that is?
Amanda Palmer: Well I live in upstate New York with my weird husband but we’re currently in my husband’s vacation house in Scotland.
indieBerlin: Really? Must be amazing.
Amanda Palmer: It’s really up north in the highlands and it is Neil’s absolute favourite place to be in the universe and I always sink into a really difficult depression when I’m here (laughs)…and I’m not joking.
So I find it really really difficult to be up here and he loves it and it’s one of the Rohrschachs of our relationship, of where we…we always get here and find ourselves in a room staring at each other going, why the fuck did we get married?
indieBerlin: But those moments are also important, I think.
Amanda Palmer: They’re certainly galvanizing forces on the pathway of love.
indieBerlin: (laughs) Cool. So – I’ve got a list of questions to ask you but I thought it’d be nice to ask you what’s on your mind – is there something fascinating you at the moment?
Amanda Palmer: Well…I’ve had a really incredible couple of years. I’ve grown artistically and as a human being in more leaps and bounds in the last two years than I have in my entire career.
It’s a strange combination of things. I feel more at peace within myself than I ever have, and strangely you could chalk that up to the loss of my mentor, who died right around the time my child was born – which really sent me into a storm of self-preservation and grief and reality, that I’d never had to deal with before.
Everything just kind of burst open and then became really clear
indieBerlin: Must have been really weird to have that grief and your child being born at the same time.
Amanda Palmer: Those two things happened within two months of each other and it literally was like walking through a fire of emotion, and yet – that was all quite profound – but it wasn’t until about two years later when I was still in the storm of all of that grief and new motherhood, and then having a miscarriage was actually…the last test in the final exam of zen (laughs). Like I really finally, bizarrely, walked into my power as an artist, as a woman, as a feminist, as a voice…there was something about that experience, and about going through it alone, which I coincidentally wound up doing, and everything since then – my tour, my album coming out, the interactions I have with strangers, the interactions I have with my fans, everything feels much more centered. As I spent my entire childhood, teenage and career trying to figure out who I really was, and then I didn’t really settle down into who I was and what my job really was until I had that miscarriage. Everything just kind of burst open and then became really clear.
indieBerlin: That sounds strange, it was obviously a very traumatic experience but it sounds like it pushed you into being more whole in a way…how does that work?
Amanda Palmer: I think if you talk to psychologists, philosophers, psychiatrists, there is something incredibly powerful about grief. It can wipe the film off your eyes in a way that bumping along in your ordinary mundane life cannot do. Experiencing tragedy – your own, a profound loss, a child dying, any kind of real trauma, it shakes you, it shakes your life. It reformats all the pieces of your life and if you’re lucky you can take all of the pieces and put them back together in a way that it gives you a brand of power that you didn’t have before the traumatic event.
Giving birth? Not unpleasant…It was like a really long acid trip with a baby at the end
I know a lot of people who have been thru heavy trauma, abuse, children dying, rapes, real violence, real loss, and it seems that those experiences can shoot you in any direction. They can shoot you into the dark, out of which you never come, or they can shoot you into a new way of being, and I kind of feel that that’s what’s happened with the miscarriage, because in a weird way, everyone kept telling me this cliche, that having a child would change me, but: I had been thru 3 different experiences with abortion, none of which I found particularly traumatising, I found them difficult and complicated, but not traumatising. Also childbirth wasn’t traumatising. I didn’t even find it unpleasant, just surreal and bizarre, it was like a really long acid trip with a baby at the end (laughs)
But losing a child is a baby that you want, that is traumatic. But I’ve been thru a lot of death in my life…I’ve lost my brother, I’ve lost boyfriends, I’ve seen death, stood next to it. But there waas something about this, having learned what I have about how the world treats women, and their narrative about trauma, and it was like I had this miscarriage, and all the pieces I’d learned about myself and about this culture fell into place. And it was like I woke up to this giant voice in my head that said oh my god, you’re allowed to have your own experience, your own narrative; you’ve been following this script and following the narrative of western culture for forty plus years, but you’re so much more powerful than everyone has always told you. And this is true for every woman that I know. And that’s a big part of what I take out on the road with me, and it’s a big part of the show. Reminding everybody, women and men – but especially women, these days – that this whole culture is geared up towards making us fearful, when in fact we’re so much more equipped to deal with life than we’re told.
indieBerlin: Why do you think that society is made to make us fearful? Why would that be?
Amanda Palmer: I could give you the long answer…but the very short answer is: capitalism. Any system that is constructed on the sorts of rules that demand that people feel afraid in order to consume, you’re going to have problems.
indieBerlin: But you do have a child, don’t you?
Amanda Palmer: Yeah, I do. I had a child in 2015, two months after Anthony died. I love him dearly – he’s also rearranged my life. And Neil is a fantastic, devoted father. We’ve been going through a whole new evolution of trying to figure out how to be two busy, in-demand artists who want to travel and tour and write, and how to make time to raise this little being and it’s…challenging; but it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. I’m finding it very easy these days to put work aside and raise this kid, because I know how life works. I mean, we’re really lucky. We’re privileged, we have money…the first abortion I had, I was 17, that child would have finished college by now but I would have had a very different life. I’m sure I would still have been an artist, but I would have had to deal with a whole different set of struggles.
I don’t edit as much, I don’t fuck around as much, I don’t tweak as much
indieBerlin: Yeah…I have children too and I found that having these sudden time constraints actually ended up making me more productive…
Amanda Palmer: Yeah, you’re right. So many people told me that would happen, and they were 100% right. You really do start to economise your creative time. I don’t edit as much, I don’t fuck around as much, I don’t tweak as much, but I’ve also found, the nice thing about that – and that’s really reflected in this record – I’m a much better songwriter than I was 20 years ago. I don’t second guess myself. I trust my decisions a lot more. When I write a line, I’m more likely to leave it than I was when I was when I was 25. And that’s because I’m a better pre-editor in my head. I edit while I write instead of writing draft after draft. I don’t throw away anything anymore. If it comes out of me I use it.
So, that’s a great function of Patreon. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that my Patreon was born right around the time that Anthony died. And I cannot overstate the profound effect of having an army of 15,000 paying patrons has had on my artwork, because I just don’t need to give any shits about commercial success. None. It’s so liberating. And again I’ve found myself feeling frustrated because I want every artist to work this way and so many artists just don’t…they’re just very afraid of patronage and afraid of the transparency and afraid of the direct relationship. But I actually find it the most delicious, satisfying way of making art.
indieBerlin: That’s also one thing I really wanted to ask you about – because a lot of our readers are independent musicians, and I find that whole thing very interesting myself – it’s this 10,000 true fans idea – but you say that a lot of musicians don’t embrace that. What would you say to an independent musician starting out or trying to get somewhere now, in that sense – be more transparent, be more naked…?
On Kickstarter: “people were suddenly psychologically open to the idea of having a direct relationship with an artist, instead of just walking into a record store and buying their record for 20 bucks, 80c of it, if the artist was lucky, is going to make it to them – and then there’s taxes.”
Amanda Palmer: I just think when you’re working for corporations who don’t have your creative interest at the front of their priorities you will always get into trouble. And it used to be that there was just simply no alternative. Until the two thousands, there was just no other model. In the 80s and 90s you could be an independent musician because you could press your own CDs…you could be Ani Franco and sell your CDs off your website…and have your own distribution deal and you could always sell merch at shows, but you couldn’t tap 15,000 people easily, to just give you money every month to support your work.
The possibility was there, but the technology wasn’t. Kickstarter really changed everything, changed the way art-appreciating human creatures looked at how and why artists needed sustainable support. And so Kickstarter was kind of a stepping stone to Patreon, because once people had given their money to Kickstarter and figured out that you can directly trust an artist and can have a relationship with them and they’ll work, and send you your thing, then people were suddenly psychologically open to the idea of having a direct relationship with an artist, instead of just walking into a record store and buying their record for 20 bucks, 80c of it, if the artist was lucky, is going to make it to them – and then there’s taxes.
indieBerlin: Yeah – I think something like that has to happen for people to turn around and go, oh, you can actually do it..
Amanda Palmer: Yeah: take wheels on suitcases! I mean how did it take us this fucking long…we’ve always had suitcases and we’ve always had wheels (laughs), but to put them together…
indieBerlin: so you sound quite optimistic of the direction of the music industry?
Amanda Palmer: I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the industry. The “industry” is just a bunch of people. Until the cultural paradigm really shifts away from capitalism-based music and a capitalism-based notion of art, we’re always going to be stuck, because there’s always going to be a middleman to come along and sweep away the vast majority of the profit from the artist, and their supporters. But at least we know now that the tools are available. And for people who have voices that are really uncommercial, my prayer is that this kind of crowdfunding, patronage, support, will help those voices to burst through the commercial paradigm.
indieBerlin: Singles or albums? You’ve come out with an album so I assume you’re thinking albums, but a lot of people these days just put out single after single after single, but are packages – collections of songs – relevant?
Amanda Palmer: I actually began this album as a collection of singles I put out on the internet. Most of them came out as demos and then I got to a point where I decided that, partly because of the way it ties everything into one package, partly because it’s useful when you go to hit the road – and partly because I still believe in a good concept record, and this record was made to make one statement.
I wrote a ton of material in the last 7 years that did not go on this record because it didnt fit this concept, this being a really personal memoiristic, reflective record. I wrote a ton of material that might turn into Dresden Dolls songs, some pop songs, and some that will never see the light of day, but these songs were chosen for a fucking reason – they really make sense together. They are the most un-metaphored, un-poetic, direct assertive, truth-telling folk songs that I wrote during this really difficult period of my life. And I wanted the record to be a catchup and a gift, a catchup with my community.
Again the wonderful thing about Patreon, I knew that this album would make me a little bit of money, and it would be a great banner to put over a tour, but the vast majority of my income isn’t coming from the sales of this record, it’s coming from my patrons: who are giving me money each month to create and work and tour and record and think and write and make videos …and the freedom that that gives me to make the album that I want to make, not the album that I think is going to sell. That’s been the biggest gift back to me.
indieBerlin: That’s really interesting. The way you describe why you put together a collection of songs, it’s exactly the one reason to make an album – when all the songs fit together.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah, it’s hard to describe the emotional shift when working as a songwriter, but my god, when you don’t have that little voice in the back of your head saying, I’m going to have to sell this to someone, it is the most creatively relieving, liberating feeling to just be sitting there writing a song knowing that I won’t have to sell it, I won’t have to pitch it, even if I package it, it’s pre-sold. There are people out there who already believe in me, will pay for this, who want to hear what I have to say, and my best effort is good enough, and that’s – god, it’s so exciting to be able to have that, after 20 years, with that little niggling voice in the back of my head that’s going, oh, you’re going to have to find a way to sell this song…
Every artist I know struggles with this balance between commerce and creativity, and yet it’s a really shameful topic
indieBerlin: It’s really great to talk to someone who’s so excited and inspired – how you sound…it’s quite rare.
Amanda Palmer: Yeah well the marriage of art and survival, selling and making a living, is a really fucking difficult thing for a lot of people. It’s just, one of the most difficult things about it, is that it’s so difficult to talk about it. Every artist I know struggles with this balance between commerce and creativity, and yet it’s a really shameful topic, because most artists feel trapped in that romantic notion that their art is meant to be incredibly pure and you’re a creative, liberated person, and the next second you’re sitting in front of Facebook going, oh my god how do I get people to come to my gig, make people buy this music…and it’s painful paradox. To have to live in that contradiction.
indieBerlin: Is there anything that you would do differently, in hindsight?
Amanda Palmer: (after a pause): No.
indieBerlin: That was the correct answer. You passed the test.
Amanda Palmer: (laughs)
indieBerlin: Do you feel American, European, or does it not matter?
Amanda Palmer: I feel like Amanda Palmer. It doesn’t come up much but I was born in Lexington, Massachusetts, which is the town that the battle against the British began. And I was raised a card-carrying, revolutionary-war-worshipping…but this is liberal Massachusetts, so no one there – at least in my growing-up circle – is defending the 2nd amendment. Which is not what you’d think about a place where people took up arms to de-enslave themselves.
If we’ve learned something globally it’s that human beings are incredibly bad at this
But…I feel distressed about the US and what’s going on there, but not more than I feel distressed about the UK, or about humanity. I don’t think nationalistically. I think about all the suffering people all over the world, and how badly we have fucked this up. I look at America and I feel a lot of hope and a lot of pain. I look at Germany, where I lived and where I studied – I was a German major, I was a holocaust major, I know my fucking history, and I look at what is going on politically in Germany and Austria and France and Brazil and I spent a lot of time shaking my head going, oh my god how are we letting this happen?
The interesting thing is it’s not like we haven’t learned. If we’ve learned something globally it’s that human beings are incredibly bad at this (laughs).
indieBerlin: With so much practice…
Amanda Palmer: We’re bad at life, we’re bad at organising, we’re bad at getting along, and maybe like all moments of real growth, maybe we need a global acceptance of how bad we are at this shit and then maybe we can turn it around and figure it out.
indieBerlin: Do you think we’re going to figure it out?
Amanda Palmer: I don’t think it’s useful to try and augur the future. I think our job as artists; and our job as women; is just: tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. There’s no faster mainline to propping up and fixing up what is wrong without first exposing and undoing the giant knot and mess of patriarchy and capitalism and the systems that haven’t served us and haven’t worked for us.
indieBerlin: Well. There we have it. Amanda Palmer: thanks.
Amanda Palmer is on tour through Europe and specifically through Germany in September, tour dates are below, click this link to buy tickets
Friday 06 September 2019
Amanda Palmer – Admiralspalast, Berlin, Germany
Wednesday 11 September 2019
Amanda Palmer – Alte Kongresshalle, Munich, Germany
Friday 13 September 2019
Amanda Palmer – Capitol Offenbach, Offenbach, Germany
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.