Amanda Palmer interviewed by Alina Simone

I was first made aware of Amanda Palmer many years ago by singer/writer Alina Simone, who I’d met through an open mic night in Hoboken, NJ. The two had been friends since middle school, and Amanda was on the verge of gaining fame beyond the Boston music scene. Hearing the music of Amanda’s band, The Dresdon Dolls, I immediately knew that it should be covered in Chaos Control, and thought that it might be interesting if Alina did the interview. It never came together at the time, but has now finally taken place via email.

So I realized that it’s actually pretty hard to interview a friend you’ve had since middle school. Should I pretend I don’t know all the things that I already know in order to make it interesting for everyone else? Or scrounge around in the bottom of the mental desk drawer for some unanswered questions? In the end, I opted for a purely craven pursuit of fame. Let’s pander to controversy and make this the most tweeted interview ever! Let’s structure all the questions entirely around the trending topics of one minute ago! (Note: I didn’t know what a ‘trending topic’ was until I came up with that idea.) But then I felt guilty about that, and threw in some real questions too. Then I also tried to crowdsource the interview and solicit questions via Facebook and Twitter but only received one measley submission. Another reminder that I am no Amanda Palmer.

What’s your general feeling on mixing romance with artistic collaboration? And do you have any plans for a grander collaboration with Neil Gaimen?

I think it’s a very dangerous place to tread and Neil and I have actually talked a lot about that. The small ways in which we’ve collaborated up until now have been perfect with Neil writing a few little things for my book and me acting in a short film he made in the UK. In both of those cases we were just really lending ourselves to each other’s projects. That’s very different from creating something from scratch. And I know from experience that there is no such thing as a flawless collaboration. What we say to each other is that our main collaboration is our relationship and what we really want to be able to do is come home to one another at night and complain about our other collaborations.

When you aren’t actually DOING it, do you find yourself thinking in 140 character bursts?

Occasionally. I do find myself composing twitters in my head when I’m not at the computer. The terror for me is that I would become beholden to my blog in a way that it’s running my life. How much mental and emotional real estate is it taking up. I go through phases where I just take myself off the hook and say fuck it and give myself a free pass when I feel like it’s eating my brain. I take a day off when I feel like I need to live more life and do less life-sharing.

In a world where regular people have hundreds of “friends” and celebrities have hundreds of thousands, do you consider yourself to be a person with lots of honest-to-God real friends?

I consider myself really lucky. Real, true friends – you need them in your life and I could count the people who are my honest to god friends on less than two hands. And interestingly, my closest friends I don’t interact with them on the internet and my real friends have no consciousness of all the projects and events that take place in my internet life.

Has anyone ever seguewayed from being an online friend or follower to a real friend and what would be your instructions from someone interested in doing so?

I have a couple really great stories of people who’ve transitioned from fans to friends. Like my friend Becca who turned up at a show having rewritten all the Dresden Dolls songs to feature vegetable and space travel and one thing led to another and now we’re genuine friends. What I’ve found though is that my life is pretty full and I’m not on an active hunt for a bunch of new best friends. For anyone who wants to make it their life’s work to be Amanda’s best friend, that position isn’t open. And I have a hard enough time keeping the relationships I have solid because I’m always travelling. But that said, I’m insanely social and love connecting with great new people.

Some thoughts on the top trending topics of today:
[Note – this interview was done in January, 2010]

#1: Lady Gaga

How do you feel about Lady Gaga?

I think about her the way I think about anything culturally explosive. And anything that is culturally explosive, I think about deeply. I spent my whole life thinking about Madonna, this kind of weird and trashy powerful woman who created a certain kind of measuring stick for woman in pop. I’m not as interested in music as I am in the idea of community and how artists connect, so Lady Gaga is fascinating to me. Because we live in a society where everything goes so fast and is over so quickly, I’m interested to see what will happen to her as a phenomenon. The general trend is the faster you explode, the more tenous your fame. But some things stick. Look at Google. That stuck! People like to get excited about pop artists, but their attention is very fickle. It’s not like she’s been building a career from the ground up. I’m not a giant fan of the music. I feel more like a cultural anthropologist.

Well, what’s your predication? Will she flame out?

I don’t know. Statistically, she doesn’t have the numbers on her side. But she’s a really strong songwriter. She’s going to have to pull a Madonna to keep up the shock value and work with really fucking good people to write great songs people want to listen to.

SO I just purchased a set of Craig Gleason’s desecrated dollar bills that turn George Washington into Lady Gaga and was thinking about the relationship between pop success and the desire and ability to costume-up and make a show into a theatrical production. Do you think there is a strong corrolation between fame and dressing up?

Yes. The minute you put a costume on you are basically putting a sign around your neck saying I am a performer and I want to entertain you. If you are a folk singer, people don’t necessarily want to see you in a costume – they want to see you in jeans and a t-shirt saying, “Fuck the government.” No one wants to see Bob Dylan in a sequin dress and platform heels, which is ironic, because the jeans and the t-shirt are still a costume. I like being able to be Lady Gaga when I feel like it and Bob Dylan when I feel like it.

Was dressing up a big factor in the Dresden Dolls success?

Yes, of course. Especially in Boston because people weren’t really doing that here. Bands weren’t putting on costumes. It wasn’t part of the lexicon. For me, that was what was exciting about being in a band, that you get to dress up. Let’s do it! Let’s act like freaky rock stars! Lets dress like the bands we worshiped in high school and lets have as much fun as possible! And as soon as you put on a costume, even in a teeny venue like Lizard Lounge, you change in the energy in the room.

And does the effect of costume hold true for women or just men?

Men have a lot more luck banding together as a bunch of coifed wolves, than solo. As soon as you put on eyeliner, solo, as a man , you’ve already alienated a whole lot of fans. Whereas woman are expected to do that sort of thing. For a guy to publicly announce he’s putting time into his appearance …Brian was such a perfect foil though, he was so sexy, the act of putting fishnets under ordinary shorts and a t shirt with a bowler was largely symbolic, but it really defined us as a theatrical band.

#2: Nowplaying

People are tweeting their media choice of the moment

I don’t listen to music anymore. I don’t listen to music when I’m working and when I’m not working I prefer silence.

#3: WhatWereYouThinking

People are asking a person what was going through their mind when they did something less than smart

I probably should not have had two bottles of champagne on an empty stomach on New Years Eve. But I did.

#4: Shorty Award

Awards which honor “the best producers of short, real-time content.” People are tweeting their votes. (Amanda is a nominee)

It came into my awareness when it came up on my TwitterFeed. The difference it makes in my life if I win this award wont be very large.

#5: H&M

Following the NY Times article yesterday, H&M has vowed to quit destroying unsold clothing and donate it instead (Jan. 7).

Good for them.

Crowdsourced question submitted via Facebook:

“I saw your twitter about interviewing amanda palmer and I was wondering if you would ask her is she is a Scientologist. there are so many rumors.”

Yeah, there aren’t so many rumors, but it’s because of Neil. Some of his family are connected to Scientology. To address the actual rumor: it is not true.

For more info in Amanda, check out her official website. And also be sure to check out Alina’s site for more info on her amazing music and upcoming book

Other Recent Interviews

Highlights From The Archives