Interview: Amanda ‘Fucking’ Palmer (Part 1)

Kyle Bylin, Associate Editor — Read Part 2 – Read Part 3

Photo by Rosario Lopez @ Alterna2

(Part 1 of 3) Today I spoke with Amanda Palmer, who is not only renowned for her ability to connect with her fans and give them a reason to buy, as well as, publically stating that she’d like to be dropped from her label, but, also for her role in The Dresden Dolls.  In this interview, Amanda talks about fan-mail, online fandom, and promptly answers the critics of her success. 

How do you think the blurring between home and studio, the public artist and private individual, and the ability to work from ‘anywhere,’ at all times, correlates with the dynamics of what could be a ‘new middle class of musicians?

amanda palmer

Amanda Palmer: Well, for better or worse, the blur has both democratized and frustrated the music business and music-making. It used to be impossible to do any of these back-end production and promotion things (mass-mail fans, create videos, create recorded music) without huge resources from labels, agencies and otherwise profoundly business & profit-oriented organizations. Now that the musician herself can act as all these things, it's empowering. But also difficult – it begs the question of what artists should really be doing with their time.

Now there has to be a drastic re-interpreting of an artist's lifestyle…and I think it's hard to make boundaries and limits since everything is so tempting now. I find myself strangled by the idea that I can promote my music indirectly at ALL TIMES (by twittering from my phone, for instance).

There's no saying where my creative mind would be going otherwise.  It's a huge catch-22. I think the important thing is that artists and musicians will just really have to re-imagine themselves as responsible self-promoters who can wear that hat, powerfully, and then have the presence of mind to throw that hat out the window when it’s time to make art in isolation, or however you do it. Though the line stays fuzzy…I've been having a blast lately, blurring that boundary itself and creating these weird impromptu performance pieces ON twitter itself, things that have no outside purpose but that connect me more deeply with my audience. Who's to say? It's the Wild West out there and it's wonderful.

But I hear and feel the same theme resonating all over the art world right now, and especially in rock: if you're in this to be famous and huge, forget it. You have to WANT to make art and connect for a LIVING WAGE. If you're making music because you think that eventually the limo filled with strippers and coke will roll up, you're living in the wrong decade.

Do you feel like the collision and interpenetration of these once disparate spheres has created this sense of “elsewhere” at all times?

Amanda Palmer: Sort of. This is a huge reason that I do a lot of yoga and try to frequently unplug. We're definitely going faster than we need to at most times. And for what? Why are we so connected at all times through text and twitter, with our artists, with our friends, with THE WHOLE WORLD? To what end? If the point is to find meaning and fulfillment but the very idea of staying connected is causing you eternal anxiety, it's defeating the purpose. I fix this personally by staying very closely connected with a few people, meditating, doing yoga, and making sure I turn off enough so that I don't feel enslaved.

Being alone is hugely important. I've often thought that if I'd had the internet as a teenager, I may never have become a good songwriter. I think would have been too addicted to all of the wonderful possibilities online – I was a very connection-hungry kid. But that time to INCUBATE as an artist, to really spend a lot of time alone and improvising and being bored and finding ways to fill up space, that's what made me blossom creatively. It took SPACE. I'll be really interested to see what happens with the next generation. The ones who are more tempted to play guitar hero than play guitar. But once again, I don't think there's a "better" or "worse"….I think it might just be a breeding ground for a new type of artist.

Can you relate to the struggles within what Dalton Conley calls “The Intravidualism Phenomenon” and if so, how are you able to manage the cacophony of multiple selves all jostling for pole position in your mind?

Amanda Palmer: So much of making things work as a multi-tasking artist is the ability to accept imperfection. And to truly know yourself. I felt so, so guilty in my early twenties when I was a street performer because I always felt I wasn't DOING enough. Not writing enough, not playing out enough, not pushing myself forward. But I think I had more of an internal wisdom back then than I could have possibly given myself credit for. I was still incubating, still growing as a writer, still absorbing the life experiences that gave my writing and performing some grit and heft. And when I was ready, I started working my ass off. But there were many days where I would think: "I'm totally faking everybody out. I'm not an ARTIST. I've just been emailing all day, all week, all month. I barely make any art." I got to a certain point where I realized that the voices in my head were working on an old, conditioned blueprint of what it actually means to be fulfilled and happy.

Slowly, I started to let that blueprint go and starting to improvise another one, just for the day. And now, I draw a new blueprint every day and then set it on fire at the end of the night. I think the key for me has been realizing that every day and week and month is an improvisation…and that I can never define my success or happiness by last week's measuring stick. If it makes me happy to twitter all night, I will. If it makes me happy to unplug for a week, I will. I wrote when I feel like it, and I don't feel catholic guilt anymore when I don't. But it took me YEEAARS to get to this place.

How has the shift from ‘limited to no access’ to almost ‘expected access’ to your life as an artist changed the relationships and interactions that you are able to develop and take part in with your fans?

Amanda Palmer: I simply feel blessed that I’m an emotional exhibitionist right around the time is seems to be expected and en vogue. I love it – so I'm lucky. Plenty of musicians and artists out there AREN'T built that way, and so there's a level of unfairness. Who's to say what would happen to PJ Harvey's record sales if she actually revealed herself and her thoughts? Or is her mystique part of what drives the business? Nowadays, it's almost impossible to imagine that. I also feel lucky because I only loosely define myself as a musician. I got into music and taught myself how to play the piano and write songs as a means to an end – connection and art. I never wanted to be a great piano player, or a great singer.

It's closer to say I wanted to be a great PERFORMER. Of any kind. And performing via blog, twitter and twitpic is completely legitimate; it feeds my needs just fine. Whereas if I'd really been interested in just being an artist solely respected for my virtuosic musical talents (like, perhaps, a classical musician might), I might find all this connecting and online performing very bothersome. But I don't. I enjoy the medium it as a satisfying end in itself. If asked, nowadays, what I am, I could easily say "I'm a musician…and an online performance artist". Why not?

Read Part 2 – Read Part 3

Share on:


  1. “I simply feel blessed that I’m an emotional exhibitionist right around the time is seems to be expected and en vogue.”
    I think this is perhaps the most unintentionally profound thing she said in the whole interview.
    Music, and art in general, is cyclical. Right now, most artists have to engage, have to get close to their fans. This is a new sensation for both sides, especially when it comes to bigger acts, for whom a one-to-one dialogue was never really practical. So fans and artists are learning where the boundaries are, what works and what doesn’t, and what the tolerance levels are on both sides.
    Sometime in the future, people will get tired of this. They’ll become used to the interaction, the access, they’ll realize that not every artist has something interesting to say, they’ll suck all the ideas and news and gossip and photos and free downloads out of the trough until they want to puke.
    And that’s when some artist, or movement, will bring back that sense of mystery, that unattainability, and they’ll be huge. They’ll use the new tools to accomplish the task, but they won’t be Tweeting during their colon cleanse. They’ll rebel against the banal status quo, and legions of fans who are sick of it it too will follow them.
    And that’s what’s great about art. The new burns down the old to be burnt down by the new, until we fondly remember the old and burn down the new.

  2. Gigdoggy dit au vieux Record Guy:
    Like you comment a lot and totally agree with you.
    “I simply feel blessed that I’m an emotional exhibitionist right around the time is seems to be expected and en vogue.”
    I too was struck by this sentence. I feel this is so true. Not everyone has her social skills, and so not everyone is entitled to the same level of success with social tools.
    Great analysis.

  3. “If the point is to find meaning and fulfillment but the very idea of staying connected is causing you eternal anxiety, it’s defeating the purpose.”
    That, to me, is the most striking comment of all.
    It seems so simple, but how many people do you know that become anxious when their ties to Facebook or Twitter collapse? The phone dies, or they lose their signal, and the sudden disconnect from the outside world is almost physically painful.
    Or my favorite – when they simply don’t have anthing to say, and so they agonize over WHAT to say, just to say anything at all.
    I have, at times, found myself sliding towards that state of being. From now on, when I feel the slope ahead of me, I’ll remember this quote.

Comments are closed.