As the mouthpiece for Brechtian pop duo the Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer epitomized the idea of the everyman artist: the group’s rabble-friendly antics incorporated everything from acrobatics and pantomime to avant-garde performance art and cabaret. Since the duo went on indefinite hiatus in 2007, Palmer has had no shortage of co-conspirators: her solo debut, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, was produced by Ben Folds; her recent stage adaptation of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is being buzzed all over the Internet; and a book project with bestselling novelist Neil Gaiman is just weeks from release. (Check them out at Housing Works later this month.)
That’s not to say Palmer is without any enemies. At odds with Roadrunner Records over the supposed “unmarketability” of her album, she’s made a series of very public demands to be dropped. Here, Palmer sets the record straight on whether the Dresden Dolls will return, and reveals exclusively to Flavorpill what went down the last time she met her label’s boss for dinner.
Flavorpill: Do you think of yourself as an artist, or as a musician, as someone who’s involved with theater, in literary endeavors, things like that.
Amanda Palmer: I don’t really think much about it. I know how I don’t feel. I don’t really feel like a songwriter, even though I do it all the time… I certainly don’t feel like a piano player. I feel like a hack in all of those categories. I’m also not an actress, and I’m not really a director. I’m not really a writer. But I do all of these things… When I clean my apartment, I clean one fork and one spoon, and then I go thumb through a book on the floor. I used to think that was fucked up, but now I realize that just how I work. I don’t feel so guilty anymore. And, you know, eventually it’s clean. The people that I saw when I was a kid, my idols – Cyndi Lauper and Prince, David Bowie – those people were never just doing one thing. I was lured into that particular job.
FP: Do you feel like that is the job now? It seems that, in your recent interactions with you label, that’s NOT the job the want you to be doing.
AP: [laughing] I don’t think that has to do with the conflict actually. Think they would be perfectly happy for me to be a “multimedia artist” as long as it was commercially viable and they understood how to market it to teenagers and sell a million records alongside it.
FP: That leads to the big question: why’d you sign with those guys in the first place? Given the other bands on that label, it seemed like a doomed proposition.
AP: The sad truth of it is that back when we signed, we had been blowing up and I had been running our own label and touring at the same time. I was just exhausted; I had been running on fumes for months and months and months. The band was doing well… and nobody would sign us. You can name any fucking indie label, the whole laundry list. They got a package from us, and every single one said the same thing: “We don’t get it; we don’t do Goth bands.”
FP: I’ve read that you might do some dates as Dresden Dolls in 2010. Now that you’ve gone solo, can you go back to working that way?
AP: I could if I wanted to. Brian is basically just the world’s most incredible one-man band. I think it would be incredibly easy to go back to orchestrating with Brian. Whether or not we’re going to do that, I don’t know. We both seem to have found our own solo groups and we both have to agree we’re a lot happier not together. Our personalities clashed so terribly… It’s a really hard one: “How much do you want to suffer?”
FP: So it’s over?
AP: I definitely would love to play with Brian again because the experience of playing with him his incredible and sublime; it’s like the best music sex I’ve ever had. But, the idea of a long commitment where we make a recording together — I think it may be a really long time before he and I decide that that is worth the strife that we bring on each other.
FP: It seems that that’s taught you to be very, very outspoken in you unhappiness with you label. What’s the status? Are you going to be able to escape?
AP: Status is officially unhappy.
FP: I saw a release from them that said they couldn’t be happier with you.
AP: I think that they’d probably say that now. That’s them being them. My contract is up for its next option on June 15th, and I’m hoping and praying that on that day or sometime that week the Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer as a solo entity will be released from the shackles of the label… I’ve tried to make it as clear as possible in as many ways as possible that the relationship isn’t really working out.
FP: You certainly have…
AP: The thing that’s difficult about the label is that it isn’t a person. It is a corporation. Their bottom line is making money, and that is what they base their decisions on… Technology has really been on my side lately, the fact that a couple of hundred thousand of people in America are listening to my record but only, like, whatever, about 25,000 have actually gone into a store and bought it, that’s awesome. What they’re really going to do is crunch the numbers and say “OK, if we pay 200k for Amanda Palmer to record her next record, and it only sells 30 thousand copies, is it worth the money?” I think they’re going to say, “No fucking way!”
FP: What are the personal interactions like? You’ve written a song about wanting to get dropped and it’s on YouTube; does that make dealing with individuals incredibly awkward?
AP: One of the most painful moments — I’ve never talked about this before in the press — of my fall tour after my record was released was sitting down for dinner one-on-one with the owner of the label. This was about two months after the record had been released and they had done no promotion… The background on this was that the Dresden Dolls were his pet band: he wanted to sign us; he thought we were so creative; he had always championed us in the early days. And we sat down and he said, “So, Amanda, why do you think your record isn’t selling?”
FP: Oh boy….
AP: And I said, “Are you kidding me? I think my record isn’t selling because you aren’t promoting it!” He basically shook his head and said, “You know Amanda, it’s a pity that someone as smart, and pretty, and talented as you can’t make a marketable record”… It was so patronizing, because there was also this element of petting my hand and saying, “Someday you’ll see the light.”
FP: So you didn’t see the light?
AP: I wanted to turn the table over and say, “I am a light, motherfucker!”