Killing Us Softly
Amanda Palmer, the XX-chromosomal half of Boston-based Dresden Dolls has had a whirlwind year. From her breakout solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer, to her belly-baring Leeds United video, to her collaborative book with author Neil Gaiman (whokilledamandapalmer.com), to performing in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day, Palmer’s time on her “solo” tour has been packed with more musicians and cabaret performances, with the likes of curve favorites Vermillion Lies, than you can shake an Edwardian cane at. We get into what makes this bisexual musician tick.
First, how was performing in D.C. on Inauguration Day?
It was magnificent. It was really…Every single person in that city that day just felt like they were this little thread in this huge historical tapestry and you could just feel the electricity in the air everywhere you walked and everywhere you went, it was just awesome. Every part of the day, everything, was just incredible.
You have this mix of cabaret, goth, steam punk and Charles Dickens. Where you get that inspiration and that influence?
That’s a very hard question for me to answer because I don’t think I know. I mean I think if you pulled the dossier on everything in my life that I’ve absorbed, it might make sense. But it’s not like I can point to one thing or another and say, “well, this is obviously why I wound up this way or obviously why I dress this way." It’s really difficult to be asked that question, because I feel like I could have some stock answer but it would be bullshit. It’s such a wide variety of things that make an artist what they are. And I think it’s actually boring…if you can nail it down that easily. I kind of like that I don’t have an answer to that question because I take pride in that.
You've covered loneliness and mental illness and rape and abortion. How much of that is your personal experience and how much of that is just musical storytelling?
I think like all art, it’s a combination of truth and fiction, and everything definitely has an emotional truth and not every detail in every song is real. But I tend to write about the darker things that fascinate me or that confuse me and since it’s art you can take it anywhere you want, but that can take get a little sticky and turn into a problem when, you know, people start making assumptions about who and what you are because of what you’ve written. That’s actually, that’s been a pain in my ass lately because the songs of the Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer are so dark that I must be this really psychotic fucked up person and actually it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the song and the music itself that I think make me a pretty well balanced person. Who knows what outlet my sick and twisted thoughts would have if I didn’t have my music, I might actually run around, giving unwanted abortions or something. [Laughs] It wouldn’t be good.
Yeah, I was listening to your album and I thought to myself, “Am I a bad person for kind of giggling at the song ‘Oasis?’ ”
Oh no, it’s fucking hilarious. It’s good to laugh.
You identify as a bisexual woman. Has anyone in the music industry tried to exploit that side of you?
No, luckily. There’s a lot of things that you have to deal with as a woman obviously, in our culture and in the music industry, but I dare say I’ve faced far less backlash as a woman being bisexual than I would as a man. So for that, would I say I’m grateful? I wouldn’t say I’m grateful, I think it’s fucked up. But yeah, no one seems to care and that’s the way it should be, and it’s not something that should be exploited and not something that should be focused on. Because I don’t want people to think of me as Amanda Palmer, the bisexual, I’d like them to think of me as Amanda Palmer, the performer or the musician or whatever role I happen to be during that moment, unless they’re in bed with me. Then they can think of me as Amanda the bisexual, that’s fine. I’ll allow that.
So are you seeing anyone special then?
I am currently floating and confused as usual.
That’s too bad.
It’s not, it’s not. I’ve got a strange lifestyle obviously and it doesn’t lend itself incredibly well to, uh, easy relationships, let’s put it that way.
Just lots of groupies.
No! I don’t do groupie. I think sleeping with a groupie is probably the loneliest way you can ever spend your night.
Awww, those poor groupies.
Yeah, well they can fuck each other.
You also participated in Out’s photo shoot with other famous queer women like Rachel Maddow and Tegan and Sara and Jane Lynch but what did you think about Katy Perry being the only woman on their cover of that issue?
You know, it was pretty confusing. I was chatting with Tegan and Sara about that and she has said specifically that she is not bi or gay. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong. And I wouldn’t necessarily call the song, I Kissed a Girl an anthemic call to arms or anything like that. So I don’t know if she’s a gay icon? If she is, then she’s part of the cultural story. She kind of rubbed me the wrong way, so calculated and so commercial. It’s generally not the kind of thing that I’m into.
That’s been the complaint in the lesbian community and with bisexual women, that she is trivializing those things with one song.
Yeah. I mean, it’s a catchy pop song. But once I saw the video, I heard the song and I was like, Oh right that’s the single I’ve been hearing about and I did a little research on her and she seems really smart. She obviously knows what she’s doing. But watching the video, this was really terrible misogynistic soft-core porn, like, it’s really bad, there’s nothing empowering about this, it was just really trashy. So that sucked. There’s a lot of powerful tools out there that can be misused. There’s no obviously right or wrong way to do it, but some things just don’t feel quite right, and that song didn’t feel quite right. We’ve been making fun of it on tour and so I should probably fucking shut up about it. [Laughs] It’s fun to make fun of people, what are you going to do?
So when did you first realize that you were bisexual? When did you first come out?
High school. I wanted to make out with girls and I sort of worked my way through high school and college having lady lovers, but never being in a relationship with one and that’s the kind of the way I roll. I’ve never been in a hardcore relationship with another woman and have never really wanted to be in one. Does that make me seem like a bad person?
I don’t think it makes you worse than any rock performer.
It’s something like, I can’t escape or deny it and I don’t see why like I need to, it’s just something I love.
Well, what about men? Have you had more long-term relationships with them or is it the same thing?
Uh, no, I’ve had more long-term relationships with men, I just have never...I’ve never ruled it out but I have never met a woman that I was so into that I wanted to do the relationship thing. And I’ve met a handful of men that I did feel that way about. I think my relationships and my sexual life is a lot like everything else in my life, which is that it’s permanently improvised. And I try to make as few plans as possible and have as few rules as possible.
That sounds pretty nice.
It pretty much works. I don’t know, you might have to ask other people around me, they might not agree with you.
And I’ve also noticed that you teamed up with Vermillion Lies on this tour. How did your relationship come about with them?
I found them like everything else fantastic in my life, through Jason Webley who knew them from touring on the West Coast. So Jason had played shows with them on the West Coast and said they were fantastic and one thing led to another and I toured with them.
Will there would be any more collaborations between you and them?
Oh I hope so. I think they’re fantastic. I’m always up for projects and I hope we release some more.
So what was it like to work with Neil Gaiman on your book?
He was incredible. He is an amazing and inspiring man. I really liked the guy. Working with him was fun, the entire time he was fun to work with, which is the key in any good collaboration. And he won the Newberry Prize today and he’s freaking out. Really proud of him.
Is there anything you want to say to your lesbian fans?
Just to my lesbian fans? Something that no one else will ever know? Good question. It’s a beautiful time to be a woman, don’t take it for granted.
One last question, what is your favorite song to perform on your shows?
I’ve really enjoyed playing Creep on the ukelele lately, if you couldn’t tell. But other than that, every show is different, every audience is different. Whatever works in the moment and feels right in the moment and it can be really surprising sometimes, a song that you wouldn’t expect.
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